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October 15, 2021

Life in a subscription-based world

Any chubby guy with a gym membership knows exactly why a subscription to anything generally stinks.

You buy a pass to use the weight room for 12 months, go three times in the first week and the thing essentially becomes a tab you put on your keychain to unsuccessfully pick-up girls.

This is what happens.

But as you can imagine, subscriptions are big business for big companies, and their influence on the purchases we make extend further than you might think.

According to the New York Times, for a system developed to sell periodicals back in the 17th century, subscription-based commerce is remarkably current. It works still to choke-hold us into cell phone service, cable TV and Internet connections.

Yet the real beauty of subscriptions is how they take the psychology out of making repeat purchases, something we’re – now more than ever – terrified of doing.

“It is amazing how inertia takes over,” says marketing prof Peter S. Fader, noting how the one-off feat of goading someone into a subscription accounts for a months-long revenue flow.

Though while none of this information is exactly blowing you away, the Times does connect dots that help explain why the economy is in such rough shape.

The paper places blame on a societal subscription-mentality for the recent collapse of North America’s housing bubble:

“What exactly were homeowners doing when they bought a house for little or no money down with the intention of holding it for two or three years before upgrading to a better? They were treating an investment in real estate as though it were just another consumable product, to be disposed of with the same emotion one shows in recycling a monthly magazine.

Indeed, our subscription-based consumerist world has its ups and downs, and not everyone can figure out how to conquer the idea once and for all (see: newspapers, online).

If one thing’s for sure, however, it’s that when business can get them into play, look out.

“It’s hard to initiate subscriptions,” Fader tells the Times, “but once you get (customers) over that hurdle, great things happen.”

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money 



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...