The rebirth of the subscription model

For decades companies have tried (and largely failed) to push a subscription model for software but it appears that consumer resistance may be fading.

Ten or twenty years ago if you had offered people a choice between purchasing a software package or renting it on a month to month basis the vast majority would have gone for the outright purchase.

But these days it seems as if the idea of an annual subscription doesn’t sound so bad. Part of that has been because companies have been quietly pushing subscription-based versions of their software offerings – promoting things like Microsoft Office 365 over outright purchases of the same or similar services.

One reason that subscription services have started to pick up adoption may be because tablets, Chromebooks and Surface-type devices just don’t have enough storage and horsepower to host local versions of something like the Microsoft Office suite.

Another reason is probably our shift toward a more mobile lifestyle. Most of us have been in a situation where we don’t have access to our desktop machine (or our own laptops) but we still need to check our emails, write something or even just show someone a digital picture we took. In the past, if you had the right software and were geeky enough to figure out how to use it, you could access your desktop machine remotely. There was also an attempt to let you store your computer’s settings on a USB device so that you could transform any computer into a version of your own computer.

These days however it’s almost trivial to access your Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, or iCloud account from someone else’s machine and simply pull down your files and pictures. Accessing email from anywhere is also a snap.

We are more interested in our content than how we access it and if our content and our applications can be virtualized so that we can get to everything easily no matter what device we happen to be using at the time then all the better.

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of storing all our pictures, documents and files on someone else’s servers would automatically make people nervous. We wanted to know that all our stuff was stored on our own machine on our hard disk drive running software that we had purchased and was ours for as long as we wanted to use it.

Now we would rather give up ownership of some of our things and trust (or hope) that the files we save to our cloud accounts will be there as long as we keep paying our monthly subscription fees. It is a trade-off we are more likely to agree to in exchange for more mobility and the ability to use smaller, lighter devices with less power to access the programs and data we want to use.

And, of course, subscription services generate more money in the long run for the companies that let you rent rather than buy.