As subscription services rise, are we heading for the end of ownership?

·2-min read
Could subscription services spell the end of ownership for consumers?

Subscription services are gaining ground in a major way in all kinds of domains. In nine years, subscription business revenue has grown 437%, and 78% of adults are currently signed up to such services. So is it a veritable economic model or a just a passing trend? Subscription services raise many questions, including whether they could bring about the end of ownership.

As the pandemic drags on, digital solutions are riding high. Crises are often vectors of change, fueling new models and new needs. While the subscription-based model is far from groundbreaking, it provides a solution that's suited to current times. What if we owned less stuff? What if your car, your bike and your mobile phone were ultimately just subscriptions, with services promising reduced financial and logistical constraints, more alternatives and greater versatility? In fact, the subscription management platform provider Zuora suggests that the end of ownership could be nigh.

Research conducted by Harris Poll and Zuora among 13,626 adults across 12 countries (the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Japan, Singapore, China, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia) charts the evolution of subscription businesses. It shows that subscription business revenue has grown 437% in the last nine years. It's an almost palpable trend, where mass consumption is forcing consumers to reevaluate their relationship with ownership. Maybe it's less exciting to own something than to enjoy fulfilling experiences thanks to easily accessible services designed for consumers. According to the study, the main advantages of subscribing to these services are convenience (42%), cost savings (35%) and variety (35%).

Companies rise to the challenge

The Zuora study examines the impact of subscription businesses in sectors such as healthcare, education, media and the Internet of Things. Use of subscription services is growing, it seems, with 78% of international adults currently subscribed to such services, compared to 71% in 2018. Moreover, 75% believe that, in the future, people will subscribe to more services and own less physical stuff.

The challenge for businesses interested in the sector is to create products and services allowing consumers to find what they need any time, any place and whenever they want. More and more companies are offering subscription services for cars, which can be cancelled at any time (on the condition of returning the vehicle, of course). A number of subscription services offering paid-for content are also springing up, like Twitter's Super Follow, or OnlyFans and Patreon proposing exclusive content in exchange for a subscription. Slowly but surely, the move from ownership to usership via subscription services could become the new norm.

Axel Barre