It’s Not About The Box

By Tien Tzuo October 14, 2019

I love Sonos. I’ve had their speakers for years — they sound great, they sync well, and they’re affordable. Sonos taught everyone that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great home stereo or theater system.

So when I found out that they just launched a subscription program last week, I was really excited. Two great tastes that taste great together, right? After reading through the details of the program, though, I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m pretty underwhelmed.

The program is called Sonos Flex, and right now it’s limited to just 500 homes in the Netherlands. So clearly this is a trial run, an experiment. And I’m all for trial runs! But at first glance, this rollout just doesn’t feel that exciting to me.

Here are the quick details: they offer three basic plans, and for a fixed monthly fee you get to have some combination of speaker, soundbar and/or subwoofer. Their lowest price point, for example, is $19 dollars a month for two smart speakers that retail for $580. You can cancel any time, and your speakers will be automatically replaced with the latest models as soon as they are released.

This isn’t a very compelling subscription service. It strikes me more as just an equipment rental plan. Successful subscription services are constantly changing, iterating, improving themselves. In this situation, you’re just paying for a product over time.

Today, hardware subscriptions are booming. You can subscribe to cell phones, game consoles, cars, electric bicycles, the list goes on. But the key to a truly successful program is a compelling digital intelligence (or content offering) that becomes smarter, better and more customized over time.

It’s never about the box, it’s about what’s inside it (just ask the PC industry!). Automatic equipment upgrades just don’t cut it anymore. If Sonos had rolled out some compelling new digital features that you could only access through a subscription plan, then they would have had my attention. It’s just hard to get excited about a pricing plan.

But give Sonos credit for trying new things. This is obviously just a first step, and I’m assuming they have more surprises in store. After all, this is a company with a proven track record of innovating and creating great user experiences. I’m still sticking with my Sonos speakers!

 

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