Series: Subscription Pricing
More and more apps are moving from pay-once pricing to a subscription model. It may be necessary for developers, and it may result in better software for users, but that doesn’t mean everyone likes it.
Article 1 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Adobe has announced its new suite of creative applications, but this time there’s something new that affects them all: Creative Cloud, a subscription service that makes it possible to use the Creative Suite for as little as $50 per month.Show full article
After releasing some teasing public betas, notably one for Adobe Photoshop CS6, Adobe has formally announced Creative Suite 6 (CS6), a major update to its entire line of creative content applications. However, the biggest news this time isn’t new versions of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and the rest (14 applications in all). Adobe is also announcing Creative Cloud, a subscription service that not only provides cloud storage for CS projects, but also enables anyone to use the applications for a monthly fee. (Adobe says CS6 and Creative Cloud will be available within 30 days.)
As with previous releases, the Creative Suite will appear in a handful of bundles containing different mixes of the applications: Design & Web Premium ($1899), Design Standard ($1299), Production Premium ($1899), and Master Collection ($2599). Individual CS applications can also be ordered separately, and upgrade pricing is available, depending on which versions of the apps you currently own.
Formerly, that would be it. If you wanted the latest version, you ponied up the cash to buy it. But Creative Cloud presents an alternative. After you sign up for a subscription, you can download any of the CS apps — and others, including Lightroom 4, Adobe Muse, and Adobe Edge — and install them on your computer. The applications check in every 30 days to make sure you have an active subscription, so you don’t need a live Internet connection just to launch an application.
Creative Cloud costs $50 per month if you sign up for a full year (so, $600), or $75 per month if you want to stick to a month-to-month subscription. (Adobe is also offering introductory pricing for the first year to registered customers of Creative Suite 3 or later for $29.99 per month; you need to enter your Adobe ID to check for eligibility. Much more information is available at Adobe’s Creative Cloud FAQ.)
Creative Cloud initially looks like a good idea for freelancers or contract employees to get access to the latest CS tools without having to shell out for the full retail price of the software.
Article 2 of 11 in series
by Josh Centers
Adobe is leaving the boxed software game for a subscription-only model. Will it be good or bad for customers?Show full article
On 6 May 2013, Adobe stunned the creative community at the Adobe MAX conference by announcing that Adobe Creative Suite 6 will be the last boxed version and that Adobe’s design products will be available only through the year-old Creative Cloud, which offers a slew of apps and services, along with free upgrades, on a subscription basis. Current users of Adobe CS6 will continue to receive support for the foreseeable future, and boxed copies of CS6 will remain available for sale.
So how much does Creative Cloud cost? Well, that can be a tricky question. For individuals, $49.99 per month will gain you access to the Complete package, if you commit to a year-long subscription. If you currently hold a license to at least one of the apps in Creative Suite 3 or higher, you can get Creative Cloud Complete for only $29.99 per month for the first year. A single app, like Photoshop, will cost you $19.99 a month with a one-year commitment or $9.99 per month if you own CS3 or higher. Both packages also include 20 GB of online storage for collaboration.
There are separate packages for businesses and education that offer substantial discounts. For instance, there’s the $69.99 per month, per user Team edition, which includes some additional software, such as InCopy, that’s not in the Complete package. And the Student and Teacher edition, which normally runs $29.99 per month, is only $19.99 per month on a special offer good through 25 June 2013.
But what if you need Photoshop or Dreamweaver for just a single month? Adobe does offer month-to-month pricing, but doesn’t advertise it — you’ll have to contact an Adobe representative to place an order. I did just that and found out that if you pay by the month, the Complete package costs $74.99 per month and a single app will run you $29.99 per month. If you’re contemplating buying an annual subscription and canceling it, don’t even think about it, as you’ll be on the hook for 50 percent of the remaining monthly fees.
Based on the higher prices and hoops I had to jump through just to discover them, it’s clear that Adobe isn’t interested in selling apps by the month. I think Adobe is making a huge error here. How many users pirate Adobe software because they’re amateurs or occasional users who can’t justify spending hundreds or thousands on a professional software package? I have never bought any of Adobe’s software personally, but if I could get a month of Photoshop for $30, I probably would buy it a few times per year. As Zee Kane, CEO of The Next Web, said last year, “Adobe’s main competitor in this space isn’t competing products, interestingly enough; it’s BitTorrent.”
Needless to say, Adobe’s decision to go subscription-only is controversial. However, not everyone is unhappy about it. I asked Mule Design’s Mike Monteiro about the change on Twitter. The usually outspoken Monteiro said only, “About time.” Mule designer Tom Carmony also praised Creative Cloud, saying, “I appreciate that the [subscription] model gives you access to all apps; stuff like Audition I wouldn’t have in a design bundle.” And TidBITS Publishing subscribes to Creative Cloud in order to have occasional access to InDesign and Photoshop — it’s much easier to justify a low monthly cost than spending over $1,000 on packages that will be launched only a few times per month.
In fact, for many users, Creative Cloud could be a blessing. A boxed copy of CS6 Design Standard runs $1,189.98 on Amazon, and includes only Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. That same $1,189 would buy you nearly two years of Creative Cloud at $49.99, which consists of way more software plus cloud storage. Even a single copy of Photoshop CS6 on Amazon costs $628, which would equal over 20 months of a single-app Creative Cloud subscription. If you’re a professional who wants to stay on the cutting edge, Creative Cloud is a sweet deal. And no need to worry about an update that doesn’t support your system, as updates aren’t forced.
But of course, if you’re a freelancer or more casual user who is happy to use out-of-date software (to the extent that’s possible with Apple deprecating PowerPC apps in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, for instance), you may not be comfortable with a monthly bill and the latest versions. Unfortunately, there isn’t much competition for the key packages in Creative Cloud. You could theoretically replace Photoshop with the excellent Pixelmator, Illustrator with Sketch, and InDesign with QuarkXPress or even Pages, but for the most part, Adobe’s software sets the industry standard and nothing truly compares for professional work. Until that changes, whether you like it or not, Creative Cloud is the way of the future.
Article 3 of 11 in series
Creative Cloud may be the way Adobe sees the future, but lots of people don’t like it. Adam Engst and Josh Centers outline some of the problems with Creative Cloud, with suggestions on both how Adobe could solve them and how you can register your opinions.Show full article
After we reported on Adobe’s decision to abandon boxed software in lieu of subscriptions (see “Adobe Flies from Creative Suite into the Creative Cloud,” 8 May 2013), many of you made your opinions heard loud and clear, and you’re not happy about the move. Many TidBITS readers made great points that we wanted to share, along with suggestions for how Adobe could soothe the savage user base.
We want to clear up two issues first, though. Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 FAQ explicitly says that, although they’re phasing out boxed copies of Creative Suite 6, the product itself will remain available for purchase and upgrade via electronic software distribution indefinitely, with bug fixes and security updates as necessary (thanks to reader Charles Reeves Jr. for tracking down this hard-to-find link). So, for the moment, nothing is truly different, though that may cease to be the case when Adobe next releases major new versions of core apps. Also, we previously said that month-to-month subscriptions to a single app required contacting Adobe; that isn’t true, though you have to go deeper into the purchase process before the option becomes available.
