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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.

  9. When you agreed to use subscription based software products that utilize you own data, you are committing to lifetime funding of a company so long as you wish to access it. Essentially you are not purchasing a product but committing to continuous stream of revenue to support the company for the ‘privilege’ of using the a product. That amounts to, is that you becoming a venture capitalist for the company without receiving any return on your investment. That is why I refuse to use any subscription based products.

  10. At some point, I predict you will be forced to, as the practice is expanding by leaps and bounds. So at some point most of the quality service software will be subscription only.

  11. Only if users choose to let it happen. There are plenty of options right now and users need to explore and use them and just say no to subscription software. As example LibreOffice is a free, viable competitor to MS Office and very popular in Europe that is in use by governments and some sizable corporations. Subscription software only benefits users in one way which may not be of an advantage for some. That is keeping current with the latest update. Subscription software turns users into company investors with no return on their investment. It discourages innovation as once a company reaches the point of profitability from subscriptions, they have no incentive to fix bugs unless the problems causes loss of existing users and no incentive to add features or usability for the same reasons, again, unless users get fed up and abandon the product. The subscription paradigm allows companies to cut staff once they reach profitability as there is no longer a need for a large marketing presence or developers and cutting staff will increase profits. Tech support can also be cut to the point of product abandonment. Subscription software offers no guarantee of costs to the user as there is nothing to stop a company from raising the subscription cost other than again, loss of users. Subscription software forces users to update to the latest version even if the update has significant bugs, features the user does not which to have, or changes to the user interfacing that requires retraining, or performance and compatible issues with their computer.

    With subscription software, when the user dies, their heirs must now purchase the subscription for access to the deceased papers, financials and writings. As such the heirs must now literally pay the price of the deceased decision to support subscription software. And what happens if the company folds? The subscribers may lose access to their own data forever.

    With subscription software, instead of the user becoming the manager of the application, they now become its slave.

    The bottom line, in my opinion, the only one that wins with subscription software is the company producing it. Everyone else is a loser.

  12. Agreed. Which is why people like you should continue to speak up about it. And users should realize they have nothing to gain by switching to such a lock-in model. If enough people resist this money grab, it will go away. Or at the very least, enough alternatives will remain available.

  13. I guess this means that I am an investor in TidBITS, which I am happy to be. The return on my investment is outstanding editorial, and a community of experts that dispense excellent advice and challenging opinions. Can Adam & Co. compete with Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, or even MacWorld, etc. for ad dollars?

    One of the people you can thank for the rise of subscription models is Steve Jobs. He, very brilliantly, started giving insanely great Mac software, the iWork suite, iPhotos, iCloud, Garage Band, etc. and their updates, away for free. John and Jane Q. public stopped shelling out $$$$ once or more a year, doing mega damage to Adobe, Microsoft, etc. Equally brilliant and highly damaging to Apple’s major competitors was the App Store and iMusic. It is a big reason that turned Apple into becoming the world’s most valuable company when not that long ago it was just about given up for dead.

  14. I’ve spoken with quite a few developers who have moved to subscription-based models and one of the common themes that comes out is that the subscriptions make it clear who their customers are, and they’ve doubled down on serving those customers.

    So, within the boundaries that different developed may do a better or worse job of serving their customers, I’d argue that a subscription model benefits customers in a big way.

    The other two common software business models are the expensive with infrequent paid upgrades model and the cheap with free upgrades model.

    When you pay quite a bit for software, as we used to back in the old days, the developer makes a good amount from that first sale. But unless the developer can maintain a steady number of new sales (which is difficult if not impossible), at some point they have to put out a major update and charge for it. That’s fair, of course, and customers win because the developer has to make the update attractive enough to be worth the upgrade fee. However, it’s a hard business model for many companies because the revenue is extremely spiky, and one misstep means the end of the company. That’s how we lost Now Software, for instance—they simply took too long to release a major update and it wasn’t good enough when it did ship.

    The cheap model that became the de facto standard for the iOS App Store is just horrible. Customers theoretically win by getting cheap software, but the only way developers can make money is by attracting new sales, which means that as soon as you’ve paid for the app, the developer doesn’t care about you at all, because they’ll never earn any more money from you. They have to keep chasing new sales all the time.

