Online subscriptions sure sound cheap, but what do a few bucks a month to watch TV shows, store photos online and stream music add up to?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
In 2019, we each spent $640 on digital subscriptions like streaming video and music services, cloud storage, dating apps and online productivity tools, according to an analysis for The New York Times by Mint, the online budgeting tool owned by Intuit, using data from millions of its users. That was up about 7 percent from $598 in 2017.
We increased our spending the most last year on streaming TV services, paying $170 to subscribe to the likes of Netflix, Hulu and new entrants like Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus. While that was far cheaper than most traditional cable TV packages, which cost roughly $1,200 a year, it was up 30 percent from the $130 we spent on streaming TV services in 2017.
Our spending on digital subscriptions is likely to only rise as more of our possessions become connected to the internet, like our television sets, home security systems and cars. At the same time, it will become harder and harder to keep track of all of the services we pay for.
Just ask Josué Rojas, an artist who runs a nonprofit in San Francisco. He said he paid for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify and Apple’s iCloud storage service — all told, his annual cost is roughly $410, which is below what the average consumer pays.
But Mr. Rojas occasionally loses track of his spending. Last year, he said, he and his wife subscribed to the CBS All Access streaming app to watch the Grammys. After the ceremony concluded, the couple forgot to cancel the $6 subscription for several months.
“Coming home from work and essentially needing a spreadsheet to keep track of all these different subscriptions can be pretty overbearing very quickly,” Mr. Rojas said.
Kevin Westcott, a vice chairman for the research and consulting firm Deloitte, who led a study on digital media trends, said the No. 1 reason that people subscribed to a streaming service was to watch exclusive content — like original TV shows, including HBO’s “Watchmen” or “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus.
“The question that arises is, once you’ve watched that series, do you continue to use it?” Mr. Westcott said. “Is there enough of a library that keeps you engaged? Otherwise, it becomes a subscription you have that you haven’t used.”