Friday, December 29, 2023

Mellel 6 Leaves the Mac App Store

Mellel (via Agen Schmitz):

This significant update, more than a year and half in the making, brings Dark Appearance support, Split View, improved Find & Replace and a multitude of enhancements to Mellel’s user interface, rendering and features. A swarm of nasty and annoying bugs were also squashed in the process, along with some deep, under-the-hood, changes that make Mellel more robust and future ready.


Mellel 6 also marks two additional significant changes. The first is that Mellel is no longer sold on the Mac App Store. There are many reasons for this decision, the 30% cut Apple is taking for every copy sold, the lack of any promotion from Apple (for example, we were removed, due to and error on Apple’s part, from the “Apps for writers” list of apps, a decision that hurt our sales significantly and that we had no way to appeal or protest) but most importantly, the lack of any mechanism to allow paid upgrades within the App Store. This hampered our ability to deliver more frequent updates as any major update would necessitate releasing the update as a new application on the App Store, losing the ranking, requiring a re-branding, and making the whole process much more cumbersome.

The upgrade is free for purchasers within the last two years, $44.99 for other upgraders, and $69.99 for new customers (but on sale for WinterFest) vs. $49 for version 5.

There’s more information about the new features and enhancements here.


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Ah yes. The fallacy of thinking that 30% is not worth it then spending money on creating and securing your own webstore. Good luck with that.


That’s losing 30% on the only sale you might ever get from the customer ever again (since you effectively can’t charge for upgrades), unless you switch to subscription pricing (in which case everyone bitches and moans about preferring perpetual licensing).

You simply can’t do the "perpetual license but with optional upgrades now and then” model on any of Apple’s app stores without what are essentially workarounds to how the App Store works, and the downsides stated in their blog post.

So yeah, it’s totally worth it for them. It’s not like it’s never been done before.

Is the developer selling that much to pay 30%? Apple dropped the commission to 15% for annual sales under $1 million.

@Ruurd: Mellel's store is using Fastspring, a solution that does not publish rates, but that according to Google up until recently charged your pick of 8.9% or 5.9% + $0.95. Either choice was drastically less than the Mac App Store cut.

Additionally, they used the same store with the same provider *in addition to* providing it on the Mac App Store. In other words, they were in a great position to compare and contrast and ultimately judge how much value they were getting out of the Mac App Store. Their conclusions are freely available in their post — it wasn't worth it for them to stay on the Mac App Store.

Would it have been worth it if the Mac App Store was the only place they'd ever been? It would have been a bit more of a climb (from doing literally nothing) but solutions like Fastspring and (which publishes a 5% + $0.50 rate) would still have been available.

Speaking from previous experience implementing and maintaining license stores, even doing so in a more custom manner than Paddle and Fastspring, the opportunity cost of implementing it initially (instead of updating the software you want to sell) would quickly pay for itself through the additional portion of the license cost you are now able to retain. Not to mention the ability to charge lower prices for upgrades or offer better and more flexible deals.

The claim that it takes significant ongoing effort to "secure" it is bizarre, unless you are living in a world where a license store requires direct credit card PAN capture and direct, on-premises PCI DSS payment processing. That is not the world we live in today, and meeting the PCI DSS requirements as someone implementing Fastspring, Paddle, Stripe, Braintree etc boils down to following security requirements detailed in the integration documentation and free of charge, except perhaps for TLS certificates, from $0 to $400-500 or so.

"Ah yes. The fallacy of thinking that 30% is not worth it then spending money on creating and securing your own webstore. Good luck with that."

@Ruurd Creating your own store is not that hard and not expensive at all. Do you think that putting your app in an Amazon S3 Bucket, setting up a payment page with something like Stripe or PayPal (or one of the other million options) would get you anywhere near the 30% Apple fee (or 15% under one million dollars)? Why do you think setting up a website that sends the user a link to an app download is so hard and expensive?

Even if you went the extra mile to set up a server and have your app phone home to track the number of devices the user is registering your app license on (which is something the Mac App Store doesn't provide BTW, the developer has to implement receipt validation, both server side and local if desired)'d be nowhere near Apple's 30% cut. The cost of sending a tiny request once a week (or if you're more reasonable once a month or less) to a server to ensure the license key isn't being shared on like 300 devices is practically nothing. You can even get an SSL certificates for free from Let's Encrypt.