Comparing Apples to Upgrades -- While Creative Cloud has cost advantages compared to buying a fresh full retail copy of Creative Suite 6, it’s not such a great deal for those upgrading from nearly any previous version of the suite. Current license holders of CS3 through CS5.5 can subscribe to Creative Cloud Complete for $29.99 per month, for a first-year cost of $360; owners of CS6 will pay only $240 for that first year.
Of course, these prices apply only during the first year, and the monthly cost rises to $49.99 per month after that, which adds up to $600 for subsequent years. Meanwhile, if you own the CS5.5 Master Collection, the upgrade to CS6 costs only $525, and could likely last you longer than a single year.
Adobe could provide more to loyal customers than just a discount for a single year. In the past, Adobe rewarded customer loyalty with “cheap” upgrades. You’d spend a small fortune on the initial purchase, but the subsequent upgrades would be only a fraction of that price. Now, it works in reverse: thanks to that first-year discount, Creative Cloud is “cheap” upfront, but will grow in cost over time. Adobe could quiet many complaints by switching back to a structure that rewards users for being loyal, such as better discounts for longer subscription agreements. Adobe would argue that Creative Cloud subscribers get free updates and new apps, but if neither of those are of value to you, it’s hard to feel that you’re being appreciated as a customer.
Paying for What You Don’t Want -- Loyalty discounts wouldn’t solve one of the main issues with Creative Cloud pricing: the $19.99 per month (for a year commitment) pricing means that the only rational choices are one or two apps (in essence, $20 or $40 per month), or all apps ($50 per month); once you’re paying for three individual apps, the $60 monthly cost would be more than the full bundle cost.
While some users will be happy to gain access to additional programs, many others need just a few of Adobe’s apps. With permanent-license releases and boxed sets, designers could purchase Design Standard for $1,200, which included just the basics, like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat Pro. Creative Cloud doesn’t offer this sort of focused package. Design Standard customers are being pushed over to Creative Cloud Complete, which is roughly similar for two years at $1,200 for most users. However, many will be irked at paying for software they will never use.
We would like to see Adobe allow users to build their own packages for a price less than the full bundle, though that would require changes to the per-app pricing structure. Nonetheless, doing so would provide a significantly better deal that would be hard to pass up for those whose needs are specific to just a few programs.
Details Cloudy for Nonprofits -- Nonprofits have long received generous discounts from Adobe. David Loehr, co-founder of the Riverrun Theatre Co. in Madison, Indiana, told us via App.net that he has previously been able to purchase Creative Suite packages for as little as $160 through TechSoup. Adobe doesn’t advertise nonprofit pricing for Creative Cloud, but we were able to find it through third-party reseller Genesis, which offers one year of Creative Cloud for Teams for $480. That’s a good deal compared to the full retail price of $840 per user, per year, but still significantly more than the previous permanent license cost — on an ongoing basis — for budget-strapped nonprofits. Again, Adobe would argue that Creative Cloud has a higher value than Creative Suite, but that’s true only if the extra apps and services are worthwhile to the customer in question.
But No Clearer for Businesses -- Nonprofits aren’t alone in feeling the pinch. A number of businesses have told us that Creative Cloud will drastically increase their software costs. Over on the TidBITS Talk mailing list, Paul Chernoff, director of Information Technology for the Washingtonian Magazine, said that the magazine’s payments to Adobe could rise from $4,700 per year for annual maintenance (for 15 CS6 licenses and 50 InCopy licenses) to over $24,000 a year for Creative Cloud for Teams. Chernoff has also heard from his supplier that Adobe is still working out what kind of discounts it will offer to larger buyers. This may be indicative of some lack of communication between Adobe and its resellers, who are likely feeling threatened by Creative Cloud, due to it enabling Adobe to cut out some middlemen.
Peering into the Crystal Ball of Pricing -- Right now, Creative Cloud is a good deal for some users and a bad deal for others. But what’s to stop Adobe from raising the price of Creative Cloud Complete from $50 per month to $60 or even $100? Obviously, at some point, the market wouldn’t bear such increases, but would doubling the monthly price cost Adobe more than half the subscriber base? If not, such an increase wouldn’t be irrational. In the Creative Cloud FAQ, Adobe pledges not to raise prices for the first 12 months of your subscription, but stops far short of saying that prices will never go up.
The only reliable solutions to this entirely legitimate concern are either a promise on Adobe’s part not to raise prices more than a certain percentage within a set amount of time, or a long-term contract that guarantees a maximum price. Unfortunately, neither seems likely, putting users at the mercy of Adobe’s business whims.
Stop the Adobe Express — I Want to Get Off! -- Regardless of costs, the other problem with Creative Cloud is that once you’ve hopped onto the Adobe train, there’s no getting off. Sure, you can cancel your subscription at any time, but as soon as you do, you lose the capability to edit — or even open — those of your files that exist in one of Adobe’s proprietary formats. You must keep paying if you want to open and work with your files, even if they are hosted on your local machine. If your files live in Adobe’s cloud, your cloud storage will drop to 2 GB, and you will not be able to sync files until you lower your usage to fit under that amount. If you fail to do so, Adobe may cut off some or all of your cloud storage file access after 90 days.
The current solution to this problem is the month-to-month subscription, of course, since you can always pay $30 for a single app or $75 for the complete package to regain access to your files for 30 days. That’s not unreasonable, though it becomes a much harder decision as soon as it’s not just a one-time need.
Adobe could address this in part with free viewer apps for all proprietary file formats, much as like Adobe Reader; similarly, Microsoft offers free viewers for Office file formats. These apps wouldn’t allow editing, but would at least let you peer inside your own files to determine the actual contents.
The best solution would be for Adobe to offer a “rent to own” approach with terms along the lines of familiar cell phone plans. For instance, after completing a two-year subscription, you would get to keep the software you currently had downloaded, only you would no longer receive updates. That way, users could agree to a subscription with the confidence that they wouldn’t be locked out of their files after they stop paying the piper. Others have suggested this as well, in comments on a blog post by Adobe Principal Product Manager John Nack entitled, “You should never lose access to your work, period.” If you have thoughts on this topic, be sure to add them to that post’s discussion.
CC Phone Home! -- One of the concerns with Creative Cloud is that it requires an Internet connection to validate your subscription every 30 days. Even if you’re offline, Adobe’s FAQ claims that you can keep using your Creative Cloud apps for up to 99 days (Adobe reportedly plans to increase this to 180 days). In our experience, this results in occasional nags that require clicking a Try Again button.
But as a few readers have noted, some high-security environments forbid Internet access after a machine has been configured. Adobe’s upcoming answer to this, at least for government agencies, is a “Creative Cloud Desktop Applications subscription” — the Creative Cloud FAQ states, “Available in July, government customers will be able to purchase the Creative Cloud Desktop Applications subscription via Adobe’s CLP-G licensing program. The Creative Cloud Desktop Applications subscription includes all of the available CC apps, plus Acrobat and Photoshop Lightroom. These applications can be deployed locally and do not require server-based license validation during the term.”
