Economics Index and Qualifications
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

Subscriptions, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Subscriptions, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, Spotify, and many others are meeting with considerable suspicion from the press. We are warned that the cost of all those subscriptions can add up.

Yes, they can, if you let them. But there is no reason why you have to let them. If money is short you can sign up for one subscription and binge watch it for a month or more, then cancel, and sign up for another. If money is really short you can cancel them all and binge on the public library if it is conveniently located. Public libraries today generally have almost everything, movies, TV shows, music CDs, and even graphic novels which are long, often pretentious comic books.

If you have the money and want to spend it on entertainment you can sign up for more than one subscription so that you have more choice and do not have to binge. What you spend is up to you in a way that it is not with cable TV, and one subscription service is certainly a lot cheaper than cable.

The reader might think that signing up for a month and bingeing is somehow bad for the creative community. However, what subscriptions do is segment the market, which is a very old tradition in the entertainment industry. The publishers first come out with expensive hardbacks. The hardback reader gets bigger print, a durable cover, and is able to read the novel first.

In the movie industry many decades ago there were first run movies at higher prices, and second run houses that frequently ran double features at lower prices. If you waited half a decade the movie was on TV with commercials.

More recently movies were first in theaters, then available for rent in video stores, then on Home Box Office and other pay cable services, and finally free broadcast TV with commercials.

Segmenting the market allows the creator to charge the wealthy more, without giving up on the poorer audiences. More money for the creators, means more and better entertainment for all of us.

No Ads

A second huge advantage that the subscriptions usually have over broadcast and cable is the absence of ads. This is a very big deal because about one quarter of basic cable TV and broadcast radio and TV is advertising. Furthermore, media consumption is the number one activity in America. Sleep is number two. So ads take up a major portion of our lives.

A full time worker is likely to spend about half as much time watching or listening to ads as they do working. But only half of the population is being paid to work. Children and the elderly are usually not employed. Those lazy infants. This means that for the whole population advertising takes up about as much time as paid work.

For each individual over the course of a life time, from infancy through old age the average person will spend somewhere in the general neighborhood of as much time with ads as they spend doing paid work. It is as if we have two jobs, our paid work, and watching ads. Subscription services may help us go a long way to eliminating one of those jobs.

Some complain that we have not gotten the flying cars we were promised and we spend too much time stuck in traffic, getting rid of ads will save us more time than instant teleportation would, yet a subscription costs a few dollars a month and teleportation is probably physically impossible both now and in the future.

Work takes time but for many it gives life meaning and structure. It is widely believed to ennoble the individual. It also provides us with social contact. We want to reduce it up to a point, but worry about it being eliminated, or even reduced too much.

Ads do not give our lives meaning, or friendship, nor do they ennoble us. A radical reduction in ads is a major step forward.

Little or no money for sports

A third advantage of subscriptions is that they funnel money into art as opposed to sports. Too much of our cable money is going for professional sports.

All the money going into sports has not made sports better. It is at least arguable that it made sports worse because it encourages steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. This is terrible for the athletes and the enjoyment of the spectators is compromised knowing that the spectical is to some degree fake.

Furthermore, the arts produce something permanent while sports are usually only enjoyed while they are happening. We listen to Bach's music and read Don Quixote hundreds of years after they were created, but few want to watch last week's game.

Star Trek and other similar space shows illustrate the point. The original Star Trek series lasted three years in the 1960s. In the 1970s the fans watched the reruns of these three years over and over until the memorized the dialog. They also made a series of theatrical movies profitable. Finally, in the 1980s, Star Trek the Next Generation brought new TV episodes, followed by Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise. By the time Star Trek:Enterprise was canceled they had 28 seasons. You had to be a real fanatic to want more Star Trek than that.

But by 2005 when Enterprise ended, there were other high quality space shows, including several Star Gate series, Babylon 5, Far Scape, and Andromeda. By the time the last Star Gate series ended in 2011 these other series had a combination of 31 seasons. Add that to 28 seasons of Star Trek and that is 59 seasons. But my point is that when Farscape ended 2003, and even more when Enterprise and Andromeda ended 2005 the fans had penty. Star Gate went on another six years but clearly the demand for new shows was tailing off.

For all but the most fanatical there were enough space shows, and for those who were fanatical they could watch the old ones again, or wade through the mountain of books and comics, many of which they could barrow from the library or get in cheap digital form. So the entertainment industry stopped producing space shows, at least for a while. Obviously sports does not work this way. Even when the professional teams go on strike they do not rerun old games.

We are producing four to five hundred scripted prime time shows for American television and if the reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes are to be believed many are of excellent quality. These shows enrich our lives today, but are likely to enrich our lives and other lives in the future as well.

A Major Step Forward

For all these reasons subscription services represent a major step forward. As mentioned before, for Americans, and indeed the whole human race consuming media is the number one activity, above even sleep. It takes the majority of our waking hours, and the over whelming majority of our leisure hours. So a big improvement in media is a big improvement in our lives.

In recent years and even decades the standard of living of the average person in the USA has hardly improved according to some of the most commonly sited statistics. We are frequently told that we should be both disappointed and angry.

We are particularly told this by liberals. Have they forgotten that we are supposed to be in an era of limits, where we learn to live with less.

Well it turns out we have learned to live with less, media takes a little electricity, but compared to many of our activities has a rather low carbon footprint and is fairly eco-friendly. With fewer ads, more choices, and higher quality programming we are doing fairly well, and entertainment subscriptions are part of that success.


Like what is probably the majority of Americans I subscribe to Amazon Prime. I use some of the services, I don't use others, this is why I think I am getting my money's worth from Amazon Prime

Here is an index to my other pages on economics, and a short review of my qualifications in this field.

This page is one of many this site has on media. Here is the media index page.

Tell me what you think. Here is my contact information..

Last updated November 4, 2019

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