Amazon recently increased the price of an annual Prime membership, from $119 to $139 a year.
The company’s rationale is basically: Well, because we can. But also, there’s inflation, plus it’s been a while, plus you get a bit more now from Prime than you did just a few years back.
As of last year, there were more than 200 million Prime subscribers worldwide. They don’t all pay the American rate, obviously, but still: we’re talking many billions of dollars in revenue, largely for the privilege of having the cost of the shipping already factored into whatever you choose to buy.
Now, I can’t hate on Amazon too much; for one thing, I’d be a hypocrite given that the odds my family will ditch Prime over a $20 a year increase are basically nil.
But as someone writing a daily email newsletter, you can imagine I pay a bit of attention to the subscription economy.
What makes people sign up for something? What entices them to welcome it into their email inboxes, or their TVs, or phones, or homes?
Believe me: Inquiring, newsletter-writing minds want to know.
So, let’s set aside Amazon for a moment—or even the much smaller but still impressive New York Times, which reported recently that it now has more than 10 million paid digital subscribers.
Instead, let’s talk about Taco Bell, and what they just announced.
It’s a much more focused inquiry for our purposes, and since every other industry on the planet seems to have a subscription offering, I was surprised to see that with its new offer, Taco Bell is basically the subscription vanguard of fast food.
You've probably heard the phrase "software as a service," or SaaS, about a million times over the last decade or so. Clearly, I was hoping they’d call this "tacos as a service."
Sadly, missed opportunity. Instead, they went with the Taco Lover’s Pass, which is a $10 monthly subscription service that gets subscribers one taco every day for 30 days.
They’re not quite the only ones in the industry. Sweetgreen salads has a $10 monthly discount program, and Panera has a subscription service that lets customers pay $8.99 a month for unlimited coffee or tea, for example.
(I knew about that one since Panera has also emerged as the “quick place where families with young kids stop on road trips” of the 2020s. Like Ruby Tuesdays in the 1990s or Howard Johnson’s in the 1970s, I think.)
Anyway, I guess subscriptions are the new black.
For one thing, it’s usually easier to sell a new thing to an existing customer than it is to sell to a new customer. And there’s always a percentage of people who sign up, pay, and then never actually use your service.
(I’m looking at you, Gold’s Gym in New Britain, Connecticut; no, I haven’t forgotten the four or five months during law school when I paid for a monthly membership and then never came back.)
There’s a massive first-mover advantage, too. The quirky new tacos offer at Taco Bell gets lots of play; the “wow, nice big, round number there!” announcement at the New York Times gets notice.
But we’re unlikely to do a full newsletter 18 months from now on a similar subscription offer at Del Taco, or bother to mention when, say, the Tulsa World newspaper hits a subscriber base 1/10th that of the Times.
Final point: If I ran the zoo, and I guess I do run a small one, I’d likely preach that the most important component of any subscription service is the one that most businesses forget—the periodic, sincere thank-you.
So, thank you to all of you who have subscribed to Understandably—whether you’re on the free plan or the premium support one. I like to think it’s a pretty good email newsletter.
And for those who haven’t signed up, maybe now’s a good day to give it a try. Let me know if it would help for me to throw in a free taco every day for a month.
Call for comments: What’s the subscription service you can’t do without, and the one you regretted having subscribed to?
7 other things worth knowing today
How the US economy defied Omicron to add nearly half a million jobs. Basically, more people worked from home, but employers kept hiring. (The New Yorker)
Bold take: Yes, Russia could invade and conquer Ukraine, but there’s almost no chance it could successfully occupy it. I don’t know enough to say whether this is right, but for about the 90th time in my life, it’s a lot easier to get into a war than it is to get out of it. (Foreign Policy)
Related, maybe: The top general of the US 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, just arrived in Poland along with a few thousand American paratroopers. Donahue was the final US soldier to board the last US military aircraft leaving Afghanistan last year.
Fighting back against book bans, a comic shop owner is offering free copies of Maus to locals, helping the graphic novel rocket up bestseller charts. (Upworthy)
A young musician played his dad’s unreleased song on TikTok, 43 years later, and it’s gone viral, with 3 million plays and counting. (Quick warning: there are about 20 excited F-bombs in this video, in case that might bother you, but the song itself is pretty great.) (NME)
Why some women are still single, according to the answers they gave to a Victorian-era magazine in 1889. Example: “Because I am like the Rifle Volunteers, always ready, but not yet wanted.” (Bored Panda)