The pressure to subscribe

From audiobooks to charity. Lately, it feels like everybody wants to get us hooked on their “product” for a lifetime.

Recently, I was approached by Red Cross volunteers in the street, asking me to sign up for a periodical donation. I ended up making my excuses – I don’t like making finance-related decisions in the street and there are plenty of charity organizations I already support, from local animal shelters to those helping out people in Ukraine.

I do indeed donate money to charitable causes, and do it more frequently since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. But the idea of someone just charging my account every month repelled me at the time.

It had nothing to do with charity but rather the fact that businesses, with constant growth being an end in itself, are not satisfied with our one-time payments. They want to keep us hooked and drain our accounts forever.

Some twenty years ago, a giant ad popped up near my home saying that you could buy a mobile phone – they weren’t smart back then – for just one litas (Lithuanian currency up until 2015, when we joined the eurozone). That’s how we first got hooked – you’d buy that phone for next to nothing, make periodic payments for 24 months, and, after it’s all paid for, you’d take another device.

Now, twenty years later, I’m having an allergic reaction to the many subscription-based services. It feels like a trap.

With my new iPhone, I got a three-month subscription of Apple TV. I logged in and found a couple of movies I wanted to watch but discovered they cost extra. Frustrated with the app’s interface, I dropped it immediately. However, it was still a hassle to cancel the subscription so I wouldn’t get charged after the free period expired.

I did forget to cancel the premium Duolingo subscription, and now I’m a diligent student who practices French every day. Not complaining about this one, though.

I pay for cable TV and a Netflix subscription, even though I’m sure I haven’t seen a single movie at home this past month.

Spotify is trying to convince me to subscribe so I can listen to music without ad interruptions and while offline. But with 5G, I have limitless data, so the offline service is no longer a bonus for me.

Nearly every app I have on my phone – from mindfulness to quit smoking ones – is trying to get me hooked.

Just this past weekend, I thought I’d try an audiobook for a change during my workout. Not being a fan of audiobooks, all I wanted was one narrated book to find out whether it'd be more entertaining than listening to music while running.

Naturally, I turned to Amazon’s Audible. But it turns out that you can’t just buy one book. You need to buy a membership, either a monthly or a yearly subscription, and there’s no trial. Ah, but I was about to leave the house and didn’t feel like making a rushed decision. The result? Yet again I was stuck with Spotify’s ad-flavored playlist.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the money. Last month alone, I spent over €100 on books. Audible doesn’t seem expensive, either, since you have a great selection of books and don’t have to limit yourself.

It just feels like a lifetime decision. All I wanted was one book but I ended up weighing the benefits of a yearly Audible subscription while standing on my doorstep, ready to go for a run.

It’s exhausting. It takes away the joy of an impulse buy and, in fact, discourages me from purchasing pretty much any app. When I walk into a bookshop or clothing store, it’s usually a happy experience for me. But subscription adds an unwelcome sense of commitment.

Imagine if a clothing store asked you to pay a yearly fee. You could visit monthly and take one piece of clothing, and you’d keep paying even if you didn’t take anything. They’d automatically renew your subscription if you didn’t cancel in advance.

I think they’d nearly cure the impulse buyer in me.

Want to donate? Subscribe to be good.

Want to quit smoking? Subscribe and get addicted to this app instead.

Want to exercise outside and save money on gym membership? Waste away by subscribing to a bunch of apps.

Have trouble sleeping? Subscribe to this hypnosis app, and we’ll convince you overnight that subscribing is good for you.

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