Or, in a scenario posted on Adobe’s forums, what happens if the Creative Cloud validation servers go down at an inopportune time before a tight deadline? The unfortunate answer is that Adobe explicitly says that Creative Cloud services are provided “as-is and with all faults,” meaning that it’s your problem if their servers somehow prevent you from using their software in a critical situation. To be fair, others in that thread note that even the current Creative Suite 6 apps can stop working due to failing licensing checks, so this isn’t an entirely new worry.
We’d like to see Adobe make this Creative Cloud Desktop Applications subscription available to others beyond government customers. It’s clear that at a technical level, there’s no problem with Creative Cloud apps not requiring an Internet connection at all.
Dark Cloud Rising -- There are undeniable benefits to Creative Cloud, including a more coherent update situation, a low upfront cost, and access to a large set of applications and services, with more promised in the future. It seems that Adobe is focusing Creative Cloud on creative professionals who have previously relied on numerous apps in the Creative Suite, always update, and are interested in new offerings from Adobe. Plus, the low upfront cost enables newcomers to get started with less of an initial investment — it’s easier to budget for $20 per month than drop $1,200 on CS6.
But many users see Adobe’s move as high-handed, expensive in the long run, and borderline monopolistic, given the scarcity of software that can compete with the heavy hitting apps in Creative Cloud. That’s particularly true for freelancers and small businesses, who often choose to stick with older versions of software for budgetary reasons. And many loyal users who were rewarded for their loyalty (and incentivized to stay in the fold) with inexpensive updates are troubled by the one-time lure of a first-year discount to Creative Cloud, after which the price goes up, with no guarantee that it won’t continue to rise in the future.
Subscriptions in general aren’t a bad thing — no one complains about paying a subscription for the use of an ongoing service like Netflix and Hulu, which are easy for those accustomed to paying the monthly cable bill. Although mobile phone service subscriptions are commonplace, there are pay-as-you-go alternatives for those who simply don’t need regular access.
But software subscriptions — software-as-a-service, or SaaS — are contracts of a different color, particularly when making the transition from the traditional permanent license model (which itself has long troubled many thinkers). If you sign up for a subscription to a Web app — say Trello Business Class — you understand from the start that if you stop paying, you won’t be able to log in any more. With software installed on your computer, though, the connection between the subscription and being able to use the software is much looser, especially when it affects existing tools, and doubly so when they’re tools you rely on to earn a living. Even Microsoft has said that, although its Office 365 service is popular, it doesn’t expect everyone to switch for a decade. We’d argue that it will be longer than that, since the very concept of standalone apps must become deprecated before everyone will be happier with subscription services.
Going subscription-only for a package like Creative Suite is a bold move. We doubt that Adobe would even attempt such a transition if not for the hegemony it has built in the creative world over the years. When it comes to professional design and publishing, it’s Adobe or nothing. But Creative Cloud is still a huge bet, one that could enable Adobe to rake in more money per user than ever before. Or perhaps users will revolt, paving the way for fresh competition in the creative space. More likely is the middle ground, where Adobe will continue to sell Creative Suite 6 packages quietly, while tweaking Creative Cloud’s terms to assuage critics.
If you’re among those critics, don’t just vent in our comments, let Adobe know how you feel! There’s a petition up at change.org with over 21,000 signatures as of this writing. Of course, it’s also worth expressing your opinions directly, with the Adobe Creative Cloud forum and the Creative Cloud Twitter account being good places to start.
Article 4 of 11 in series
by Josh Centers
Adobe has heard the complaints about the subscription-only Creative Cloud, and says it will address them. Josh Centers has the details.Show full article
After Adobe announced that it was taking Creative Suite subscription-only (see “Adobe Flies from Creative Suite into the Creative Cloud,” 8 May 2013), many users cried foul. We analyzed the complaints and offered suggestions for how Adobe could address them in “Creative Cloud Complaints Darken Adobe’s View of the Future” (17 May 2013). Now, it looks like Adobe may be listening.
Adobe posted an update on Creative Cloud feedback to its blog on 28 May 2013, addressing concerns about the move to the subscription-based Creative Cloud. Some will be disappointed to learn that Adobe is sticking to its guns in general, saying, “We have no plans to change our focus on Creative Cloud.”
However, Adobe did speak to one of the complaints we’ve heard most often: maintaining access to your files in Adobe proprietary formats outside of a membership. Adobe agrees that customers should be able to access files even after their memberships have ended, but the company is as yet vague on details. “Our job is to delight our customers with innovation, but there are a number of options open to us here and we expect to have news around this issue shortly,” Adobe said.
Adobe also addressed photographers, saying that it is working on special packages for that audience. Finally, Adobe tried to alleviate the concerns of users who want to buy boxed software, reiterating that CS6 will be available for the foreseeable future. Eventually, though, updates to the heavy hitters in Creative Cloud will likely render CS6 less desirable, making a move to Creative Cloud unavoidable.
So while Adobe isn’t backing away from subscriptions anytime soon, at least the company appears to be listening to your feedback, and will hopefully be acting on it soon.
Article 5 of 11 in series
TextExpander, the text expansion utility from Smile, has added support for sharing snippets among a team, as well as a new Web site for managing your snippets. However, the utility now requires a monthly subscription fee.Show full article
[Update: Things have changed; for details, see “Smile Brings Back Standalone TextExpander, Reduces Subscription Price ,” 13 April 2016.]
Smile (a longtime TidBITS sponsor) has released the latest versions of its text expansion utility, TextExpander 6 for Mac, TextExpander 4 for iPhone and iPad, and even a beta of TextExpander for Windows. Currently available for download, the latest versions of the apps themselves are free, but now require a paid subscription account at the newly created TextExpander.com. New users can try out the apps for 30 days before having to purchase a subscription.
New Syncing Features -- With this latest release, TextExpander users now sync their snippets among their devices via the servers at Smile’s TextExpander.com site instead of using services such as Dropbox and iCloud. Snippet data is encrypted end-to-end as it traverses the Internet, and while the TextExpander.com servers do not encrypt the stored snippet data on a per-user basis, server access itself is secured using both passwords and two-factor authentication.
The TextExpander.com site, however, offers not just a syncing service, but a full-blown snippet management system. Users can organize, edit, delete, and add snippets through the Web app, as well as through the apps on their devices, and they can share them, with varying levels of permissions, with other TextExpander users.
In addition to TextExpander subscriptions for individual users, Smile also offers team subscriptions to TextExpander. For team accounts, TextExpander.com provides shared snippets and snippet management features tailored to organizations, making it possible, for example, for the vast TidBITS and Take Control media conglomerate to establish groups of shared TextExpander snippets for use by authors and editors. Shared snippets are probably even more valuable in customer support teams, where they’ll save time and standardize tone and writing quality. (One tip: sharing snippets requires some communication ahead of time, since you and your colleagues need to agree on abbreviation conventions.)
Plus, the TextExpander snippet editor has been revised to make snippet editing easier, adding a toolbar that offers various snippet customization options. The editor is available both in the TextExpander app and on the TextExpander.com site, with almost identical functionality.
