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Company town May 23, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Reading this in the Atlantic, a piece which notes the creeping subscription model and how it advances into every day life I couldn’t help but think that the outline in the following paragraph was reminiscent of company towns from the 19th century.

I’m a person with a toilet-paper subscription. I bought it through my Amazon Prime subscription: Every few months, an embarrassing box of toilet paper arrives at my apartment, at which point I’m charged around $30, which includes the 5 percent savings the retailer awarded me to secure my toilet-paper business in perpetuity.

The same thing happens when the pet-supply company sends me two bags of dog food every six weeks, or when Adobe lets me use Photoshop for another month. Instead of CDs and DVDs, Netflix and Apple Music grant me access to movies and music on a rolling basis. A cosmetics retailer sends me beauty-product samples every month. I never use them, but still pay $10 each time.

It’s a facsimile of ownership. And as the piece argues, referencing a company that will rent you furniture:

It isn’t that Feather is wrong; Millennials are less likely to own homes and cars than their parents were at the same age, and streaming services dominate entertainment so thoroughly that Best Buy has largely phased out CDs in its stores. But in the face of all that instability, don’t you at least want your sofa to be yours? Feather says the new normal is “defined by freedom and flexibility.” But generational precarity is hardly an exciting lifestyle.

There are deeper issues – the distinction between what is theirs and what is ours, how goods are distributed, and what agency and autonomy one has. And there are more practical aspects:

But along with the advantages of variety or quality comes a downside. Whether or not a subscription to breakfast smoothies or Reformation dresses or mattresses makes sense depends on individual consumer circumstances, which Dholakia says people are bad at evaluating on their own. “You tend to overestimate how much you will consume,” he explains. When signing up for meal kit delivery, you might tell yourself you’ll cook three times a week, when actually once or twice is more realistic. In the case of durable goods, Dholakia says, the tradeoff is in the long game: “The consumer pays less, but they don’t get to own the asset and benefit from it.”

Spending $150 per month to lease three different sets of bedroom furniture in three different apartments might give you flexibility, but at the end of those three years, you’ve spent $5,400 and still don’t own any bedroom furniture.

Which means you may have spent much more than if you were able to purchase in the first place and have no assets whatsoever at the end of the process. Add to that the question of how well you will treat such furniture, or attitudes to its longevity or otherwise and for every seeming answer multiple questions arise.

And as has been noted here previously there’s the issue that these subscriptions build up. Fine for those who have significant disposable income, but not so great when one has little – and one is forced to pay more across a period of time than if one were able to purchase goods outright. In fact in that sense the ‘subscriptions’ function in entirely the opposite way to media and other subscriptions which allowed those with ready access to money discounts not available to those who purchased the goods on a one off basis issue by issue.

Comments»

1. An Sionnach Fionn - May 23, 2019

Personally I despise the subscription model for the likes of software licences. It is an absolute cheat. Adobe is by far the worse offender but it has become so common in the business area that its almost impossible to avoid it. Conversely though, some companies are making more effort to develop programs in-house precisely for that reason. It’s usually cheaper in the long run if its something with an expected long lifespan.

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WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2019

Adobe is a monster- as bad now as Quark was/is with Xpress

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EWI - May 23, 2019

Adobe is a monster- as bad now as Quark was/is with Xpress

And Adobe only got their opening to expand beyond Photoshop because the Quark management team were determined to kill their own golden goose. Swallowing Macromedia got rid of their remaining real competition, centred around Freehand and Dreamweaver. Adobe’s move to the subscription model was clearly always going to end at this extortive point, and it’s no coincidence that the rest of the industry has been moving to it.

The question is, what to do about it? The pay-for-software model was invented by Microsoft forty years ago, and we need to evolve strong non-commercial models to at the very least make the likes of Adobe (reasonably) honest again.

I suspect that the answer lies with a strong open-source ethos returning to academia, however it’s an uphill struggle against commercial entrenchment in the colleges (I saw this first hand in a Trinity CS programme).

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