A survey of 2,500 Americans suggests that most people have got very little idea how much they spend on digital subscriptions – on average, underestimating the cost by a factor of three …


Management consultancy Waterstone initially asked people to quickly estimate their average spend on digital subscription services, initially asking for an ‘off the top of your head’ guess in just ten seconds. The average guess there was $79.74.

Respondents were then given a few examples, like mobile data, Wi-Fi, Netflix, iCloud and so on, and asked to guess again. This time, people came up with a higher average of $111.61.

Finally, they were given a list of 21 categories to think about, and asked to come up with their actual total. The result was a total spend of $237.33 – or almost three times as much as their initial guess.

Personally, I might quibble with some of the specifics. For example, Waterstone includes meal services like Blue Apron which I’d say clearly belong in a food budget, not a digital one. Things perhaps get more blurred with things like a Kindle Unlimited subscription – should we think of that as a tech spend, or a books spend? I’d say the latter.

But details aside, it is a reminder that small subscriptions add up – one of the reasons that I feel reluctant to pay subscriptions for apps, even where the sums are small. I totally get the argument that it gives developers a more predictable, and some would say fairer, revenue stream – but it is this idea of easily finding that our total spend is significantly greater than we would ever have imagined.

What about you? When you check the list of categories and examples, how does your spend add up? And do you feel uneasy about digital subscriptions for things like apps, or are you completely comfortable with them? Please let us know in the comments.

Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

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