Subscriptions and status quo thinking

Just by writing this post, I’m going to make some people mad and other people roll their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears, I already know it. As far as a lot of people in the Apple community are concerned, the discussion about the subscription model for apps is done, it’s been decided, and now it’s the accepted way forward.

I don’t agree, I’ve detailed why in the past, and I still hold the same view. Subscriptions ARE great for certain services and apps. But they’re not great for most apps and many services, and it’s only the fact that the developers convince people they’re doing them an honor by tricking them into forgetting that a subscription is a bill that it works.

Subscriptions always benefit the seller, assuming enough people are willing to pay. Subscriptions sometimes benefit the buyer.

If you say what I just said in the preceding paragraph, you will get attitude from people insinuating that you hate developers and you’re stupid for not understanding that a subscription is a feature, and you should always be glad when an app wants you to pay monthly or annually for the rest of your life until you die. That bothers me more than the actual topic itself — the notion that this is The True and Holy Way That Shall Not Be Questioned.

Give me a break, guys. This isn’t a moral issue. It’s just a discussion about capitalism, a man-made construct that’s no more sacred than what kind of music you prefer. Of course it should be questioned.

So I was really glad to hear James Thomson, creator of Pcalc, on App Stories podcast recently talking about this very thing. James has been selling his product for 25 years, across both Mac and iOS devices. That’s a long time. And he’ll be the first to say that a subscription model doesn’t fit for his product, and it doesn’t fit for most products. The reason I know he’ll be the first to say it is that he did say it, on that very podcast episode:

With the App Store, the upgrade pricing is something that developers constantly talk about, and I think that would be a good thing. I don’t want to go down the subscription route. As you’ve said, it doesn’t really seem to fit for most developers.

And also the thing with subscriptions is, it’s a bit like websites. People are happy to, “I’m gonna support maybe 1, 2, 3 websites that I really like and am going to subscribe.” But once it’s like every website is asking that, then it becomes harder. The amount of money that people want to spend is going to be the same. And I think the same is true for apps. If you have a handful of apps that you’re happy to support that way, that’s fine. But if you have 100 apps on your phone, and they’re all asking for a subscription, I just don’t think it’s going to work.

You can hear the segment in which John Voorhees and James Thomson talk about subscription pricing here:

But really, just listen to the entire episode. James Thomson is amazing, as is his product Pcalc. I have it on the Mac and on my iPhone, and I use it daily.

You can find the App Stories interview with James Thomson here.