Count the number of companies you pay regularly for anything. Add up what you pay for all of them. Then think about the time you spend trying and failing to “manage” any of it—especially when most or all of the management tools are separately held by every outfit’s subscription system, all for their convenience rather than yours. And then think about how in most cases you also need to swim upstream against a tide of promotional BS and manipulation.
There is an industry on the corporate side of this, and won’t fix itself. That would be like asking AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy to fix the online service business in 1994. What we needed was the Internet, to solve the problem of them.
There’s also not much help coming from the subscription management services we have on our side: Truebill, Bobby, Money Dashboard, Mint, BillTracker Pro, Trim, Subby, Card Due, Sift, SubMan, and Subscript Me.
All of those are too narrow, too closed, too exclusive, too easily purposed for surveillance of subscribers, and too vested in the status quo. Which royally sucks. For evidence, see here, or just look up subscription hell.
So it’s long past time to unscrew it. But how?
The better question is where?
The answer is on our side: the customer’s side.
See, subscriptions are a class of problems that can only be solved from the customers’ side. They can’t be solved from the companies’ side because they’ll all do it differently, and always in their interests before ours.
Also, most of them will want to hold you captive, just like Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy did with online services before the Internet solved that problem by obsolescing them.
Want the feds to come in and regulate it? Sure. Watch them gather “stakeholders” who aren’t you, all of them collaborating to create what will end up with captive regulators “protecting” you while preserving the exploitive properties all of them wish to preserve. Count on it.
A refresher: the Internet is ours. Meaning everybody’s. It doesn’t just belong to companies.
We need a similar move here. Fortunately, by makng subscriptions as easy as possible to make, change, and cancel—in standardized ways—companies living on subscriptions will do a better job of making their goods competitive.
Now to how.
The short answer is with open standards, code, and protocols. The longer answer is to start with a punch list of requirements, based on what we, as customers, need most. So, we should—
- Be able to see all our subscriptions, what they cost, and when they start and end
- Be able to cancel or renew, manually or automatically, in the simplest possible ways
- Get the best possible prices
- Be able to keep records of subscriptions and histories
- Show our actual (rather than coerced) loyalty
- Be able to provide constructive help, to loyal and experienced customers
- Join in collectives—commons—of other customers to start normalizing the way subscriptions should be offered on the corporate side and managed on the personal side
What sellers need is to make money. Will they make more money in a world where their customers aren’t all captive?
Only if free customers prove more valuable—to them—than captive ones. So, whatever we create needs to prove that.
Some tech already exists for at least some of this, but we’ll leave that topic for another post. Meanwhile, give us suggestions in the comments below. Thanks!
Bonus link: From coffee to cars: how Britain became a nation of subscribers, by Tim Lewis in The Guardian. (Via John Naughton’s excellent newsletter.)
The modified image above is a Doctor Who TARDIS console, photographed by Chris Sampson, offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license, published here, and obtained via Wikimedia Commons, here. We thank Chris for making it available.
Also, the original version of this post is at Customer Commons, here.