In a deeply embarrassing way, it can feel like we’re defined by our subscriptions. I’m a Netflix / Amazon / Spotify kind of person, but maybe you’re more the Hulu / Tidal / MoviePass type. Whichever ways you go, you often need these subscriptions to stay on top of the latest and greatest cultural happenings that are important to you, like Beyoncé’s surprise albums or the latest season of Stranger Things.
The problem is that subscriptions can get overwhelming. So rather than find out what my co-workers are adding to their subscriptions list, I wanted to find out what they’ve been leaving behind and why.
Going into this, I suspected I would hear a lot about people canceling the same few services all for the same reason. But after talking to more than a dozen people, it turns out that it isn’t specific services that people are starting to get rid of. Instead, it’s the same cancellation reasons popping up again and again in different places. So here are some of the reasons The Verge staff have been canceling their subscriptions, from Amazon Prime and cable TV, to MoviePass and MealPal.
The big event
Why stay subscribed to a TV service year-round when you only care about one or two TV shows? Or what about just a single live event? Verge reviewer Stefan Etienne said he was subscribed to YouTube TV for a short two weeks earlier this year “only for the World Cup lmfaooooooooo.”
I can actually beat him: I subscribed to Hulu Live for exactly one day to watch the Oscars. I guess I technically didn’t even make it past the free trial.
These are extreme cases, but it’s something plenty of us do around TV series, too. I canceled HBO Now after Westworld ended. And it sounds like CBS’s All Access service lives and dies on the back of Star Trek: Discovery. Verge weekend editor Andrew Liptak said the service “was just not something we watched a whole lot” outside of that one show. Laura Hudson, Verge culture editor, has indicated the same thing.
The spending trap
Sometimes a service that’s supposed to save you money ends up goading you into spending way more. That’s what got Verge commerce writer Cameron Faulkner to cancel his Amazon Prime subscription. “It was so convenient that my partner and I made what felt like daily purchases. Boxes showed up nearly every day,” he said.
Making it worse, he said, was Amazon’s Prime credit card, which offers 5 percent back on Amazon purchases... which you can use on more Amazon purchases. “It’s brilliant,” Faulkner said. “It keeps you in a loop of buying stuff and never paying for any of it.”
Uber’s Ride Pass can lead to a similar experience. The service isn’t widely available yet and terms seem to differ, but it generally gives a flat discount on all Uber rides and a fixed price on a single trip, like to and from work.
Verge reporter Shannon Liao was excited when she was offered a chance to sign up for it, since she was getting in early on the service. But she quickly realized that it led to her spending much more on transportation. “I used Uber way more frequently that first month I had the Ride Pass, so it likely made me waste more money than I saved,” she said.
She kept the service for three months, then canceled because “I realize the best way to save money is to plan trips ahead of time and leave a lot of time to take the subway.”
Then there are the subscriptions that bring you things — sometimes too many things. Verge network manager Sarah Bishop Woods said she canceled her Birchbox subscription because of all the waste the monthly beauty product box generated.
“It’s a box within a box, and it also holds those little styrofoam sheets to prevent breakage,” she said. “They sent me stuff that felt like a waste, too: how many tiny shampoo and conditioners does one person need?”
Verge culture reporter Patricia Hernandez found a similar issue with Blue Apron. “I felt like I was throwing away too much food,” she said. Hernandez wasn’t always free to cook when a delivery came, but that wasn’t the only issue. “Mostly, though, it was the packaging.”
Blue Apron does offer a way to send some stuff back, “but that’s kind of a hassle,” she says.
The content problem
There’s too much to watch. Except for when there’s nothing to watch. And neither is a good problem.
Verge senior reporter Russell Brandom went five months without Netflix because he already had FilmStruck, HBO Go, and a friend’s Hulu login. “So I was like, ‘I should be covered,’” he said.
But he chose to cut out Netflix specifically because it didn’t have much to appeal to him. “Their content was bad,” Brandom said. “I mean, fundamentally, it’s a Lack of Good Content issue.” (Eventually, he resubscribed to revisit The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok, but maybe not for long. “I will probably cancel it as soon as I get through Ken Burns’ Vietnam thing.”)
The same issue was true for Hudson and Liptak, who both canceled CBS All Access. Earlier this year, Hudson wrote that “despite its name, the service also doesn’t actually provide that much access, even to the network’s own library.” Liptak added that the service didn’t offer the same value as other streaming options. “Netflix and Hulu have quite a bit of content, either original stuff or on-demand reruns that make it worth watching,” he said. “CBS just doesn’t.”
In other cases, you might get behind on your subscriptions and need to catch up. Hernandez canceled her Comixology subscriptions — both to comics backlogs and specific new issues — because she already had months of books to get through. “I don’t make a concentrated effort to read them every month, and they pile up,” she said. As someone with a stack of literary journals on my nightstand, many with recently lapsed subscriptions, I can very much relate.
