Design Subscription Models for Outcome, not Addiction

Robbie K Baxter
2 min readJan 9, 2023

Subscription businesses depend on habits. If subscribers adopt behaviors that use a subscription offering, they’re not going to cancel.

Some habits have positive outcomes. People subscribe to Noom to eat better, to Strava to exercise more, and Masterclass to know more.

But some habits have less positive or even negative outcomes. Is it good that you’re spending so much time streaming Emily in Paris or White Lotus? And many of us are losing our ability to focus as a result of too much time switching back and forth between social platforms.

Using dark behavioral patterns in your business in order to form an addiction can be both unethical and damaging to your business in the long run. Nir Eyal has written extensively on both how to design apps for habit and how to protect our ability to focus by rigorously protecting our habits and our focus.

The truth is every one of us has addictive tendencies.

Responsible companies build the kind of products and services that improve people’s lives. Their products help users make life easier and also improve the quality of life in some.

Does your subscription model make your subscribers’ lives better in the long term?

One simple way to test where your product lands is to ask your subscribers if they ever regret using it, after the fact. Nir says regret is one of the best ways to determine the quality of a habit.

Here are four ways to design subscription models for a positive outcome, and not addiction:

  1. Design to solve an ongoing problem for your subscriber or to help them achieve an ongoing goal. Your “forever promise” should improve their condition
  2. Balance your acquisition benefits with engagement benefits. Onboard new subscribers in a way that builds habits.
  3. Use external triggers to support consistent habits. Alerts, emails, and notifications cause habit-forming behaviors. You don’t want too many of these, but you can experiment to find the right balance.
  4. As you continue to optimize your offering, continue to use your forever promise as a touchstone. Focus on your subscribers’ goals, and not just on retention for retention’s sake.

As a subscription pro, it is your responsibility to create a model that is ethical, outcome-focused, and has a forever promise that will truly make life better for the people you serve.



Robbie K Baxter

Author of THE FOREVER TRANSACTION & THE MEMBERSHIP ECONOMY; Leading expert on membership models and subscription pricing.