    Subscriptions have an obvious problem, which is that people can pay only so much per month for apps, but as far as aligning developer and customer interests, they’re pretty good.

  15. I disagree entirely. Lock-in make me as a customer unfree.

    My interest is aligned when the guy trying to make a living knows he has to have me convinced on features/usability. Is that hard for him? Sure. IMHO exactly the way free market capitalism should be.

  16. When you have to submit spreadsheets and documents to clients, bosses, co-workers, friends and family and they don’t render or line up properly because the recipients have MS Office, this is not a good solution.

  17. Which is true in a subscription model, since at any time the software doesn’t meet your needs, you can stop paying. If you pay a lot up front, it’s harder to walk away from that investment when the developer shows they’re uninterested in meeting your needs.

  18. No, I can’t. Because in most the case of most apps, I’m locked in. I can only stop paying if I’m willing to lose my data.

  19. Well that’s bull. MS offers one-time purchase for Office.

  20. No, because I only paid “a lot” upfront if what the dev had at the time met my needs. I only update or pay for an update if it still meets my needs. There’s no confusion here. It’s just a cheap excuse for devs who prefer to get paid perpetually rather than be forced to innovate so they keep getting paid. I get it. I like free money like the next guy. But don’t go trying to tell me that locking me in and forcing me to pay regardless of what the dev does is in my interest.

  21. Ideally, sure. But quite a lot of time, it’s impossible to find all the bugs or feature lacks before buying a piece of software. And that’s not to mention when the software becomes incompatible with an operating system update. In both those cases, having to wait years for a major update (or not getting one at all if the developer has disappeared or lost interest) is a giant pain.

  22. In what alternate universe do people have to wait for years? If a lot of happy customers are waiting for an update because of incompatibility with OS update that means a lot of potential gains. Exactly the right motivation. And in a free market system the thing that leads to dev effort.

    Let’s stop acting as if subscriptions made software any better or more reliable. Software was just fine. What happened was people got greedy and wanted to make an easy buck without putting in the effort. Some chose to try to get rich by selling others’ privacy. Others by trying to lock them in. Both are bullshit and will be rightly met by resistance.

  23. I know about the one time purchase because it was mentioned here. It’s not like MS does anything to facilitate discovery of one time purchases; I’m sure a significant % of potential one time buyers are not likely to find out that they are available.

  24. What happened was that Steve Jobs started giving software, updates and services away for free, backing the competition into corners. Even the music and entertainment industries were changed. Hasta la vista Blockbuster and Tower Records.

  25. Even more of a reason for folks like @jweil to speak up in opposition to subscription models.

  26. No alternate universe – this one. The immediate example is Aperture, which was 32-bit and thus not able to run in Catalina. Apple decided not to update it a while back, and so current users are, as I noted, not getting a new version because “the developer has lost interest.”

  27. How is that relevant? Apple has never pushed Aperture or a replacement as subscription. They lost interest (as Apple has been known to do) and obviously subscriptions did nothing to change that loss of interest.

    But that’s really a tangent.

    The actual matter at hand is really quite simple: if enough customers/users resist subscriptions, they will go away. If we don’t resist this now, we will one day have no choice.

  28. You made a clear assertion about how the ‘free market’ system would make developers update things because of user interest. It didn’t in the case of Aperture. Whether the subscription model is better is another question, but the “pay big” and wait wasn’t so great, either.

  29. I have to disagree with Simon here. The crucial question is whether there is another app or set of apps that substitute for the app in question. If so, you are not locked in. On the other hand, if there is no such app, you are locked in. This can happen whether the app is a subscription app or a one-time payment app.

    The world does not stand still. If a developer loses interest in keeping up with the world, and you can’t transition to an app that is keeping up, you are then stuck at that same level. This is true no matter what financial model supports the app. However, if the app is working with data in a popular format (or the data can be transparently exported into a common format), the actions of a particular developer are of little concern. It may take some work on the user’s part and the user may need to adjust their working habits, but user should be able to continue working and not lose their archive.

    Let me make this more specific with an example from my own experience:

    From the early 1990’s until the early 2010’s, I used Quicken as my personal financial package. However, when Apple abandoned PowerPC emulation, it was not apparent that Quicken (for various internal reasons) was going to be able to support current and future MacOS versions. During that period, I tried out several competing packages, with one, in particular, able to read my Quicken data and support the features I used. It required some minor contributions of my part to make that transition, but, in the end, it was quite successful. For me, that application was Moneydance.

