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2:00PM Water Cooler 8/10/15

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, I’m travelling today, and hence not able to put together a Water Cooler full of timely links. So I thought I would direct your attention to a trend I’ve noticed that bugs me, but that I don’t have a name for; I’ll call it “Trend S” (for “Subscription,” for reasons we’ll see). In a way, Trend S seems similar to the “sharing economy,” because the vendors seem to seek to conjure up a sort of horrid intimacy with me, the, er, consumer. Fellow zeitgeist watchers, I wonder what you think of this!

I first noticed what later (for me) turned into Trend S with “Dollar Shave Club.” The Revolutions podcast, which I listen to on my iPad, advertised Dollar Shave Club, and then it started following me around on the Twitter. Here’s the deal:

Dollar Shave Club couldn’t be simpler. Select one of our great blades, pay only for the cost of your blades, and we send ’em right to your door every month.

And here’s the image:

dollar_shave

Sort of turns the “Give away the razor, sell the blades” concept if not on its head, then sideways, doesn’t it? 

And then somebody at the local coffee shop mentioned Blue Apron. Here’s the deal:

And the image:

blue_apron

So, a food subscription… 

And then I saw Stand-Up on the front page of Yahoo News. The deal:

The Stand Up system is a subscription service, meaning you pay monthly for however many packs you choose to be sent to you directly. (You can also choose a one-time purchase option.) Six dollars a month gets you a pack of six, which come in a triangular pink box resembling something you might use to transport a single slice of pizza big enough to feed one medium-sized bunny. Once you’re done using each Stand Up, you simply throw it away.

And the image:

stand_up

And then Bespoke found me on the Twitter. The deal:

How it works

  1. Box Announcement

    On the 1st of each month we’ll email your new themed box selection.

  2. Skip or Ship

    Skip it free of charge, swap into a different box, or let it ride. You have until the 5th to decide.

  3. On its Way

    We’ll charge you when your goods ship. Sit back, enjoy, and get ready for next month.

The image:

bespoke_box

The Bespoke Trend S vertical, at least, is heading for ubiquity; the product category is called a “subscription box.” For men:

subcription_men

And for women:

subscription_women

* * *

Trend S reminds me of “software as a service.” We used to buy software on disks (or at least we thought we bought it, if we didn’t read the EULA too closely). But in many cases, now we subscribe to software instead; we rent it, and the advantage, if it is an advantage, is that the vendor updates and upgrades it automagically, wherever there’s an Internet connection. That’s how several apps work on my iPad. But all of the product lines above are physical, not digital. 

I don’t know what class of people subscribes to these things. People who don’t have time to go to the store? People who think going to the store is beneath them? People who have no “social capital” of their own, and need to seek out a curator for class markers?

Anyhow, are the similarities I see between the product lines:

1) Masterful use of global logistics. When you think about it, the packing and shipping really is amazing.

2) Twee design. All the artwork looks like it’s been designed by people who worked on the 2008 Obama campaign. Overly precise typography. The informal and yet highly manipulative tone. The manufactured perception that you belong to something special. The prehensile intimacy.

3) 21st Century Middlebrow taste. These are people who can use “curated,” “artisanal,” “great,” or “awesome” almost without irony.

4) Weak ties. The offerings all stress the lack of commitment. They’re not like the Book of the Month Club — that’s how I got my OED! — where you had to commit to four books.

5) Yet another intermediary using the payments system, which handles the subscriptions (and, presumably, any failures to pay).

It’s the last point that really worries me, because if the Greek fiasco teaches us anything, it’s that the payment is the political. If we want to understand elite thinking on such matters, we could do worse than turn to the wisdom of Baron Harkonnen, in Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“Hawat will be given both food and drink,” the Baron said. “Treated with kindness, with sympathy. In his water you will administer the residual poison…. And you will see that the antidote becomes a regular part of Hawat’s diet from this point on unless I say otherwise.”

“The antidote, yes.” Nefud shook his head. “But–” …

“We will woo Hawat,” the Baron said. … And we will hold in reserve… the withdrawal of the antidote for the poison. There’s no way of removing the residual poison. And, Nefud, Hawat need never suspect. The antidote will not betray itself to a poison snooper. Hawat can scan his food as he pleases and detect no trace of poison.”

Nefud’s eyes opened wide with understanding.

