The Subscription Salvation


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I seem to be on a bit of a subscription spree lately--from Dollar Shave Club to my local newspaper. My obsession with subscriptions started when my friend, who was preparing to have a baby, told me about Amazon Mom. I had a vague understanding that Amazon provided a Subscribe & Save feature for items you use regularly, but there wasn't anything I could think of that I needed often enough to subscribe to on a monthly basis--so I just didn't pay any attention to it. Amazon Mom goes beyond the 15% savings offered by Subscribe & Save to offer up to 20% off to parents. It turns out that you can just make up a kid, though, and take advantage of the extra savings even if you don't have a little one running around at home (and Amazon is totally cool with it).

Still, I couldn't think of enough household items that I go through quickly enough to make this worth my while. Sure, I could sign up for a monthly delivery of dish soap, but then I'd end up like my grandmother, with enough Dawn in the basement to clean a whole flock of oil-covered ducks. Then my friend introduced me to The Honest Co., which also provides customers with subscription options.

All of a sudden, I was seeing subscription services everywhere. I started paying attention to the advertisements on my podcasts for Dollar Shave Club. I decided to take Groupon up on an offer for a subscription to the Sunday edition of The Hartford Courant. And because of my new interest in this particular business model, Google and Facebook started serving me ads for more subscriptions that I didn't know existed.

Apparently, Blue Apron will send perfectly portioned ingredients for every meal--as determined by the recipes the company also sends you--right to your door. It costs about $10 per meal, per person. The good folks over at Conscious Box will send you a monthly supply of eco-friendly items-from snack bars to candles. And Gwynnie Bee is sort of the Netflix for plus-size clothes. For $35 per month, you can have one clothing item out at a time-for $59 per month, you can have two at a time, and so on. BarkBox will send your dog a monthly box of treats, toys, and accessories. Target has also gotten into the game, offering an Amazon Mom--like service to its customers in an effort to ... well ... keep them.

Just in case you missed my larger point, I'll spell it out: Subscription services are blowing up. You can find a subscription service for just about anything these days. From audiobooks to oven cleaner, there's a company, somewhere, that is ready to meet your needs-to fill a niche and make a ton of money in the process. Of course, publishers are not strangers to the subscription model--they practically invented it--but that hasn't kept many publishers from struggling with the subscription model in the digital age.

As I thought about what seems to be a subscription renaissance, I found myself wondering why so many newspapers seem to be having difficulty with that old subscription model while other companies seem to be blossoming under it. I started thinking about what people were really paying for with these services. In some cases, it's convenience. For instance, I often spend an hour or more browsing Pinterest for recipes, deciding what I'm going to cook during the coming week and figuring out what ingredients I need to pick up at the store. So the idea of the not necessarily budget-friendly Blue Apron appeals to me. And just think about the time, money, and energy something such as Amazon Mom saves parents.

But these aren't all about convenience. In some cases, the appeal just seems to be giving people what they want. Whether it's a fashionista who wants an endless supply of new clothes or a dog-lover who likes to pamper his pooch, many of these services are just about filling a small but lucrative niche.

As it turns out, publishers that are successful at monetizing their content in the internet era have already figured out what these subscription services are picking up on. People will pay for value-added services, whether it's for convenience (through mobile delivery) or simply filling a need (perhaps through the use of data), and successful publishers recognize that. If you're one of the publishers still struggling with the subscription model, it would pay to consider how you can meet these user needs.