    However, I look at my current situation and ask, if I were to find Moneydance inadequate for some reason, could I make the same transition to another app? Unfortunately, the answer is currently no. I do not know of another app that can deal with Moneydance’s native data (either in flat or backup form). This means looking at the the export formats provided in the app (.qif and tab-delimited, and raw JSON output). While other apps can handle .qif and tab-delimited files, the export in those formats does not capture all the data needed to reconstruct my files (in particular, investment accounts), and I don’t know of any app that can handle the remaining export format.

    The payment model for Moneydance is the traditional pay once initially with upgrade fees for major upgrades rather than being a subscription model. However that makes no difference as to whether or not I am a captive of the app; the inability to transparently export the application’s data is what locks me in.

  30. I disagree. Tidbits is a service and does not store or potentially lock up your data. I am a subscriber and am fine with that. If I choose not to subscribe the only thing in jeopardy is news and information.

  31. The reality is that in the real world, this will not happen. People like subscription services. It’s why Apple paid $3 billion for Beats when iTunes sales were flattening and streaming took off:

    Estimates suggest that Apple Music had 68 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2019, up by eight million from June that year.

    And why Apple rushed streaming video out into the wild:

    In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix had 69.97 million U.S. subscribers:

    Apple’s revenue from its subscription services exceeds Mac’s, and services keep growing:

    It’s also why Unilever paid $1 billion for what was then an unprofitable Dollar Shave Club (which my husband loves):

    No matter how many TidBITS readers decide to dump MS Ofice subscriptions or never sign up (like me), Microsoft will give weight to sales results such as this:


  32. I must not live in the real world. I don’t have people buying the latest and greatest tech for me. I can’t bill “clients” for my expenses. This all comes out of my pocket.

    I guess if people like subscription services, that’s why there’s no complaining about cable tv services and box rentals, phone carrier lock-ins, devices that can’t be repaired by the user without a contract, or countless other things that can’t be purchased, only rented.

    And they don’t mind if years later, after paying over time much more than an initial purchase price would have been for a product that met their needs for those years (with no guarantee of any upgrades, BTW), when they stop paying, the product won’t work at all, forever.

  33. No one is saying subscriptions are perfect. I think, as I’ve said before, that there’s a real problem with needing too many subscriptions—at some point, the monthly cost will be too high. Though I suppose that’s no different than people not being able to afford expensive apps in the old days—you just did without if you couldn’t afford it.

    But the fact that there are all sorts of subscriptions that people don’t like but still keep paying for is indication that subscriptions aren’t going away.

    The main reason most developers move to a subscription model is because they have to stay in business. It’s not good for users when the developers they rely on go bankrupt and stop development.

  34. ??? Straw man. Nobody said free markets would guarantee apps stay around forever. Fact of the matter is there were competitors to Aperture that offered competing products without a subscription model. And they’re still doing just fine. Aperture is totally unrelated to this discussion.

  35. Oh spare me. Nobody is talking about music or video. The discussion has from the very beginning been about software. A tool to perform a task. Not content, not TidBITS, not music, not video (both of which BTW Apple stills sells as one off). Has this pandemic somehow impaired folks’ ability to read? C’mon.

  36. Forever

    Asking it to last longer than 9 years is hardly forever.


    Someone having to move all of their data and knowledge to a competitor hardly seems an argument in your favor.

    as this pandemic somehow impaired folks’ ability to read ? C’mon.

    It would be nice to have this conversation without you throwing verbal jabs at people.

  37. Well, what I hear some people saying is, stop resisting, this is happening, resistance is futile, submit. And my answer to that is, get lost. If it’s subscription software I’m not buying. And I support everybody who stands up against this crap. Fortunately, there’s more than enough vendors (believe it or not, even MS) who are still offering a choice and we will vote with our money (or feet).

    And I’d argue it’s even worse for users when devs stop innovating as they get cozy with a steady stream of easy money coming in from folks who have been locked in.

