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Music, video, gym… Is life on subscriptions really a good deal?


INVESTIGATION – The offers are always more numerous, including for unusual services. But the accumulation of these commitments can end up weighing heavily on the budget.

They are everywhere in our lives. In our home (internet, energy…), our hobbies (music, video, cinema, press, video games, gym…) or our travels (train, bicycles and self-service scooters… ). Subscriptions are now popular with consumers.

A growing economic model, which is even gaining new sectors, such as banking – BNP Paribas with its paying bank advisor service -, supermarkets – Casino, Carrefour, Monoprix offer discounts for a paid subscription – or even automobiles – Fiat has just launched a non-binding subscription offer starting at 299 euros per month for an electric Fiat 500. Even the most improbable: toothbrushes, wine or even pasta.

A frenzy fueled by the companies themselvesobserves Philippe Moati, co-founder of ObSoCo (Society and Consumption Observatory), who sees a strong economic interest in it. “The subscription creates a recurrence of income, and builds customer loyalty“, explains the professor of economics at the University of Paris-Diderot. A good business therefore for companies, which have a kind of clientele “captive“. On the other hand, on the consumer side, it is more difficult to assess the profitability of this life under subscriptions.

It depends a lot on the use that the consumer makes of his subscriptions“, emphasizes Cyril Brosset, journalist at the magazine What to choose and author of a survey on the subject in 2020. In other words, it obviously pays to pay for a gym membership if you go there three or four times a week. The question arises, on the other hand, if you drag yourself there once every six months. “It is difficult to have a universal discourse“, abounds Philippe Moati.

Termination difficulties

Once this common-sense observation has been made, consumers should still be aware of the “trapssurrounding the subscriptions. In particular the marketing arguments of the brands. “To attract customers, companies highlight the price effect. Consumers therefore have the impression that it will cost them less to subscribe than to pay on purchase.notes Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes, Professor Emeritus of Marketing at ESCP Europe. But this is not always the case, judge Olivier Gayraud, lawyer at the consumer association CLCV, who takes the example of “shoe box“. “I invite people to do the math before taking out a subscription“, he launches. “And to ask yourself a simple question: do I really need it?», adds Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes.

These are probably painless sums for part of the population, but in the end it is a huge drain on a budget.

Olivier Gayraud, lawyer at the CLCV

Because, in addition to posing a problem of “hyperconsumption“, believes Philippe Moati, subscriptions can be difficult to cancel. Cyril Brosset, author of a study on subscriptions for What to choose, advises to find out about the termination policy before even subscribing. “You have to know when and how to disengage, because it varies greatly depending on the service“, suggests the journalist.

It is also important “to be aware of the subscriptions that one has“Slips Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes. Because, of course, we are often on small sums, which rarely exceed a few tens of euros per month: 8.99 euros per month for a Netflix subscription, 9.99 euros for Spotify, 5.99 euros for Amazon Prime, 29.95 euros for Fitness Park…”These are probably painless sums for part of the population, but in the end it is a huge drain on a budget.“, warns Olivier Gayraud, of the CLCV.

In particular among modest households, in which the constrained expenses “weigh heavy», underlines Philippe Moati, of the ObSoCo. Their share in the budget indeed reaches nearly 70% among the poorest households, according to a study by the site lesfurets.com and CSA Research published at the end of 2021. Expenditure that Insee calls “pre-committed» (housing, telecoms, credits, taxes, etc.), and which do not include subscriptions. Multiplying these can therefore lead toto impose restrictions on more essential expenditure items and create a feeling of impoverishment“, warns the economist, who nevertheless underlines that, well managed, “subscriptions can save money“.

Forgot subscriptions

The problem being that consumers tend to forget all the subscriptions they are linked to. Because once the subscription has been taken out, the company automatically debits the amount each month from the customer’s bank account, without informing them. A study by the UFC-Que Choisir Consumption Observatory, in February 2020, showed that households greatly underestimate the number and cost of their subscriptions. While they think they have 3.5 on average, they actually have 6 per household, for a real average amount of 159 euros per month (against an estimated 98 euros).

In 2016, an Elabe survey for SlimPay affirmed that a French person had an average of 5.4 subscriptions. More than a third (38%) said they had subscribed to more than six subscriptions (including 7% to more than 11 subscriptions). Figures that have probably swelled since then, given the growth of the subscription economy. According to a Telecoming study published last year, in 2021 the French market had nearly 50 million active subscriptions, “figure that will increase at a rate of 15% year-on-year, to reach 84 million in 2025“. Subscriptions to cultural digital offers carve out a good share of the market: French households hold 2.1 on average – the Netflix subscription being the most widespread -, for an average monthly expenditure of 37 euros, according to a recent study by BearingPoint .

Consumers who need help to see more clearly in their subscriptions have at their disposal applications, such as Origame, Ideel or Papernest. These offer a place to centralize all the subscriptions taken out, promising users substantial savings. For example, Origame, which has just completed its first fundraising (of 600,000 euros), claims to have enabled its 22,000 users to save more than 600,000 euros in two years. A convincing marketing argument, in a context of strong concern of the French for their purchasing power.



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