Beware the Subscription Model

Apple is secretly encouraging paid app developers to switch to subscription – ldstephens

I’m disappointed to hear that Apple is encouraging developers to move to a subscription model. As I’ve written before, I think this will be the demise of many small developers.

Many users dislike subscriptions. If you don’t believe me just read the App Store reviews for some of the developers that have switched their app to a subscription. A good place to start would be Ulysses or Drafts 5.

Personally, I’m experiencing subscription fatigue. My subscriptions add up to around $1500 per year. Yes, this includes my Netflix, Hulu and Sling subscriptions. It also includes my internet subscription, the subscription for all that’s needed to operate this website, my email subscription at Fastmail, and the subscription to a few apps. I’m not interested in adding more subscriptions.

I love trying new apps. If all apps went to a subscription I would no longer be able to continue trying and writing about them.

For example, I have several writing apps. If they all went subscription I would have to select one and abandon the others. In this scenario, there will be one winner and several losers.

(Via ldstephens.net)

I already try to avoid any app that uses a subscription model. An app that solves specific problems in a way that works well for me and where I maintain control of my data is one for possible exception – but they are rare.

As mentioned I am pruning my subscriptions of all types. Drafts 5 will soon be another as I don’t use it enough to justify the expense. Google Drive, 1Password, The Atlantic (sadly, but I’m reconsidering), Audible (for DRM reasons), and Netflix (for timesuck reasons) all went on my financial chopping block. The two (!) Amazon Primes (Japan & US), Apple Music, LastPass, and the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers are up for review.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to get to a zero subscription point, but I will definitely keep them in check. As Google, Amazon, and Microsoft (among others, and to a lesser extent Apple) continue to push hard on the “digital assistant” front – something that interests me very little – jumping back into a F/OSS lifestyle seems not only wise but prudent.

To be clear, I want developers to be paid for their work. Even F/OSS developers will ask for donations of one kind or another. As I wrote I think commercial developers, independent or in the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) space, can work well without embracing the subscription model.

I’m no Luddite or neophyte, mind you. I simply value my freedom more than the ability to dim the house lights when I fire up a streamed movie from my couch.

On another tack, the rise of subscriptions should trigger more thought about data portability. Locking one’s data in a proprietary app requiring a subscription to access said data lacks foresight. However, application developers don’t often list how the data is stored or how one can get their data out if they chose to move.

Also on:

The Media’s Paywall Obsession Won’t Work for Most

The Media’s Paywall Obsession Won’t Work for Most:

Many of us will, therefore, only pay a monthly fee towards one or two publications that we find really valuable; and, for most of us, that’s probably a national broadsheet “paper of record” rather than a thin local edition. But the national papers of record can’t realistically cover all local news of relevance across an entire country. Also, I’ve focused on American papers here, but this is a massive problem in Canada as well, and around the world.

(Via Pixel Envy)

I’m no fan of the subscription model but I found the idea that GDPR might drive change interesting:

Perhaps new legislation and the reclamation of our privacy online will spur the creation of small, privacy-focused advertiser networks again, akin to the Deck Network or something like the Outline’s ad strategy. Perhaps we need more networks of bloggers, too, allowing readers to subscribe to several related websites at the same time, without creating barriers to readership with paywalls. Maybe there’s a third and fourth source of money beyond readers and advertisers — I’m not sure. But non-giant entities, whether web-only or in print, need a funding solution for the future that isn’t solely reliant upon massive traffic, Facebook referrals, or subscriptions.

Also on:

Subcription Victims

Ulysses, the popular macOS and iOS text editor, went to a subscription model. LastPass recently upped their monthly subscription price to $2/month, a 100% increase (among other things). 1Password, TextExpander, and a host of others have done the same.

I’m no fan of the subscription model for software – I think developers overvalue their efforts in many cases. I also understand that the other popular revenue models also suck. Apple does not make this any easier for developers or users.

I do not have an easy answer as I am not a developer. As a user, I am taking responsibility for the cost/value proposition each service (which software is becoming) offers to me. Part of the calculus is how much time and effort and enjoyment (or lack thereof) I will get leveraging another option.

Others take the victim approach to these announcements. In many cases I understand why. There is an increasing trend for revenue model changes happening without notice. Some companies do a poor job on their first stab taking care of existing customers. Others overcompensate for their existing users, alienating new users who think they are getting ripped off because they didn’t buy version 1 back in 2008 (or whenever).

David Sparks made the comment that “What [users] shouldn’t do is trash the app in review because you’re not happy with the business model.” I disagree. A developer’s or company’s behavior is relevant to the app review process as it exists today, especially in the Apple ecosystem. Many application developers act on negative comments in these reviews.

Now, were Apple and Google and Microsoft and other app store overlords to open up the app review process to categories such as technical, ownership, support, etc., my disagreement with Mr. Sparks would fall away. A more nuanced approach to feedback is needed in general. That is another post for another day.

I do agree with the fundamental fallacy of relying on negative app reviews for change. As a user, I recommend applying at least part of your righteous indignant energy toward something more positive for you.

I was in a 7 day cooling off period before jumping on the Ulysses bandwagon when the switch occurred. The initial cost for macOS and iOS before the change was a hurdle. In the new model, I can test it for two months for about $10 (as pointed out by Dr. Drang) before committing.

Fundamentally, anything only in the Apple ecosystem is a hard sell for me. I use and like using Windows 10, flaws and all, on my Surface Pro 4. I use my Nexus 6p running Android N almost as much as my iOS devices. If the application or service cannot run on at least one of those platforms, I have no need for it right now. 1Password and TextExpander are cross-platform, by the way, as are LastPass and iaWriter – two apps I am leaving.

By the way, I am doubling down on Emacs and org-mode. I picked them back up recently to help solve a few work related workflow issues. I get infinitely more flexibility with it and it is cross platform on everything but iOS. I learned I can capture and edit org-mode with Drafts.

And I like using/configuring/tweaking Emacs. Bonus.

Also on: