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How Paschal's Vat cut spurred me to quit online subscriptions

Adrian Weckler


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A billing update email from Netflix triggered some soul searching. Photo: Reuters

A billing update email from Netflix triggered some soul searching. Photo: Reuters

A billing update email from Netflix triggered some soul searching. Photo: Reuters

So, did we all get our 26c monthly price cut from Netflix?

I did. And from Spotify. And from a handful of other services I subscribe to.

Is this what the government's temporary Vat rate cut means?

We can debate whether or not it's a good use of valuable resources (€440m) when money is tight. This seems especially so when some of it is pocketed by big, increasingly profitable companies (such as Eir) that won't pass the Vat cut on to customers.

However, it may have one roundabout financial windfall for thousands of people: a clearout of subscription services.

The billing update emails I got last week from Netflix, Spotify and others triggered a reaction. It's time to finally tackle the question of sorting through what I'm subscribed to and what I can do without.

I'll bet I'm not the only one who keeps putting this on the long finger.

In my case, I pay around €150 per month for online subscriptions, not including broadband, TV or mobile. It's everything from Spotify to iCloud to YouTube Premium to news apps and utilities.

I don't think that this is wasteful or profligate as a principle - much of it is simply a replacement cost for stuff I no longer spend money on, like CDs and DVDs (and going to the cinema).

But there are now some that I just don't use much. Yet every time I think about cancelling one, I either get distracted by something else or resolve to give it another chance, recalling the ambitious reasons I subscribed in the first place. ("No, I'm definitely going to start on that personalised training schedule next month.")

No more.

Goodbye Fitbit Premium (€10).

So long, Dropbox Plus (€10).

That's all for now, The Athletic (€60 annually).

As I write, I'm around €25 per month better off.

And I haven't even come around to some of the professional utilities I lazily stay subscribed to even though free alternatives have recently been introduced (I'm looking at you, €20-per-month- Ecamm Live).

The low-hanging fruit are information or news services that you sign up for optimistically or aspirationally but just never actually use.

These include both international and Irish information services (domestic collegiality stops me from naming names here).

Then there are the lifestyle trial accounts, such as Fitbit Premium. These frequently come with very long, generous trial periods - up to three months. But the length of the free trial makes you forget to review it properly before being charged.

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Once you establish that you'll never take Kayleigh's advanced Ashtanga Yoga class, it's time to pull the plug on it.

And then there are the slightly more technical ones. I can't be the only one who has subscriptions for replicating services. For the last two years, for example, I've been paid up for premium online storage with Google, iCloud and Dropbox. These were all signed up to in moments of semi-desperation, either because I needed to transfer something urgently or had run out of space on my phone. Once signed up, the behavioural rules of convenience and task-avoidance conspired to stop me taking a more joined-up, long term approach (such as using a single service). So what should be €10 per month became €30.

On one hand, it's throwing money away.

Yes, some of them - iCloud in particular - have walled-garden characteristics that make using other services hard to use without them.

But the business model is a little like that of mobile operators still quietly sending out bills for ridiculously overpriced legacy tariffs (of €60 or more for contracts with no phone subsidy) because a certain number of customers just won't get it together to switch.

But no matter how self-aware we are of all of this, it doesn't stop us repeating out wasteful behaviour. For instance, I just signed up to the premium version of Otter.ai, an online transcription service and app. But I'm doing so at a time when others - notably Microsoft and Google - are beefing up their own transcription services, free for users of those ecosystems.

Knowing this, why have I signed up to Otter Premium at around €8 per month? Because last week I needed to import a voice file into the transcription engine. Otter used to offer this free, but now charges. I needed the transcription so I paid.

See how it works? What I've saved on Dropbox, I'm now shelling out for Otter.

I'm still up a few quid per month, though perhaps not exactly in the way that Paschal Donohoe or Micheál Martin had in mind. Then again, it's possible that I'm denying these ministers ever-so-subtle foresight.

Maybe they knew that notifications from providers would stoke more astute husbandry of existing outgoings.

Maybe it's now likely that I'll spend that money on bringing the family out to a nicer restaurant. Or not forgoing a car wash. Or visiting the local bakery this weekend for a treat. Oh hang on, that looks like a good cookery subscription…

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