Bundles: A Solution to Subscription Fatigue

Originally drafted on March 2nd, 2013. Content has been updated to reflect services available in 2019.

Even for the least tech-savvy people, subscription fatigue is an increasing concern. Bills (i.e., monthly payments to a service provider) have been a fact of modern life for several decades now. Subscription boxes (Lootcrate, Blue Apron) have become a popular way to receive products on a regular basis without having to even think about it. The convenience is superb, but the cost of these adding into our mountain of service provider bills is often unattainable for those struggling to make a living wage.

Cable companies have been bundling their services (TV, Internet, Phone) for many years in order to lock you into their ecosystem (bettering their revenue). Each service in a bundle costs less than purchasing them individually. Keeping with the cable company example, an increasing number of people are ditching cable TV for Netflix and other content providers. And landline phones: haha!

Having so many choices for content and service providers is amazing! Needing to pay $XX/mo for each isn’t so amazing. If we choose just a few, it can quickly add up to $100+/mo. I prefer to look at costs on a yearly basis. Those few services add up to $1,200/yr. (That’s a return flight to almost anywhere in the world.) A tech-savvy person subscribed to 20+ services can easily be paying $5000/year for services. Of course, the cost is likely worth the value. Each service has employees who should be paid well. Some businesses/startups operate with very low profits and we want them to stay in business to provide us with their valuable service.

Managing the payments to all these services can be cumbersome in the best of scenarios. If our payment source (likely a debit or credit card) gets a new expiration date or billing address, then we are required to manually update the details for each and every service. There must be a better way.

I propose Bundles. A third party service (perhaps something like PayPal or Stripe — or something completely new) would handle all our subscriptions in one place. It would authenticate with each service, manage the payments, subscription type, and other details. The total cost (which could be made up of services that offer monthly and yearly payment schemes) would be added up and you have the option to pay weekly/monthly/yearly. As with most services, the yearly option would offer a big discount to the overall cost. The bundle service would receive revenue from a percentage of each sale. That percentage would be paid by the services (e.g., Amazon, Grazebox, Netflix) on their platform. As more people get subscription fatigue, it’s going to be more advantageous for each service to be offered in a bundle package.

Example 1: If Amazon Prime is $99/year standalone, then perhaps it becomes $79/year with the bundle service.
Example 2: If a web domain is $15/year standalone, then perhaps it becomes $1/mo with the bundle service.

The bundles could be $200, $500, $1000, $5000/year for access to multiple services (Flickr, Smugmug, Viddler, Vimeo, Adobe Creative Cloud, 1Password, Dollar Shave Club, Audible, Stamps.com, Spotify, Rdio, Napster, iTunes Match Apple Music, Netflix, Hulu Plus, additional Google One storage, Amazon AWS (up to xGB bandwidth/storage), Amazon Prime, mobile phone bill, internet access, Wi-Fi hotspot access, etc.).

For us nerds, perhaps even one plan could offer access to hosting and 5 domains on a given web host.

The level of plan would determine the level of service you receive from each particular service. For instance, the $500 plan would only provide you with a Pro-level Viddler account (not Business-level), Individual-level Rdio (not Family-level) account Plus-level Vimeo account (not Pro-level), 500GB Google One Storage (not 2TB), etc. You could likely tailor specific features of each service into your bundle. Although, the most popular features will likely be in featured bundles and be the best value.

Multiple examples of current news organisation paywalls.

I haven’t even touched on paying for journalism. Some of the largest news sources (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Sydney Morning Herald) have paywalls that allow you to read 3-10 articles per month, then you must pay for a subscription to read additional articles. If the journalists are being paid a good wage, then that’s fantastic! I don’t read any one source for news or opinions, and subscribing to them all is not feasible. A news bundle all on its own would be useful for countless people. A news bundle inside of the overall bundles mentioned above would be the icing on the cake. Access to everything without spending all of our money is an ideal situation.

What do you think about bundles? How will they simplify or better your life?

How to Communicate with Employees

And how social media affects this.

I’m certainly not the best at communication. I often send messages and emails in my head for days before I actually type and send them; a great example of overthinking inhibiting good communication.

