If you’re a fan of pretty much anything these days, I should think it would be hard to have not noticed the rise of subscription box services. For a monthly fee, you’ll receive a box in the mail every month with a variety of surprise goodies. You basically sign up for the theme(s) you’re most interested in, and you’ll find a package tailored to that every month. I’ve seen themes ranging from “snack items from foreign countries” to “Firefly” (the Joss Whedon television show that only ran for half a season back in 2002).
In exchange for the surprise of not knowing what exactly you’ll get each month, the cost is reduced. So, for $20 per month, for example, you might be guaranteed enough goods that, when purchased individually, would normally cost $40. From what I’ve seen, most companies seem to do pretty well in that regard, and I haven’t seen any major complaints.
My wife and I have both tried various subscriptions, though, and found them not to our liking. There was nothing wrong with them per se; everything they promised, they delivered on, and what we were sent was of generally good quality, but none of it was anything we would have picked for ourselves. Which, to a fair degree, is part of the point—by letting the company choose what to send you, you’re essentially forced into trying new things. (Again, within the broad theme of your own choice.) But if you’re the type of person who likes to try new things anyway, you might prefer making your own selections.
That, though, is the challenge that many people today face. As a society, we’re bombarded with so much information all the time that much of it becomes white noise. We’re unable to focus our attention down to be able to discover something we actually like on our own, so we rely on other to curate some of our selections for us. News aggregators do the same thing. That people have figured out a way to make that easy and hassle-free makes it that much more appealing.
The notion of value comes into play, too, of course—getting a variety of goodies for less than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is a goal of a great many people in the age of extreme income inequality we’re currently in. The sales of “mystery boxes” at conventions is in much the same vein.
What I’m personally not sure of, at this point, is how well these subscription boxes will continue to do. The curation aspect is definitely something that I think will continue to appeal to people, but the question I have is whether subscribers will keep finding value in the boxes over the long term. My wife and I quickly found that these boxes aren’t for us, as we’re both good at curating for ourselves, and we would get more value seeking new things we know we will enjoy, over essentially paying someone else to find things we don’t always enjoy, even if it is less expensive than normal. Will other people come to the same conclusion? I can’t gauge which of those two factors will make for a stronger pull over the long term, but it will certainly be interesting to keep an eye on.