The Subscription Economy Craze; Is Shopify A Shopping App?

Subscription Conniptions

We live in a “subscription economy” now, writes Nieman Labs. You don’t buy the Aladdin DVD; you subscribe to Disney+ “until you die or your card expires.”

But as subscriptions become more important business metrics, particularly in news and entertainment, it’s important to be honest about what companies mean when they report subscriber numbers.

The Information, for example, which charges $400 a year for full access, recently reported more than 225,000 subscribers – but that counts people who subscribe to a free newsletter. There’s a big difference between a free email and $400 per year.

Fluffing up subscriber numbers is a common practice among publishers, and subscriber disclosures will only become more convoluted as publishers like The Information, The New York Times and The Atlantic experiment with newsletter subscription bundles and create rosters of newsletter writers (à la Substack).

Connected TV is also rife with subscription inflation. Some streaming services report subscribers similarly to how apps report their user numbers, as in without disclosing paid versus free accounts. Disney bundles Hulu, ESPN and Disney+ apps, but users retain individual accounts.

Streaming services and publishers also dish out huge discounts and freebie sign-ups via partnerships with mobile providers or other subscription players, such as Spotify or Amazon Music. And, that’s right, they count those subs with the same weight as full-paying, reauthorized subscribers.

Shhhh-opify … Don’t Call It A Marketplace

Shopify insists that it will not become a consumer marketplace. Although it sells technology to merchants, it won’t be a merchant itself. But isn’t Shopify … already a marketplace? 

When the Shopify app launched last year, it had no in-app checkout or shopping cart, meaning the app directed users to the merchant’s own site. But now the app has both features and processes sales without customers ever leaving. That satisfies the definition of a consumer marketplace, according to a blog post by Joe Kaziukėnas, founder and CEO of the ecommerce market research company Marketplace Pulse. 

What the Shopify app doesn’t yet have is the ability for users to conduct searches by product. Right now, you can only search by merchant, since a product-level search algorithm would inherently mean wading into the customer journey and making judgment calls about which sellers are exposed to shoppers.

But a product search ranking feature is reportedly in beta. And there’s widespread speculation that the company will also launch an ad platform.

“Shopify doesn’t have a clear direction for the app, but meanwhile it is getting millions of downloads a month because Shopify features it in post-purchase emails,” Kaziukėnas wrote. “More people download the app than Walmart’s, Nike’s, Target’s and practically everyone else’s except Amazon’s.”

Cheerio, IDs

The CMA and ICO, the British antitrust regulator and consumer data privacy regulator, respectively, published new guidance on their joint review of the Google Privacy Sandbox. Some of the features are boilerplate, such as offering a choice to avoid tracking or targeted advertising and only using data with consent. 

But one point that sticks out came from UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “My office will not accept proposals based on underlying ad tech concepts that replicate or seek to maintain the status quo,” Denham noted in reference to her office’s guidance. 

The fact that the ICO frames the issue as an obligation to “eliminate existing privacy risks” is yet another signal that solutions seeking to replicate the cookie-based method of aggregating user IDs from sites across the web – whether by cookie or another ID, like an email – may not clear the bar.

If that sounds familiar, it’s almost identical to the language Google has used to discuss industry identity initiatives. (Here’s looking at you, Unified ID 2.0.) H/t @astaniscia86.

But Wait, There’s More!   

The European Parliament voted for tougher restrictions on how internet users’ data can be combined for ad targeting. [TechCrunch]

Regional sports networks are trying to find a viable path for survival as viewers ditch pay TV. [CNBC]

AppLovin’s plan to integrate MoPub, now that the acquisition is slated to close. [release]

Adobe and Major League Baseball are expanding their cloud tech deal across product suites as part of a fan personalization strategy. [release]

You’re Hired!

Game developer King has named Fernanda Romano as CMO for Candy Crush. [Adweek]

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