Thursday, August 10, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Ulysses Switches to Subscription

Marcus Fehn (Hacker News):

As of today, we’re changing Ulysses’ payment model. It’s still the same Ulysses, same features, same distribution, we’re just switching to subscription. For $4.99 per month or just $39.99 per year, you can now use Ulysses on all your Macs, iPads and iPhones, including sync. You no longer need to buy two separate versions for either platform – from now on, it’s just Ulysses, and you can use it wherever you want.

[…]

We can finally offer a free, cross-platform trial. Ulysses can now be downloaded and fully tested for 14 days, on all devices, including sync, no price or strings attached.

[…]

We are offering all our current customers a lifetime discount on Ulysses’ yearly plan (it’s 50% off the regular monthly subscription).

As with other recent switches to subscriptions, the Ulysses change seems to be accompanied by a price increase. The subscription is $40/year, while previously the Mac version was $45 and the iOS version was $25.

The FAQ:

Both the monthly and the yearly subscriptions are auto-renewing.

[…]

With the change to subscription, we changed the versioning scheme to better match the new model. We’re now increasing the version number for each new feature release. Ulysses has had 10 feature releases (1.0, 1.1, …) so far, so this is the 11ᵗʰ feature release. The next feature release will be version 12.

Max Seelemann (tweet):

I am not exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a change coming soon.

[…]

If you bought Ulysses at its launch in April 2013, you will now have received nine major feature releases. For free, at no additional cost. At least 80% of that originally purchased app have since been scraped and replaced. Its functionality has quadrupled during the same time.

[…]

In-between such big point-releases, sales will often drop to a non-sustainable level. So it’s not that we’re getting rich during the development period, and even richer after each update. No. We’re actually loosing money during development. And so the longer it takes to ship an update, the riskier it becomes financially. We are, in fact, highly dependent on these sale spikes, in order to make money.

He doesn’t think upgrade pricing is the answer, in part because the way people update their devices has changed:

It’s perfectly obvious that the overall situation is the same for paid updates as for one-time purchases. The situation is less severe than with the paid-once system — the sales spikes after bigger releases will be much higher –, but after each release, sales will fall back to a similar level.

[…]

And let’s just say you don’t update. You simply stay on the previous version, because you don’t think you need the new features, or because you find the update price not worth it. How long will this very version continue to work? On the same device and the same operating system… probably “forever”, sure. But does that really hold nowadays, when people get new phones every two years and OS updates are free?

[…]

Ulysses, for example, had critical bugs on every new version of macOS and iOS that came out since we launched in 2013. Yes, we fixed them immediately, but the next device, the next OS, will break some stuff again. The old app will break eventually, there’s just no way around it. As soon as the user’s environment changes, old stuff breaks.

And with the iOS version only available via the App Store, there’s no practical way to stay with an old version—and a newer iOS version may not be able to sync with an older Mac version.

See also: MacRumors (forum), 9to5Mac, John Gruber, Shawn Blanc, Michael Rockwell, Adam C. Engst, Ben Sandofsky, Dan Counsell, Dr. Drang, Wojtek Pietrusiewicz, Joe Cieplinski, Charlie Sorrel, Alex Cranz, Matt Gemmell, Dan Counsell, Eddie Smith, Matt Gemmell, Core Intuition, Gopal Sharma.

Update (2017-08-14): Max Seelemann:

Adding subscription to Ulysses took us 7 months, with 1 man-year engineering, 1.5 man-years total effort. It’s 22k lines of production code.

It feels like most of that should have been handled by the App Store. So. Many. Pitfalls. Everywhere.

11 Comments

If I were writing professionally in Ulysses, and thus making money with Ulysses... If Ulysses was critical to my workflow, $40/year would be a no-brainer.

Alas, that is hardly the case. I work in other systems during daytime, and I use Macs at home for my hobbies. I also like to write. But now DayOne wants an yearly subscription for a price that I cannot justify. And Ulysses follows suite with $50/year on top.

What subscriptions mean is that developers reduce their audiences to their smallest core of "mission-critical" pro users. But users (like myself) that might try an application and eventually embrace it will be left out.

BTW, a 14-day trial is mostly useless for me, unless I happen to use the trial app most days... and often I will not, and end the trial before reaching any sensible conclusion.

Suddenly Setapp might be the only option covering my case... but can I trust Ulysses to remain in Setapp? Probably not.

