Monday, August 24, 2020

Subscription or No Subscription?


On the developer side, moving to subscriptions can be a gate to hell. They usually make less at first. Incidentally the first year you pay the higher fee. Over time they can make more—if you manage to keep your users. That is not a given. The switch from paid to subscription can cost you a fortune. Not technically. The technology is there. It will cost you: users. And angry users don’t just leave, they rate you angrily and write angry comments. They feel harmed and they try to harm you as much as possible. Anonymous ratings, upvoting, and reviews make revenge fast, easy, and cheap.


You might have noticed that there are no subscriptions for Apple’s own productivity apps. They are either free, like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, or very expensive and paid, like Logic, FinalCut, Motion.


Apple is more likely to help, feature, and support a popular app if it has a subscription. Apple will still show interest in your future if you sell a lot of apps. If there is no subscription planned, Apple’s interest vanishes in circles. They come back, showing interest in a featuring here and there, asking questions about your future, and if your response is “no subscriptions” or “no subscriptions only” their interest evaporates. Until they don’t ask anymore.


We tried high prices, mid-range prices, low prices, free, and freemium. Getting Android users to pay for software is not for the feeble-hearted. So far, offering a free basic version with a choice between paid and subscription seems to be the only thing that works. And that doesn’t mean we buy yachts, it means that we might be sustainable in one or two years.

They’re charging $5/year or $30 to buy the app.

Update (2020-09-11): See also: Hacker News.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter

Where do I get the $5/year deal you mentioned? On all I see is "$29.90 App Store" for macOS and "$29.90 App Store" for iOS.

There is something humiliating about renting professional tools. Professionals like owning their tools. Imagine a hairdresser renting scissors, or a shoemaker that has to rent that leather cutter!

I can’t speak for hairdressers or shoemakers, but businesses rent professional tools all the time. It’s a predictable amount (accounting and controlling like that), and it gets you an “out” at basically any time (or whenever the contract allows for it).

How annoying would it be to pay for Final Cut monthly if you use it every day! As annoying as subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Suite.

I really don’t think a business with full-time graphics folks minds subscribing to Adobe CC. Where it gets problematic is people who only use Adobe products on the side. Previously, you might have bought a copy of Photoshop once, and just continued using that old version of several years. It didn’t really matter because you use it so little, its newer features make no difference.

But when you’re a professional graphics designer, you want all those latest features anyway. (Whether CC’s price is justified is a separate discussion. But if you make significant portions of your monthly income from a tool, having that tool incur a monthly cost doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.)

Apple makes an exception for its Pro tools. Maybe that will change, too. Let’s hope not.

I actually hope it does.

Or, rather, I hope Apple starts talking the talk and walking the walk.

Right now, their playbook is subsidize their consumer apps from hardware sales and make them free and make their professional apps a one-time purchase with no paid upgrades, but then also tell third parties not to do any of that and instead do subscriptions.

I think that’s unfair, and I also think it’s a footgun. You want a thriving iPad third-party app market? Create an environment where that’s feasible.

(I still think the model that would work for many more apps is a one-time purchase combined with a much cheaper subscription. $20 up-front, then $1/mo. That sort of thing. Just enough to sustain regular feature updates, but not so much that most people say no-thank-you. But Apple isn’t championing that model, unfortunately.)

This might be a little harsh, no offense is meant and these are just my observations.

iA Writer is exactly the kind of software that can get its userbase into a subscription model. It's "just" a text editor. It's not feature-rich. On the contrary, it emphasizes minimalism and style over efficient text manipulation and that's its whole shtick. It's also rather expensive, in my opinion, for what it does. It doesn't solve a problem that other text editors struggle with, and in fact around the time it came out there was a small flood of similar "minimal" text editors for OS X and iOS.

From my experience, I argue that a user that enjoys software like this is also more likely to
1) be willing to pay for their software rather than pirate it
2) be willing to pay a relatively high price for their software, if they consider the software to be high-quality
3) be willing to pay again for (major) updates

and thus is probably significantly more likely to accept a subscription model.

I don't use software that is subsciption based. Period. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe or any other software developer. Not worth it, so on my iPad or iPhone or MBP I refuse to download the shit. Free is not free even though deveoplers like to toss that in is so people download their software only to find it subscription based. Free must mean that it's free to download. The app store sucks since they say "In App Purchases" but won't say what they are before you download an app.

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