That said, I’ve worked in various industries and learned both good and bad communication. Viddler was the company where I remember learning the most about communication. For the first half of my seven-year career with them, I worked remotely. This offered some freedoms (lunch and a 20-minute nap at 3pm? Sure!), but also meant I became a workaholic and stayed up until three, four, or seven o’clock in the morning. My communication with headquarters would be lacking at times. Slack didn’t exist back then, so we used Skype and the chat often filled up with jokes and non-work-related topics.

When I moved to the headquarters, it was nice to be able to walk over to anyone’s desk and ask them a question or what was going on with a particular client. Communication was easier in this environment, but it wasn’t perfect. Often the tools/software would hinder us and we’d forget to follow-up with some clients or each other.

At Amazon, digital communication was almost non-existent. Due to the nature of the workplace (a huge warehouse that churns through employees relatively quickly), most communication is done at the beginning of each shift and after each lunch break. They cover numbers, goals, and safety (stretches and our current injury count, if any). It’s great, but makes it hard to communicate after-hours. (Did I mention I’m a workaholic? Even jobs I’m not passionate about (e.g., working a mindless job in a warehouse) tend to get a lot of my attention.)

That’s some of my experience with communication in business. Now onto social media and how it affects the workplace.

One of the most public firings of an employee due to personal social media comments that has stuck in my mind was Justine Sacco in 2014. She posted some off-handed tweets (intended to be humourous) moments before boarding an international flight. The tweets instantly offended people, but she had no opportunity to defend herself until her flight landed. At that point, it was too late: she was fired from her job at IAC received death threats from faceless persons on Twitter. I hadn’t heard of Justine until that event happened. My opinion of her then and now is no different to before I knew of her existence: indifferent. I don’t know her and a few off-hand tweets aren’t going to help me understand her beliefs and actions in the world. That day, she was fired from her job as the Senior Director of Corporate Communications (i.e., PR) at IAC. Today, 4 years later, she just got a new job running Corporate Communications at Match Group — a subsidiary of IAC.

“Can you think of anything less judicial than this?”

Jon Ronson’s Ted Talk on how one tweet can ruin your life

This anecdote displays how even a “senior director” at a large organisation isn’t safe when they make a silly mistake/joke. I don’t know what her relationship with the company was like, but you’d think she would have a good rapport with employees and management if she’s in that role. The problem is the news media and its viewership. An audience of people can have such a huge influence on news stories.

The two-week 2014 CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich (co-founder and previously CTO of Mozilla), stepped down (as CEO and resigned from Mozilla) after pressure to resign because of his opposition on gay marriage. Not because of his performance; not because of his leadership techniques; not because of the way he managed finances. No. Because his personal beliefs don’t match those of the developers, fans, and users of Mozilla. I use Firefox and I believe in Mozilla’s mission, but I didn’t hear about this story until it was long past the headlines. (I don’t really follow the news though.)

Last anecdote: Stepping out of 2014… Just a few weeks ago, Kevin Hart (father, actor, comedian) was offered the job as host of the upcoming Academy Awards. Within days, people (activists, trolls, and journalists alike) had dug up old tweets and posts written by Kevin. (Note: Kevin has been in the media countless times since these posts because he’s made several movies and stand-up comedy shows. Nobody dug up his posts for any of those stories and suggested he shouldn’t be making movies…) These posts offended people (which is often part of what any comedian does: offends groups of people for laughs) and the same people who appointed him to host pressured him to apologise or step down. He explained that he has changed since he wrote those things and he feels no need to apologise since that’s not the person he is anymore. Susan Fowler (mother, writer, and software engineer) wrote about this in the New York Times. She explained that social media history and holding people accountable for their old views is creating a disastrous precedent. I agree.

