On Buying Jeans and App Subscriptions

It seems that increasingly, more software companies are moving to a subscription model, where instead of paying once to own the software (or app), you pay monthly, or annually, to keep using it at the latest features. Adobe was perhaps one of the first major companies to do it with Creative Cloud. Now we see it in WordPress plugins, and increasingly, iOS apps. Fantastical did it this year, and this week Deliveries announced they are moving to subscription.

But before I tell you why this is a good thing, I want to tell you about buying jeans.

You Don’t Buy a Pair of Jeans Once

There are lots of different types of jeans out there. Different cuts and fits, colors, and sizes, etc. When I find a pair of jeans that fit right, I buy a couple, and I wear them a lot.

Over time (days, months, years), those jeans wear down, maybe they get holes in them, or maybe they just don’t fit as well any more.

What do you think Levi would do if I wrote to them and demanded a new pair of jeans because the pair I bought and wore for a long time needed to be replaced?

They’d laugh at me and tell me to buy a new pair. You don’t buy a pair of jeans expecting them to last forever.

You don't buy a pair of jeans expecting it to last forever. Click To Tweet

Making Software is Harder than Making Jeans

Now think about each time you bought an app one time for $5, $10, or even $50. An app you used for months, or years, that brought some level of value to your life. Think about how often it’s updated.

I don’t want to undercut how hard it is to design clothes. I’ve never made a pair of jeans. Truth is, I can’t really make anything with my hands. But once they’re on the shelves, they either sell or they don’t. And if I had to guess, it’s a lot cheaper to make that pair of jeans, and the markup and much higher.

Software development is a grind. It requires a lot of man hours to design, code, and test. And then users have high expectations for that software to work perfectly. You have security updates, feature updates, and updates to ensure your software keeps working on whatever platform it’s designed for*.

* This is compounded when your software is cross-platform, which is why Apple has put a ton of effort into making it easy for developers to build once and push everywhere.

Think About the Expense of a One Time Purchase

Imagine you have a job: You need to make a pair of jeans and make sure they are wearable. Forever.

Now imagine your employer says, “100 people will wear these jeans, and we’ll pay you $25 for each person.” Hot dog! That’s $2500 for a single pair of jeans.

But remember, your job is to make sure they work, forever. Maybe Person #3 gets a rip. You need to patch it. 45 doesn’t know how to put on pants. You need to make documentation to show them how.

Now what’s fashionable changes. You need to update the jeans for everyone so they can wear them and still be en vogue.

That $2500 doesn’t look so great anymore.

$5 once for an app doesn't go very far. Click To Tweet

Subscriptions Make Sure Developers Can Work on the Apps You Love

It’s no simpler than that. If you love an app and it brings value to you, personally or professionally, you should want to keep supporting that developer. That’s the only way to make sure you’ll always have the app.

If you don’t love it enough to support development perhaps it’s not for you. There is likely some other app that’s free or a one time purchase. But I’ll tell you what:

  • My life is basically dictated by my calendar. Fantastical offers features Apple Calendar doesn’t. So I happily pay for it.
  • I order a lot of things online and I need to keep track of them. Easily. Deliveries gives me peace of mind that I know where the stuff I paid for is.
  • CARROT Weather, another subscription app, is the best weather app I’ve ever used. I want to make sure it sticks around, and weather apps are a tough business model.
  • I’m currently writing this blog post in Ulysses. It offers the least friction for me to write locally in Markdown and push it to WordPress. They continue to make the app better with every build. I know my subscription helps with that.

I’m not saying subscribe to every app you’ve ever used. You do have a choice. That choice is support continued development and get new features, or stop using it and find a cheaper alternative.

That unspoken contract goes both ways. If I ever feel my subscription money is just being taken and the software isn’t getting better, I’m out.

But just remember, before you get mad at the developer who makes the app you love, that they are people, and they are trying to make a living doing what they love.

Remember: Developers are people, trying to make a living doing what they love. Click To Tweet

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