By: Ryan Hatch
Over the years I’ve perhaps grown numb to the “price of a latte” parlance in its various forms, but the one in the tweet above, dated Oct. 2, 2018 that I only recently came across, brought me to a stop, the paper straw that broke the caramel’s back.
This tweet isn’t technically wrong. Sure, a latte costs roughly $4, and that’s about what you’d spend each month to read The Athletic, a subscription-based media outlet that covers sports. Given the benefit of the doubt, many might see this trope as harmless, a relatable way to put into context how affordably a new thing is priced alongside another item that many would also consider unnecessary but nice to have.
I feel as if I’m being duped. A $4 latte is fleeting, gone in as long as it takes to get to the office. A foolish investment? If you say so, but at least I can square it in my head, I can compartmentalize it quickly, and, you know, skip ordering them any time I want (yeah, right, but at least the option’s there).
Signing up for website is a bigger beast. A subscription is time, it’s an investment, typically a year-long commitment that requires providing my email address, phone number, credit card information, and probably a form to fill out with my deepest fears and anxieties. Once that’s all done, the emails start immediately, along with the pervasive guilt each day of not spending several hours reading up on LSU’s newest defensive schemes. The subscription now owns me, it owns so much more than the one-off expenditure at the coffee shop, and even though I can “cancel any time,” the chances of that are low, at least for a few months, because a) I am delusional (I’ll catch up tomorrow!) and b) lazy and will forget, which companies know and count on.
More importantly, the subscription-latte comparison also undermines the very product in question. The Athletic has its detractors (mostly for its questionable business model), but it may be the perfect example for all of this because it indeed appears to be a good product. Editorially, it’s sound, and the user experience on the site and app are as clean as any you’ll find on a wide-ranging media platform. The Athletic is like flying business class, a pretty good experience all things considered. These types of products should be valued highly. Why, then, push smarmy platitudes and position something of worth next to something of irrelevance? At best it won’t make people do anything, at worst it’ll turn people off who are considering investing time and money, undercutting and devaluing all the good services available. (Not to mention, the latte comparison is overdone, and people will ignore it.)
For better or worse, The New York Times is likely the most recognized name in media. The Athletic, and thousands of other companies, probably wouldn’t mind trading in the same brand equity. You won’t find All The News That’s Fit to Print comparing its subscription price to coffee. The NYT has its share of editorial issues, but give it this: there are no apologies made for the subscription price ($15 per month, or, uh, three lattes), and rightfully so. It knows people will subscribe to a product if it’s good, which, in this case, it mostly is.
Signing up for a yearlong subscription is no small ask, yet I’m still willing to put in the effort and put up with the headache and guilt because I believe in quality work, not because I’ve been reminded of a comparable price point to a random drink. My bet is others feel this way, too, and the subscription model will hopefully bring the industry some overdue stabilization. Drawing comparisons to lattes, of all things, only diminishes it.