Subscription fatigue hasn’t hit yet

U.S. consumers are still embracing subscriptions. More than a third (34%) of Americans say they believe they’ll increase the number of subscription services they use over the next two years, according to a new report from eMarketer. This is following an increase to 3 subscription services on average, up from 2.4 services five years ago.

The report cited data from subscription platform Zuora and The Harris Poll in making these determinations.

The study also debunks the idea that we’ve reached a point of subscription fatigue.

While only a third is planning to increase the number of subscriptions — a figure that’s in line with the worldwide average — the larger majority of U.S. internet users said they planned to use the same number of subscriptions services within two years as they do now.

In other words, they’re not paring down their subscriptions just yet — in fact, only 7 percent said they planned to subscribe to fewer services in the two years ahead.

However, that’s both good news and bad news for the overall subscription industry. On the one hand, it means there’s a healthy base of potential subscribers for new services. But it also means that many people may only adopt a new subscription by dropping another — perhaps to maintain their current budget.

Subscriptions, after all, may still feel like luxuries. No one needs Netflix, Spotify, groceries delivered to their home or curated clothing selections sent by mail, for example. There are non-subscription alternatives that are much more affordable. The question is which luxuries are worth the recurring bill?

The survey, however, did not define subscription services, which could include news and magazine subscriptions, digital streaming services, subscription box services, and more. But it did ask about consumers’ interest in the various categories.

Over half of U.S. consumers (57%) said they were interested in TV and video-on-demand services (like Netflix) and 38 percent were interested in music services.

Related to this, eMarketer forecasts U.S. over-the-top video viewers will top 193 million by 2021, or 57.3 percent of the population. Digital audio listeners will top 211 million by the same time, or 63.1 percent of the population.

The next most popular subscriptions in the survey were grocery delivery like AmazonFresh (32%) and meal delivery like Blue Apron (21%). Software and storage services like iCloud and subscription beauty services like Ipsy followed, each with 17 percent.

Consumers were less interested in subscription news and information and subscription boxes — the latter only saw 10 percent interest, in fact.

The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. The meal kit market is actually struggling. The consulting firm NPD Group estimated that only 4 percent of U.S. consumers have even tried them. So there’s a big disconnect between what consumers say they’re interested in, and what they actually do.

Meanwhile, the supposedly less popular news and information services market is, in some cases, booming. The New York Times, for instance, just this month posted a higher profit and added 223,000 digital subscribers to reach 4.5 million paying customers. And Apple now has “hundreds of people” working on Apple News+, it said this week. 

Of course, consumers will at some point reach a limit on the number of services they’re willing to pay for, but for the time being, the subscription economy appears solid.

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Ford wants this creepy robot to bring its autonomous deliveries to your door

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Tim LaBarge

Autonomous deliveries and self-driving vehicles may be the future, but there are still a few gaps that need to be addressed — namely that it’s not always possible for people to leave their homes to retrieve deliveries from the roadside (and if you’re hungover and ordering take out, you definitely don’t want to). Ford is working on a solution for this final stretch, though, and it’s come right out of a sci-fi movie.

Agility Robotics

“Digit” is a two-legged robot created by Agility Robotics, designed to get your delivery from a car to your door. Announced earlier this year but now operational, the robot folds up in the back of a self-driving vehicle, ready to unfurl itself in a Lovercraftian manner when it arrives at the delivery destination. According to the press release, “Digit not only resembles the look of a person, but walks like one, too.” We’ll let you make up your own mind on that one.

Agility Robotics

Digit can lift packages that weigh up to 40 pounds, walk up and down stairs and across uneven terrain, and can maintain its balance in the event of a bump. It makes the journey from the car to the door by tapping into data obtained by the self-driving vehicle. The car builds a detailed map of its surroundings, then wirelessly shares that with Digit. Through this data exchange, Digit and the vehicle can even work collaboratively to identify the most efficient delivery pathway.

