Monday, August 12, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Grief From Transitioning to Subscriptions

Peter Steinberger:

Transitioning an app to subscription is always an adventure - even if you don’t take features away, people give you 💩

Twitterrific:

Even if you ADD a ton of features.

Pádraig Kennedy:

fwiw we were shocked that we barely had any of this when we moved Castro to subscription. I guess it depends on the type of app and who your users are.

Markus Müller-Simhofer:

You get the same 💩 when you dare to release a paid upgrade. Or even when you do Freemium to offer a [trial]. Two example from just today.

And you have no idea how many people give us 1-star reviews because Mac and iOS are separate purchases (cross platform unlocks are only allowed for subscriptions). I [file] those as feature request for a subscription… 🤐

Michael Simmons:

This is a loud, but luckily, minority of users. These people seem to think apps write and update themselves and that that supporting an app is free. These same “loyal” users wouldn’t care if we went out of business. Part of the app business (and life!), I guess. 😉

Kyle Howells:

Part of the problem is iOS itself.

Apps need constant maintenance to just keep running and working because, else they break. The means, I want to keep this thing I’ve already bought, and, I want new features and updates all the same, end up combined together.

as a result you get “I bought this app, I just want to keep it, why are you taking it away from me and making me pay again?”

But without more work, iOS itself will take the app away from you by breaking it or refusing to run it.

Previously:

Update (2019-08-13): Isaiah Carew:

counterpoint: selling paid upgrades off the app store for $34.95

still pretty great.

11 years indie.

proven sustainable.

we’ve had a handful of whiners, sure. but more fans that tell us we’re undercharging.

13 Comments

>Apps need constant maintenance to just keep running and working because, else they break.
Apple used to care about binary compatibility for Mac apps, but that has never been the case for iOS. Much of the decline in perceived quality on both platforms stems from the low standards of iOS being forced on Apple's less important platforms.

The guy doing the most whining isn’t brave enough to offer subscriptions of his own apps, he knows his sales would crater. (Flexbits guy, neither Cardhop nor Fantastical are subscription and I’d drop them as “not that necessary.”)

Apple started this race to the bottom, they added politics, and every time a developer “pivots to subscription” I re-evaluate tools. That’s where we are now. Tools like DayOne understand this, and have a “you keep what you paid for, if you want more then subscribe” model.

EXCEPTIONS: Fiery Feeds, started as subscription, 50% of my screentime. Carrot Weather Watch, 30% of my watch screentime and stupid cheap per year.

Moral of the story: You’d better make a tool that I use ALL THE TIME, or I’m not paying rent. Oh and developers: Sometimes I’m just happy with a tool that works and really don’t want your “new features.” That’s why I canned Drafts for something more simple.

Again, most of this is on Apple and MAYBE on developers, who should push back on Apple to be more open/less “strict” (stupid) and not take as much of a cut.

> Moral of the story: You’d better make a tool that I use ALL THE TIME, or I’m not paying rent. Oh and developers: Sometimes I’m just happy with a tool that works and really don’t want your “new features.” That’s why I canned Drafts for something more simple.

This is it, really. The bottom line is that paying for software and subscribing to a service are fundamentally different models, and I (for my own needs, at least) see a major mismatch between what most subscription apps offer in terms of core features vs. the implicit promise of a subscription model (e.g., I use Castro for podcasts, and I just need it to play podcasts — everything else is just friction).

I purchase an app because i’m interested in the particular set of features it offers at the time of purchase; with subs, there seems to be an implicit requirement or responsibility for developers to continuously supply new features, since they are now effectively providing a service. So another major problem for me is that the app I “purchase” today may very well evolve into something quite different over time through the accumulation of "new features" and UI "improvements" (I've been burned so many times by UX-breaking changes in apps I rely on that I've had to disable automatic updates, and now manually screen updates before applying them).

I understand developers have been forced into a corner by the app store’s race to the bottom and are just trying to make a living, but the subscription model just feels like the wrong payment model for the majority of mobile apps I use.