I agree with most of the points made in the developer's blog post. The only reason to be in the Mac App Store is for publicity and for most developers Apple takes way more than they give in that regard.

@Jesper I think Mellel was also around for almost 10 years before the Mac App Store existed. It also predates FastSpring. So they have experience with multiple solutions and their benefits and costs.

And, yes, my experience (starting with eSellerate at 10% and Kagi as a backup) is also that it quickly pays for itself to spend the time implementing a custom solution to lower the percentage. And you end up needing a lot of that database/code for other reasons, anyway.

Yes, I bought it before there was an AppStore... from Kagi before kagi was a search engine, back in 2005. It cost $39 and was version 1.something. Soon after I bought it version 2 came out.

The Apple Store does more than just publicity — it’s a one-stop shop… knowing you want an app, all you need is a name to find it in the store. It’s arguably easier than the web. I can bring search for apps in the app store from Spotlight, for example, and I get prompted to get a website’s app when I visit an a web page. Also, I get to see ratings and reviews. Those are publicity.

(as an aside, I don’t love the App Store homepage — feels like ads… for me, that’s the wrong kind of publicity. It was better when websites/blogs had an incentive to highlight the best apps)

Then when I look for an app, I get to the actual listing page with actual reviews from confirmed buyers — that’s also really valuable. That type of honesty won’t be on an independent developer’s storefront.

Oh, and easy returns (for the consumer), privacy (Stripe or whoever will know that I bought some apps — what happens to that info?), and some level of security and auto-detection of if my device is compatible.

Then when I want to buy? It’s basically a one-click purchase.

Those are all things that, as a consumer, are pretty useful and don’t appear on the web for indie apps with their own storefronts.

So while I personally buy many apps from developer’s own websites for my niche needs, I’m pretty unusual in that generally I know what I’ll be getting. However, most consumers will find the App Store a much more friendly and streamlined experience — and I’d bet that’s where the bulk of mainstream app sales usually come from.

Is that stuff worth 27% to the big >$1 million-in-sales companies who already have brand recognition, million-dollar marketing campaigns, and the network effect pulling in new users? Probably not. But a 12% fee (which includes the dev license!) for smaller devs sounds like a pretty good deal for both dev and consumer.

TL;DR: I think it’s shortsighted to say that the App Store is ‘only’ about publicity. It’s way more than that for the consumer and for smaller devs.

>The Apple Store does more than just publicity — it’s a one-stop shop… knowing you want an app, all you need is a name to find it in the store. It’s arguably easier than the web. I can bring search for apps in the app store from Spotlight, for example, and I get prompted to get a website’s app when I visit an a web page. Also, I get to see ratings and reviews. Those are publicity.

Most of the benefits you have described (convenience, one stop shop, etc.) are benefits for the consumer (not the developer). How much of a benefit the App Store is to the consumer is a different topic. I don't disagree with all your points but I'm not sure I agree it's *as beneficial* to the consumer as you think.

If you *know the app name* you are looking for already you can enter it in a search engine or the Mac App Store search field and you'll find it. So if Apple isn't doing *any marketing* for the developer (in most cases they are not) why should the developer publish on the Mac App Store and give Apple such a big cut for nothing?

If you are just looking around (to shop for something) in theory the App Store is the place for that and that's why developers publish on the Mac App Store (to be discovered). But Apple does such a terrible job with search and curation and clearly prefers the more profitable scam apps over legit alternatives (though scams are more prevalent on the iOS App Store, to be fair).

> and I’d bet that’s where the bulk of mainstream app sales usually come from.

Doubtful. On the Mac most of the long time, well known developers have left and/or don't offer all their apps on the Mac App Store due to sandboxing rules and/or Apple's cut.

@ObjC4Life Yeah, I think some of these benefits are illusory. It’s not one-stop shopping when so many of the important apps are not in the store. Many of the reviews and ratings are fake. I question whether getting a return from Apple is easier. Installation is supposed to be one-click, but I get customers contacting me because the App Store app doesn’t download/install/update reliably.