The absence of a thing,” the Baron said, “this can be as deadly as the presence. The absence of air, eh? The absence of water? The absence of anything else we’re addicted to.” The Baron nodded. “You understand me, Nefud?”

“Withdrawal….” meaning what happens when you don’t keep up with your subscription. Perhaps more prosaically, the Digital Rights Management-chip in your car subscription might freeze everything if you fail to keep your payments current.

Or even more prosaically, water, as the Baron points out. Or your bottled air.

Readers, what do you think of Trend S? Is the trend real? Am I late to the party? Am I being too paranoid and cynical?

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, and (c) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. And here’s today’s plant (Kurt):

lovely_blue

If you enjoy Water Cooler, please consider tipping and click the hat. I need to keep my server up! And take a trip….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

71 comments

  1. JEHR

    The most pernicious way of paying, in my humble opinion, is through the “sustaining” donation. I can see getting into deep debt in no time at all! I want more control over my payments than that.

    1. jrs

      Yes. Of course I like prepaid cell phone plans. gym memberships paid for monthly etc.. At least if you fell into financial troubles they would be easy enough to cut back.

  2. Jess

    Too paranoid or cynical? Hardly. I submit as Exhibit A Lily Tomlin’s famous saying:

    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

    To which I would add a corollary:

    “And no matter how paranoid you get, it’s actually worse than you think.”

  3. Lee

    I switched back to an old fashioned safety razor, soap bar and brush awhile back. Beats the hell out of those five-bladed contraptions in cost and quality of the shave. Didn’t join a club. I get followed around the web for motorcycle tire and accouterments ads among a few others. It is completely creepy.

  4. Synoia

    Readers, what do you think of Trend S? Is the trend real? Am I late to the party? Am I being too paranoid and cynical?

    It appears as the thin edge of the wedge to supply all you needs, while cross selling.

    What are their plans for product range expansion, and directed (in your subscription) advertising?

    1. abynormal

      Trend of Shed: “Stand Up, you simply throw it away.”

      As misanthropes and throw-away lods we will not submit to the mainstream. You will become it. And America should be very, very afraid. I AM YOU.
      Marilyn Manson

      1. JTMcPhee

        Anybody got any idea where that “away” we throw Trend S{h!t} to is, any more?

        Context:

        “Trash Timeline: A History of Garbage,” http://www.alliedwastedalycity.com/kids_trash_timeline-printer.cfm

        “Trash City: Inside ‘America’s’ Largest landfill”, http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/26/us/la-trash-puente-landfill/index.html

        And this, “Huge Garbage Patch Found in Atlantic Too,” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-new-ocean-trash-garbage-patch/ And my own experience during a delivery of a 38-foot sailboat from Kaneohe, HI to San Francisco in 1996 says that stuff about plastic breaking up at sea, “and fast,” is shall we say “inaccurate at best”? From 7 feet off the water surface, I could see every kind of floating plastic detritus, out to maybe 100! from the course of the boat, rising and falling in the swells and waves — fish-sorting trays, storage bins, water and oil barrels, nets, floats, bottles, jugs, bags and sheets, tools, gloves and boots, McD sh!t and other logo stuff too. Close to the boat, on calm days, we could see crap at close to neutral buoyancy floating and drifting down into that deadly deep blue… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qT-rOXB6NI Not that the conditions that result from the sum of all those trillions of tiny economicfreedomdecisions and transactions that lead to trashification as part of crapification will in any way be influenced or redirected to what in hy hubris I consider “better” directions. Because markets, and because who among the 8 billion really gives a ripshit, or enough of that mass to make a difference in the arc of the future?

        On the hopeful side, “Changing Lives Of Those Living In Extreme Situations — How We Serve: Quito Dump,” http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/quito-dump

        and this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ07DcGGmMg

  5. pmorrisonfl

    I’m roughly as jaded as can be, but I also still have a stack of books from a 1980’s book-of-the-month club of which I was once a member (‘The C Programming Language’ was one of the books, still valuable). In the early 1990’s I was part of a wine-of-the-month club, though I have no residual bottles. ‘Christmas Vacation’ featured a possibly mythical jelly of the month club. To my eye, the technology changes, but the song remains the same.

    1. craazyman

      I was thinking that too.

      I can’t believe this stuff nowdays. Books? Yes. I can believe that, not for fuddy-duddy reasons but just cause you got a below-retail price for something you’d have to go “all the way to the bookstore” for.

