An app quandaryComments

I feel as though a number of things are coming to a head.

There has been some great discussion over the past few days around subscription pricing for apps as opposed to services, which we're all used to.

Discussion and emotion.

I can see the argument from both sides as to whether upgrade pricing or subscription is better (it's not always going to be the same) but, for me, a single monthly payment to get the same app on all devices made a lot of sense, especially with my current usage patterns.

The big question being "is it worth it?"

That's the value proposition we can only answer on an individual basis.

There's no argument that subscription pricing is not sustainable if it becomes the dominant business model. There are only so many monthly payments people will stomach and the app economy will become infinitely more competitive should we charge headlong in that direction.

Consumers will be far more selective in their choices and, potentially, purchase considerably fewer apps as a result.

From the other extreme, developers equally cannot sustain a model where, to attract a larger user base, pricing is a race to the bottom and there is no ongoing income once the market has been saturated.

Individual apps, however, are only part of my personal quandary.

I love Ulysses (I'm writing this post using it) but it is not perfect, for me.

As we saw yesterday, it doesn't support features I'd like to use from Markdown Extra or the addition of values to custom fields. Both "shortcomings" cause me to take extra steps when publishing certain types of post.

I enclose shortcomings in quotes because I am an edge case and these problems are specific to me. Would I like it if this functionality were added? Of course! I'd be very happy, but it is not cost effective to meet individual wants ahead of the needs of the wider user base.

Drafts allows me to type Markdown Extra syntax, even if it doesn't understand it, but needs me to take extra steps in other directions. It also requires something else to actually do the posting - in my case this is Workflow.

And we all know the concerns surrounding that since being acquired by Apple.

Just to complicate matters even further, Greg (from Agile Tortoise) has said that the next version of Drafts will also move to a subscription model, albeit cheaper than Ulysses and with different tiers.

So I end up in a position where there is no perfect solution to my needs and I either pay for two incomplete workflows (no pun intended) or cut my loses, choosing one and working around the issues.

This is just my example but I'm sure there are others in similar situations with other apps who will be forced into choices simply because they cannot justify a glut of monthly subscriptions.

Developers will find it harder to fill the gaps in order to gain or retain customers and I feel that upfront cost versus subscription pricing will become as much a factor in purchase choice (and, by logical extension, marketing) as app functionality.

An app quandary

Making the switchComments

The Soulmen announced yesterday that they were switching to a subscription only model for one of my favourite apps: Ulysses.

From what I've seen the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Subscriptions are de rigueur for services but I have been largely dubious about them for software.

Max Seelemen wrote a very thorough and thought-provoking piece on Medium giving a good background into the decision for them to make the switch. He puts forward a very compelling argument.

He writes that the notion of a one-time purchase is a hangover from the days when you bought software in a box; he's right!

The way software is developed, distributed and updated has changed dramatically and the business models attached to it need to adapt to those changes.

Having previously bought the app for iOS (and struggling with that decision) I never felt that I could justify the significantly higher cost to re-purchase it on the Mac, based on my usage.

A low monthly cost (covering all my Apple devices in one subscription) removes that initial barrier and makes the app far more affordable.

So, last night, I made the switch, downloaded the new version from the App Store (on both the iPhone and MacBook) and immediately set up my subscription.

Making the switch

There's been a bit of talk about blogrolls instigated by Dave Winer (who else) and most recently Richard MacManus who is indiewebifying his personal site.

As you'll know, if you've been reading this for a while, I have taken a different approach and have a directory of people that have interacted with this site via webmentions - both blogs and accounts.

Colin Devroe has been considering a blogroll but finds "linking to individual posts with some context provides more value than just a list of URLs."

I can see his point.

Part of the problem with people based following models on social networks is that you follow the whole person so see everything they post whether it is relevant to you or not. There is no filtering system.

Following blogs has the same issue, when you subscribe to a site's RSS feed you get everything unless it is category specific. Category feeds, however, have the problem in reverse - you might miss out on posts you would normally want to read.

But, as Richard says, a blogroll wasn't always just an isolated list of URLs. It was often accompanied by an OPML file allowing you to easily follow each of the blogs within it in your feed reader of choice.

It's then a very personal decision regarding the value gleaned from each subscription as they whether to keep it.

The growth of social and shuttering of Google Reader combined into a perfect storm with many eschewing feed readers, instead choosing to get their updates via Twitter or Facebook. That's fine if you're always on but the more casual social user will miss a lot.

Recently, aligned with the push for the open and indie webs, there seems to have been a resurgence in subscriptions via RSS. It also seems that new feed reader software is being developed and released on a reasonably regular basis.

The passion is returning.

Perhaps it's time for blogrolls and OPML files to make a comeback too.