I’m not the first person to believe that a point could be reached where there’s just too many subscription services for entertainment products. Jim Sterling recently revisited the issue in his video on EA Access. And it is EA’s EA Access service that has left me wondering if it’s possible for subscription saturation.
Subscription saturation… it doesn’t sound sexy and it really isn’t.
How much entertainment do I subscribe to right now?
Until last year, I was only subscribed to one entertainment related service. That was Xbox Live. I’d previously been subscribed to both it an LoveFilm, but LF didn’t move fast enough back in the day when it was about renting physical copies of media, and I left before it was bought by Amazon. Anyway, last year I decided to subscribe to Netflix and I also decided to get a PlayStation Plus account when I was gifted a PS3. And then earlier this year I subscribed to Audible.
That’s four entertainment subscription services I’m currently paying for on either a monthly or annual basis. I do wonder about signing-up to Amazon Prime, but there aren’t enough differences between it and Netflix for me to bother at the moment. If Amazon were to also launch their Unlimited service for books in the UK, I might also be tempted. But even with the four I’m currently using, I’m paying out a fair bit a month altogether.
At the same time, physical retail and all the costs it incurs is becoming less and less desirable for publishers of any medium. They’re all seeing the potential to cut their costs with digital, though not necessarily their price to consumers.
But if I had an Xbox One, I believe I would be tempted by EA Access and that’s a problem. I just about manage to make use of what I subscribe to now, but if I added something else to the pile – would I still make use of everything? And it’s just for content from one publisher, not the multitude the services I subscribe to now provide.
Everyone’s thinking about subscriptions
The entertainment industry, generally, is moving towards encouraging audiences to subscribe to access content rather than just buying it once and having it forever (or until you sell it in a car boot). But where before different industries could probably, safely, market their products to the same person and have them eventually buy each of their products, subscription services make it far more complicated. They’re an ongoing concern and if publishers of content decide to take out the middlemen (the Netflixs and Amazons of the world), as EA has gone part of the way to doing, more and more, and try to get subscriptions directly from consumers then they’re going to leave consumers in a tough spot.
Sure I might like some of EA’s games, but I also like the games of Bethesda, Square Enix and Nintendo. It would be impractical, financially, for me to subscribe to each of them individually. Plus, I can’t predict from week to week what I want to play, so this hypothetical me in a world filled with subscription entertainment everywhere wouldn’t be able to just plan what to spend where each month. And I wouldn’t be alone in facing down this conundrum induced by consumer choice.
Now, obviously, EA aren’t going to stop selling full copies of their games in the near future. But five or ten years from now? It could be a different picture. The share holders and boards of large companies are looking increasingly at ways to have predictable levels of income. Subscriptions to their products, making them services, is one way of maintaining a predictable income and growth.
A future my bank balance could cope with
I’d be fine with paying for access to digital content on a subscription basis if it was through a middleman with lots of access to content by lots of different publishers, as opposed to subscribing directly to individual publishers (subscription saturation). I’d also be fine if those publishing on digital only would stop trying to beef-up their margins so much by charging the same amount for digital as they do for physical copies or more.
And here’s another thing: it’s not just entertainment products that are increasingly chasing subscribers, but software providers as well, and general, everyday items and necessities. In the UK, and other parts of the world, people are increasingly only renting items like cars and their homes. These are things they need, paying out that month for a subscription to EA Access isn’t.