  38. I really don’t feel like a loser. Just as an example, the cost of an MS Office subscription is cheaper than a subscription to Dropbox, but the Office subscription gives me a 1 TB online sync service (half of Dropbox but I still don’t fill it) as well as the office apps (and it’s still cheaper if I get the professional version that lets me share it with up to 5 more people. You can’t do that with a stand-alone license). It would be trivial to switch to a different app(s) that support Office’s file formats. 1Password could be purchased one-time with fewer features than the subscription offers me, but I can export my data to another format at any time. (In fact, I did just that when I switched from Lastpass - also a subscription - to 1Password a few years ago.)

    If you don’t like subscriptions, don’t buy them. For some applications, I like them, so I’ll keep buying the ones that I feel are valuable to me, so I’m not sure I want people trying to stop them from happening. Some apps I do buy still and pay for upgrades later rather than subscribe, but for me it depends on the app and the value to me.

  39. The discussion quickly evolved, as most discussions do, to include subscription software vs. one shot purchases. Music and Netflix are subscription services, and Apple has been very vocal about the growing importance of paid subscribers for its various services, including TV+ video, Music, iCloud and now games, to its status as the world’s most valuable company.

    Personally, I’m running a version of MS Office that’s from at least 2009. When I finally do upgrade my ancient MBP, I will making a one shot purchase of MS Office only because my antique version won’t run on it. I realize that I am in what is probably a vast minority of Office users, and expect that sometime in the next few years MS might give up on one shots.

  40. I paid over $1,500, not counting tax, for a full version of Adobe Creative Suite years ago, and when I do get a new Mac with an A chip, it will be useless. At best, I probably would have broken around even. But if they had subscription versions then as they do now, I would have had access to their entire type library, cloud storage, and other stuff. And I would have downloaded copies of my work before and after I flattened the files.

  41. The first time I remember hearing about software application subscriptions was when Adobe introduced that concept for their pro apps. Unfortunately, they botched some essential details.

    For example, I heard stories that their apps would try to validate their registration online, and if that validation failed, the app refused to launch. Want to work in Photoshop on a plane? Yeah, that’s too bad…

    Then again, there are companies that do subscriptions just right. These include Bohemian Coding, the makers of Sketch, a powerful professional app for screen design.

    When you purchase Sketch, you get a perpetual license for using the app. Updates and support are tied to an annual subscription model, though. If you’re happy with the version you purchased, you can continue to legally use it for as long as you want. The initial price (with one year’s worth of updates and support) is $99; annual updates cost $79.

    The app receives regular bug fixes and awesome new features; the support is rock-solid; and for an app that its target audience uses literally for hours and hours every day, it’s absurdly cheap.

    So, no, the problem is not the difference in how you pay for a piece of software. It’s about whether you get solid value for whatever you’re paying — regardless of whether that’s a lump sum or regular subscription fees.

  42. The cheap model that became the de facto standard for the iOS App Store is just horrible.

    Nail head, meet hammer.

    Basically every discussion about pricing that I’ve ever participated in, eventually comes down to this simple point: that most people feel that software and media are generally overpriced. And that is always the case, regardless of the exact price tag.

    Years ago, a German computer magazine argued that $0.99 for a legal music track from iTunes was just that little bit too much. Which, of course, countless hordes used to rationalize why they pirated music. Apple just priced it too high. Although no-one ever explained what exact price would make them switch from pirating to purchasing. Of course.

    These days, it’s beyond my comprehension to see folks complaining in the iOS App Store that a $5 game is overpriced, even though they admit to having spent hours and hours playing it. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Ever more people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

    The same thinking is found in some of the comments in this thread, alas, and I really wonder what the “average” user’s expectation is these days in terms of value for money — and whether people even remotely include in their considerations the cost that’s required to produce software and content.

  43. The aspect of data lock-in has nothing to do with the pricing model, but is all about support for popular file formats.

    If you use a text processor, and that application supports, say, .rtf or plain text export, you can always bring your data with you. And that applies to so many kinds of data formats.

    Consider an application that only supports a proprietary format. That application’s publisher goes belly-up, and eventually the app will no longer be compatible with your computer’s latest OS update. In that case, your data is locked-in, regardless of how you paid for it.

