The earliest subscriptions in my life that I can remember were to Amar Chitra Katha and Children’s World. Both brought in new content delivered by the postman once or twice a month. I also remember paying a subscription fee to join the library near my home. There was an annual fee and a deposit, and that allowed me to borrow books at a fraction of the cover price. Famous Five, Secret Seven, Hardy Boys, and the various comics ranging from Phantom to Mandrake to Commando all made their way into my life through the library membership. When I was in the US as a student, I joined two of the book clubs: Monthly Book Club and Quality Paperback Club. They had a nice model which gave me access to new books at a discount.
A different set of paid subscriptions continue to be core to my daily life. Dropbox was one of the first in the new generation of services that I subscribed to and still do. As digital media platforms have created paywalls and move away from advertising, the paid subscriptions have also increased – Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, Business Standard, Economic Times Prime, Bloomberg Quint, The Ken, The Information are the ones I subscribe to. (A few have got interrupted thanks to the ridiculous friction that RBI has introduced for recurring payments.) Then, there are the OTT platforms: Netflix, Hotstar, Sony Liv, Apple TV+. In the physical world, there are many. Newspapers, magazines, telecom (mobile, broadband), Amazon Prime. A Zoom subscription became a necessity with the onset of the pandemic. I also have an EazyDiner membership to get discounts when eating out.
What is now interesting is to see the use of subscriptions by a growing array of companies. The food delivery companies have Zomato Pro and Swiggy Super. Apple offers cloud storage for a few dollars a month. Then, there is Spotify and the music platforms. A few hundred rupees for a dozen or more services can add up quickly to a fat subscriptions budget!
As the competition for customers heats up, more brands will use subscriptions as a way to buttress their business models. For long, the Internet had only two revenue models – advertising and transactions. Subscriptions are now emerging as a strong third pillar not just for the digital first companies, but also for physical world companies looking to ensure loyalty.