Industries which use this model include book clubs, record clubs, telephone companies, cable television providers, cell phone companies, internet providers, pay-TV channels, software providers, business solutions providers, financial services firms, fitness clubs, and pharmaceuticals, as well as the traditional newspapers and magazines. Renewal of a subscription may be periodic and activated automatically, so that the cost of a new period is automatically paid for by a pre-authorized charge to a credit card or a checking account.
A common model on web sites is to provide content for free, but restrict access to premium features (for example, archives) to paying subscribers. In this case, the subscriber-only content is said to be behind a paywall.
The razor and blades business model (also called the bait and hook model) is an attempt to approximate the subscription model, but without a formal agreement by both parties.
In integrated software solutions, for example, the subscription pricing structure is designed so that the revenue stream from the recurring subscriptions is considerably greater than the revenue from simple one-time purchases. In some subscription schemes (like magazines), it also increases sales, by not giving subscribers the option to accept or reject any specific issue. This reduces customer acquisition costs, and allows personalized marketing or database marketing. However, a requirement of the system is that the business must have in place an accurate, reliable and timely way to manage and track subscriptions.
From a marketing-analyst perspective, it has the added benefit that the vendor knows the number of currently active members, since a subscription typically involves a contractual agreement. This so-called 'contractual' setting facilitates customer relationship management to a large extent because the analyst knows who is an active customer and who recently churned.
Subscriptions which exist to support clubs and organizations call their subscribers "members" and they are given access to a group with similar interests. An example might be the Computer Science Book Club.
Subscription pricing can make it easier to pay for expensive items, since it can often be paid for over a period of time and thus can make the product seem more affordable. On the other hand, most newspaper and magazine-type subscriptions are paid upfront, and this might actually prevent some customers from signing up.
An unlimited use subscription to a service for a fixed price is an advantage for consumers using those services frequently. However, it could be a disadvantage to a customer who plans to use the service frequently, but later does not. The commitment to paying for a package may have been more expensive than a single purchase would have been.
In addition, subscription models increase the possibility of vendor lock-in, and consumers may find repeated payments to be onerous. Finally, subscription models often require or allow the business to gather substantial amounts of information from the customer (such as magazine mailing lists) and this raises issues of privacy.
A subscription model may be beneficial for the software buyer if it forces the supplier to improve its product. Accordingly, a psychological phenomenon may occur when a customer renews a subscription, that may not occur during a one-time transaction: if the buyer is not satisfied with the service, he/she can simply leave the subscription to expire and find another seller.
This is in contrast to many one-time transactions, when customers are forced to make significant commitments through high software prices. Some feel that historically, the "one-time-purchase" model does not give sellers incentive to maintain relationships with their customers (after all, why should they care once they've received their money?). Some who favor a subscription model for software do so because it may change this situation.
The subscription model should align customer and vendor toward common goals, as both stand to benefit if the customer receives value from the subscription. The customer that receives value is more likely to renew the subscription and possibly at an increased rate. The customer that does not receive value will, in theory, return to the marketplace.