Subscription Plans -- Why is Smile moving to a subscription mode? Smile founder Greg Scown explains:
We’ve updated our pricing model to match our new service. Instead of license purchases and upgrades on an irregular schedule, we’ve switched to a subscription model where you pay monthly or annually for your TextExpander service. This lines up with the regular costs to provide an online service. It also frees you as customers and us as developers from the “upgrade treadmill.” We can offer our apps free of charge. We can deliver incremental improvements as they’re ready rather than wait and package them all into a new “big” upgrade release. We’re really excited about what this change will allow us to offer our customers, and we hope you are too.
As mentioned above, the TextExpander.com accounts come in two types:
A single-user Life Hacker plan that costs $3.96 per month, billed annually ($47.52 per year). If you prefer monthly billing, it’s $4.95 per month ($59.40 per year).
A Team plan for organizations that costs $7.96 per user per month, billed annually ($95.52 per year). Again, if you prefer monthly billing, it’s $9.95 per user per month ($119.40 per year).
In addition, current users of TextExpander get a 50 percent “loyalty discount” for the first year of their subscriptions, and those who purchased the previous version of TextExpander after 1 December 2015 are eligible for 3 months free under the Life Hacker plan. For current users who choose a Life Hacker plan, the first-year loyalty discount means that you’ll pay $1.98 per month (for an annual total of $23.76) if you choose yearly billing or $2.48 per month if you opt to pay by the month (which works out to $29.76 per year); for current users choosing a Team plan, the first-year rates are $3.98 per user per month ($47.76 if billed yearly) and $4.98 per user per month ($59.76 if billed monthly).
Current TextExpander users, however, should have ample time to ponder the utility of snippet sharing and see if the new subscription pricing model really will lead to the delivery of “incremental improvements as they’re ready”: Smile has promised to continue support for TextExpander 5 not only in OS X 10.11.4 El Capitan but through the next major upgrade of OS X.
Article 6 of 11 in series
In response to customer feedback, Smile has adjusted its approach with TextExpander, promising to maintain the standalone versions of the text-expansion utility and lowering the price of the individual subscription plan.Show full article
For the last week, the main controversy in the Apple world has been Smile’s decision to add cloud-based snippet sharing to their TextExpander text-expansion utility and switch to a subscription model (“TextExpander 6 Adds Teams and Subscription Billing,” 6 April 2016). Smile took flak from people who dislike subscription software, individuals who had no use for snippet sharing, folks who try to avoid cloud-based software, and those who felt the total price was too high. (Full disclosure: Smile is a longtime TidBITS sponsor.)
Smile is now walking back some of those decisions in two major ways:
The company will continue to sell and support the standalone versions of TextExpander 5 for the Mac and TextExpander 3 for iPhone & iPad. Although there was some initial confusion as to whether or not this meant that these apps would receive ongoing development, Smile founder Greg Scown told me, “It’s a very feature rich product. We’ll be listening to our customers’ needs, and plan to bring in new features where they most benefit, as well as continue development to ensure OS compatibility.” So yes, the standalone versions will continue to evolve in the future. The Mac version of TextExpander costs $44.95 and TextExpander touch 3 + Custom Keyboard for iOS is $4.99 on the App Store.
The Life Hacker subscription plan for individuals using TextExpander 6 is now priced at $40 per year, down from $47.52. Even more significant, customers with current licenses for any previous version of TextExpander now receive a 50 percent lifetime discount, dropping the subscription price to $20 per year for as long as the subscription is renewed. Upgrading customers who want to test-drive the new version can pay $2.08 per month before committing to the $20-per-year plan. Plus, for those who purchased TextExpander after 1 December 2015, the first three months of the Life Hacker plan are free. (Team subscription pricing for TextExpander 6 remains the same at $7.96 per user per month, billed annually, which works out to $95.52 per year.)
It’s unfortunate that Smile’s desire to expand into the business market with snippet sharing got tangled up with the needs of individual customers. This revised approach should answer the criticisms of the previous plan, satisfying both those who like TextExpander the way it is and those who stand to benefit from the new features.
Article 7 of 11 in series
A year ago, Smile made TextExpander a subscription service, causing much hubbub in the Apple community. How has that worked out for the company?Show full article
As I write this, it has been one year since Smile introduced TextExpander 6 for Mac and TextExpander 4 for iPhone and iPad, along with the bombshell news that the new versions would be free but require a paid subscription at textexpander.com (see “TextExpander 6 Adds Teams and Subscription Billing,” 6 April 2016). The mandatory subscription model provoked cries of dismay among many users, and within days, Smile had responded as we described in “Smile Brings Back Standalone TextExpander, Reduces Subscription Price ” (13 April 2016). Full disclosure: Smile is a longtime TidBITS sponsor, and I have written books about both previous versions of TextExpander and Smile’s PDFpen.
Although I had worked closely with Smile while writing about TextExpander and PDFpen, I was as surprised as anyone when I heard about the subscription model and the tethering of TextExpander to a cloud-served snippet library. At the time, I thought that Smile had put itself into an awkward position: in order to defray the costs of running the TextExpander cloud service the company had to charge a subscription fee, but all Smile could offer customers at the service’s introduction was the promise of more frequent app updates and vague hints of new capabilities. Were there enough people willing to sign up for the plan? Was there really a demand for shared typing shortcuts?
As it turns out, there were and there was. According to Smile, about a third of the TextExpander customer base has moved to the subscription service, which gives Smile the income to pay for continued app updates and to keep the lights on in the server room. And the promised frequent app updates have come: Smile delivered 17 updates to the macOS app last year compared to only 7 the year before.
Shared snippets have also begun to blossom. For TextExpander users who are not part of a team or organization, textexpander.com currently offers almost thirty shared snippet groups, including text shortcuts for the names and birthdates of Renaissance composers, for Apple trademarks, for Keyboard Maestro clipboard history scripts, and for accessing parts of a self-hosted WordPress site. The regularly updated TextExpander Blog provides users with tips and information about new shared groups.
More interesting, and boding well for TextExpander’s future, is that the TextExpander service provides the management capabilities to build snippet-sharing teams in businesses and organizations. Such teams share common snippet libraries, turning the TextExpander service into something of a low-rent content management system through which, for example, all the members of a customer support team can have access to textexpander.com-hosted support documents and links literally at their fingertips. Smile reports that a typical team is about 12 people, but it hosts teams that have nearly 1000 members. The enterprise attractiveness of Smile’s TextExpander service was further enhanced by the successful introduction of TextExpander for Windows.
All that is driven by the utility of TextExpander. Smile estimates that enterprise team members generally save 4 hours of time per month by using the service, and it’s not uncommon for active TextExpander users to save double that, or a full work day per month.
Meanwhile, the single-user, non-subscription edition of TextExpander continues to be sold, satisfying the needs of those users who have no interest in a hosted snippet-sharing service. For some, it’s simply overkill, whereas others cannot store their content in the cloud for policy or confidentiality reasons.
