Thursday, September 19, 2019

Scanbot Goes Freemium

doo (tweet):

To start with the most important point: none of our users gets taken away something they have had before. That means that every feature that was unlocked by purchasing the ‘Scanbot Pro’ upgrade before the release of Scanbot 9 will stay valid and every unlocked feature will remain available.


We provide a lot of functionality for very little money: In the most extreme case, a user that bought Scanbot Pro in 2014 for as little as 0.99$ has enjoyed 9 fully featured major versions with over 400 internal builds of Scanbot.


Just additional new features that will be released from now on will only be unlocked with the subscription.

It’s $22.49/year, whereas it used to be $7 one-time. They offered me the first year for $4.49, since I’d purchased before.

Via Greg Hurrell:

The thing about a scanner app is it’s a bit like a screwdriver: you want it to do one thing, and once you have a tool that does that thing well you’re pretty much happy with it as-is. You don’t want to be locked into a a recurring payment contract just to keep screwing in screws.

The developers make the argument that a subscription model will allow them to keep working on the product. Sure it will, but it misses the point: people don’t need or want them to endlessly evolve an already-working screwdriver.


Sadly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a small subscription based app that justified its ongoing costs: no number of pointless “bug fixes and performance improvements” releases will deliver me any perceptible value

Maybe the plan has changed since he updated, but as described it sounds like a win-win. If you don’t want the extra features, you get the basic stuff at no additional charge, forever. You can also buy certain features through one-time IAPs.

But he raises a good point about screwdriver apps. Some apps just don’t need a stream of new features, but all apps need maintenance. How do you fund that? Relying entirely on new customers doesn’t seem like a good plan. In theory, a very cheap subscription would be fair to both sides. But I haven’t seen that done. One issue is how to get your installed base to subscribe if you’ve already delivered the features they want. Another is that even if the subscription is cheap, a lot of customers will search for any non-subscription alternative. So the math no longer works, and you need a much more expensive subscription.


Update (2019-09-27): Penbook tried the $1/year subscription.

Update (2019-10-04): Riccardo Mori:

Speaking as a customer, this drive towards subscriptions is killing my interest in looking for new apps for my iOS devices.


One of the main reasons developers constantly bring up to justify their switch to a subscription model is that subscriptions are needed to fund the continued development (or maintenance) of their apps. Okay. Do you know what more than a few regular folks have told me about this? That it sounds like a poor excuse. They have been updating the app so far without subscriptions, what exactly has become so expensive all of a sudden?

I have wondered that, too, and the answer seems to be that (for lots of apps) times have changed because growth slowed. So the older purchasers had been in effect getting free updates subsidized by newer purchasers. I also think a lot of developers were counting on Apple to eventually make paid upgrades work with the App Store. Instead, they added subscriptions.

John Voorhees:

I suspect the growth from new users was enough to keep things going for quite a while. Of course that’s not sustainable though.

Ryan Jones:

As always, John nailed it.

In 2013 it looked like growth for $3-5 apps was unbounded.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

Not related, but it’s a bit frustrating how most apps don’t let us save our scans in a lossless format, such as PNG or TIFF. I often end up using Dropbox just because it uses PNG instead of JPEG.

As the OSs are evolving you will need the developer’s help at some point. So he has to be paid over the time, for a new release or by a subscription. It’s not possible to have software free for ever.

Sören Nils Kuklau

Some apps just don’t need a stream of new features, but all apps need maintenance. How do you fund that? Relying entirely on new customers doesn’t seem like a good plan.


I feel like a lot of debate misses this crucial point: no, installing one particular version of an app and then still using it eight years later isn’t feasible.

Even if this scanner app never once receives new features or doesn’t in itself receive a bugfix, it still will require maintenance (not providing it would be negligent).

your device is connected to the Internet. That means security risks come into play. That means the operating system, the frameworks, and eventually possibly even that app need patches. One might think a scanner app doesn’t pose a risk, but it might link to an image decoding framework, which might have an exploit in the way it handles a certain format.
people also eventually buy new devices, even if it’s only because the battery is failing. Those new devices won’t run old operating systems. The new operating systems come with new framework versions. Apple, for better or worse, very aggressively deprecates old APIs. So, again, a scanner app needs to be updated.

This was a different world in the 90s when devices by and large weren’t constantly connected, and when you would keep them for a lot longer.

This maintenance takes effort, and when you stop gaining new customers because the market is saturated, that becomes hard to economically justify.

I wish Apple offered a compromise here, and I’m kind of baffled that they don’t (a misguided thinking that it would hurt their revenue stream?): offer a way to buy an app for $x upfront, then subscribe to an $x/10 per year subscription. $9.99 upfront, 99 cents each year.

IMHO, that would be a better compromise for all these “well, I don’t really need or even want new features all the time, but I do want to keep using them, and the developer does deserve a living” apps we all have.

As the OSs are evolving you will need the developer’s help at some point. So he has to be paid over the time, for a new release or by a subscription. It’s not possible to have software free for ever.

I think a lot of people don’t understand this, because they think of installing an app like installing a lightswitch: it kind of just works for the next thirty years.

When I decide to buy an app with subscriptions, I multiply the yearly rate by 3 to decide whether the apps is worth it to me. I'm struggling with Drafts 5 and have not bought a subscription since Drafts 4 still works for me and $60 for an automation app is a little steep. Alfred was ~$50 for a lifetime license.

Sixty-eight dollars for a scanning app? Nope.

BTW, are there any apps that have a subscription less than $10 a year?

Pay Per Use or All You Can Eat (subscription)?

[…] any information about the subscription pricing on their blog, I couldn’t find it, but I found a blog post from a user that indicates that it’ll be $22.50/year. (I guess this was announced just […]

Google Photos will scan your documents for free. Is that app available on iOS? When overpriced meets free, I lean towards free. This coming from someone who paid for Vuescan Professional for desktop use. Been a long while now, but I think the license cost was $100. I have never regretted that purchase.

Carrot (weather) and Apollo (reddit) are less than $10 per year for the “pro” versions and they’re both regularly updated and support new iOS features.

@Ben Good to know, although that’s more than I meant by “very cheap.”

Oh sorry, I was replying to Ryan who asked if there were any apps with less than $10/year subscriptions. I only subscribe to Carrot because I get a bit of extra weather data and it's only $3/year.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I know I should be paying more for apps that are regularly updated by indie developers, but on the other hand many subscriptions are just too costly. When I have an app that I paid $5 for 2 years ago and I've gotten updates for it that whole time, that seems like a good deal. But then the developer suddenly wants to charge $4.99/MONTH for the same app? Get lost.

My personal limit seems to be about $5/year. Anything more than that, unless it's a very polished and complicated app that does a LOT, seems like too much money. And many apps I don't use every day, maybe only once or twice a week, which makes it even more difficult to justify.

I personally think the solution is for developers to figure out an initial flat price that works for them and just charge for updates for every new iOS release (assuming the developer is taking advantage of new OS features and not just tweaking a few things to make it not crash or whatever) or charge for updates when the app is completely rewritten. Then every new major OS release I (as the customer) can reevaluate how important that app is for me, and whether I should pay for it again. It seems like it would keep developers on the ball too, if they know they have to earn a new paycheck every time there's a new OS release coming.

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