I’ve shared my opinions in writing and on video many times. And many of those opinions I no longer hold to now that I’m Christian. This is a silly example, but it shows you don’t have to be talking about social issues to experience the same thing: I spent many years building a reputation around enjoying cake, lollies, and desserts in general. Unexpectedly getting a job at a sweet shop in 2005 only enforced this. In 2009, I spent a year creating a show called “Sweet Adventures“. I didn’t consciously build this “brand” for myself; it just happened. Now, I’m 32 and barely eat processed sugar. I still love desserts, but anything with processed sugar will irritate my teeth and isn’t enjoyable. Most people who have known me for 10+ years don’t know this, so they still have me in their mind as a sugar fiend. If I were to get a job (I need a full-time one, by the way) at a healthfood company and people started finding all my old posts about sugar and desserts, then should I apologise? No.

Lydia recently began working at a place that has inspired her for years. She was enjoying it very much, and looked forward to working up to full-time role there. A few weeks in, she noticed that many of the seasoned coworkers there learned from the same coaches (online sources) she did. In fact, she expected to be learning heaps in the first few months, but realised she’s unexpectedly on par with others’ skill level and knowledge. She didn’t consider this a bad thing nor was she overly confident in herself; it was just an observation she made. She posted the observation on her blog (never mentioning the company or people she worked for). In the weeks that followed, she noticed her coworkers not being as inviting or friendly. Odd. Perhaps they had just become overly stressed or busy, she thought. She also expressed this oddity to me, and then on her blog a few days later. Lydia is very self-aware and aware of peoples’ and animals’ behaviours, so it’s not unusual for her to describe these observations verbally and in writing.

21 days after Lydia’s first blog post regarding her job (the one about feeling on-par with her coworkers), her boss told her she shouldn’t come back to work until they’re able to discuss the “issue”, then they would invite Lydia into the office for a discussion. A couple of days passed and the boss sent an SMS saying Lydia won’t be a good fit with the company and they want to protect their (longstanding) employees against discrimination or harassment — like family. (Although, wouldn’t Lydia also fall under that protection?) No chance to discuss the first (or second) blog post in person, nor on the phone. One-sided communication right there. Lydia responded in a kind and professional way albeit with huge disappointment on the way they handled the situation.

Should Lydia not have blogged about her life and job experience? Perhaps. But not discussing her job with me (and, as an extension, her blog) would be a robotic and miserable lifestyle. Plus, she never portrayed the company or the individuals working there in a negative way. Justine, Brian, and Kevin experienced very public controversies; Lydia did not. However, public or not, companies have a duty to protect their employees from discrimination and harassment. If they’re not willing to do that, then why should we support them outside of our job there?

At my new job, I’ve been very fortunate to have managers who encourage a family-like team. Some customers are great; some are not. Through it all, the team at our store have each others’ backs. Yes, we’re huge advocates for the customer — everyone in America has experience with being a customer. It’s just those times when a customer has been through too much in a day and verbally releases their frustrations at an employee that the team will do whatever possible to keep the customer’s experience positive and expedite their shopping experience.

How are you communicating with your employees? Are they just a sales tool for you, or do you care about them?

How to Manage Two Part-Time Jobs

Derek working two part-time jobs

Being unexpectedly let go from Viddler was scary, but (as I’ve mentioned before) God gave me a huge feeling of peace about it. Since then, I’ve somehow made my living through freelance videography, photography, and hosting an Airbnb. I’ve looked for full-time jobs roughly every six months and rarely got a callback for an interview. In 2017, Lydia saw that Amazon was hiring. I worked there for seven months before I began getting a repetitive strain injury (a common occurrence in warehouse work) as a PIT operator (forklift driver). Within a week or two of being treated by Amazon’s on-site nurses, I got hired as a videographer for Powerteam International. That job soon added social media marketing and  a personal assistant to the CEO. I was gung-ho; let’s do this! Six months later, they wanted to reduce my minimum wage to even less and I wouldn’t be able to live on that.

Okay, you’re up to speed with the last decade of my jobs. After Powerteam, I was applying for full-time jobs yet again. I had some promising interviews at places I would enjoy. I was declined a couple of great positions. However, I did get hired part-time at Sam’s Club. I was utterly nervous to work as a cashier. I hadn’t worked directly with money since living in Australia; American cash is much harder to distinguish between denominations. Alas, I figured it out. They also require cashiers to upsell customers to Plus memberships and credit cards. I can sell something I believe in, but I barely believed in those offerings.