      But razors? There’s a damn Rite Aid or CVS in every shopping center in America. Also, most guys don’t shave every day and the razors will pile up. After a while they’ll have a huge pile of razors and they’ll try to cancel. Then they’ll realize it’ll take a day or two just to navigate the cancellation process. Then they’ll realize they got sucked into something unbelievably stupid. Every guy has to go through that at least once.

      Boxes? Oh man. Who the hell buys this stuff? I don’t know the last time I used a box. Probably never. What kind of a man buys a box subscription? After Bruce Jenner I don’t want to recklessly question a man with a box subscription’s manliness. Bruce was a strong man. A powerful man. An athelete. I won’t insinuate anything. Would he have got a box subscription? I don’t think so. He may now be a girl but he was not a girly man. Only a girly man would get a box subscription. A real man would go to a closet and pull out a box from the last time he bought shoes. Or he’d go to the basement. It may be damp and crumbling but with enough tape it’ll work. There’s always a box in the basement. There aren’t that many girly men to buy boxes. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Even gay guys aren’t girly men. They may be gay but they could beat the shlt out of you if they worked out and you don’t. they’d never get a box subscription, unless they did it as a joke of some kind. Maybe that’s the business plan.

      At any rate. This stuff is lunacy. What the hell is that pink Festival Pack all about? That’s definitely something for girls in their 20s. They might buy that. OK. Money is money so if it works it works.

      None of this will last. But that’s what I thought when I saw the internet for the first time, so my track record isn’t very good. With books, I always went to the store or the library. What do I know?

      1. jrs

        I think there’s supposed to be something in the boxes. Like you choose your box subscription – I’d like the wood chips of the month box, or I’d like the screwdriver of the month box, or something. But really I wasn’t going to fool around with that website which wanted personal information before I could see the product.

  6. Steve H.

    Resonance with health club memberships. Part of the brain wants the service the product facilitates, the props to the fragile ego construct desired by the person, who then commits money with the notion that the potential loss aversion will be a stick to the carrot. Health club memberships spike around the holiday season, with feast guilt and unresolved resolutions. The clubs empty out after January, though the membership lasts a year.

    1. Yves Smith

      Not sure I see that as the same. Unlike retailers, whose business model virtually since inception is that their doors are open to all comers who can buy their wares (and won’t try to shoplift), the entire health club industry has always been on a membership basis. All the equipment is pricey, so gyms have much higher fixed costs than a retail store.

      Even never niche variants, like yoga studios, seek to convert users to members by selling discount passes. And those niche variants almost without exception have much less in the way of equipment investment per square foot of floor space that a gym does.

      Plus I am the sort who does have a gym membership and always used them religiously since the first one I joined. And ever club I’ve ever been to (even ones I use more than a few days in one spot when traveling, since some places will allow complete outsiders to buy guest passes), have regulars who show up at the same time of day daily or at least several times a week. But yes, a gym’s most profitable members are the non or “I gotta get the holiday poundage off” or only intermittent users who buy memberships.

      1. Steve H.

        Okay, the high fixed cost is a true distinction from Lambert’s examples.

        But for your own usage, I will not accept that you are less than a shining star of an outlier. Wonder Woman’s gotta get her reps.

  7. Exdeadguy

    Definitely real. A number of people at my office (millennial, corporate professional, single) subscribe to Birchbox, my spouse (Gen-X, freelance) uses Dollar Shave Club, and I (Gen-X, corporate professional) subscribe to a couple artists on Patreon plus a charity.

    When the product you are shipping costs nearly nothing (either crap or digital (or both!)), I could see how a number of subscribers at cheap prices could lead to profit, and no need to tie anyone into a contract or minimums. That way you can focus o the “experience”, which is largely packaging. The amounts are small enough that I could see someone who isn’t penny-pinching would even let several go by before remembering to cancel. Perhaps the business model is profit by a thousand cuts?

  8. JCC

    You ask who subscribes? I know people who do and somehow they justify it by saying thinks like, “There are few stores here.” Unfortunately too true, the nearest mall and discount stores are over 1.5 hours away at 70mph, and stuff here is highly priced (a combo of California and the middle of nowhere)

    But that being said, most are young and don’t remember record clubs and book clubs and other “clubs”. I do, and when I was in my late teens/early twenties I foolishly signed up for a few. They were all bad situations that were hard to unsubscribe from and often sent unwanted products. Meanwhile, though, while waiting for the written “unsubscribe” requests to be processed, you continued to get crap and be billed.

