Product Streams

Subscription services for physical things

I’ve long been fascinated by the consumer model of subscribing to regular deliveries of things in the post. The obvious application of this has traditionally been magazines, and I used to love receiving Time Out weekly whilst living in London (and long ago Focus Magazine).

There’s also the lucrative market in ‘part work’ magazines. You see these advertised on TV just after Christmas, offering you the chance of building a scale model of the Titanic in easy steps, with Issue 1 being just 99p (and the price rising sharply soon after). Consequently I have a growing collection of first issues of these.

We’re starting to see this model spreading beyond printed media though. Lost Crates offers subscriptions to quarterly deliveries “Design-inspired goods”. Man Packs does subscription underwear (for men who hate shopping). Lego has its Master Builders Academy, giving kids the opportunity to receive regular Lego, as well as teaching them advanced building techniques. It works for food too, Graze sends out healthy snack food, and of course there are numerous veg box and wine club schemes.

Meanwhile Quarterly Co. introduces the concept of product curators. You subscribe to someone whose taste or ideas interest you, and only get a vague description of what to expect.

All this is marvellous, and I’d like to see more of it.

If physical products are struggling to compete with digital (DVDs, books, magazines, games, you name it), then perhaps adopting one of the key design patterns of social websites – the stream – will help.

Note: one issue all of these services have to face is what Russell Davies called the last two inches problem. But with some creative packaging, it’s amazing how much stuff can be made to fit through a letterbox.