  44. I believe it is important that individuals do the research so that they can make an informed decision of which solutions are most effective, both on cost and usability, to meet their needs both at the present time and the future. No single solution is right for everyone. No one is suggesting you are a ‘loser’ just because purchase subscriptions. That said I urge you to consider the long term consequences of your subscription services, including long term costs, support services, timely updates, access to your data if the subscription expires or the company goes out of business, export formats that will support input into other desirable apps, internet costs and reliability, For me for my primary productivity App, LibreOffice in combination with the free version of OneDrive is my optimal solution. I can export to multiple formats; its costs, if I choose is a donation; my data is local on my drive, independent of my internet connection; sharing is a non-issue as the program is open source; and I can use OneDrive for backup as I find it more flexible that iCloud and I get more storage for free along with compatibility with OneNote which I find to be an incredibility productive tool for research. Additionally I can export my Libreoffice files in almost any conceivable format to allow other users I share them with to use their preferred app. I use a free password tool that stores files locally and shares among multiple devices and back it up invisibly to my free Dropbox account. A pretty much avoid Google Drive, while cost effective. I have privacy and security reservation about Google as a company. Additionally Apple restricts the use of OneNote with Safari. Using this paradigm, I always have access to all my files, even if the internet is down, my costs are minimal, and I am able keep a set of backups on the cloud in case my computer gets damaged or stole at no cost. This is the cost effective and flexible solution that works for me.

  45. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :+1:

    (Sorry, Adam, but I just had to…)

  46. What I meant was that from the standpoint of value and flexibility that users are losers from the perspective of the software company not that anyone is personally a loser.

  47. But in that case the original app running on my original system will remain to do what I originally paid for. It is entirely under my control. If I choose to update the system or when I choose to do so, etc. all that remains under my control. Subscription means I am forced to pay up on a routine basis just to keep doing what I did yesterday, irrespective of the fact that nothing on my system has changed or that I wanted nothing new of the app. One model allows me to keep doing something as long as I want. The other only allows that if I keep paying and paying and paying. That makes me unfree. I don’t like being unfree. And hence I will elect to not submit myself to that system.

  48. Although I wasn’t the OP of this topic, I feel somewhat responsible for the flood of replies here today. I was responding to the @jweil posting that they “refuse to use any subscription based products.” Note that my reply was specifically about service based software, not the software that most of today’s conversations have been about. Eventually, @jweil even came to understand that services like TidBITS, Netflix, etc doesn’t “lock up your data” and he’s fine with subscribing. Perhaps I could have been more clear, so for that I apologize for having taken up so much time from contributors and readers here.

  49. I think the worst generalization of a reply on this topic was “People like subscription services.“

  50. I think I married a subscription service.

  51. I’m also a big fan of the business model used by Momenta for Agenda, where they keep releasing features, and if you want to take advantage of the new ones, you have to pay. But once you’ve paid once, you get to keep access to those features forever. Bugs and core changes are just provided for free. That incentivizes them to come up with new features that will encourage people to pay, lets them distribute the base app for free, and creates a somewhat recurring revenue stream (I don’t know what their schedule is offhand, but I’d guess annually).

    Then there’s Panorama X, by Jim Rea. He has a subscription model of sorts, but with the twist that you only pay for months when you use the software. That makes it reasonable to have a powerful database around, but doesn’t penalize you if you use it relatively infrequently.

    Thank you. It’s to the point where I’m almost nostalgic for the days when software cost hundreds of dollars because then you could spend a lot of time choosing the app that was just right and then go all in on that one app, between training and usage and evangelism. When you bought in, you bought in in a big way. I don’t remember feeling as though that was a limitation—software was just an expense, like hardware.

  52. I agree with you @ace that the app store model is terrible. I don’t work for free so I don’t expect others too either. And I cannot stand this idea where you’re made to pay for “free” stuff by selling your privacy.

    I really do miss the shareware days. Lots of neat little tools and I always felt good paying for them. Talk about aligned interests! :slight_smile: Truth be told, I don’t really get why shareware vanished.

  53. This depends entirely on the nature of the subscription.

    Microsoft Office, for example, reverts to being a document viewer (you can open, view and print, but not create, edit or save) when the subscription expires.

    Adobe CS, on the other hand, shuts down altogether if you’re not paid up.

    I have no problem with the former. The latter is a horror.

