We Subscribe to Everything, We Own Nothing

Bridgette L. Hylton
4 min readSep 23, 2020

How the proliferation of subscription based services may be repackaging old problems

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

From tangible to intangible things, from our music and television, to our news, to our transportation, to our food, to our cloud data storage, to our Amazon prime delivery, to our photo editing software, to our cell phone and cell phone plan, to our cars, to our internet service, nearly everything we use regularly seems to be moving towards this model of unlimited or tiered usage tied to seemingly affordable monthly payments ranging from a few dollars upward, that remain on a consumers balance sheets indefinitely.

It seems everything consumable from the food we eat, to the art we enjoy, to the services we rely on these days comes with a subscription and we don’t own any of it outright. As of two years ago, “[N]early half of American online shoppers pay for streaming-media services.” Many people now lease their phones from the big carriers instead of buying them. The result being that consumers don’t own something as potentially intimate as their own cell phones, and they will never pay them off, and therefore can’t sell them for cash should they wish or need to.

Lyft co-founder, John Zimmer and board Director, Valerie Jarrett, discussed car services moving towards subscription-based models in the future as opposed to the current charge per ride model that has made them so popular.

As the American economy has moved from a manufacturing to service based starting in the 90s, we have been faced with the increased proliferation of subscription-based services as a means to meet the needs of the average American consumer. In some ways it makes services more affordable on a day to day basis, but is it a good thing?

Couple all of this with the fact that homeownership is increasingly out of reach for younger people so many in my own generation and younger. The number of Millennials (aged 18–34) who owned their own homes had fallen to a thirty year low in 2016. The net effect is that many younger people have no choice but to “subscribe” to live anywhere, while rents in the most desirable retail markets, like San Francisco and NYC, continue to skyrocket. It has become common knowledge that ownership, particularly home ownership, has traditionally been a secure basis for…

Bridgette L. Hylton