And thus ends the golden age of Shareware on the Mac, where reasonable applications were available for reasonable prices (Graphic Converter still rules!). We go the Windows route, with a market divided between expensive Pro apps and free crapware. And then, every other Windows user runs "this" pro app that was cracked by a "friend"...

About Setapp: try to go to their site (https://setapp.com) and find out what apps are actually included in the bundle. I couldn't find a list anywhere, not even in their knowledge base.

Enough said.

"As with other recent switches to subscriptions, the Ulysses change seems to be accompanied by a price increase. The subscription is $40/year, while previously the Mac version was $45 and the iOS version was $25."

I was somewhat dubious about your conclusions on this in your previous post, given that I have a strong distaste for subscription apps even without a price raise, that perhaps overrode my ability to fully accept your point.

But I'm beginning to come around to your conclusions there.

Also, I think Joaquim makes a good point about a market bifurcating into too expensive 'mission-critical' Pro apps and free/cheap crapware. (I have a license to a an old copy of Ulysses that I only use a few times a year. They are essentially firing me as a future customer for upgrades, since users like me don't figure into their pricing scheme. But that would likely be true even if the yearly subscription were cheaper.)

Liam Greenwood

For Joaquim Baptista - the list of apps for setapp - https://setapp.com/apps
The link is found in the footer of the site "All Apps"

No opinion on setapp, never used it.

Cheers, Liam

Kevin LaCoste

@Joaquim You must have missed the All Apps link at the bottom of the page.

https://setapp.com/apps

I suspect the reasons for the price increases with subscriptions is they know they'll get fewer customers going that route so they need to raise prices to compensate and that raising the subscription price in the future will cause more anger. I agree with Joaquim that unless the software is crucial for my work, I won't pay a subscription price for it and will either look for alternatives or live without it.

"I suspect the reasons for the price increases with subscriptions is they know they'll get fewer customers going that route so they need to raise prices to compensate"

Yup. That's the mechanics of how software market bifurcation that Joaquim describes operates in the real world.

My problem with subscription pricing is that once a application has a solid user base it disincentivizes software development. Have a bunch of locked in users? No reason to add features. Where as charging for new versions encourages developers to make updates that are good enough that existing users want to give them more money.

As a software developer I understand the allure of subscription pricing but as a consumer I hate it.

While most subscriptions include multiple devices, I have no need for any of these. I'm a disabled person that has no iPhone since I rarely leave home or iPad since my crippled hands can't use one. Why should I pay for services that I don't use?

I have a hard time convincing my clients to buy a quality app, but if it's a subscription most simply won't even consider it. New users are lost.

Subscription services are especially hard on seniors that are on fixed budgets and have limited needs.

Subscriptions loose more customer bases than it gains. Doesn't make good business sense to me.

[…] sounds like it’s much more complicated than you would expect. The developer of Ulysses says that it took their highly regarded team 1.5 man-years and 22K lines of code to implement […]

Joaquim Baptista:

What subscriptions mean is that developers reduce their audiences to their smallest core of "mission-critical" pro users. But users (like myself) that might try an application and eventually embrace it will be left out.

You summed it up precisely!

I often buy software based on a mix of recommendations and my very positive first impression (well, if it’s in the range up to $50). Then it happens that I don’t do much with the purchased program, because I don’t have the time/passion to dive into it. One or two months later I remember the program and I seriously invest some time to learn it. Only then it will be decided if the program becomes part of my “toolset”.

What will happen with subscription software?

First: I never would purchase a subscription based on recommendations and my first impression. (This may be irrational but it is like this.)

Second: If there is a (not-auto-extending) trial I would sign up. But one or two months later – when I get back to the program – it will tell me that the trial is over and I actually have to subscribe. But I still don’t know if I really like the program; so there it goes, straight to the Trash.

And then – besides all that – there’s the obvious thing: When it happened that I bought a program and then it turned out that it doesn’t fit as I imagined, there are usually still some use-cases where the app is good. In those cases I’m still happy that I purchased the app, even though I’m probably not going to buy the next major version. And it will serve me well for years, albeit not too frequent.

But I can never justify paying a subscription for a program that I will only use in some special cases.

And then, every other Windows user runs "this" pro app that was cracked by a "friend"...

I think you are right here again. I almost see a comeback of my very early Mac days where 90% of my software was cracked ;) Well, not for me, I’m just too old for this. But I guess the ObDev guys will see increased sales of Little Snitch ;)

– Tom

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