A month after joining Sam’s Club, I got an interview at Staples. Another part-time position. Woohoo! Perhaps I can finally bring in enough money to support my growing family. After juggling both jobs for a month, I started to have conflicts in my schedule. Both jobs would schedule me for a Sunday. Sometimes shifts would overlap by just an hour and I would be able to convince someone to cover me for the last hour at Sam’s Club. That couldn’t last long though; Sam’s Club only allows three call-offs in a rolling three month period. I had three in a matter of two weeks. Staples was giving me more hours, but Sam’s Club pays more. I really need both. Staples creates their schedule six weeks in advance. Sam’s create theirs three weeks in advance. Yes, I asked multiple managers at Sam’s whether I could give them my advanced Staples schedule for them to work around, but they refused to do so because “the computer creates the schedules and we tweak it as needed”.

Do you want the kicker? I’ve discovered in the past couple of months that most retail stores aim to save costs my having employees work the bare minimum possible. At a grocery store, that means 1-2 cash registers open on a weekday (read: slow days). Sure, customers can use self-checkout or an app to purchase their items… but if customers don’t want to use modern technology to purchase their items (or they want to pay with an archaic cheque), then they get cranky. I digress.

How on earth does someone juggle two part-time jobs? The only way I see it being possible is if you work a day shift and a night shift. But then you don’t sleep.

I worked nights at Amazon and I made it work (read: I didn’t see the sun much and I didn’t have much of a social life). I wouldn’t have been able to work in the daytime on my three off days from Amazon though. Even trying to switch to being awake during the day on my off days was a struggle; I’ve realised good sleep is very important for my health.

The answer? It’s not possible. At least in the retail industry. Hone in on the job you enjoy most (for me it’s Staples because I’m in Print & Marketing and I can use more talents than just a smile) and seek to get more hours or a full-time position there.

Photos by Christopher Hoyle and Lydia Steen.

Instagram TV has a chance to change the Movie Industry

Instagram just launched a new feature (which could also be considered its own platform) named “IGTV” or “Instagram TV”. It’s their take on long-form content. Initially, it appears content is tailored for vertical video, but it is possible to watch in a standard landscape orientation — albeit with some tweaks required from the content creator (more on that later).

It’s no secret that I have been harsh on Instagram over the years. I bawked and bawked about being limited to square videos in regular posts (vs. the relatively recent addition of Stories). I whined and whined about Stories cropping landscape videos/photos uploaded from the camera roll, and their ephemerial nature. Both gripes have since been solved. Hooray! I suspect IGTV will inevitably allow the upload of landscape videos without cropping them to a portrait orientation.

Yes, sometimes I enjoy watching Instagram Stories in a vertical orientation. Usually when I’m quickly skimming through a handful of stories while waiting for a video to export or a bus to arrive. That said, unless I’m watching a show about ladders or giraffes, I’m not going to spend 20-40 minutes watching a vertical video. The first channel I saw on IGTV was natgeo. They have a show called “One Strange Rock: Home“. The first 3 minutes were compelling enough for me to want to watch more, but I’m frustrated by it not being in landscape. One Strange Rock. Rocks. Land. Landscape.

Thankfully, some creators I highly respect have placed snarky responses to IGTV’s vertical video limitations. First, I saw that Philip Bloom uploaded a video (https://instagram.com/tv/BkTKKUJnCkI) to IGTV in landscape orientation. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I realised he had edited the video to be rotated 90º and exported it in a 9:16 orientation. I do not appreciate the extra work these platforms make content creators do (i.e., pan and scan*) just to get our content to be displayed as it was recorded. It would take less than a week of development for the Instagram team to add a feature that allows videos to be rotated 90º/-90º. But, why bother when they could just display videos in the orientation they’re uploaded? Kraig Adams uploaded an iPhone screen recording of his YouTube channel and titled it “How to not use IGTV“. Hilarious! He did mention in the caption that he is excited to start making native content for IGTV though. Justine posted a tweet that simply reads “Vertical video 🤦🏼‍♀️” and has a vertical version of one of her recent YouTube videos. The replies to her were mostly against the idea of vertical video. These are her fans, but they also appear to be creators who know what they’re talking about.