    Once burned, a thousand times shy. Especially food!

  9. craazyboy

    Shaving Technology and Supply Chain Optimization

    This is heady stuff, but I do try and wrap my head about these issues that confront us, the consumer, on a daily basis. I’ll confess I do get sticker shock whenever I grab the $15 pack of Gillettes when I sidetrack down that isle at the Walmart Supercenter next door. On occasion I even try the much cheaper brands to see how they work. Rather dissatisfied to date with those, I concluded Gillette really does have some secret process for making long life shaving blades. So one time I decided to get scientific about it and measure how long exactly does the blade last? Gillette recommends the gel type shaving cream, because good lubrication is vital for both comfort and blade longevity. I recorded 3 weeks of perfectly good shaving experiences – and could have pushed it longer.

    I very much doubt that the Dollar a Day Shaving Club is an improvement, and it sounds like kinda a dumb club to belong to anyway.

      1. craazyboy

        Really. I’m using the 3 blade Mach 3 (refills $3/ea) and the Gillette gel shaving cream. Gel is important, but any brand seems good. Warm water too.

        So either they are vastly better than Trac 2, or you’ve got barbed wire for a beard.

            1. optimader

              Yes, well an ice pick is a chip off that old bock too, but I just used mine yesterday for proper margarita fix’ins time.

              Embrace your inner straight razor -razors don’t kill people, people kill people

          1. sleepy

            If you can find an old time barber who still does it, it’s a real treat to get a professional shave with a straight razor.

        1. hunkerdown

          Mach 3 Turbo and Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap work well enough for me, too. The last time I tried razors that my uncles might have used, I was decidedly unimpressed. For what it’s worth, Gillette cartridges for off-patent ranges don’t seem to last as long as those for their on-patent ones. I can’t say whether there’s a gaslighting effect going on here.

          1. craazyboy

            I kinda noticed the same thing – the 3 blade maybe lost a little oomph when the 5 blade came out. But the 5 blade is ridiculous. Tried those once and could barely keep from removing pieces of my nose. Warren Buffet did sell his Gillette stock – maybe the top is here in proprietary shaving dominance.

            1. weevish

              I used a Mach 3 for a long time until I got a couple of packs of blades that were junk right out of the box. Maybe just a bad batch but it seemed like crapification to me. I switched to the roughly equivalent Schick and have been happy enough.

              In principle, I’d like to dump this wasteful high-tech multi-blade stuff and go back to the old ways but I only have a limited supply of blood. The thing that sold me on the three blade arrangement was that the angle of attack was constrained in such a way that the towel didn’t look as if it was used to clean up a murder when I was done.

          2. ambrit

            The old Trac II and Bronners Eucalyptus soap, diluted 50%. I don’t know about the peppermint soap. I’ve theorized that the astringent effect is some sort of learned pseudo macho behaviour.
            I’ve tried straight razors, but find that the ‘safety razors’ have trained me to be slapdash about the excision process. I generally excised chunks of flesh along with the hair stalks. As long as I can find Trac II cartridges at the Dollar Store, or even occasionally at flea markets, I’ll stick to them. Finding the handles is way harder than finding cartridges. I found a trio of handles at a garage sale(!!!), use one and keep the other two as back up.
            Being an ageing geezer, I do attest that our beards get tougher as we get older. (Are they being trained to that by use of suboptimal shaving processes? I’ve not seen any studies.)

              1. Ivy

                Whatever you do, resist the temptation to buy a multi-bladed off brand razor at a discount store! I still have scars from that pennywise folly.

          3. optimader

            Shavings equivalent of slow food

            http://www.artofmanliness.com/2009/10/06/how-to-straight-razor-shave/

            Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide

            Our very first post on the Art of Manliness was a introductory guide to shaving like your grandpa with a double-edged safety razor. Since then, we’ve received requests to do a similar article on straight razor shaving. Well, after months of experimenting with straight razor shaving myself and researching the subject in old books on barbering, I present this beginner’s guide to shaving like your great-grandpa. I couldn’t possibly put everything there is to know about straight razor shaving in a single article, but the following presents the essentials of this old-time shaving ritual. Benefits of Straight Razor Shaving Better shaves. I thought my shaves couldn’t get any better after I upgraded from my Mach5 to an old school safety razor. I was wrong. The first time I shaved with a straight razor, my face looked as smooth as a baby’s behind. My wife noticed the difference without me even telling her what I had done and declared that it was the smoothest she’d ever seen. So make the switch to a straight razor. Your face will thank you for it.