From an undeniably rocky introduction, Smile seems to have accomplished what it set out to do: offer a subscription-based software utility at a fair price and develop the infrastructure and hosted content to make it attractive to both individuals and enterprises.
It also seems that subscription services for productivity apps are here to stay, with TextExpander joining the likes of Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft’s Office 365, 1Password Teams/Families from AgileBits, and MacPaw’s new multi-app service SetApp. Subscriptions aren’t appropriate to every situation, but they do show the utility of monthly recurring revenue for software companies that need to escape the inherent spikiness of a model that relies solely on new sales and (sometimes) paid upgrades.
Article 8 of 11 in series
by Josh Centers
AgileBits has announced an optional new service: individual subscriptions to its 1Password password manager. The new service joins the company’s 1Password Families and 1Password Teams services, but does not replace standalone purchases of the 1Password apps for the Mac and iOS.Show full article
In the latest example of software developers moving to subscription models, AgileBits has announced a new 1Password subscription for individuals that joins the company’s 1Password Families and 1Password Teams services.
Don’t panic! AgileBits CEO Dave Teare told us that the standalone 1Password apps for the Mac and iOS will continue to receive development and support, and existing syncing options will still be available. However, new features that depend on the hosted service won’t migrate to the standalone versions. The Mac and Windows versions cost $64.99, and while the iOS version of 1Password is free, its pro features are a $9.99 in-app purchase.
In contrast, individual 1Password subscriptions cost $2.99 per month (billed annually), and if you sign up before 21 September 2016, you get the first six months for free. You can cancel at any time, and if your subscription expires, you will still be able to view and export your data.
What does $2.99 per month get you? Here’s a list:
Free access to all 1Password apps, including pro features and updates
Built-in automatic sync via 1Password’s new cloud service
Item history, so you can restore deleted or accidentally changed items
Web-based access to your 1Password data so you can access it from anywhere
Secure document storage
Unsurprisingly, AgileBits emphasizes security in the new service, promising end-to-end encryption, with 256-bit AES encryption on the server end. Data is encrypted on your device before being transferred, and only you have access to your master password. With the new subscription service, AgileBits is also adding a new two-factor security measure, called Account Key, which is a randomly generated 128-bit key used alongside the master password to access your data. Like the master password, the Account Key never leaves your device.
Despite the fact that this new service is merely an additional option for 1Password users, it will likely still trouble those who are opposed to software subscriptions on principle. But like it or not, the industry is increasingly moving toward subscriptions in order to even out the feast-and-famine revenues that result from infrequent paid upgrades. However, by continuing to support the standalone versions of 1Password and setting low prices from the start, AgileBits is going a long way to alleviate concerns.
Article 9 of 11 in series
A news report referring to AgileBits’s aggressive shift to subscription-based licensing for 1Password overstates a requirement to store passwords at its 1Password.com site.Show full article
A Motherboard story on 10 July 2017 entitled “Why Security Experts Are Pissed That ‘1Password’ Is Pushing Users to the Cloud” gave the impression that 1Password’s maker, AgileBits, had stopped allowing users to purchase a license that would enable them to store passwords in local databases, which 1Password calls “vaults.” The article says, “several security researchers tweeted that 1Password was moving away from allowing people to pay for a one-time license and have local password vaults.”
Only near the end of the article does the reporter include a statement from AgileBits that local storage remains available now and for the foreseeable future. (AgileBits later confirmed that such local storage will continue into its next release, version 7.) The “moving away” claim in the article is related only to the one-time license fee. That’s right: the article’s headline and thesis are more or less contradicted about two-thirds of the way in.
The one part that’s correct, however, is that the current 1Password 6 for Windows can only read (not write) local storage vaults synced to the computer. Thus, upgrading from the previous version 4 effectively removes a feature. 1Password 4 for Windows remains available for download for subscribers, even though it isn’t compatible with the 1Password.com cloud service.
All other native 1Password apps can read and write local vaults, whether they’re synced via your own cloud-service account at Dropbox or iCloud, within a Wi-Fi network, or using a folder. You can also still use 1Password on a single device with a local-only vault.
I want to pick apart this story, not to criticize Motherboard or the reporter per se, but instead to explain in greater depth for most existing 1Password users why this licensing shift doesn’t force them to put their passwords in the cloud. And, additionally, how AgileBits’s approach to zero-knowledge encryption in the cloud, which is similar to that employed by Apple for iCloud Keychain and LastPass for its system, may be less risky and less exposed in some ways than using Dropbox to sync vaults.
The devil is in the details, though: despite having a robust design, the implementation of AgileBits’ cloud-based system isn’t as fully transparent and audited as many researchers would like.
Anything that deters people from using strong and safe password generation and storage is cause for concern. But, likewise, developers of password management apps must be careful not to change their apps’ behavior without clear and consistent communication, or else users could be led to make decisions that aren’t in their best interests.
Everyone Wants Recurring Revenue -- The rise of the iOS and Mac App Stores has led to problems for developers. Briefly, Apple’s approach to the stores broke three important parts of the software revenue model: easy distribution of demonstration software, fees for software upgrades, and reasonable price points for software. In-app purchases and certain kinds of software bundles help with just some of that.
As a result, some companies have tried to switch their revenue cycles from selling one-time unlimited-use licenses for a given software version to recurring subscription fees that include free updates for all new versions. The sum of these monthly or yearly fees often works out to be the same as or slightly cheaper than the one-time license fee if you were to pay for every upgrade that became available. Subscriptions usually include extra features, too, like cloud-based sync that doesn’t rely on iCloud or Dropbox storage.
After industry giants Adobe (with Creative Cloud) and Microsoft (with Office 365) showed that subscriptions could work, Smile took an early leap among smaller developers by switching to subscription usage for TextExpander 6 (see “TextExpander 6 Adds Teams and Subscription Billing,” 6 April 2016). The move led to an outcry from users, and the company retreated slightly, reducing pricing for individuals and keeping TextExpander 5 on the market as a standalone product (see “Smile Brings Back Standalone TextExpander, Reduces Subscription Price ,” 13 April 2016). Michael Cohen looked into Smile’s move a year later in April 2017 and found that the situation had mostly calmed down (see “TextExpander by Subscription One Year Later,” 5 April 2017).
AgileBits started offering a cloud-based option for its software just under a year ago and required a subscription to use it (see “1Password Introduces Individual Subscriptions,” 4 August 2016). This approach broadened to include business-style teams with shared vaults, and then family plans, also with sharing. The subscription included access to all 1Password native software, including the premium in-app upgrade features in 1Password for iOS, which was otherwise free to use.
A few months ago, the company shifted to offer only subscription-based access to 1Password. But you could still contact AgileBits to purchase a standalone license. The company maintains that most 1Password.com users get better features, prices, and security from the subscription version, and the founder reiterates that in the blog post noted earlier. It’s certainly a reasonable choice for the company because it eliminates the possibility of data loss experienced by users who don’t otherwise sync and lack backups, among other issues. But does it make sense for users?
