In this article I will be looking into the pros and cons of taking out lifetime subscriptions, whilst these might be available in many areas my focus will be relating to cloud storage and cloud backup software services.
What Should you Consider when Buying a Lifetime Plan
Something which an increasing number of cloud storage and cloud backup providers are beginning to offer to their customers in recent years are the (so called) lifetime plans. These lifetime plans are essentially a single, one-off payment for a service which would otherwise be billed on a monthly or yearly basis thus allowing continued use of the service and with no further monthly payments to make, ever.
In theory this sounds like an ideal solution to the modern annoyance of having to pay monthly fees for (seemingly) everything we now need to use, something which (in theory at least) should save both time and money and provide great value in the long run, right?
Here’s the thing, whilst there are many providers who now offer at least some allocation of lifetime accounts for their service, there are also many people who are sceptical of the economics of such lifetime plans and feel the deals on offer are maybe a little too good to be true. In this article we will explore at a broad level what is actually going on with many of these lifetime plans, what to watch out for and how you can ultimately decide if a lifetime deal is right for you or not.
What is a Lifetime Subscription
Simply put, a lifetime subscription is a subscription to a service (usually cloud based) which involves only a single, one-off payment being made to then use the service in perpetuity. Many people will (wrongly) assume all such services will then run for the rest of their life (thanks to the use of the word “lifetime”) although this will, in many cases, simply refer only to the lifetime of the service itself.
This part about the subscription often being for the lifetime of the service itself and not the account holder is what can catch many people out when looking at lifetime deals. This is not to say that some companies don’t offer such lifetime services covering the lifetime of the account holder (or at least intend to) but in my experience having seen (and even purchased) quite a few of these deals can say that not all providers work like this.
As such this is the first and most critical thing to look for when evaluating a lifetime deal, even if the provider really does aim to provide you with use of the service forever, be aware that they themselves might go out of business or fall foul of another situation meaning they can no longer provide the service they have offered to you.
Why do Cloud Providers Offer Lifetime Subscriptions?
Whilst all providers might have their own individual reasons for offering a lifetime service, it is important to understand these lifetime plans are often used as a marketing technique, especially by newer companies who might otherwise struggle to advertise their product using more traditional methods such as search engine ads (which cost money every time they are clicked).
Another reason some companies like to offer an initial batch of users a lifetime plan is to help with the testing of their product in its early stages. Whilst the alternative might be to pay professional testers, offering an initial batch of customers a lifetime plan is a great way of getting real users engaged and using their service and in the meantime providing valuable feedback and error reports. Often times when this method is used the company will limit the number of lifetime accounts or set a cut-off date when they are no longer available (and this might, in-turn, be a good sign they intend to honour the lifetime deal given any newer monthly subscriptions will form the basis of any revenue for the company going forwards).
Risks of Buying Lifetime Subscriptions
As I have already eluded to so far, a lifetime plan is not necessarily a cast iron guarantee you will have access to the service you have purchased throughout your own lifetime. Even if the provider in question has every intention of being fair and aiming to provide a true lifetime service, there is always the risk that they might go out of business and with it the lifetime subscription is then lost.
Even if the company providing the lifetime subscription doesn’t go out of business completely, the arrival of any potential financial problems might lead to the business being bought by another business who perform some kind of cost cutting operation and with this remove access to the lifetime plans in due course.
Often times when purchasing a lifetime subscription, if you look at the terms and conditions you will see the provider specifically mention a set number of years for which the subscription is valid for (this will usually be a very high number, say 100 years). As such they recognise that whilst this isn’t a true lifetime service (technically) it does for the vast majority constitute a lifetime (again, assuming the provider is in business for this long and honouring the service throughout).
Other times (quite often, actually) you will see providers mention that the lifetime element refers to the lifetime of the service itself and if at any point it becomes unviable to run (according to the provider themselves) then they reserve the right to withdraw the service. This is in reality one of the biggest risks when buying such a service, especially from smaller companies who don’t have a very valuable brand to worry about damaging in the first place if they do eventually remove access to such a service!
Another big risk when evaluating a lifetime plan, regardless of the intentions or abilities of the provider to honour the service is the risk of poor quality service and customer support. It could be the case that even if the provider does generally honour the lifetime accounts they might (in order to keep their monthly subscription customer happy) push any support requests to the bottom of the queue when made by lifetime customers. Providers might also migrate lifetime customer accounts to older, slower hardware in the process of keeping their monthly subscription customers happy by keeping them on the fastest hardware, this would potentially mean as a lifetime customer you are getting a second rate service (and potentially never realise this given you probably wouldn’t then go on to pay monthly as well!).
Having said all of this (above) if you do feel the service you originally bought has deteriorated too much then (even though the plan is still being honoured) you might find you need to then go to another provider and pay monthly) to get the level of service you now need!
Now, to be clear, I am not saying any of these things will happen with any individual provider, but they should hopefully provide some food for thought as to things which might go wrong with a lifetime plan and what to potentially be aware of longer term.
Are Lifetime Subscriptions a Scam?
So far we have established, regardless of the intentions of the company offering such plans that they wont necessarily last the lifetime of the person who purchased them. This does not mean all providers offering such plans don’t have intentions to honour the service long-term, but there might be some out there who do!
In truth, it might be very difficult to spot this, you could say you are more at risk of loosing a lifetime account early on form a very new company (due to them potentially having limited funds and no reputation to damage), but to know this for sure (and that they intend to remove access deliberately) is again, very difficult to determine.
Reviews in many cases might be a good way of seeing how reputable a company is and the likelihood of them honouring a lifetime product. But again, there are risks here as newer companies might have very few reviews and if a company is trying to operate a scam they would (presumably) work hard to generate lots of fake good reviews. As such definitely check reviews but threat them with caution and only use them as a (small) part of your decision process!
So, Should I Buy a Lifetime Subscription?
With everything being said so far, this is the big question, should you actually commit to and buy a lifetime service or not? Finally, in my personal opinion and in answer to this question I think it is wrong to focus too much on the lifetime element.
For example, let’s say you buy a lifetime 500GB of cloud storage today, are you (realistically) still going to be needing that amount of storage in say, 20 years time? Chances are that 500GB is by this point in the future a meaningless amount of storage (and probably offered for free by many other providers by then as well). As such, in this example, providing you get several years of use from that 500GB account (and it would be a good amount cheaper than paying for it monthly over the same period) I would consider this to be a good deal!
Of course, this is just an example and with it a realistic recognition that things change over time in the computing world, it is also based upon my own perception of what constitutes good value as well. Untimely, you will need to establish what constitutes good value for yourself, my advice being try and be realistic (as per my example) and not get too fixated on the “lifetime” wording if you can.
So, to conclude, my personal advice when approaching such deals is to be realistic and if you do buy a lifetime plan then prepare for the worst case scenario in that the provider might shutdown after a just a short period of time (have a backup plan ready). I am not in any way saying that all lifetime plans are bad but if they do disappear or become irrelevant over time then at least tr and recognise that you have had some good value from the account during the time it was active, anything after this is of course a bonus!