Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Taking Stock of Subscriptions

Joanna Stern, writing in the Wall Street Journal which, yes, you need a subscription to read:

The technology industry loves the term SaaS, or Software as a Service. It’s the idea that software isn’t just bought once and installed, but rather is subscribed to and always updating. Microsoft Office 365? SaaS. Google Drive? SaaS. Your kid’s coding app? SaaS again.

There’s also CaaS, Content as a Service. Netflix ? Hulu? Spotify? Apple News+? All CaaS. And then there’s HaaS, hardware as a service. Your connected door lock, thermostat, security camera, maybe even your car or your toothbrush, now come with subscriptions.

Throw it all into one basket and call it Everything as a Service or — don’t hate me — “EaaS.”

I completely get the short-term allure of this from the perspective of platforms and accountants. It’s a steady, predictable, easy revenue stream — particularly if users are locked into year-long contracts.

But, especially over the long term, I think users will find it fatiguing — at best — to live in a world where we pay hundreds of dollars a month to listen to music, use software, and store files. There are advantages: we can listen to most music of our choosing on demand; our software is constantly up to date and regularly has new features; the files we store are synced across our devices.

Extrapolated over a longer term, however, these niceties start to feel like lock-in. What if your music listening habits don’t change all that much? What if you don’t really need all those new features, or you’re frustrated that you feel forced to relearn a piece of software you’ve relied upon for years because an update changed the UI dramatically? What if you only edit most of your files from the same device?

There are records that I’ve listened to a hundred times that I paid for once. That’s amazing to me. So is the fact that I paid for a license for Photoshop eight years ago and have consistently used it over that time. Now, it’s a subscription product.

More than anything, I submit to you that the things we are obligated to pay for on a set date every month are generally the things that we are least excited to spend our money on. Rent, utilities, insurance — these are things we need, but do not do anything themselves. An apartment is least exciting for what it is on its own; it’s only made interesting by how we use it and make it our home. An internet connection is just a wire to some panel somewhere until we start using it for other stuff.

I get excited when I sit down to listen to a new record or use new software. I’m not excited to pay bills.

See Also:Hi, it’s me, the app you’ve never used that’s still billing you”.

Update: Matt Roszak received an email from Adobe stating that they’re discontinuing the older version of Animate — formerly Flash CC — that he uses. They have informed him that if he continues to use it, it is a violation of their terms and he could be sued.