Security researcher Kenn White raises a concern in a detailed article about his reaction to AgileBits’s shift. He worries that the way in which a user starts fresh with 1Password (the so-called “onboarding process”) pushes people into storing their data at 1Password.com, rather than explaining the difference between local-only, local-and-synced, and cloud-based vaults. His criticism is valid: AgileBits could improve upon its explanations, even if it still concludes that the cloud is best for most people, most of the time.
The key point for most current 1Password users, however, is that nothing has changed for macOS and iOS users. All the features you had remain, whether you continue to use a standalone license or subscribe. You aren’t required or pushed to use 1Password.com. The trouble is with the Windows version of 1Password.
Local Vaults Haven’t Gone Away -- I exchanged email with Jeffrey Goldberg, AgileBits’s “Chief Defender Against the Dark Arts” — its security head. He agreed that the company’s explanation of how this all works could be clearer. The confusion stems in part from different behavior toward local vaults on each platform the company supports:
The macOS and iOS versions of 1Password offer full support for local vaults, and you can use those releases and sync among them without ever touching 1Password.com. If you already own a standalone-licensed copy and start paying for a subscription, you don’t lose any features.
The Android version can read and write vaults that have been synced via Dropbox, but it can’t create vaults compatible with that method.
The Windows version treats as read-only local vaults of any kind, including those synced via Dropbox. It can only create and modify entries at 1Password.com.
Mac and iOS users were likely unaware of this Windows limitation, but it was the fundamental fact that prompted the Motherboard story.
I was told that AgileBits had intended to provide full local and synced vault support in Windows, but its Windows engineering team apparently found itself unable to do so. As a result, the company is neither promising it will provide that feature nor ruling out future support. On 13 July 2017, however, the company’s founder confirmed that clients that currently handle local vaults will continue to do so in version 7, at whatever future date it appears.
Security experts have also asked questions about what might happen if you stopped paying your 1Password.com subscription fee, or if AgileBits went out of business. Would you still be able to access your local vaults?
Goldberg wrote, “The answer to that question is that yes, they will continue to have access (if they have been using a native client), but it isn’t an unqualified ‘yes.’”
The reason is that some people may use 1Password.com exclusively online, in which case passwords stored there wouldn’t be synced to any local end point. Goldberg said that AgileBits is working to make that “yes” fully unqualified so there would be no case in which someone could lose access to their data.
Dropbox Sync Has Its Own Downsides -- I also need to call out a difference between Dropbox sync (and iCloud sync for Apple users) and 1Password.com sync.
Whenever data leaves your computer and is stored on servers outside your control, you’re introducing some risk that undesirable parties could gain access. For that reason, some people sync data only between servers and devices they own. 1Password in macOS and iOS (and Android) can sync locally over Wi-Fi, and the macOS version can sync via a shared folder.
Once you introduce Dropbox or iCloud into the syncing equation, however, your secure vault is being stored somewhere where data is only encrypted in transit and at rest, and only using encryption keys held by the cloud service. In other words, the cloud service has to be able to decrypt your data to send it back and forth to you, even when it uses an encrypted transit mechanism (typically TLS, the same used on the Web for secure connections).
To protect your passwords whenever the vault file is outside your control, 1Password encrypts that file using a set of “expensive” encryption choices, which means that a brute-force attacker can’t cycle through billions of passwords per second to test which might work. Stealing data from Dropbox or iCloud, sniffing the data in transit, or even compromising a Dropbox or Apple employee won’t be enough to discover your passwords. The attacker must know your password, guess it, or find a way to get you to reveal it through social engineering.
1Password.com employs a different method, treating each username/password entry as a separate item that can be synced back and forth. Not included are a long code unique to your account and your master password. That’s important: AgileBits can’t decrypt your information stored at 1Password.com because it doesn’t have access to any of your passwords, your account code, or encryption keys. In other words, 1Password.com is effectively just a dumb conduit that connects end points. That’s true even when you log into 1Password on the Web, where the encryption is handled entirely in the browser, including receiving encrypted entries and then decrypting them locally.
AgileBits also uses TLS to transmit that strongly encrypted data and wraps another layer of transit encryption around it using a session key that both sides of the connection derive separately rather than transmitting, so it can’t be intercepted.
All these 1Password.com protections together provide a significant level of defense against attack, though they are of course only as good as AgileBits’ implementation of the security model. Some security researchers want more disclosure of how AgileBits has built its system along with outside, independent audits.
There’s one significant way in which syncing via Dropbox or iCloud has an advantage over 1Password.com syncing: in the latter case, you have to trust AgileBits to do what it says it will. When 1Password native apps use local vaults and sync via Dropbox or iCloud, your password never touches AgileBits’ login Web page. Because 1Password itself is freestanding, security researchers can test (and have tested) it in ways that aren’t possible with 1Password.com.
AgileBits says that your password never leaves your browser, and while trusting the company is reasonable, Thomas H. Ptáček noted to me via Twitter that the point is to not have to trust them. “I’m 100% behind 1Password on monthly subscriptions, so long as users I help never have to enter passwords on 1Password.com,” he tweeted. But because using 1Password.com requires entering the master password for your cloud-sync vault on a Web page, even if AgileBits says it’s never transmitted, Ptáček finds the entire system problematic. However, he notes, “I am very confident they will figure this out, by the way, and that I’ll be able to recommend 1Password in the near future.”
No Changes for Existing Users, but Confusion for New Users -- AgileBits doesn’t make it easy for new users to choose between local and cloud-based vaults. The company has effectively picked a route that it thinks is best and is directing new users down that path. Kenn White’s discussion goes into some depth about whether or not those choices are correct.
From my experience, the more people are encouraged to use robust security the better, and AgileBits’ cloud approach, assuming it’s well implemented, is an entirely reasonable way to preserve user security and privacy while maintaining ease of access and the option to sync data locally.
If you use 1Password on any platform except Windows now, you won’t notice a change if you switch to a subscription, because your current ability to use 1Password entirely locally remains in place. That’s good, and this fact is one of the reasons that security researchers have long recommended 1Password.
And although it requires some effort, new users can sign up and configure any version of 1Password other than the Windows app to sync via Wi-Fi or a folder, sync via Dropbox or iCloud, or sync and access via 1Password.com. Or, if you don’t need to move data between devices, you can avoid syncing entirely. AgileBits should do a better job of communicating this fact to new users during the onboarding process.
The Motherboard article’s criticisms may have been overly broad and overstated, but they weren’t entirely inaccurate, given the limitations of 1Password 6 for Windows. Nonetheless, by conflating the Windows version with 1Password for macOS, iOS, and Android, the article generated confusion and feelings of betrayal. That’s bad journalism that may attract eyeballs, but unnecessarily undermines trust in a popular and useful piece of security software.
Article 10 of 11 in series
Even if you’re leery of software subscriptions, Adam Engst explains why the multi-app Setapp service could be a good deal for both users and developers.Show full article
I know, some people really don’t like subscriptions. I get it. But sometimes the value proposition is compelling. For many people (me included), paying $9.99 for a month of Netflix beats buying a movie on iTunes for that $9.99 (or more). It’s the same with Spotify or Apple Music — you can play a lot of music in a month for the same price as purchasing a single album on iTunes.