        2. Jess

          Not using gel but am using Gillette Sensitive Skin shaving cream with aloe. One shave is fine, but after that I get a crappy shave with irritated skin to boot. FWIW: for a really smooth shave I have to shave with the grain, and then against the grain. So maybe I do have barbed wire.

    1. Lee

      Go back to the old safety razor. It’s a better shave at a lower price. The only inconvenience is that one must take a bit more time, care and attention. Not necessarily a bad thing.

    2. Oregoncharles

      You shave? I haven’t shaved since about 1965. Saves a bunch of time and money, and if I ever need to go incognito, nobody knows what I look like under the fuzz (now white). Including my family. And me.

  10. Anon

    I’m partial to the name of Systeme S, to parallel the upcoming new future/normal of Systeme D. I can’t really speak for Dollar Shave Club or Blue Apron – despite hearing of them/seeing commercials, but another one that’s similar enough to those is Loot Crate (monthly geek accessories/gear).

    This might perhaps be a trend of hyper-convenience, where you potentially can add more things to purchase to the long-term goal of never stepping outside, as it were. Perhaps we’re witnessing the birth of the subscription economy or maybe this is just an internet resurgence of those ads that used to come in magazines.

  11. jrs

    Of course water is pretty much everywhere on the subscription plan already, it’s called a monthly bill, the landlord may cover it, but unless you have your own well ….

    So the way I see it it’s a fact of life we have regular bills for some things that have to be paid to maintain any quality of life – basic utilities, maybe internet. It’s the way it is, if you are at all grid connected. Lose your job, tough luck the electricity bill is still due if you don’t want the lights going out. But the other stuff where monthly subscriptions are avoidable they should be avoided. Sure food is usually not a monthly subscription and you still need it, but you’ll have some flexibility as to what you buy as it’s not on a payment plan (rice and beans rather than steak and lobster).

    1. J Bookly

      Amen. My husband and I were self-employed for many years and our basic financial strategy was to keep recurring expenses as low as possible. That way, we could survive a bad month, and then when a good month came, we could fix the roof or stash something away or whatever. Now we are semi-retired and living pretty well on a pittance. Doodahs of the month are for people who have deep pockets and really like doodahs.

  12. Chris in Paris

    Lambert, recurrent revenue streams are like a permanent booty call. Investors love that stuff.

  13. John

    Neoliberal economics. Your whole life will be mediated by the market. From birth to death. Your birth rent and your death rent. You are only useful to the extent that you contribute to some higher order’s income stream of rents. Stop paying the rent, the antidote will definitely be witheld. This is what makes you happy and gives your life purpose. It is your freedom. It is your love. It is your whole being. It is measured in money and your activity in the market. Even your resistance will contribute to the health rents or the prison rents.
    This subscription activity is no different than any other rent paying activity in which you participate. Enjoy with enthusiasm how much Mr. Market gives you! It is everthing!

    1. Ulysses

      Yep!

      “Your whole life will be mediated by the market… you are only useful to the extent that you contribute to some higher order’s income stream of rents.”

      If Mr. Market drives you round the bend he can make money off of your new desperation for anti-anxiety medicines, etc. If competing with selfish louts, to win enough tokens to survive, makes you wish to escape humanity, Mr. Market will profit off your one-way train ticket to Alberta.

      We all need a break from Mr. Market!!

  14. John Merryman

    I’m a member of my family. The rest is mostly static.
    There are going to be strings attached with everything.
    Knowledge is information. Wisdom is in how to edit it.

  15. Mick Steers

    I have been using Adobe software forever. I love it, but hate the subscription model. The updates are simply not enough value added. I put up with it because these are products for which I have a huge sunk cost in training and familiarity. There are very few other software rentals I would fall for. The idea that Microsoft Office by subscription gives me anything I didn’t have in Office 2007 is laughable.

