Canon versus Nikon. Dell versus HP. Microsoft versus Apple. Tech companies have been battling over their piece of the pie for years, that ain’t new. But recently, tech and non-tech companies alike have started changing up their business models so that instead of simply selling you a device and calling it a day, companies would rather sell you an ongoing subscription for the product you want, complete with a recurring monthly payment. Welcome to the Service Wars.
From a business standpoint, this strategy makes a lot of sense because instead of a company getting paid when you buy a product and then wondering when your money might grace its ledgers again, businesses are using subscription service models to turn you into a walking revenue stream.
It’s no surprise that Apple’s next act appears is focused on selling you services to use on the iPhone which you’re just not replacing as often.
The beauty for companies is that once you sign you up, they’ve got you. It’s one thing not to buy another product from a specific company, but it’s another thing entirely to cancel one of your countless subscriptions, delete your account (and maybe migrate your data), and switch to another platform (assuming that’s even an option). After all, it’s just $10 or $15 a month, right? That’s nothing.
This evolution has spawned an endless variety of monthly subscription services looking to sell you crates filled with your favourite nerdy swag, foreign confections from around the world, dental hygiene supplies, and basically anything else you can imagine.
It’s a subscription service feeding frenzy out there. But it’s the tech companies that have perfected this model, as they have transformed things that once seemed like everyday pleasures into services that feel more like a tax on your paycheck. It sucks.
When you combine these services with monthly bills for important things like housing, utilities, and internet, suddenly, a big chunk of the disposable income you think you have vanishes into the ether at the beginning of the month.
So here’s a look at some of the biggest battles being waged in the services wars and the companies behind them. Be still your trembling wallet.
The streaming video shootout
Featuring Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube (and YouTube TV), Disney+, whatever the hell WarnerMedia is cooking up, and countless others.
For many, streaming video apps are the most identifiable gladiators in the service wars. Netflix was the first video streaming service that made it big, transitioning from a DVD rental program to a global, household name.
It was a good idea, so Netflix was joined by other upstarts like Stan and Amazon Prime Video. Meanwhile, companies like PlayStation and YouTube thought they would take a bite out of U.S. cable companies by launching over-the-top TV services so that cord-cutters could still watch live sports and other cable programming.
Editor’s Note: PlayStation Vue is not available in Australia, except via the use of a VPN.
This emboldened even more companies to join the fray, which is about when things started going downhill fast. Now media companies are fighting over content, locking down the biggest shows to a specific service and forcing people to shell out $10 to $15 a month because there’s only one service with the new Game of Thrones season.
The reality of cord-cutting isn’t one $10 per month subscription that has it all. It’s more like $50 or $60 split between several platforms.
So even if you signed up for Foxtel Now to watch Game of Thrones, you still paid for access to every other show on the platform.
And with content being fragmented and siloed across multiple services, it sort of feels like having one streaming video app isn’t enough. From the long reign of monopolistic cable companies, we’ve entered a world where video content is spread so thin, that people are returning to piracy to get access to what they want.
Congratulations, we’ve hit the other end of the cable hellscape spectrum, and now there’s too much choice.
There’s no such thing as too much music
Featuring Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, and YouTube Music.
Who doesn’t like music? And with the number of streaming music apps out there, it’s never been easier to seek out your favourite tune. Spotify has a free service tier, while most paid subs cost between $10 and $15 a month. That’s about the same as buying one CD a month, which seems pretty reasonable.
The dark side of all this is that if you ever stop paying for the sub, all that music goes away, potentially including any playlists, song ratings, or other things you may have saved.
That makes it feel like you are locked into paying for a music subscription for the rest of your life, and in the end, you’ll have nothing left to pass down like the stacks of tapes, records, and CDs that so many people cherish.
All the news that’s fit to paywall
Featuring New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, The Australian, The Telegraph, Herald Sun and many international publications.
Surfing the internet is a generally pretty low-cost affair. Sure, you still have to pay an ISP to get access, but once you’re travelling around all those tubes, there’s typically not a ton of fees associated with browsing. The trade-off for this is you see lots of ads.
Ads on the internet have not proven as profitable as companies would like. And over the last few years, the number of online news sites with content gated behind paywalls has increased. After five or maybe ten free stories, well that’s it, you’re done until the end of the month unless you fork out money for a subscription.
Keeping the cloud afloat with every monthly payment
Featuring iCloud, Dropbox, Amazon, and Google.
Anytime people ask what’s the best way to protect your files, the answer is always the same. Back that shit up. Online storage options from Amazon, Dropbox, Google, Apple, and others are often the simplest solution.
But at the same time, the process of safeguarding your data and storing it offsite like a smart digital archivist means shelling out yet another small sum every month. Yes, depending on how much room you need, that sum may be as little as $3 to $7 a month, but it all adds up.
Is game streaming going to kill the console or our bank accounts?
Featuring Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud and Xbox Game Pass.
Between battle passes, season passes, subscription fees in World of Warcraft and other MMOs, Xbox Gold, PlayStation Plus, Nintendo Switch Online, constant DLC and more, the whole games-as-a-service trend is in full effect. And more recently, through things like EA Access and Xbox Game Pass, game publishers are testing out the feasibility of Netflix-style video game delivery.
However, the subscription service madness doesn’t end there because, with the imminent arrival of major game streaming platforms such as Google Stadia and potentially Microsoft xCloud (Microsoft hasn’t released pricing plans for xCloud yet), the tech world has invented yet one more way to hoover up your cash in bite-sized chunks.
Yes, the upside of not having to buy a new console every couple years could be a boon to casual gamers, and there is a free tier of Stadia where you can skip the monthly fee and pay for the cost of the game itself.
But if you do opt for Stadia’s monthly plan, after two years, that monthly payment adds up to enough to almost buy a used Nintendo Switch, PS4, or Xbox One, so how much are you saving?
So what are you supposed to do?
The short answer is to take a hard look at all the various subscriptions you pay for every month and decide which ones are worth it. Because if you don’t, $10 for your music sub, $15 for streaming video, and another $20 to $30 for various cloud storage and gaming services can quickly balloon into recurring payments that suck your funds dry.
Thankfully, there are finance apps like Pocketbook that can help you track down that one subscription you forgot to cancel a couple of years ago.
But regardless of how you track your spending, you better figure out a solution that works for you, because the service wars are just getting started. You want someone to monitor your credit and protect you from fraud. Sure, that’s $10 a month.
How about fashionable clothes delivered to your door? Cool, that’ll be $250. Streaming video, music, and cloud storage? Tack on another $40.
It’s too much, and it’s not going to stop. The only one that can prevent a subscription service firestorm is you.