    Yes, but ultimately, it depends on what the actual cost is.

    In my case, I switched Microsoft Office to a subscription model because it is installed on four computers at home. With a one-time-purchase license, it would cost $150-200 per computer ($600-800 for my household). With a subscription, I’m paying $85 per year (thanks to Costco discount pricing) for all four computers.

    The subscription doesn’t cost more until the seventh year, and it is almost certain that I will want to upgrade before that - which will be another $600-800 for non-subscription licenses at that time.

    This is in contrast with a more expensive subscription, like Adobe’s, which wants $10-53 per month (that is $120-$640 per year) for an individual license that is only good for one person on one computer. That’s far far more expensive and objectionable than Microsoft’s scheme.

  54. Alas, I think that it mostly just didn’t make enough money—too few people paid. There are some high-profile exceptions for utilities that were so popular that the developer was able to quit their day job and focus on it, but they’re very much the exceptions.

    I do think that the cost of developing an app has also gone up, at least if you want to do professional level UI and graphics. That makes the shareware model harder to maintain, since you need to recoup those development costs.

  55. I can agree with that. I guess it also depends if the app uses an open data format or at least a format other competing apps could import from (like to a certain degree Office). If not, you are just plain locked. Now I guess you can argue a user should never get themself locked in in the first place and I think there’s some merit to that even if in practice that’s easier said than done. There’s an iOS app I really enjoy on my iPhone and it’s clearly much better than any of its competitors, but I am trying really hard not to use it and populate it with data because it only offers a subscription plan (for real, unlimited use) and I see no way of getting out of that in the future except if I’m willing to lose all I put into it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly aware subscriptions can in many cases end up costing less, or at least not more than a one-time license.

    My concern here is that once companies get comfy with steady subscription cashflow coming in, they could stop selling one-offs (as some have already done). To me the freedom I get from buying a one-off license vs. getting locked in is worth a good chunk of money. So obviously that factors into my personal cost calculation. And obviously, others might disagree and assess their cost very different. I get that. My problem as you of course already guessed is that my future options will be influenced by how consumers evaluate subscription services today. And that makes me quite vocal in my opposition to subscriptions. As always, just my 2¢.

  56. Sad, but you’re probably right. And back in the day you still needed to get access to the software in the first place, like disks through a MUG. Nowadays everything is at everybody’s finger tips at any time with zero-effort download and install. I guess you can imagine that hasn’t exactly increased willingness to pay.

    I’m always a bit surprised to hear that because my impression (of course as a non-dev, hence not speaking from personal experience) is that the tools have become so much better. When I see Apple’s training videos for coding with Swift it seems like there is so much really powerful stuff you can do with such little effort. I recall a good friend of mine around '89 spending weeks just to put together a halfway decent GUI to what was essentially a glorified ODE solver. But I guess it’s also true that some software has just become that much more complex (like you mention, professional grade graphics). But honest to God, isn’t part of what’s changed also that you now see people who expect to be able to make a living off of an iPhone app, whereas back in the day many shareware developers had actual day jobs and their shareware was essentially a hobby (often albeit one that took up much of their time outside work) that brought in at best some beer money? While more expensive apps came from real software houses that employed dozens of real engineers dedicated to nothing but that pro product? Maybe we’ve also come to expect to get it all for nothing.

  57. To clarify, not support Adobe — with the photography creative cloud subscription, you get Lightroom (mobile, desktop and creative cloud versions) and Photoshop (ditto versions). The desktop versions can be installed on unlimited machines, but at any one time only authorized for two. If I cancel subscription, i can still use full desktop versions, including adding/editing photos. BUT, any photos stored/used/edited with Adobe’s creative cloud Versions will be deleted from Adobe cloud. Thus, many, including me, don’t bother at all with the CC versions of Lightroom/photoshop. I use Lightroom’s mobile camera (excellent raw capture) and editing, then simply transfer photos to desktop and my photo storage, catalogue, etc. But I do get unlimited support and updates, which to me, for $10/month total is worth it considering Adobe’s history of expensive upgrade charges.