    I find the rentier mentality and the micropayment model deeply disturbing. The movie In Time with Justin Timberlake, depicted people earning and spending time instead of money.If ever you fail to earn enough, you simply run out of time and die. It was the ultimate technological dystopian serfdom. Not a great movie perhaps, but it really reminds me of the technologically mediated “gig economy” and perpetual revenue streams being embraced by our newly rights-endowed corporations.

  16. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    What is Bespoke selling?

    I read the twitter, and can’t see what they are selling at a glance and will likely ignore it.

    The same with Stand Up. If it takes me more than a tenth of a second, I am not buying.

    Maybe that’s why I am not buying much these days. (Please be kindly enough not to report me to the Patriotic Consumers of America Association).

  17. optimader

    resembling something you might use to transport a single slice of pizza big enough to feed one medium-sized bunny. Once you’re done using each Stand Up, you simply throw it away.
    or use them to store even smaller individual slices of pizza for your bunny –as long as you haven’t eaten asparagus that wasn’t freshly picked.

  18. DJG

    And twee. I’m glad you pointed it out, because I’ve been wondering about the rise of the Twee Esthetic (or is it Aesthetic?) for some time now. It’s like eternal fourth grade, with jam jars and ribbons and curlicue moustaches (on everyone, and car, too) and doughnuts with sprinkles and clothes that are too small and heavily wrinkled. Let alone the restaurants where they instruct you how to eat after the waiter tells you his name. I suppose that behind it all is some spilled milk in the boys’ coat room, turning into artisanal cottage cheese. But it’s all good!

    1. hunkerdown

      Bernie could defuse BlackLivesMatter™ by wearing a twee moustache ironically and getting massive hipster cred.

  19. Vince in MN

    I have a hard time relating to this. But then I don’t twitter, pulled the plug on Facebook a long ago, don’t have an iPhone and use an ad blocker on the internet. Is constantly being bombarded by capitalists the price one pays for being digitally connected 24/7 perhaps?

  20. Michael

    I’ve subscribed to the occasional magazine or comic book. This is little different; instead of shipping me curated words, they’re shipping me curated items.

    Why are they twee and pseudo-intimate? Why does the Economist act like it’s doing you a favor by letting you subscribe to it? Because you can create identity through careful consumption.

    Anyways, as long as I can challenge the charge on my credit cards, I give no flips. Do what you want with tiny amounts of your disposable income. Beats Applebee’s.

  21. DJG

    I agree with the comments above that the idea is to hook you into continued involuntary buying–especially because so many people aren’t monitoring the purchases that go through on credit cards. How can you, if you’re charging a four-dollar Starbucks Caramel Marquis de Sade whip-i-ccino every morning on your credit card? That’s sixty line items just for coffee. So the companies are enagaged in low-level grifting.

    A similar trend here in Chicago is for stores to actively resist giving a receipt. Considering how often stores get things wrong, deliberately or not deliberately, walking out of a store without a receipt makes no financial sense. But we are all rich and important now, and even though it took hundreds of years to get merchants to give receipts, we don’t need them anymore…

    1. Ivy

      Always get a receipt, whether paper or via email. Also review the credit card charges to see about any anomalies, as some are innocent mistakes and others are flagrant abuse. I’ve had to dispute a few charges where the restaurant cashier apparently decided to round up quite a bit, and found that the card companies were helpful in getting those reversed.

  22. jrs

    That bespoke website is positively weird by the way, you need to log in with social media or set up an account to even view it. So their advertising tool (the website) is behind a paywall or a social media wall at any rate. Is THAT a new trend? And they expect to sell things … uh huh … when they hide their public outreach tool. Okay.

    1. jrs

      It might be a sign things are getting bubbly, you know like when sock puppets try to sell you things, when sales websites are access restricted to even view the product … this time is different, these businesses are viable, we are not in a bubble!

    2. hunkerdown

      One local pizza franchise had been experimenting with the “exclusive” posturing. I sent the company one of my famous withering messages and now you don’t have to Connect with Facebook just to see the online menu anymore.

  23. Roquentin

    I do the Dollar Shave Club thing. It’s actually a pretty good deal. You’re missing how it really functions though, the razor blades are just the tip of the iceberg. Every month they hit you up to include an ever-expanding array of products. They do hair gel and several other substances associated with shaving (shaving cream, aftershave, etc). The cheap razors are just to get you in the door so you start buying all your toiletries from them. I’ll fess up and admit I like the “shave butter” shaving cream though. I like it to the point where I’d have a hard time going back to the old fashioned Gilette gel. I guess their marketing worked pretty well on me.

