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Squashed boxes

The rise of the subscription model

Subscription services have been on the rise for a while and they are intriguing me because they’ve crept into our lives to such an acceptable level. We subscribe to a higher and higher base as we’ve transitioned away from commoditized ownership. Some services and products take away the curatorial element of collating our belongings. We’re subscribing to a lifestyle and the boxes are like lego bricks building up the picture of that lifestyle. They come in a variety of forms, I’d categorize into one of the following four types:

  • Software (SaaS – Software as a Service): We all subscribe to some type of software whether it’s to support our working lives (communication platforms) or to enhance our lifestyle (data storage). Software no longer comes in a box, we rely on virtual boxes (the cloud) and we plug in when we need to.
  • Boxes (not the virtual kind): Graze was the first box to be on my radar, subscription snacks slightly out of the ordinary and offering a surprise direct to the desk. The biggest box subscription is probably Birchbox, it’s all about beauty so I’m not really that engaged but the idea is to lead the customer onto buying full product versions after sampling what the box has to offer. There are a lot of obscure subscription boxes available a box for Harry Potter lovers, pet treat subscriptions and for educating your kids.
  • Products not in boxes: Not everything can come in a nicely packaged box, although a box may be involved at some stage. The subscription world continues to expand. Subscribe to house plants, make the most of working from home by keeping plants alive and slowly turning your house into a jungle. Subscribe to someone else’s idea of the perfect date night, when your better half is fed up of the house being full of plants. The high street is dead and book shops are disappearing so why not surprise yourself if a good old fashioned book to your door?
  • Subscription to access: This is the one we’re all subscribed to, getting access to content. Netflix, Disney+, Spotify, Apple Music. Subscribing to films, TV, fitness, books, music, art, anything we can consume with our eyes and ears.

Are we subscribing for life?

I recently read a post by Professor Galloway highlighting the human flaw that we think we can consume more with our allotted time on this planet than we actually do. Good time management should lead to splitting your day into useful chunks of time. Life is about maximizing that time. Subscriptions fill you up with options for the chunks of time, there’s always going to be a market for subscribing to a little more life. What will test the longevity of the model is the motivation of the customer and the quality of the experience of what you subscribe to.

It seems consumers are happy to move to a model where they no longer own anything. They subscribe to access what they want when they want but at a cost. The subtle cost is the handing over of data, the access they grant freely to have the immediacy of service. The not so subtle cost is the rising base of subscriptions creeping into every aspect of living with a reduction in alternative options. It’s like plugging in to an all you can eat buffet.

Can we sustainably subscribe?

There’s an immediacy and convenience about the subscription model which is undeniable but we should tap into our conscience whilst plugging into the consumption. Things that come in boxes need boxes and boxes need trees. A lot of cardboard is made from timber from sustainable forests but the carbon footprint to create cardboard has often been found to be higher than plastics. Transportation to satisfy the convenience is also a factor to consider as all of these individual packaged items potentially arrive to your door one at a time. To generate the volume of cardboard and paper we need requires forestry on an industrial scale and this naturally reduces biodiversity. We must consider the rate of our consumption and the ways in which we subscribe in order to continue to move to a more sustainable future. This article is straightforward in expanding on the facts around the sustainability of paper and cardboard.

What about the less tangible products I hear you holla? Streaming services, surely we can hook ourselves to a bit of Netify+? Well, all of the energy it takes to download the data to deliver Bridgerton to your eyes and ears needs to come from somewhere and also has a carbon cost. It’s worth unplugging now and again and giving the energy generation a break. This study transparently shows the impact of the music we feed our ears pre and post physical formats.

With all aspects of life we need a conscience for what we subscribe to and the impact it has not just on our immediate needs but on the world around us as well. Choose your boxes wisely.

What are the possibilities of subscription?

Subscription services are here to stay so what is the art of the possible? Let’s start at a time before subscription services were all the rage and go back to a time when subscription services were all the rage. The milk round is having a renaissance and it fits the model I’ve been discussing. What if our more connected world can start to predict and order our milk round for us along with other groceries. Our online shop is becoming so habitual that we’re subscribing to a more regular order and selection. The internet of things (IoT) will bring more connectivity to the products we need most regularly and as the data we use becomes more sophisticated it will add further possibilities to the model. What if Strava sent you trainers at a certain mileage, it already reminds you at the right time? What if your health data can link to a need for medicine? I can imagine changing styles by season, like a garden on a roll expanding on existing flower box subscriptions. There are so many possibilities as our behaviour shifts and the focus is on our wellbeing and homes during these very strange times.

I subscribe to life and a pint of milk on my doorstep. What do you subscribe to?

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