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Outright purchase vs subscription based access

Will ownership become a thing of the past?


You leave work in your new car and make your way home after a tiring yet fulfilling day. As you pull into the driveway of your 4x2 upper middle class house, you are greeted by your two lovely children and even lovelier wife. You venture inside your reasonably equipped house and think to yourself, “am I in a yoghurt commercial? The 1950s?”, no, you’ve subscribed to this lifestyle for the cool price of just $9,999 / month.


Obviously I made the above story up, I mean one wouldn’t get a fulfilling day at work so cheaply haha, but I digress.


With most of our media and entertainment intake heading the way of subscriptions, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the much larger and broader “ownership vs access” discussion which is coming into people’s view a little more prominently and widely.


It what seems like part cultural shift, part practical response to circumstance, there has been a changing of the guard in attitude towards access over ownership. Naturally, we still like to have things, but how we have them i.e. in what manner, is certainly altering in perception.


“What is a leasing of a car or a renting of a house but a type of subscription based access?”

The need to own the book or newspaper you read or movie you are watching or even the car you drive or house you live in has become less important, especially on the smaller level. As I talked previously on the difficulties of “adulting” and home ownership, while I still feel home ownership is societally reinforced, the amount of people renting and the lack of affordable housing make it a somewhat practical response to circumstance – as I alluded to above.


If we examined what else has gone the way of subscriptions, or could go, music is certainly one heading that way for a lot of people, along with food and beverages. Thanks to advances in technology, one doesn’t need to carry around a wad of CDs / cassettes / vinyls they own, but merely sign up for a Spotify subscription and stream away to their heart’s content. Video games are another industry heading in that direction with the recent restructuring of PlayStation's Plus Tier subscription along with “digital only” consoles.


I feel it’s a bit dehumanising and debeautifying (if there’s such a word) to reduce things to just data. I like my tactile sense, the tangible touch of physical vinyl/CD cover and record/disk or a steelbook game case. I like seeing the beauty of these things with my own eyes and not mediated through some screen.


“I prefer physical ownership to digital ownership, and there is a massive difference between the two.”

If you are a like me and feel cars take on a character/personality of themselves and/or are an extension of your personality then it’s sad to see them loathed and demonised as they transition into mere transportation devices – I suppose to plenty they only ever were this. This dehumanising, tool-like reduction along with the cold and soulless electrification of the motorcar is heartbreaking to me, much like the reduction of music/games to data. I guess, if you don’t feel something is a part of you or belongs to you (as you do it), then there isn’t that connection. Perhaps ownership is more emotionally based than we give credit for.


“With the increase in disposability and ever-present consumerism, some people might ask what’s the point of owning or maintaining anything? Might as well just use it and discard.”

Ownership also prays on our security and risk averse nature. The fear of “access” being removed, restricted, censored or not available really strikes us in the core of our axioms. Amazon can’t take away from me my physical copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but I can’t watch The Grand Tour anywhere else and thus have to keep subscribing.


Which brings me onto the “subscribe to this, subscribe to that” nature of modernity. I don’t understand why people tolerate this incessant need to have 20 million subscriptions to things. Part of me thinks it’s a devious business model designed to make people lose track of what they have – and it’s a good little revenue earner. However, from the consumer side it is decidedly inconvenient and expensive. Is this just capitalism and the free market hard at work? I’m sure some of you will say so. It’s ridiculous to have to pay hundreds of dollars for multiple subscriptions every year just to watch football/soccer.


As your readership today expires at the end of this paragraph – and I hope you renew – I think there are some traits which highlight ownership vs subscriptions; the former tends to be personal and the latter impersonal, one impinges on security/stability whereas the other is aimed at flexibility. Ownership lends itself to responsibility and maintenance whereas I get to pay away these with subscriptions. While certain things lend themselves to subscription based access – I mean, you wouldn’t subscribe to a pet would you? – I’m certainly more a fan of ownership of the physical and tangible kind. Not in any symbolic individual defiance against authority, but in a far more deeply personal and profound emotional attachment – a manner of balancing the soul.

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