While the public doesn’t yet know what the monetisation options will be for IGTV, I think this will be a great opportunity for Instagram to encourage other platforms to set standardised practices for international content distribution. In other words, being hindered from watching Australian content (usually the limitations are only on mainstream content — not YouTubers) within the United States’ geopolitical borders — and vice versa — is frustrating and outdated. If Instagram can lead others to distribute their content globally, then I think this will be a huge benefit for customers and the creators. Everyone is well aware of the lack of borders on the internet. Seeing “This content is not available in your country” is jarring. It leads people to go and steal the content through nefarious methods. Even with that awareness, production and distribution companies aren’t always able to agree on pricing to have content delivered globally. IGTV can and should pave a way forward for standardised pricing. Here’s are two examples of how that could work:

Chris Lilley (Australian director/producer) creates a new TV series.

      • The production company partners with an Australian distribution channel to get it on TV and online streaming channels.
      • Depending on global partnerships, the Australian distribution channel could charge 12% for every partner that wants to license the show in their country.
      • If their partner in that country doesn’t want the show, then it goes to an open market — not to the highest bidder. In theory, every channel/service in that country could distribute the show, but that would hinder competition between them.

Ricky Gervais (British director/producer) creates a new TV series.

        • The production company launches it on their YouTube, IGTV, Netflix, and Facebook channels with no global restrictions. (At minimum, they should have closed captions for countries which don’t have the native language of the show.)
        • The show (or movie) is ~$10 to watch the entire season, or included with the platform’s subscription membership (typically less than $10/mo).
        • To market the show (something the distribution channel usually does), they can target specific audiences on Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. This will likely gain them a larger (trackable) audience than traditional platforms like television.

Lastly, while most content is viewed on mobile phones and tablets, many people still enjoy longform (movies, TV shows, etc.) content on a larger screen. Personally, I prefer watching anything on YouTube on my laptop; if I see something interesting on my phone, I’ll move over to my laptop to view it. IGTV being limited to phones (Instagram still doesn’t have a good tablet experience) will hinder most of what I’ve described here. It won’t be able to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube Red if it’s not available on all platforms.

Further reading

Seeking Authenticity

Animated gif of woman and dog at a park in winter

In the past week, I’ve seen several friends mention that they miss seeing/sharing raw moments of life. It’s no secret that many of us seek authenticity in our lives. But it seems more and more of us (average web users, influencers, and business owners) are serving content displaying our best selves. We’re using our (limited) knowledge of how Facebook’s algorithms work to create content which will receive more engagement. We’re selecting from an album of curated images. We’re hopping on the daily/weekly trends of Throwback Thursdays and Manic Mondays. We’re signing off our YouTube videos with “See you in the next one. Peace.”

We are becoming data-driven robots which feed AI that will take over all our current jobs and actions. We need to return to the days of being unique. Instead of trying to imitate someone successful — including their catchphrases — why not put your own unique style on it. Or reach for the stars and be VERY WEIRD. If you have dreams, desires, or odd quirks, then embrace them. Share them with others in your life. Share them in your online feeds if you’re comfortable with a larger audience.

Pasquale on not being a bot:

Businesses and Influencers may be able to mould their content to suit ever-smarter algorithms and sell enough products to be profitable. Being a content creator or influencer is just like any job: it can be exhausting and often overlap into your personal life… into your family time. It’s tough to keep a work-life balance when your life — whether tailored for the algorithms or not — is your job. However, I’m seeing many friends and peers deactivating Facebook for long periods, realising there’s more to life than being in front of a screen, and — as a person — it’s exhausting being an algorithm-tailored brand.