  58. Actually it was the other way around; iTunes quickly silenced the impact of piracy:

    When Windows versions of iTunes and iPod were released, iTunes and iPod convinced many, many millions, even possibly billions, of PC users around the globe to think different about Apple hardware and software. It also helped Wall Street, the press, and financial services around the world to think that Apple had a healthy business model and was no longer on the path of imminent destruction. iTunes also contributed greatly to the successful introduction of iPhone.

    Remember Zune?

  59. Today’s news about Apple’s Services continues to show outstanding growth. Services’ revenue stream will be a big contributor to the likelihood of Apple soon becoming the world’s first 2 trillion $ company:

    “Ives said the company’s services business has outperformed regardless of the lockdowns and is on pace to top $60 billion in revenue for the September 2021 fiscal year. “AirPod sales have remained relatively robust,” and should approach 85 million units this year, versus 65 million last year, he said.

    The Wedbush analyst said Apple’s first virtual Worldwide Developers Conference, scheduled for June 22, should bring “a glimpse of iOS 14, with a number of mobile enhancements around virtual reality and other software updates over the coming year.”

    I think it’s logical that some people like services; $60 billion a year is not chump change. And Apple’s subscription Services has been generating more revenue than Macs.

  60. I think there is something to that. People believe they have the Next Great App idea, and they’re willing to devote $15K or more to development. In the shareware days, programmers mostly didn’t expect much, so it wasn’t a huge problem when they didn’t get it.

    But the other problem with people willing to invest lots of money into development is that it raises the bar, such that the small developer who’s just trying to make something neat can’t compete with the high production values of the app that’s attempting to become a real business. It’s sort of the problem with VC-backed companies with silly ideas making it hard for small self-funded companies to compete, even if they have a better product. Anything that raises the bar makes it harder for the small fish.

  61. Favorite small fish who is still swimming among the sharks - Alco Blom and Url Manager Pro. He has plunged into 64-bit territory, still only $35 for what to many is indispensable bookmark manager. (No, I’m not related to him, but he updates his app almost daily responding to feature suggestions and found bugs).

  62. You’re absolutely right, of course. And I do remember that there was a great spin about, “Is it worth not really knowing what you get in terms of quality and even malware, when you download pirated copies vs. paying just a buck for a perfectly legal track in great quality?”

    If you combine the two perspectives, though, you can see that there always were, and always will be, people who claim that whatever you offer them, is overpriced.

    As for the Zune: yup, remember that one, especially since its text/typography-based UI concept was the basis for the Windows Phone OS. I never really liked that UI, just because it was so text-heavy, but it sure was an interesting approach.

    In terms of amusing stories of promises not kept, I usually prefer pointing towards the PlaysForSure saga instead of Zune — the name is just too sweet to ignore, given the context. ;)

    DRM servers related to PlaysForSure were turned off August 31, 2008, meaning that any operating system upgrade or migration rendered all content unplayable.

  63. Since this topic has been resurrected, I’ll add a recent experience.

    A vendor whose application I’ve used for years recently started pushing people toward the subscription version. I priced out the subscription with buying the standalone product and updating it every year or two. I discovered that while the flat-rate annual subscription price seemed low, it couldn’t compete with buying the standalone and then updating it staring at the two year mark. The overall annual average cost for the standalone decreased every year becoming less costly than the flat-rate subscription. So I’m staying with the standalone product.

  64. I won’t have subscription software on my computer as a matter of principle. For me, the biggest issue is one of cost. What would it cost if all the software that I rely on on a regular basis was only available by subscription? No more open source, no more perpetual licenses. Could I afford to run a computer anymore?

    To answer this question I’ve tried to place an annual value on all the software that features in one of my regular workflows. As reference costs I’ve taken the annual subscription costs for four well know subscription apps/packages.

    • Adobe Creative Suite $734
    • Office 365 $74
    • 1Password $39
    • Ulysses $49

    Note that these prices are USD but based on the subscription rates in Europe (which I would have to pay), which are always higher (probably due to freight costs??).

    For each app in my list I’ve asked the question, if 1pw/Office365/Ulysses is really worth $x per annum then how much is this app worth? I’ve tended to compare utility apps with 1pw and writing productivity apps with one of the other packages. (Nothing got compared with CC—it’s really in a class of its own.)

    For each item on my list I have made a brief comment and then present the comparison. Values are rounded to the nearest dollar. Obviously this is very personal—some apps that are important to me would not be to someone else, and vice-versa. (It would be very interesting to see how the costs would stack up for other people too.)

