Subscription Blues

Trecento” comments on Michael Tsai’s site:

When developers switch to subscription models, they are putting themselves in the same category as all the other things that send me a bill every month. Comcast. Verizon. The mortgage company. Netflix. Car insurance. Other insurance. Do I enjoy paying those people every month? (No.) Do I have good feelings about the quality of service they provide? (No.) Do I need to have another thing hitting my monthly paycheck, that I have to spend some mental overhead on keeping track of or evaluating the usefulness of? (No!)

Absolutely right, but there are some things that one might feel good about paying for month after month. I subscribe to two newspapers, and I’m very happy to send both my money every month. A subscriber to MacStories, NPR, or a Patreon member — for example — might also feel pretty good about supporting their favourite people and organizations.

But that good feeling doesn’t seem to translate directly for app developers. I had this thought last night, during a discussion on Twitter I had with Jonathan Joelson. I’m very happy paying $10 for a new version of Tweetbot, but I wouldn’t feel as happy paying $1 or $2 per month for it. Likewise, the latest version of Transmit was an instant purchase for me, but I would have to think harder about sending Panic a few dollars per month to use it.

I think there are a few reasons for that. I think Trecento is right — that it becomes yet another monthly bill. But I think there’s something else, too, as Stuart Breckenridge points out:

However, I also believe that people are wary of subscriptions because they don’t know what will happen at the end of their subscription period.

I know what happens when I stop paying my Apple Music bill: I don’t have access to Apple Music. I know what happens when I stop paying my ISP’s bill, too, for that matter, or my rent. So I would expect the same thing to happen with software, and that’s where things become a harder sell. I don’t think I want to feel like I’m renting an app. A service, sure; but an app? No.

See Also: Oluseyi Sonaiya’s piece from 2013, and Riccardo Mori’s piece from just after App Store changes were announced last June.