Will 2012 Be the Year of Subscription-based Services?

Are you terrified of commitment? I’m not talking about the kind of commitment that requires a diamond ring, or even a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. These days, it seems more people are afraid of committing to long-term contracts or even purchasing valuable items — especially those that they may not always want to keep forever, let alone always need. Instead, a new breed of services have emerged in the last few years that allow subscription to services or products that can be accessed in small doses at a low monthly rate, rather than purchased to own by one large, up-front fee.

Of course, subscription services are not new. Magazines and newspapers have survived on this model for decades, allowing readers to buy media on a revolving basis. Subscribers pay as they go, and should they no longer want their media, they simply stop paying or cancel their subscription for the next week, month, or year. In addition to public libraries, a few private book clubs still follow a similar model; I clearly remember bookshelves in my parents’ house filled with a rainbow of books from Reader’s Digest that they subscribed to while I was a young child. Other types of products and services have existed in subscription fashion — Mary Kay and wine clubs also follow a similar subscription model. Subscriptions to video game rental services have also been a popular trend for well over a decade, freeing gamers from the commitment to buy a video game at a high price when they’ll likely only play through once.

It wasn’t until within the last few years that the subscription model seemed to become a mainstream method of using almost all other types of consumer products and even services. Instead of buying movies or DVD sets of popular TV series, a record number of media consumers now rent their favorite movies and TV shows via Netflix and Hulu. At the same time, a record number of households are cutting their cable TV services and instead turning toward these other subscription services, along with others, for necessities like watching MLB games. (Products like Roku and Boxee make this transition from cable TV to using Internet subscription services on your TV especially painless.) These subscription services empower users to consume not only just the media they need, but the media when they need it. Cable television, which is notably also a subscription service, is usually at a fixed price, but without the flexibility to consume the content and when consumers want it, as they need it.

Other subscription services are utilizing similar psychology to entice fashionistas to stop buying clothes they won’t always need or jewelry they only want for a specific event. Beachmint is a new subscription model that allows women to subscribe to a jewelry and clothing on demand, and Avelle’s BagBorroworSteal allows members to rent handbags to keep only as long as they want or need the handbag at a price much lower than purchasing the bag itself. Other services, like New Beauty Test Tube, feature a subscription model that sends users samples of beauty products to try every month, eliminating the commitment to makeup, lotion, and perfume that can cost hundreds of dollars but may be a disappointment that can’t be returned.

Will 2012 Be the Year of Subscription-based Services?The theory of a subscription model has proved successful for products — but what about services? A new type of high-end discount club for restaurants is being tested in San Francisco, which allows members to dine at high end establishments at a discount for a monthly membership fee. Other similar types of high-end clubs exists for dating services, including Seattle-based It’s Just Lunch, Events and Adventures, and the latest in this group of clubs, BeCouply. BeCouply designs once-a-month dates for members, providing pre-arranged memorable evenings at a discounted price for its members. These types of subscription services free users of commitment to buying a package of services, while reaping the convenience of pre-arranged dinners, dates, and even discounts that may otherwise be inaccessible.

Do you think 2012 will be the year of the subscription model? These types of services clearly offer unique perks, access to discounts, and a lack off commitment that can relieve you from remorse in owning products that you may not always need, or may not be sure you actually want. Not only are more types of consumer-based products adopting subscription models, but even more types of media use subscription services with the rising use of mobile technology (such as subscription-based blogs accessible via smartphones). The likelihood is that we will see even more subscription-based services in 2012 for an even wider range of consumer-based products and services.

What do you think about subscription services? Are you more inclined to subscribe to a service for a monthly fee, or would you rather buy a product or service to own? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.