    : Can’t live without it; use it all the time. At least Office365 * 1.5 => $111

    : When I need it I need it: 1 * 1pw $39 p.a.

    : 0.5 * 1pw = $20 p.a.

    : Yes, free apps would have a price too if everything were subscription: 1.5 * 1pw = $59 p.a.

    Carbon Copy Cloner
    : responsible for my daily backups so worth a lot: 2 * 1pw = $78 p.a.

    : at least as useful as 1pw; I’d be lost without it = $39 p.a.

    : Important but not everyday software 0.5 * 1pw = $20 p.a.

    : probably worth 0.5 * Ulyesses = $26 p.a.

    Default Folder
    : Can’t live without it, even though I’m normally not aware that it is there: 1.3 * 1pw = $51 p.a.

    : 1.2 * Office365 = $89 p.a.

    : Such a useful app sitting there all the time: 0.5 * Ulysses = $25 p.a.

    : this entry represents all web browsers in which I spend a lot more time than I ever did in office: Office365 * 1.5 = $111 p.a

    : wouldn’t pay a cent for it = $0

    Keyboard Maestro
    : A gem that’s easily worth as much as 1pw = $39 p.a.

    : not used very often: 0.2 * Office365 = $15 p.a.

    : another app I can’t live without: 1.5 * 1pw = $59 p.a.

    : essential whether Little Snitch or something at router level: 2 * 1pw = $78 p.a.

    : I don’t run any, but I do firewall well. Anti-virus software is the one category of software that I really do feel justifies the subscription model.

    Audio Highjack
    : 0.5 * 1pw = $20 p.a.

    : A good mail client is essential and Mail has ceased to be that for me. Worth at least 0.75 * Office365 = $56 p.a.

    : always on in the background: 0.5 * Ulysses = $25 p.a.

    MySQL viewer programme
    : Sequel Pro or similar. Not needed often but very important when it is: 0.5 * Ulysses = $25 p.a.

    : Up to version 7 this was worth easily 2 * 1pw = $78 p.a. (V.8 is worth $0)

    : I can’t find a suitable replacement and can’t face the thought of redoing 10,000+ edits. So happy that it still runs under High Sierra. Easily worth 1 * Office365 = $74 p.a.

    : My standard go to pdf viewer: 1 * 1pw = $39 p.a.

    Script Debugger
    : Important when I need it, but not in daily use 0.8 * 1pw = $31 p.a

    : I use this rather than Uylsses and since it suits my workflow much better 1.3 * Uylsses = $64 p.a.

    : made email fun again 0.8 * 1pw = $31 p.a.

    Spell Catcher
    : So old that I’m amazed it still works but happy because I can’t live without it. 2 * 1pw = $78 p.a.

    : self explanatory :slight_smile: 1.3 * 1pw = $51 p.a.

    : almost priceless; at least 1.5 * Office365 = $111 p.a.

    : 0.7 * Office365 = $52 p.a.

    : don’t you think a good finance app has to be worth at least twice as much as a password manager? = $78 p.a.

    MS Office
    : I’m still using the 2008 version, really except for Excel I only have it to open documents from other people. But the price on this subscription is set so I can’t decide what it would be worth to me = $74 p.a.

    Adobe Creative Suite
    : Sometimes I live in InDesign for weeks on end; other times hardly touch it. But I have so many archived documents (and ongoing projects) that I can’t be without it. And I have occasional need for Illustrator, PS or Acrobat. Subscription price is fixed by Adobe = $734 p.a.

    : Yes I do use this, but I don’t trust any programme that wants to upload all my passwords to the cloud so I stopped upgrading years ago when it was clear that was the direction they were moving. Reference subscription = $39 p.a.

    There are several other apps lurking in my system that I haven’t included since they aren’t part of any regular workflows and I could probably live without them. All up the total for what I’ve listed is $2520. Would I really want to be paying that much for software per year. The reality is that I couldn’t over the long term.

    The subscription model works well for companies that get in early and secure their share of the pie (Adobe). But if all software was subscription I’m sure that many people would be making do with less. It also works to the advantage of companies that have a practical monopoly for a particular genre of software.

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