Mellel was first released in 2002, we were selling directly for more then a decade before the App Store came. When the App Store came we foolishly switched to selling "Lifetime upgrades" licenses outside of the store so that we have the same terms in and out of the app store. This was a mistake and we stopped this nonsense after a couple of years (but we still maintain our promise to users who bought during that period).

The app store was OK at first, Apple included us in the "Apps for writers" and it did boost the sales (although we also pointed people to the app store from our site so I'm not sure how many of the app store customers can be really attributed to the app store discovery mechanism).

When we released Mellel 4 as a new app, we lost our association with "App for writers" and app store sales started going down. From being about 50% of sales, we got to maybe 15% of sales. We tried to contact Apple about this to no avail. I must say I was really hurt by this, I've been developing for the Mac for over 30 years and we were, at that point, in the app store for all of its existence and there is simply no recognition of this, my 20 years of being a paying member of the developer program gave me no additional credit or consideration.

As far as we were concerned, the app store didn't deliver. Having to maintain two versions of the app, waiting for approval, paying the 30% cut to apple and rebranding the app every time we want to release a major update is a major headache and there is barely any up side: Apple doesn't help with marketing, it is very opaque and doesn't provide any means of communicating with them about store issues. One click purchase mechanism is nice, for consumer applications, but I don't think it really is a big consideration in an application like Mellel which is expensive and suited for a limited audience of people with very specific needs.

I feel very relieved having left the App Store, I'm free to release frequent updates and I don't have to wait for approval or do all sorts of unnecessary rebranding just to be able to sell upgrades.

@Eyal Redler
Thank you for chiming in, while I never ended up getting a license myself, you were on a short list of apps for writers I always championed on the Mac. Mellel and Nisus were the big ones for me anyway. I always felt like you had really good support for multiple languages which was very nice. I know that many people were quite satisfied with Mellel and I'm frankly glad you are doing what it takes to keep your software viable in the modern age.

I am currently a lapsed Mac user (largely on account of poor stewardship of Apple over Mac OS), but I can honestly say I never took to the Mac App Store. All the software I used had direct purchase options or solely used direct purchase and I quite frankly respect the heck out of the developers who have continued to support the platform, even with the hostility of the platform provider at times (yeah, I'm side eyeing Apple right here). There is nothing wrong with handling your own sales and please do not let people try to dissuade you of this path. They have no foundational knowledge of the platform and simply don't understand long time developers are very familiar with selling software outside of "App Stores".

In fairness and by way of contrast, Strongbox (password manager) is exclusively and aggressively MAS-only. I respect this, because the app source is all public; it's a net commercial gain. Similar comments to other apps that would otherwise be free downloads, like Cyberduck and Spatterlight. It's reasonable to benefit from the MAS when there are credible gains to be made for both dev and user, I think.

Since one can grab Cyberduck and Spatterlight directly from the developers as well as the MAS, and the apps are free, I guess I don't see a problem of leaving the app in the MAS. For paid apps, I feel like the benefit isn't that great for developers to go MAS only and as a user, I largely have distaste for app stores. MAS as an option? Okay, probably fine. Mandatory app store use? No thank you.

I have no idea about Strongbox, is it really MAS only? If so, is it a newer app? Cyberduck is very old and I can see why they don't go MAS only. I think developers who started with iOS development simply see the world a different way and that impacts how desktop apps are developed as well. In my opinion, it has largely been for the worse. Even on mobile, I use quite a bit of sideloading and alternative app stores (you can see why iOS never fit my use and was quickly abandoned by me).

@Nathan Yep, Strongbox is MAS-only, and it did start out as an iOS app, but I suspect it's actually also a technical requirement because of the Safari autofill support using the native Apple Keychain-esque experience for suggesting and autocompleting passwords in Safari QuickType without a Javascript-based extension (one of its greatest strengths IMO). Like I said as long as we have the source, and indeed as it uses the Keepass formats, I really can't honestly complain. It does make me nervous, though, and I fully appreciate why people choose to avoid MAS: it binds your software to your Apple ID, no way 'round that; if you're on the naughty step with Apple, which may or may not happen more often than a dispute with an indy dev, then you're stuffed. Just make sure you can recover in the event you can't use a MAS app. Spatterlight and Cyberduck get automatic updating from the store, but that's all really. If Mac indies could collaborate on a system-wide updater for non-MAS software, I'd totally support that.

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