    In general I’d definitely say the trend is towards mail ordering and subscription services. Let’s be real, most people don’t like going to Dwane Reade, spending 5-10 minutes trying to find what you want, and then standing in line for several more minutes to get it. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more items which were bought in brick and mortar stores end up being processed through mail order retail. The ironic thing is while email almost killed the postal service, mail order brought it back. I think a parcel or courier service would be a solid industry to be involved with in 2015.

  24. ambrit

    The one big thing lurking in the background with all these ‘subscription’ services is the same one bedeviling online merchandising in general; the price of delivery. More accurately, the energy differential between the old store centered distribution system and the ‘instant delivery’ of individual items model. (Speedy delivery Mr. Rogers!)
    There has to be some arcane formula that can compare the costs of stocking a box store versus ‘on time’ delivery of individual items. At the wholesale level big stores buy and ship in bulk. If you want metric tons of widgets, nothing beats a train. If you want two widgets, a trip to the store, or a delivered box do the trick. Averaged over a region, which form is cheaper? Cheaper to whom, individuals or society? (An assignment I’m not at present up to.)
    The mention above of the need for association hits a real need in itself. If society is trending towards atomization of individuals, what better antidote than a feel good imaginary friendship? However, like those “Want To Party?” ads that pop up from time to time, the ‘intimacy’ on offer comes at a price. Several prices if the truth were told. Whoring is whoring, a business transaction. Terry Pratchett was right. “Negotiable Affection” is the key. Love is another thing entirely. Really, not a ‘thing’ at all.
    On the Pratchett beat, his final Discworld book is set for release on August 26. See:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/10/tickets-terry-pratchett-final-discworld-novel

  25. Oregoncharles

    All I can tell you is that my niece, an overemployed lawyer but a bit of a foodie, swears by Blue Apron – rather apologetically, given the waste involved.

    OTOH, she can afford it.

    Isn’t all this just a reinterpretation of book and record “clubs?”

  26. SashaB

    I used Blue Apron a lot last summer. It’s a food service that sends pre-measured up-scalish-ish ingredients and recipes. Actually, the food is great, and each recipe takes about 45 minutes to an hour to prepare. But I found that the recipes tended to lean toward pan-frying something, and I’ve gotten away from that big time lately. Plus the packaging is monstrous — loads of those gelatinous cooling blocks. I might start ordering again in a few weeks, if only because it guarantees I’ll be cooking three nights and not peering into yogurt containers. YMMV

  27. Danny

    I’m knee deep in that world. It has a lot to do with funding. If your funders (i.e. investors) are looking for a particular model, you move that way. It also has to do with lemmings. If there’s anything I’ve learned anything about living in the SF Bay Area it’s that the tech industry is full of them. That and myna birds, chameleons, leeches, rats, and -what my friends have labeled – Rasputin-wannabes, but that’s another story. The lemmings follow each other to the next best thing. Anyone watching knows the music will stop soon, so are looking to fund something that will potentially survive a repeat of the 2000-2005 bloodbath. Those who aren’t watching? Well, they’re funding Webvan redux like lemmings. But this time is different because it’s done as a subscription, right?

  28. Sam Kanu

    What’s the obsession with straight razors? Modern multiblade razors are not only safer, they also last forever. Even if you buy the most expensive gillette blades, a cartridge of three or four of those can last you more than a year.

    Ignore the change of colour on the pad – that’s a ruse to induce you to throw away the blade. Even if the plastic padding around the edge falls off, ignore that too.

    All you have to do is simply wash and dry that razor correctly when you use it. Wash it out in both directions with a drop of soap. Dry it off completely. Ideally wipe if off on your jeans. The thing will be sharp for months. Like 2-3-4 months, if not more. As single one. Gillette won’t tell you this. But it is true. Try it.

    And you don’t have to give up modern conveniences like not cutting yourself needlessly or being at risk of your shaving equipment in your hand luggage actually violating federal laws at the airport.

  29. Metro Gnome

    In my industry we are all desperately trying to move to a recurring revenue model. It has become very difficult to sell big-ticket one-time-purchase items or systems. Clients have bought into this massive shift in mindset from owning things to renting things or ongoing payment for access. It’s everywhere.

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