Digit looks creepy, there’s no two ways around that. But it might not be that long before you see the robot — or some kind of iteration of it — scuttling around your neighborhood. After all, a number of US states have formally permitted the use of delivery robots on sidewalks, and numerous other companies are working on — and have launched — their own autonomous delivery solutions. None of them look quite like Digit, though.

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Uber Eats may soon offer an unlimited delivery subscription

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NurPhoto via Getty Images

Paying for delivery is so passé, and Uber Eats knows it. Like Postmates, DoorDash and the UK’s Deliveroo, which all offer unlimited food delivery subscriptions, Uber is set to offer a monthly $9.99 pass that includes free delivery from any restaurant at any time (although just to be clear, you’ve still got to pay for the food).

The upcoming feature, discovered by reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong and confirmed by Uber to TechCrunch, would do away with the usual Uber Eats service fee. That’s generally 15 percent of an order cost, so users could stand to save a fair whack if they’re ordering Uber Eats on the reg.

And from Uber’s point of view, the Uber Eats Pass is a solid way to retain customers — if you’re already paying for a delivery service with them then you’re less likely to order elsewhere. No further details yet on when the service will roll out, but given Uber’s already-dominant position in people’s lives, the move could see it become the leading contender in the ongoing battle of food delivery apps.

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A sixth of ridesharing cars have unfixed safety recalls

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REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

It’s not just ridesharing drivers that merit some safety concerns — the car might be a risk as well. Consumer Reports has conducted a study indicating that 16.2 percent of the nearly 94,000 ride hailing cars it identified in New York City and King County (including Uber, Lyft and smaller outfits like Juno), Washington had at least one unaddressed safety recall. About 1.4 percent of total rides had Takata’s faulty airbags, while 25 had “at least” five open recalls.

The rate is roughly on par with all personally-owned cars and somewhat lower than for conventional taxis and limos (about 23.6 percent). The worry, as you might guess, is that app-based hailing services aren’t held to a higher standard.

There are also signs that the companies don’t strictly enforce their policies on vehicle age. While Uber and Lyft both say a car shouldn’t be more than 10 years old, Over 40 cars in King County came from the 2007 model year or earlier.

Uber and Lyft told CR they’d taken steps to tackle these recalls. Uber, for instance, blocks those cars with the most serious open recalls and reminds drivers to fix the rest. Lyft said it worked with lawmakers to regulate vehicle safety. This still leaves many cars on the road with lingering safety issues, though, and CR found that neither company had a concrete policy on recalls.

We’ve asked Uber and Lyft for additional comment. Lyft reiterated its earlier statement, noting that drivers had a “strong personal incentive” to address recalls as it kept their families safe. It’s evident that some ridesharing drivers don’t act on that incentive, though, and that could be serious if it leads to a crash or an avoidable injury.

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California's Senate may ban facial recognition tech in police body cameras

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Niall Carson – PA Images via Getty Images

The state of California’s legislature is considering a new bill that would ban the use of facial recognition technology in police body cameras, according to CNBC. The proposal, which has already passed the state Assembly and now awaits a vote from the Senate, would follow in the footsteps of the city of San Francisco, which took action to forbid government agencies from adopting facial recognition software earlier this month.

Supporters of the legislation hold that facial recognition and other biometric technology has proven inaccurate in many cases. San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting specifically has criticized Rekognition, the face-identifying technology developed by Amazon. Last month, Ting told a California Assembly public safety panel that the software falsely matched 28 sitting members of Congress with people in a mug shot database and “disproportionately misidentified” people of color.

A study conducted by the MIT Media Lab earlier this year found that Amazon’s facial analysis tools are too often inaccurate. Researchers found Rekognition classified women as men one-fifth of the time and identified darker-skinned women as men in one out of every three tests.

Assembly Bill 1215 has the support of a number of privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation, but it will have hurdles to pass still before it is made into law. It must make it through several Senate committees before the full chamber votes on it. It will likely face some opposition, as the broad language of the bill may affect how biometric checks used by the federal government, including facial recognition systems that are present at California airports. If the bill passes through the Senate, it will require Governor Gavin Newsom to sign it into law.

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