Every month, I summarize and share my favorite stories about organizations building a Forever Transaction. (If you want to be included, sign up here). As the year draws to a close, I wanted to take a look at some of the biggest stories, month by month, about how organizations are innovating to build long-term, formal relationships with the people they serve.

This is a totally subjective list that I made by looking at the stories I found most interesting each month and then choosing a favorite or one that I think illustrates an emerging trend particularly well.

With only 12 stories, in a year of exploding growth across subscription-based businesses, digital communities and premium loyalty memberships, I couldn’t include everything. Which stories would you add?

January: The Automotive Industry Commits to the Membership Economy

Manufacturers want to go direct to consumer, but that means leaving out the middleman. While appealing to consumers, any model that leaves the dealerships out is going to face a lot of pushback. Cadillac is just one of many manufacturers trying to navigate the perilous challenges of going direct, a big theme of 2019.This article describes how Cadillac rebooted their “Book By Cadillac” subscription let dealers get more involved.


February: Customer Lifetime Value becomes an important metric for investors as well as marketers. And subscription businesses increasingly become subjects of academic study.

My friend and colleague, Emory professor Dan McCarthy, is someone worth following if you are investing in subscription businesses, either as an employee or a shareholder. Here, he explains the ins and outs of what he calls customer-based corporate valuation, a means of calculating the worth of a company based on a more nuanced analysis than revenue growth. I think this article is important because it demonstrates a move toward a more sophisticated evaluation of membership and subscription businesses, and a general acceptance that these models are here to stay.


March: The Future Of Gaming Is Subscription

2019 has been the year that the gaming industry has really begun to dig into the world of subscriptions, memberships and networks. “The need to own is being supplanted with a need to experience things and a desire to try,” says Electronic Arts (EA) senior vice president of player network Michael Blank. “And as a result, we’re seeing this shift in consumption patterns where access is being valued greater than ownership.” Subscription, especially when combined with elements of community, enables more value and playing enjoyment among players–more variety, early access, and competition and collaboration. When done right, it’s a win/win. Subscription has transformed video, music, and software . And now, at the intersection of software and entertainment, video games is moving to subscription. Over the next few years, we can expect increasing activity in the gaming world around building long-term relationship with the game players, and that manufacturers, content creators, tech companies and media organizations will all be contenders.


April: The End of the MoviePass Bubble

When MoviePass launched, people went crazy–unlimited in-theater movies for less than $10 a month (they went as low as about $7/month with an annual commitment). The idea was too good to be true from the beginning. They told a good story though–that the data they generated and consumer relationships they built would be a launch pad for a much bigger business. It was a good enough story to generate investments of over $68M before shutting down. This was one of the most interesting membership stories of 2018-19, becuase of the generosity of the offer and all of the bumps and intrigues along the way. Like Napster in the music world, MoviePass was the disruptor that launched a whole slew of new competitors, and forced entrenched players like AMC Theatres to move quickly. membership is still doing OK. Different strategies, different threshholds…


May: Another Shaving Subscription Snapped Up

In May of 2019, Edgewell Personal Care, the company that owns Schick and Wilkinson’s Razor brands as well as Hawaiian Tropic, acquired Harrys, following Unilever‘s purchase of Dollar Shave Club a few years ago. These are two examples of traditional companies trying to buy their way into Direct-to-Consumer subscription models through acquisition of a subscription-native. We can expect to see many more examples of subscription and membership startups being acquired by much bigger organizations. But whether you buy or build, integrating principles of the Membership Economy across the organization is challenging.


June: European Sustainable Jeans Subscription Invests in Recycling

I like this story of the jeans company that recycles through a subscription model for a few reasons. First because it highlights one of the many innovative subscription-based businesses being incubated outside the US. When I wrote The Membership Economy over five years ago, there were few examples of global subscriptions or of subscription entrepreneurship outside the US. Today, subscriptions are a world-wide phenomenon. A second reason this story is interesting is because of the alignment of subscription and sustainability. Subscribing to access a shared set of assets, whether jeans or cars or video games can be an easy way to take a more earth-friendly approach to consumerism.


July: Academic Research Released on the Impact of Discounts For Unhappy Subscribers

2019 may be remembered as the year academics started studying subscription and membership businesses. This research by Notre Dame’s Vamsi K. Kanuri evaluates the perils of discounting to “save” subscribers. “Firms do not understand the paradox of service failure…Everyone knows that firms are imperfect, just as human beings, and that there will be a service letdown at some point. How the firm chooses to delight its customers can make all the difference.” His conclusion is reflected in the changing attitudes of subscription-based organizations about promotions and discounts in businesses that rely on long-term consistency.


August: Weight Watchers Acquisition Kurbo Helps Solve the Childhood Obesity Crisis Through Membership

I have been a fan of Kurbo, Inc. since the beginning, and even wrote about them in my first book, The Membership Economy. With one in three American children at an unhealthy weight, we need an affordable membership that teaches kids how to eat healthfully. This acquisition is a great example of subscription-based businesses playing in the world of wellness, for children as well as adults, which will no doubt have a big impact on the broader healthcare industry.


September: New Stock Exchange Focuses on the Long-term

One of the biggest things to hold back innovation among public companies is the pressure on quarterly reporting. It’s why so many companies can’t successfully make the leap to subscription pricing. That’s why I admire what Eric Ries is doing with the LTSE, providing public market access to companies who focus on the right metrics for long-term value. In September, they announced $50 Million financing found for this new exchange. This new stock-exchange is sure to create new value for investors and open funding sources for organizations in the Membership Economy


October: Heavy Equipment Manufacturers Join the Membership Economy

Subscription pricing and membership models have been tearing through industry after industry. Companies like Caterpillar are joining the fray, using sensors and machine learning to create new sources of value for customers. In the future, there’s a chance that people won’t buy cranes or threshers or crushers–they’ll subscribe! Heavy Equipment is a sleeping giant and a move to subscription pricing and “as-a-service” models can cut out the dealers, and change the way agriculture and construction business is run. In this IndustryWeek article author Stephan M. Liozu, Ph.D. describes the impact subscriptions will have on industrial business.


November: The Streaming Wars Reach a Fevered Pitch.

With so much happening in video content streaming, it’s hard to keep track. There’s a lot of jargon (#SVOD #OTT, #CTV, #LinearTV etc) and so many players. The players are coming from all directions and crossing over into new areas of expertise–traditional networks like CBS Interactive and content shops like The Walt Disney Company are going direct to consumer, delivery-first orgs like Netflix and Hulu are creating their own content, e-commerce juggernaut Amazon has a robust collection of original and aggregated content, and hardware-first organizations like Apple are creating content to distribute through their devices. All of them converging on the same space, and inviting us to subscribe. What does this mean for us as consumers? And what does it mean more broadly for the health of some of the biggest companies? There are some very big questions right now, and some big bets being placed.


December: Nike Heralds a New Kind of Membership

Much has been written about Nike’s move to become a direct-to-consumer company. They have abandoned Amazon, opened retail stores that are innovation palaces, invested in digital communities for runners and other athletes, and launched a kids subscription box business, Nike Adventure Club. But what’s especially interesting to me is their investment in building a membership-relationship with their customers. This membership goes well beyond points-for-discounts, to include shopping tools for better in-store experience, as well as news for sneakerheads. They are not the only manufacturer looking for new ways to align their offerings with the mission of their members, but they are one of the leaders.


2020 is around the corner. So much is happening in the world of subscription pricing, membership models and loyalty programs. It will be exciting to see what comes next!