I know a number of people are still desperately clinging to the final version of Adobe Photoshop that doesn't require the Creative Cloud subscription model. Maybe people don't like the idea of renting software? Perhaps attitudes will change - MS and Adobe are all-in on this model already.

Developers whining about push-back from users when they switch to subscriptions is such baloney. They should either price their app sustainably, or make an app that is so absurdly useful or entrenched that users have no choice but to pay (why hello, Office, Adobe, and 1Password).

If I pay once for an app, I can keep using it perpetually (assuming no OS-level breakage, which on Apple products is a pretty unsafe assumption, unfortunately). If a paid upgrade comes out, I get to choose if it’s worth my money or if the old version is good enough. Subscriptions typically trap me using the most recent version with no good options should I decide it’s not actually worth the cost (can’t cease paying and keep using my old copy outside of fringe examples like Jetbrains).

I’ll subscribe to a service I use regularly, but the only service most app developers provide on a subscription is vague promises (and then they inevitably release stuff at exactly the same pace as before).

I’m very aware that app development is very difficult, time consuming work but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay 150% more on a recurring subscription for the exact same product. Entitlement is rife in both sides of this issue, methinks.

I’d be interested to see a dev try a combination of paid app plus something like Patreon where they offer subscription access with some sort of extra-app value add for the folks willing to subscribe. Wonder if that would help address the issues on both sides, or if it would just be one more drain on attention.

I'd like Microsoft's model. You can buy Office 2019, of subscribe to Office365. Personally, I only want a subscription if I really need it. I don't want to review constantly whether I still need a subscription or not.

Subscriptions are a mental load to me. But I happily upgrade to a new version, even if I don't need the new functionality (Audio Hijack comes to mind).

If I may, PDF Expert went to a 9€ in-app purchase to a 50$/year subscription. That’s an insane price hike, also used by other developers like Ulysses or TextExpander and 1Password in the past.

I get that some users aren’t fond of subs, but come on: maybe a problem is when the price is increased by hundreds of percentages overnight.

Developers can’t complain about their users giving them a hard time and not address the elephant in the room.

@EconTech Thanks for those details. That sounds like an even larger increase than others I’ve documented. It seems like a flaw in the model that the subscription is accompanied by such a large increase. But since almost everyone is doing that, it suggests that customers hate subscriptions so much that you have to get a lot more revenue from the ones who decide to remain and pay. So some people are paying a lot more, and others are paying nothing (but not getting the software they want), which doesn’t seem like a good situation, except perhaps from a tech support point of view.

Our introduction of expiring licences for Power Manager are being well received by customers – https://dssw.co.uk/blog/2019-08-07-power-manager-5-released/ – but we deliberately made sure the new pricing felt fair and kept perpetual licences as an option.

> Subscriptions are a mental load to me.

This. The nagging feeling of loosing money continuously for seldom used apps creates a bad conscience and it adds up when more and more software goes subscription only. Thank god for Affinity.

[…] Update (2019-08-13): See also Garage Sale 8 subscription price, Grief From Transitioning to Subscriptions. […]

Congratulations to @Isaiah Carew on Stacks, 11 years and counting is quite the run for indie development, especially during the transitioning all software to "as a service" era. Fair price for quality software and treating customers as valued, why I never…!

> with subs, there seems to be an implicit requirement or responsibility for developers to continuously supply new features

I feel like it might be the opposite. If you don't charge subscriptions, then you have to release new versions with new features regularly, since you need to get people to decide to pay for the app again. If, on the other hand, you get paid regularly, you can focus on making the application more stable, and making it work with new OS versions, since you don't rely on regular huge new releases that generate a lot of PR and upgrade payments.

> customers hate subscriptions so much that you have to get a lot more revenue from the ones who decide to remain and pay

I'm guessing that this goes inline with a shift from having real people as customers, to having companies as customers. For a company, 50 bucks a seat is cheap when you compare it to all of the other costs an employee creates (wages, office space rent, insurance, ...), and subscription pricing is often preferable to paid upgrades, because you can budget for subscription prices, whereas paid upgrades occur more or less random.

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