The Subscription Economy, COVID, and Creatives

Subscription Economy +  Independent Contractor + COVID-19 + = Need for better UX 😮

Lately, I’ve been learning a lot of new marketing skills, as I completed an Email Marketing, Inbound Marketing, and Social Media Marketing Certification through Hubspot Academy. On the side of virtual marketing assisting, I’m also getting a 9-month certification in UX/UI Design. This is all to say that I’m quickly learning what exactly goes into the digital experiences that are created for us as consumers, both from a marketing and design standpoint. Why a product looks a certain way to appeal to a consumer’s senses and how it operates to move us emotionally, not just as an individual but with considerations of our demographic and psychographics. 

The economy was already well on the way to a complete shift from just selling products to crafting experiences well before COVID. A perfect example of this is subscriptions. They operate to keep customers longer, providing a seemingly essential technology while giving you exclusive access to their club and the lifestyle you want to have based on the images you see on their socials. It’s also for a relatively low cost per month (I always justify this by saying—”$10 a month? That’s just two oat milk lattes”.. god I’m such a millennial consumer…I’d spend that anytime!”). By offering a free trial first, chances are that after you use it for a month, you’re willing to pay for the convenience. Or, you just forgot you were paying for it. With 10 other automatic monthly payments, it’s pretty easy to have one get lost. 

Ok, yes, we all know that a company’s number 1  concern is profit and of course, they don’t care about us and our COVID credit card debt (or is that just me?) 

In efforts to cut back on my spendings, I took a look at which subscriptions I could get rid of, but I realized I’m at the point where I now consider at least 5 of my monthly subscriptions as absolutely essential. It makes it harder, as a creative professional, and especially as a freelance contractor, when a lot of these subscriptions are necessary to do work. There’s the Adobe Suite subscription, Canva Pro, Google Storage… (I keep affirming my own points when it took me days to remember about my $16 a month website fee), yearly domain fee, Upwork, and a virtual assistant agency subscription. 

Maybe this is exclusively an independent contractor issue, but I still notice myself swayed by the convenience of a few platforms, and once you’ve been using the “pro” version for a few months and go back I really find myself missing out. 

Besides tools for work, there are a few absolute essentials that I can’t forget to mention. Let’s talk about Spotify, the app that basically revolutionized digital music. Spotify Premium I believe was my first monthly subscription, back in 2014, and I remember holding back for a while thinking that I really needed to be in a good place before I shelled out for it. With the student subscription, it was $5 a month!  Now, I would try $5/month for anything that might be useful without hesitation. I recently started Truebill, which is, ironically, an app to help manage your finances and cut back on subscriptions. I don’t find it particularly helpful, and I’ve been meaning to cancel it… 

The issue here is that products have gotten so good, TOO good, at designing, marketing, selling, and humanizing their efforts, that (1) it’s easy to forget they’re manipulating us and (2) when we do remember we’re being tricked, we don’t care. Why? That sweet sweet convenience. Technology. We know that using our phone for hours a day is harming our mental health, we know that our data is being sold, we know that ordering Amazon prime delivery is exploiting labor. We sometimes try, but mostly we choose to forget. 

I’m not trying to preach or pretend that this isn’t me, because it definitely is. In fact, I’m fueling the fire by choosing to work in marketing and design. But through this route I know I have the capacity to be better, or at least, not 100% manipulative and profit-driven. 

To look at the positive aspect of these new marketing efforts and the need consumers are developing to be told stories to, it does signal that consumers are wanting to be more informed. Brands have social media channels to promote themselves because consumers want to look at content that is relevant and interesting to them. 

So let’s harness that consumer power and not be tricked into the subscription game, even when it’s almost impossible not to. One method is using that same technology to stay more informed about the subscriptions we are purchasing. Sure, there are budgeting apps, subscription managing apps, but none of them really are as convenient as the subscriptions themselves. Let’s make it better. A full-service subscription marketplace, where you can purchase bundled subscriptions, for instance—one for Entertainment/Streaming: Spotify, Hulu, HBO Max, one for creative professionals with Adobe & Canva. You can customize bundles, cancel subscriptions, and maybe even get discounts through subscription packages, all through this one app. I’m honestly surprised this doesn’t exist already. 

At least that gives me room to design this hypothetical app. 🙃Would you use it? In the spirit of proper UX, I need to do research first to actually decide if subscriptions are a problem for users. You can help my research by filling out this survey here.

Thank you! Also, I’m thinking as a way to combine my photography with new design work, I will choose a photo from my archives and make a design in response to it. Stay tuned. 

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