Paying for online subscriptions

By Lotta Stam

March 16, 2020

Not so long ago, entertainment was simple: there were a few TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and books. You paid for some or all of these and that was it. Nowadays, this is different. Because of the internet, there has been a huge increase in entertainment. Not only have the earlier mentioned forms of media (partial) moved online, other forms of entertainment have risen as well: YouTube, live streams and video games. One problem with online media that I have noticed is the unwillingness of people to pay for them. While the amount of possible subscriptions has certainly increased, not much else has changed in comparison to “old” media, so why have people’s attitudes changed so drastically?

Subscription fatigue

There is a name for this phenomenon: subscription fatigue. According to a 2019 study by Deloitte, 47% of US consumers say that they are frustrated by the number of streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney+. Of course, TV shows and movies are not the only forms of media that have become available in online subscriptions. There are also different options for music and news, and others are just starting, such as video game subscriptions. All these choices can indeed become overwhelming. While most of them don't cost more than 10 euros per month, if you have multiple different subscriptions, you’ll soon end up paying 50 euros per month when combining all of your subscriptions.

Avoiding payment

What I find most striking, is the measures people take to evade paying for online media. Don't get me wrong, I am not accusing anyone, because quite frankly, I'm part of that group. Ironically, while doing some research for this article, a news website prompted me to turn off my ad blocker. While around half of all internet users have an ad blocker installed in their browser, if you think about it, it is quite a strange phenomenon. In real life, you wouldn't be able to block ads in the streets, on TV or in magazines. Using ad blockers is, in a sense, like taking away the majority of revenue that site, creators and businesses receive from their respective media. Content creators especially are dependant on ad revenue that they receive from people that interact with their ads. When everybody uses ad blockers as they watch their videos, their ad revenue drops with a tremendous amount.

Another example of avoiding payment is illegally downloading music, shows, movies and books. A study by the University of Amsterdam from 2018 researched the habits of internet users regarding illegal activity. Through sampling, they found out that 18% of Dutch internet users illegally download music. In other countries, such as Brazil, India and Thailand, this percentage is even higher, maxing at 66%. This is striking because these numbers show that a large portion of internet users risks a fine (or in some cases, a prison sentence) so they can consume media for free. I would assume that a large portion of these people is not prepared to steal DVDs or books from physical stores.

The main reason that people gave for illegally downloading is "the price", which is unsurprising but does make me think what these people did or would have done thirty years ago when all this was unavailable. Is the simple reason for the high amount of people illegally downloading media, then, because it is possible?

Personally, I agree with the complaints about the abundance of subscriptions, but I do not think that is a big problem per se. In total, I'm currently subscribed to five online services, but I share most of them with friends or family. By sharing subscription you can cut down the individual costs. 

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