Tuesday, August 23, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Pixelmator Photo Switching to Subscriptions

Andrius Gailiunas (MacStories, AppleInsider, MacRumors):

Pixelmator Photo will now cost $4.99 per month, $23.99 per year, or $54.99 for a lifetime license but existing paid users get unlimited access for free. Also, Pixelmator Photo for Mac is coming! What’s more early subscribers will get access to it for the same monthly price, which will go up when the Mac version is out.

[…]

For now, a free app with locked features is the only way to provide a free trial on iOS and iPadOS.

[…]

[On] iOS, the prices of other, less powerful apps are so low that pricing the app at, say, $29.99 puts people off, especially with no free trial. However, the current low price ($7.99) isn’t sustainable in the long run.

[…]

We’d love to charge one price for the app across all platforms – Mac, iOS, and iPadOS – and this is only possible with a subscription.

Pixelmator Photo is their nondestructive photo editor, not the original app that’s more like Photoshop and Acorn.

Previously:

7 Comments

Subscription is a deal breaker.

I wish the Pixelmator team all the best with their updates and business, and fully support charging reasonable prices across platforms. That said, I do feel the need to provide some counter-examples to some of their assertions about what is possible:

> For now, a free app with locked features is the only way to provide a free trial on iOS and iPadOS.

At the Omni Group, we offer time-based trials of OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniPlan.

> We’d love to charge one price for the app across all platforms – Mac, iOS, and iPadOS – and this is only possible with a subscription.

We offer traditional up-front version-based pricing for our latest major app release, OmniPlan 4, with the new twist that a single universal purchase unlocks the app across Mac, iOS, and iPadOS (whether purchased from the App Store or directly from us). We think this model is working well, and we're planning to roll this out across all our apps going forward (as we ship new major versions like OmniFocus 4, OmniGraffle 8, etc.). Under this model, we also continue to offer upgrade discounts (50%) to customers who own previous versions, bundle and volumes discounts (up to 30%), etc. (And we even offer subscriptions, for those who prefer that model!)

I fully understand that most developers might not want to go to the lengths that we did to make all these options available to customers. But it's certainly possible to do so, as we've demonstrated!

I wonder to what degree the lack of upgrade pricing in the App Store is pushing more and more companies towards subscription. I’ve seen some developers work around that limitation, however, by doing bundles (e.g. Foo 1.0 is $10, Foo 2.0 is $10 but the bundle is $14 and those that ave Foo 1.0 can complete the bundle by paying the difference). But it’s confusing for sure and I bet it has other limitations.

We experimented with App Store bundles for upgrades, but unfortunately they're not a great fit for offering upgrade discounts. One issue is that app bundles only works for one round of upgrades: you can complete a bundle with Foo 1.0 and Foo 2.0, but when you do that you won't be eligible to use Foo 2.0 for any other bundles—so you can't ever upgrade to a bundle that includes Foo 3.0, you just end up having to pay full price.

App bundles are also completely incompatible with free trials, since app bundles can only discount the cost of the initial download of the app. In order to offer a free trial you have to make the download free (using in-app purchases to charge after the trial ends), so offering a discount on the free download doesn't really help.

So, yes, I agree: the lack of upgrade pricing in the App Store does push developers towards subscriptions because building out any other system for funding sustainable software development takes a lot of work!

@Ken Thanks for chiming in. I’m a bit confused about some of your points, though. Aren’t your trials also free apps with locked features? That is, the app is free to download, and if the customer isn’t doing the free trial subscription (or it has ended) the app works in a minimal mode with most of the features locked?

As to upgrades, I recall your blog post about sign-in licensing, but have you written about how you handle upgrade discounts in the App Store? Are you using separate SKUs for each version? Or are you giving everyone free updates to the core of the app and then feature-flagging all the new stuff behind an IAP?

> Aren’t your trials also free apps with locked features? That is, the app is free to download, and if the customer isn’t doing the free trial subscription (or it has ended) the app works in a minimal mode with most of the features locked?

Oh, that's a reasonable point! Coming at it from that angle I can't disagree with their statement that "For now, a free app with locked features is the only way to provide a free trial on iOS and iPadOS." I might have been skimming too fast, but my impression yesterday was that they were saying that there wasn't a way to offer free trials of the full functionality of their app. So I was pointing out our own time-based free trials—which are full trials in the old-fashioned "no strings attached" sense: they do unlock all the features of the app, and unlike subscription trials they don't auto-convert into a subscription when the trial period ends. (We don't want accidental customers, we want customers who intentionally choose to purchase our apps.) But maybe I was misinterpreting what they were getting at!

> As to upgrades, I recall your blog post about sign-in licensing, but have you written about how you handle upgrade discounts in the App Store? Are you using separate SKUs for each version? Or are you giving everyone free updates to the core of the app and then feature-flagging all the new stuff behind an IAP?

We use separate SKUs for each version, which lets customers continue to download and use old versions if they wish (so long as they maintain compatible devices). It does have the downside that customers have to explicitly find and download the new version's SKU, even when they're eligible for a free upgrade (from making a recent purchase or because they've chosen the subscription route). And we lose some history: it looks like our app is a completely new app, when several of them have been around since the dawn of the App Store.

I would love for the App Store to offer some continuity across major upgrades of an app! (But, hopefully, without locking or pushing us into a business model that might not match what our customers actually want.)

@Ken I guess where I would take issue with the Pixelmator post is that it sort of implies that you can’t do trials without subscription pricing. But, as you point out, a free app with a non-subscription IAP instead of paid-up-front pretty much lets you do that (at more development cost). Honestly, this is still a bit murky to me—what you are required to provide in an app like that when the trial has ended and which apps are eligible to offer subscriptions at all.

I think it’s great that you offer non-auto-converting trials. I wish the App Store handled this directly so that every app could offer a trial without each developer having to do the work of implementing it and customers being confused because it looks and behaves differently in across apps.

Ah, separate SKUs. I guess you can write the receipt into a shared container to track who’s eligible to upgrade? Losing the history and breaking links is a problem, though maybe less so for Omni since you’ve always had your own site rather than relying on the App Store as a product page. (Though what if Apple features the app?) I would also worry about breaking AppleScripts and integrations with other apps that rely on the per-SKU bundle identifier.

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