As a creative person, it can be tempting to make a polished vlog or Instagram Story, but we have to know our limits. Does our career require any published content to be “perfect”, or does our family need our attention outside of work hours? Each person reading this will have a different answer. I have piles of great content online. I also have many old photos and videos online which are much more amateur than my skills now. I’m proud of all of them though. I’ve worked until sunrise through countless days in my twenties; I’ve travelled near and far for conferences, weddings, and other work events; and I’ve neglected my health and friendships in the pursuit of another dollar. It’s been very challenging and I’m grateful for all of it.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m re-discovering who I am and what’s important to me. I seek unattainable perfection in my work less and less, and focus my attention on getting a job completed so that I can spend more time with my new family. It’s still hard to avoid getting roped into social media feeds, but a conscious effort can be a tremendous help. #nofilter on personal content creation can help move your life story along with more consistency than a #perfectpost.

What are your quests for authenticity looking like these days?

Further reading

Thank you, Life

I wrote this on/around the 30th of May, 2014. Like many of my blog posts, I keep them in draft state for years. Now, I’m choosing to publish them.

May I thank someone? I’d like to thank someone. Perhaps it’s science. Perhaps it’s my parents.

I’d like to thank the universe for my life being so grand. (Okay, I know many people are living a tough life in many places. I’m not discounting that by stating ‘My life is so great… la dee dah.’. I just want to acknowledge everyone and everything in my life.) In the past few years I’ve spent my day-to-day somewhat on autopilot. I soak up as much as I can, but there’s the mindless automation of commuting, working (I’m great at what I do, so sometimes I don’t even need to think to interact with and be kind to customers), and creating art. You know, the stuff that comes naturally. Maybe it isn’t autopilot… it just feels like it a little. Too few new experiences?!

I don’t want to dwell on my greatness nor the misfortunes — read: different lifestyles(?) — of others. However, I notice when others are affected by something I’m not. Poor eyesight; driving and operating a car; only being able to afford fast food; missing limbs; fame; poor education (in a field I’m familiar with); lack of travel; applying makeup in order to go outside; a woman’s menstrual cycle; medication; disease. Diseases. What the heck is up with them?! I’ve been sick. Mostly when I was younger. Thankfully, those illnesses were nothing that didn’t fix itself or just required a week of antibiotics.

I’m so proud of the people I see living their lives with a brave face or a pair of glasses. If I had to take daily medication(s), then I’d probably be dead. (Although, I do pretty well with routine(s). You know, getting dressed and the like.) Lately, I’ve been almost forgetting to grab my helmet before biking to work. That scares me. ‘Oh, Derek. C’mon. Splitting your head open on the side of the road is hardly something you should be scared of.’, you might be thinking. Well, that’s why I’m being thankful for my life.

No, my life isn’t perfect. Do I have ailments? Not really. I dislike the fact that my body sleeps so deeply (I’ve started to hypothesise that this is because I’m thinking about many things; this can turn in to a dream or just be strong brain activity) that it can be a struggle to wake every morning — even when I sleep on my bed of choice (a rug on the floor). Once or twice a year, I have a conscious fainting event. If anyone ever asked me the question ‘Have you fainted before?’, then I would likely not consider those “events” as fainting. Although, the more I think about it, the more it seems like I do have experience with fainting. It usually occurs if I’ve been sitting in the same position (perhaps sitting on my legs; blocking blood flow) for a long time. I have spent a good portion of the last decade sitting for an extended period of time. I usually don’t see any affects from that since I’m fairly active (biking and frolicking, mostly).

There are these rare times where I stand up and I can feel myself beginning to blackout. My first one or two experiences of this were luckily near soft objects, so I feel — still conscious — without hurting myself. There have been times when I’ve tried to catch myself from falling but bumped my head on a table or a wall. There’s never any pain. It’s weird. I’m weird. I’ve learned to understand the blackout/fainting is coming and I hold on to something stable as my legs begin to give out and I gracefully fall to the ground. Once there, it only takes 3-10 seconds before my body sorts things out and I can stand up again.

That’s me. I’m thankful to be who I am, and for everyone who has had a positive (read: everything is positive) impact on my life. I’m also thankful for everyone who suffers from ailments or stresses and chooses to live on. There’s lots of cake to be eaten, frolicking to be endured, and yoga to be enjoyed, so don’t give up until we’re able to do all those things on Mars.

This post was inspired by a video about Lyme Disease, “Under Our Skin.