Setapp for Users -- That’s part of the pitch for Setapp, a new subscription service from MacPaw that gives Mac users access to 60 carefully curated apps today, with more coming in the future. Pay $9.99 per month (the first month is free) and you can use any number of those apps for no additional charge. Nor will the price go up as more apps are added. It’s unlikely apps will be removed often, if at all, given that developers sign a 12-month non-exclusive agreement.
Setapp automatically keeps its apps up to date at all times, so you don’t have to fuss with installing updates — including major new upgrades. These apps aren’t demos, crippled, or older versions, and there’s no advertising anywhere. You can even use Setapp on a second Mac merely by signing in on that Mac.
Obviously, the question comes down to whether you’ll use enough of the included apps to make the subscription worthwhile. Let’s say you want to write in Ulysses ($44.99), create Web pages in RapidWeaver ($99), take screenshots with Capto ($29.99), keep track of your Mac’s performance with iStat Menus ($18), and monitor your server with Simon ($99). You’d pay nearly $300 to buy all that software, or you could subscribe to Setapp for 30 months for the same price.
Those are all fine apps, and while I’m not familiar with every app included in Setapp, those I do know about are solid. MacPaw is selecting which apps get included in Setapp to avoid overwhelming users with too many similar choices. You can browse through the full list of current apps, and as I said before, more will be appearing soon.
It’s also worth considering that Setapp includes some apps, such as MacPaw’s own Gemini duplicate finder, that you may want to use, but so infrequently that you can’t bring yourself to buy them outright. Gemini costs $19.95; I’m not sure I’d buy it for a couple of uses per year, but I’d be happy to have access to it in Setapp. I could even see some people subscribing to Setapp on and off as a way of testing apps that they might later purchase.
There is another potential benefit to the subscription approach. Matthew Tobin, developer of the included Aeon Timeline, said he was excited about how Setapp’s model overcomes a flaw in the standard version-based licensing approach.
Version-based licensing stifles creativity. Developers are forced to choose between creating paid upgrades, which delays feature releases, and free updates, which discourages investment to improve apps. If users embrace subscription models, both sides are better off: developers will be rewarded for improving their app for the long haul, and new features will be in users’ hands faster instead of held back for artificial milestone releases.
Using Setapp -- Working with apps in Setapp is simplicity itself, since it integrates right into the Finder in OS X 10.10 Yosemite or later. MacPaw has a good video overview.
Once you’ve installed Setapp and signed in, a Setapp folder appears in your Applications folder and adds itself to your Dock and Finder window sidebar and toolbar (you can remove it from any of these locations if desired).
You also get a Setapp menu in your menu bar; it provides access to a few preferences, most notably the presence of the Dock icon and a search shortcut I had to change because it conflicts with LaunchBar’s Control-Space.
Inside the Setapp folder are “teasers” for all the apps — they’re only about 2–3 MB in size. Double-clicking one doesn’t launch the app itself, but instead opens a window that describes the app in detail, complete with screenshots. Click an Open button in that window and the app downloads and launches. From then on, it’s a normal copy of the app.
This teaser approach is smart, since it eliminates the need for any additional interface and lets you save space. Setapp itself takes up about 110 MB, and the stub apps occupy another 300 MB, but an app like RapidWeaver would be nearly 90 MB on its own. If you install an app you don’t want to use, you can delete it, after which Setapp will revert it to its teaser state. You can even remove the teasers too, and get them back by choosing Restore Hidden Applications from the Setapp menu.
I find that the Setapp app list on the Web is actually a little better for browsing through apps that you’ve never heard of before, since it provides a quick description when you mouse over the app’s icon.
Note that Setapp’s Dock icon regularly changes to focus on different apps; that has made me curious enough to open a few teasers for apps whose icons I didn’t recognize.
Setapp for Developers -- The next question about Setapp is if it’s a good deal for developers — should we users worry that subscribing to Setapp will result in reduced revenues for the developers we want to support?
No one knows the answer to that yet, but here’s how Setapp works for developers. First, developers get 70 percent of all revenues, with MacPaw retaining the other 30 percent. The developer share of the revenue is distributed based on the number of apps each user launches in a month, with the actual amounts calculated as a percentage of the list price of the app.
So let’s take the sample set of apps I mentioned above and see how that breaks out (with round numbers). Of a single user’s $10, $7 goes to the developers and $3 goes to MacPaw. That $7 is distributed among five apps that cost $291 proportionally by list price, broken out into 17 price tiers with individual multipliers. Assuming I’ve understood MacPaw’s documentation right, each app in this example would earn about 30 percent of its list price in a year. The more apps you use, though, the less each developer will earn.
To grow the user base and reduce developers’ reliance on application revenues, MacPaw also pays out a 20 percent partner fee (from its 30 percent). For each user who signs up for Setapp from a particular developer, that developer receives 20 percent of that user’s payment ($2) each month as long as the user continues to subscribe. That could significantly increase revenues for developers, and it incentivizes them to direct customers to Setapp along with providing normal license sales.
Developer Opinion -- I talked to a handful of developers who are participating in Setapp. All were interested in experimenting with it as a new channel, particularly for picking up casual users. Matthew Tobin said:
My position on it is somewhat experimental. We joined Setapp to give customers a choice and to see how it works for us, but I certainly don’t intend to adopt it as my only way to connect to customers — we will continue to support direct license sales as our primary channel.
David Sinclair of Dejal concurred, saying:
I thought it could be a good means of marketing and extra revenue. I’m excited for the launch, and looking forward to seeing how well it does. It seems like a very useful service and elegant implementation, so I am hopeful it’ll be very popular with Mac users, and help more of them discover Dejal Simon.
Joe Japes of Econ Technologies said that while he personally prefers buying software, he thinks Setapp has a lot of potential:
I think it will bring us a lot of new users that we could not reach before so overall it will be a financial gain.
Duilio Proni, developer of Econ Technologies’ ChronoSync Express, thinks Setapp will become even more valuable in the future:
The Setapp model makes perfect sense for a lot — if not the majority — of people. What some people don’t seem to realize is that the collection of software is not static. They intend to grow it to at least 2–3 times the current size. The current offerings are good but there are gaps that should get plugged over time.
Matthew Tobin provided additional thoughts about the pros and cons of participating from a developer’s standpoint:
The main upside I see is exposure to potential new revenue from casual users — i.e. the kind of people who might use the app a few times a year when they need to perform a particular task, but won’t use it often enough to warrant purchasing a license for $50.
The success of the platform in that respect will depend on how well Setapp manages to market individual apps and encourage users to explore all of the apps on offer. If users don’t know what they are paying for (especially if the platform grows too big), they won’t know to look for and use our app when it would help them, and that casual income stream would dry up.
The most obvious potential downside would be if participating in the platform undermines baseline license sales — but I hope the markets are sufficiently different, or that remuneration from repeat users is not too dissimilar to a license sale (this depends on how many apps users normally launch).
MacPaw is currently adding products to Setapp mostly by invitation, so if you’re a developer, probably the best way to join is to talk with another developer who is already participating to see if they can help you get an invite. You can also contact MacPaw to make sure they’re aware of your product.