The greener pastures
Sometimes, it’s just clear you’re not signed up for the best service. Most of the time, that’s because you’re signed up for Tidal.
“The app was garbage,” Etienne told me. “I needed to restart my desktop twice to make it work.”
Even Verge news editor Micah Singleton, who subscribes to multiple music services to stay on top of them for work, cut his Tidal subscription. “My favorite is probably Apple Music. Spotify is the most useful (better Sonos controls),” he said. “Apple Music is mainly great because of the convenience when you have an iPhone.”
Tidal’s new design is an improvement, and its music quality can’t be beat, Singleton said. But ultimately, for him, “a third streaming service isn’t needed unless Jay Z and Beyoncé decide to randomly drop an album exclusively on Tidal on a Saturday.”
The better deal
A lot of times, you sign up for something because you genuinely enjoy and need the service, like a gym. But the costs always creep up, and eventually, someone will come along with a better deal.
Verge reporter Dani Deahl said she canceled her $50-per-month Gogo subscription for in-flight internet because she was able to get the same thing from T-Mobile for $10 per month. As part of T-Mobile’s One plan, you can pay the extra money to get a number of perks, including access to “unlimited data and texting” through Gogo on all flights where it’s supported.
The only limitation was that it could only be used on her phone. “But I can do enough work on my phone at this point where it’s kind of a non-issue,” Deahl said. “I don’t need my laptop to write an email or look at a Google Doc.”
And modern subscription services can become more expensive than the regular old thing. Verge reporter Loren Grush was using ClassPass — which lets you go to classes at different gyms around New York — until it started cutting down on the number of classes you could go to. At that point, she switched from ClassPass’ $100-per-month plan to a regular gym that’s closer to $60.
The cable debate
Cable is expensive — except when it’s a bargain because they want to get you to sign up.
Verge senior reviews editor Dan Seifert was a cord cutter until earlier this year, when a Verizon Fios bundle convinced him to sign back up — and cancel Hulu Live TV in the process. “Fios came rolling through my neighborhood with gigabit internet. But to get a decent price, you have to sign up for the triple play package, which includes phone and TV,” he said. “I wasn’t going to pay for both Hulu Live and cable TV, so I canceled Hulu.”
But the trouble with these cable deals is that the price tends to shoot up eventually. That’s what happened to Grush. And when her cable provider wouldn’t offer the same deal again, she decided to just stick with streaming services. “It was too expensive, and we had plenty to watch already,” she said.
And while Seifert may have gone in reverse, he’s hoping for the day when he can cut the cord again. “To be honest, cable TV sucks,” he said. “I wish I could go back to Hulu Live.”
The option problem
When you sign up for a service, you’re hoping to get something good out of it. But sometimes that something just isn’t as good as you were hoping for.
Here, finally, is where we get to MoviePass. After a recent change, the service no longer lets subscribers see any movie they want, which means you may not be able to use it to see brand-new films.
“The most recent change was the last straw because it was impossible to find a theater that played Crazy Rich Asians on the day I wanted to see it,” said Verge reporter Dami Lee.
For Verge internet culture editor Devon Maloney, the breaking point was the lack of nearby theaters. “Even before the bullshittery, MoviePass membership always relied on a very delicate set of extant circumstances in your life,” she said. “It’s like a gym membership: if you live near the gym, you’re more likely to go to the gym.”
Many Verge staffers ran into a similar issue with MealPal after a frankly unreasonable number of people signed up for a limited time $2-per-month (yes, per month) promotion. The service lets you pay a flat price for 12 lunches each month, then choose what you want to get from a selection of restaurants nearby — the catch being, each restaurant only offers a single thing each day.
The problem was, restaurants rarely put their best foot forward. Verge tech editor Natt Garun and Verge social video producer Mariya Abdulkaf both found the options to be disappointing. “There weren’t a lot of healthy options near the office,” Abdulkaf said. “Also, when I did get the salad that I wanted, they were smaller portions than I would get if I didn’t use MealPal.”
The limited selections weren’t great picks, either. “For the most part, it was just 100 variations of a Caesar salad,” Garun said.
Our final list of cancellations includes: Amazon Prime, Birchbox, Blue Apron, cable TV, CBS All Access, ClassPass, Comixology, HBO Now, Hulu Live, Gogo, MealPal, MoviePass, Netflix, Tidal, Uber Ride Pass, and YouTube TV. There were a few others I didn’t get to, including regular old Hulu, NFL Sunday Ticket, Stitch Fix, YouTube Premium, and Vrv.
Only two Verge employees would admit to canceling MoviePass.
I expected there to be a lot more commonality between the cancellations, and, to some extent, there is: pricing and whether something has enough immediately interesting or useful content are two big ones that come up over and over in different ways. But, ultimately, the problem may just be that subscriptions are never truly necessary. And unless they’re constantly proving their value, it’s easy for them to get cut.