Usbek & Rica – Netflix, Amazon, BirchBox… Will inflation get the better of the subscription economy?

The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote that an adult was a child “inflated with age”. Not having the soul of a poet, I would write in a much more pragmatic way that an adult is first and foremost a child “inflated with subscriptions”. All those who have left the family nest to own a “home” for the first time know that moving into a first home automatically implies, from the very first days, taking out a battery of subscriptions. Twenty years ago, taking out a subscription was limited to the relatively limited field of access to an internet and mobile package and, for those of us most attentive to current events, to one or two dailies. This is what I would somewhat pompously call the prehistoric age of the subscription economy. It is difficult to date the changeover to this new era which means that my bank account is systematically burdened, every month, with several hundred euros due to various and varied subscriptions, but most specialists agree to identify two pivotal moments: the arrival of Amazon Prime, in 2005, and especially that of Netflix, in 2007. According to the consulting firm Fabernovel, which even mentions a “Netflixization” of the economy (sorry for this horrible neologism), the gigantic success encountered by the leader of VOD platforms would have resulted in “a generalization of the subscription economy for all industries “.

If I study my personal case, unfortunately I can only give them reason: in the space of ten years, I have not only subscribed to a Netflix subscription, but also to an incalculable number of “boxes”, this diabolical find of the era of Netflixization which justifies that even today, my medicine cabinet is filled monthly with food supplements supposed to bring me a glow that I’ve never had and that my closet is overflowing with clothes I’ve tried on and forgotten about. Worse still, I am one of the half of French people who, according to a recent study, would be unable to say how many subscriptions they have subscribed to and – above all – who have the impression of paying… For nothing.

A subscription for each item of consumption

Because if the subscription economy is prospering so well, it is because it is terribly easy to subscribe to any box of meal kits or to yet another SVOD platform but it is curiously much more difficult to s ‘unsubscribe. Global venture capitalists, who have taken this penetration of subscription logic far beyond traditional industries – quite simply, there is now a subscription offering for just about every job consumption – have understood this very well. The model also thrived so well because it fulfilled an essential requirement for markets, partly related to the first: it promised a steady stream of income. In economic parlance, he ticked the “RMR” box, or “Recurring Monthly Income” – the holy grail for any investor.

Currently, the subscription market is worth more than $200 billion. In the United States, the average expenditure per consumer amounts to 237 dollars per month for subscriptions, against “only” 130 dollars per person in Europe, to the point that the most optimistic investors are counting on the symbolic crossing of 500 billion dollars in 2025.

But this is putting aside a detail that is still important: global inflation and the recession that awaits. Investors are reassured by relying on the solid “loyalty” – not to say “dependence” – mechanisms put in place by historical subscription players such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Another detail that is important: a shift in the perception of our relationship to the subscription, very well perceived by Helen Thomas. In a remarkable column for the FinancialTimesthe journalist affirms that we have passed the “golden age” of the subscription economy, the one which conferred a ” superficial technological aspect » to companies which, finally, I quote « were subject to the same price, quality and customer whim pressures as any other consumer goods company. In fact, like many French people subjected to a sudden drop in their purchasing power, I recently activated the Marie Kondo mode in terms of managing my accounts, trying to assess what was superfluous or essential in my expenses. Suffice to say that my monthly subscription to a box of tights whose life expectancy does not exceed three days was quickly cataloged as “non-essential”.

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