The incessant creep of cloud subscription rates

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So I’m plugging away on my computer on a Friday evening, working, as usual, instead of, oh, I don’t know, watching a movie, going for a walk, having a life, when I get an email that caught my jaded eye.

“Important updates to your Dropbox Plan.”

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Oh? What’s this? Dropbox is kinda important to me.

“Hi Brian,

“Dropbox Plus just got an upgrade. And a new price – starting on July 6, 2019, Dropbox Plus will be CA$15.99 a month (plus any applicable taxes).”

That’s interesting. I didn’t ask for an upgrade, nor did I ask to pay more. This upgrade, as they say, will double my storage to two terabytes, provide, “world class sync technology” and “Dropbox Rewind.”

“This is all for just CA$5.00 more a month,” the email proclaims.

Well, isn’t that peachy. They increase their monthly subscription by 45 per cent, give me more space I may not need or want, and don’t leave me with an option to stay at my current rate.

Of course, I am stuck. In recent years, I have come to use Dropbox almost exclusively for delivery of photos and videos to clients. Ever since SaskTel finally got around to installing fibre optic internet into my house, Dropbox got even better. I can complete a project, upload it in a few minutes to maybe an hour (as opposed to the better part of a day), and the client has it in their hands, even in another city. My mail and courier costs have dropped to zero.

This is a huge leap in capability from before. Initially, I used to burn projects to DVDs. I still have a spindle of 100 unused, likely never to be used, DVDs in my office. I can’t remember the last time I used one.

From DVDs I progressed to USB sticks, which were much, much faster, had much more capacity, and worked with every computer, as many laptops don’t even have DVD drives anymore.

But the progression to Dropbox has been, by far, the best. So they have me over a barrel. I can’t drop the service, and I can’t do anything about the price, and I can’t easily switch to another service, either.

This tactic seems to be the common business plan of cloud-based computing. Take Netflix, for instance.

I remember very distinctly the day I got Netflix. I was lying, alone, in my room at Regina General Hospital, the night before having an angioplasty (which was done quite literally in the nick of time. A few more hours, and this would have been a tragic story). Needing to get my mind off of the incredible stress of heart trouble and possible death, I signed up for Netflix on my iPhone. It was $8.99 a month, back then in 2012, and I figured, what the heck? I could die tomorrow. Might as well watch a movie. I think I watched Ironman. He had heart troubles, too.

Netflix has since ratcheted the monthly subscription. I just checked our billing and low and behold, it, too, has jumped substantially in recent months.

In December 2018, we were paying $10.99. Then they added tax the following month, and the bill was $11.65 (apparently Netflix had dodged collecting Gouging and Screwing Tax (GST) until that point. The month after that, the total was $14.83, made up of a $13.99 fee plus 84 cents tax.

In other words, it’s up 27.3 per cent from December, not counting tax.

Could we drop Netflix? Yeah. Are we going to? Not if I want to avoid hiring a divorce attorney.

My online backup program, CrashPlan, has performed a similar stunt in the last year. It used to offer a very inexpensive monthly subscription plan for consumers. But last summer, they announced that they were dumping consumers, and you would either have to buy the more expensive small business plan, or leave. Too bad, so sad. Don’t cry about the terabytes of backup data that took years to upload if you leave. So, once again, I am stuck with it.

Adobe, with makes most of the mission-critical software I used for photos and video, several years ago abandoned its long-time selling of individual programs for hundreds of dollars and started Adobe Creative Cloud. It gives you everything they make for US$52.49 per month, an incredibly sweet deal. Except that in May 2018, it became US$55.64 per month. 

I think the initial business strategy for many of these services is to build up a very large, dedicated clientele at a low price, under $10 a month. No one’s going to think twice about something under $10 a month, they figure. And it works. It’s like Costco – I find that they have a huge number of items priced within a few bucks of $10. What’s another $11.99? Throw it in the basket. Then you get to the till and it’s $475 and your paycheck just got gobbled up.

Once these services have got you well and truly hooked, you’re held captive. You can’t easily quit. So they keep racking up the prices, squeezing every last penny out of your wallet. Let me tell you, I wish I could jack my photography prices 27 or 45 per cent.

Indeed, I think every business would like to do the same.

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@sasktel.net.

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