Brave New App Store -- Since Setapp offers the first month free, there’s no downside in signing up and giving it a try. If you don’t find yourself using enough of the apps, it’s easy to cancel your subscription at any time.
Regardless, kudos to MacPaw for having the gumption to try something new, particularly in a world that includes Apple’s Mac App Store. But since the Mac App Store hasn’t universally delighted users and developers, there’s room for Setapp.
Article 11 of 11 in series
MacPaw’s Setapp subscription service, which provides access to 77 Mac apps for $9.99 per month, has gained an AI-based recommendation engine. Adam Engst took the opportunity to check in on how Setapp is doing, both overall and for participating developers.Show full article
Early in 2017, I wrote about Setapp, an intriguing subscription service that provides access to a slew of carefully curated Mac apps for a $9.99 monthly fee (see “Setapp Offers Numerous Mac Apps for One Monthly Subscription Fee,” 25 January 2017). Just as Netflix does with video and Apple Music does with songs, Setapp’s pitch is that $9.99 per month ($120 per year) will be less than you’d spend on buying and upgrading apps individually.
Setapp Numbers -- Nearly halfway through Setapp’s first year, it’s time to take a look and see how it’s doing. Most notably, the number of apps available to subscribers has grown from 60 to 77 (from 69 developers), providing users with lots more functionality without sacrificing quality or providing many nearly identical apps. No one would buy all those apps, of course, but if they did, it would cost $2437.
Julia Petryk of MacPaw tells me that Setapp now has 10,000 paying users and another 200,000 people who are using it in the free 30-day trial mode, which can be extended by encouraging a friend to sign up. Those aren’t Apple-level numbers, of course, but they’re respectable for just a few months.
I polled a few developers who are participating in Setapp, and although all of them remain optimistic about Setapp’s potential, Setapp hasn’t contributed significantly to the bottom line for any of them. Joe Japes of Econ Technologies estimated that the inclusion of ChronoSync Express in Setapp had increased revenues by less than 1 percent. Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software told me that putting TaskPaper in Setapp had been a “nice but relatively minor boost” that generated about 5 percent of his monthly revenue.
On the plus side, Grosjean said the income from Setapp was increasing, and Japes noted that “the key for us is Setapp’s potential.” David Sinclair of Dejal Systems said he was quite pleased with Setapp and that Setapp “accounts for a significant chunk of new Dejal Simon customers.” He also pointed out that “Simon is a premium app, at $99, so offering an inexpensive subscription option for it alone makes a lot of sense for Simon users, and they get all those other apps as a bonus.”
Sinclair elaborated further: “I feel I’m making more money since Setapp than before. Some people might have purchased Simon directly instead of getting it via Setapp, but more people are discovering it via Setapp than before. I’ve had some people find Simon via Setapp but choose to buy it directly instead of continuing Setapp, but lots of people seem to prefer the subscription. It’s good to have both options. I think over time the revenue should be about the same for direct sales with paid upgrades every few years, compared to Setapp subscriptions.”
Setapp and App Discovery -- The biggest problem Setapp faced initially — apart from simply being a new concept — was that of app discovery. With 60 apps at first, and now 77, how could you even figure out which apps you might want to use to solve a particular problem? In my introductory article, I noted that browsing through the apps listed on Setapp’s Web site was easier than opening each one in turn in the Finder. No longer.
MacPaw’s first swipe at this problem came a few months ago, when Setapp gained a catalog-like interface to separate all the apps into categories and call out those that you’d already installed. Each app received a brief summary and a full description, complete with screenshots.
That was a good step, but finding an appropriate app still took effort, so MacPaw went back to the drawing board and developed a recommendation system, which is rolling out to users now. It provides a My Dashboard entry above the app categories, and in it, recommends apps that you might want to try. The recommendation engine works by comparing the Setapp apps you’ve used against those used by other Setapp users and by finding apps similar to those you’ve already used. Even though it looks only at data within the Setapp ecosystem, the four apps it initially suggested for me were good guesses:
Forecast Bar provides hyper-local weather information in your Mac’s menu bar. I love Dark Sky on the iPhone and Forecast Bar looks like it will give me single-click access to similar information on my Mac. I installed it immediately.
Capto from Global Delight is a capable screenshot and video capture utility for the Mac. I prefer macOS’s built-in screenshot capabilities coupled with editing in Preview, and I usually use QuickTime Player for screen recordings, but it was a good recommendation.
ChatMate for WhatsApp isn’t something I have much interest in, purely because I don’t use WhatsApp for messaging, but since I do use Messages, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, and more, it’s not a bad suggestion.
Timing looks like a useful time-tracking utility, and since I’ve long had RescueTime installed and have just started testing Qbserve, it’s also a good recommendation. Perhaps I’ll have to do a three-way comparison.
Also on the My Dashboard screen are new arrivals and updates, which help you stay aware of how Setapp’s collection is expanding and improving over time.
Setapp for Users and Developers -- Does SetApp make sense for users? It’s a great way to sample a lot of apps, even if you aren’t going to use that many of them in your everyday routine. In fact, I’d suggest that much of the value comes in apps you need to use only infrequently and thus wouldn’t buy. Julia Petryk of MacPaw said that the average Setapp user installs 10 to 12 apps.
For instance, the only app in Setapp I use all the time is iStat Menus because I like its menu bar performance graphs. But I’ve used Gemini to eliminate duplicate files a few times and Permute to convert video files to other formats. At a conference, I saved another speaker’s bacon by using Downie to download a YouTube clip so he could embed it into his Keynote presentation. I checked out iMazing to answer a reader’s questions about extracting SMS text message conversations and voicemails from an iPhone. I also tried SQLPro Studio but decided that for what I need, the open-source phpMyAdmin is fine.
The beauty of Setapp for users is that it’s entirely optional, so if you feel it offers sufficient value for your $9.99 per month, give it a try. And if you’re not a fan of subscriptions, stick to buying the individual apps you need.
If you’re a developer, should you try to get your app into Setapp? That’s a tougher question. As Joe Japes told me, you have to weigh the pros and cons to make sure that participating in Setapp won’t cannibalize sales. For higher-priced apps, as with Simon, the subscription might bring in enough new users due to the lower price point to make up for the loss in direct revenues. And it’s a way that you could add a subscription option without having to roll the technology yourself.
Remember, though, that MacPaw curates the collection. David Sinclair said, “I would definitely encourage other developers to consider signing up for Setapp, though MacPaw is very selective of the apps they accept, which is great for users, but can be frustrating for developers.”
Other SetApp developers with similarly low revenue increases expressed the worry that, as MacPaw brings additional compelling apps to Setapp, the per-user payout will have to be split between more developers.
So that’s a tension, then. From the user perspective, you want to take advantage of as many apps as you can to ensure you’re extracting the most value from your subscription. Each developer participating in Setapp, however, would prefer that you use their app and as few others as possible, so the revenues are shared between only a few developers. And MacPaw is in the middle, wanting both to bolster Setapp’s perceived value to users by adding more apps and to keep developers happy by increasing revenues.
No one ever said that rethinking an entire business model would be easy.