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Apple Is Pushing Developers Toward Subscriptions

We have long bemoaned the way that Apple’s App Store has driven the cost—and often the perceived value—of apps to nearly zero, making it difficult for even high-quality apps from small developers to succeed. It seems now that Apple had no idea this would happen at the time. Steve Jobs said in a 2008 interview that the company didn’t know what advice to give developers who were seeing increased sales by dropping prices. The consequence of that was an unsustainable business model for many developers, one that forced even successful developers to chase new customers rather than serving existing ones. Finally, in 2016, Apple made it possible for developers to sell subscriptions, and in 2017, it held a secret meeting with developers in New York City to encourage them to adopt the new approach. At Business Insider, Kif Leswing shares the story of how Apple realized it needed to promote subscriptions, how they’ve worked for developers of different sizes, and developer concerns that consumer reactions to subscriptions are mixed.

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Comments About Apple Is Pushing Developers Toward Subscriptions

Notable Replies

  1. If Apple ever mandates subscriptions for all iOS apps, I WILL be joining those jailbreaking their iDevices.

    I refuse to patronize vendors who require subscriptions only.

  2. The proper solution is to allow app developers to charge for updates. Subscriptions suck, and suck, and suck…

  3. A perpetual licence model works well for feature-based software, but not for service-based.


  4. Originally published at:

    The App Store drove the price of apps to nearly zero, but it took Apple nearly a decade to respond to the problem by enabling in-app subscriptions. Kif Leswing at Business Insider shares the story.

    I don’t have a subscription to Business Insider so I couldn’t read the original article. Until very recently, they were 100% ad based, so I think it’s safe to assume that the corporation likes this business model whether the author does or not. I’m not a gamer, so I can’t speak about that segment, I see more and more news, fashion, technical, b2b, etc. companies have moved to subscription models over the years, and this has accelerated over the last year or two.

    Although it’s not run through the App Store, TidBITS seems to be chugging along quite nicely since they started selling subscriptions a few years ago. Though I used to look in at the Business Insider site very regularly, and I do read their articles regularly on Apple News, I’m not going to subscribe. Profitability is about the biggest, and rapidly growing, problems developers face; Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. have been devouring larger and larger shares of ad budgets and are devouring more and more of the time users spend online. They are facing an extremely aggressive and growing enemy in Amazon, who has greatly expanded its advertising offerings, eating up more and more revenues from advertising based companies every second.

    My guess is that Apple isn’t twisting anyone’s arm, their arms are probably being twisted by developers. Microsoft, Adobe, etc. switched to subscription models long ago because people stopped regularly upgrading. One of the reasons why rival publishing companies who thrived for decades in print banded together to form Texture is that the subscription/newsstand distribution model became unsustainable; it’s probably the big reason why Apple bought it. The growing vulnerability of broadcast TV is the reason why Disney is launching subscription based services, and Apple Music and Spotify are devouring music radio.

  5. The proper solution is to allow app developers to charge for updates. Subscriptions suck, and suck, and suck…

    The App Store does allow for, and facilitates, upgrades, downgrades and crossgrades, as well as for free trials. It makes it easy for subscribers and developers to manage:

  6. I have enough subscriptions just so I can watch tv or movies. I probably miss out on some nice software but paying for a subscription for every piece of software I have is a pain in the @$$ and over the long haul, costs too much.

  7. The problem I have is too many apps add artificial cloud/service features, just so they can switch to a subscription model (i.e. 1Password). Often they remove existing features just to make the new ones work.

    Apps that are naturally service-based I don’t have a problem with the subscription model, as supporting those features does cost the maker monthly fees per user.

  8. E B

    This is absolutely correct. It is also true that some of us, myself included, just cannot afford to pay over and over for subscription-based applications. In particular, our aging population continues to produce increasing numbers of people on fixed incomes. It is difficult enough to deal with inflation. Inflating software prices via subscriptions would make it more so.

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