Apple Is Pushing Developers Toward Subscriptions

I paid over $1,500, not counting tax, for a full version of Adobe Creative Suite years ago, and when I do get a new Mac with an A chip, it will be useless. At best, I probably would have broken around even. But if they had subscription versions then as they do now, I would have had access to their entire type library, cloud storage, and other stuff. And I would have downloaded copies of my work before and after I flattened the files.

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The first time I remember hearing about software application subscriptions was when Adobe introduced that concept for their pro apps. Unfortunately, they botched some essential details.

For example, I heard stories that their apps would try to validate their registration online, and if that validation failed, the app refused to launch. Want to work in Photoshop on a plane? Yeah, that’s too bad…

Then again, there are companies that do subscriptions just right. These include Bohemian Coding, the makers of Sketch, a powerful professional app for screen design.

When you purchase Sketch, you get a perpetual license for using the app. Updates and support are tied to an annual subscription model, though. If you’re happy with the version you purchased, you can continue to legally use it for as long as you want. The initial price (with one year’s worth of updates and support) is $99; annual updates cost $79.

The app receives regular bug fixes and awesome new features; the support is rock-solid; and for an app that its target audience uses literally for hours and hours every day, it’s absurdly cheap.

So, no, the problem is not the difference in how you pay for a piece of software. It’s about whether you get solid value for whatever you’re paying — regardless of whether that’s a lump sum or regular subscription fees.

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The cheap model that became the de facto standard for the iOS App Store is just horrible.

Nail head, meet hammer.

Basically every discussion about pricing that I’ve ever participated in, eventually comes down to this simple point: that most people feel that software and media are generally overpriced. And that is always the case, regardless of the exact price tag.

Years ago, a German computer magazine argued that $0.99 for a legal music track from iTunes was just that little bit too much. Which, of course, countless hordes used to rationalize why they pirated music. Apple just priced it too high. Although no-one ever explained what exact price would make them switch from pirating to purchasing. Of course.

These days, it’s beyond my comprehension to see folks complaining in the iOS App Store that a $5 game is overpriced, even though they admit to having spent hours and hours playing it. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Ever more people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

The same thinking is found in some of the comments in this thread, alas, and I really wonder what the “average” user’s expectation is these days in terms of value for money — and whether people even remotely include in their considerations the cost that’s required to produce software and content.


The aspect of data lock-in has nothing to do with the pricing model, but is all about support for popular file formats.

If you use a text processor, and that application supports, say, .rtf or plain text export, you can always bring your data with you. And that applies to so many kinds of data formats.

Consider an application that only supports a proprietary format. That application’s publisher goes belly-up, and eventually the app will no longer be compatible with your computer’s latest OS update. In that case, your data is locked-in, regardless of how you paid for it.


I believe it is important that individuals do the research so that they can make an informed decision of which solutions are most effective, both on cost and usability, to meet their needs both at the present time and the future. No single solution is right for everyone. No one is suggesting you are a ‘loser’ just because purchase subscriptions. That said I urge you to consider the long term consequences of your subscription services, including long term costs, support services, timely updates, access to your data if the subscription expires or the company goes out of business, export formats that will support input into other desirable apps, internet costs and reliability, For me for my primary productivity App, LibreOffice in combination with the free version of OneDrive is my optimal solution. I can export to multiple formats; its costs, if I choose is a donation; my data is local on my drive, independent of my internet connection; sharing is a non-issue as the program is open source; and I can use OneDrive for backup as I find it more flexible that iCloud and I get more storage for free along with compatibility with OneNote which I find to be an incredibility productive tool for research. Additionally I can export my Libreoffice files in almost any conceivable format to allow other users I share them with to use their preferred app. I use a free password tool that stores files locally and shares among multiple devices and back it up invisibly to my free Dropbox account. A pretty much avoid Google Drive, while cost effective. I have privacy and security reservation about Google as a company. Additionally Apple restricts the use of OneNote with Safari. Using this paradigm, I always have access to all my files, even if the internet is down, my costs are minimal, and I am able keep a set of backups on the cloud in case my computer gets damaged or stole at no cost. This is the cost effective and flexible solution that works for me.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! :+1:

(Sorry, Adam, but I just had to…)

What I meant was that from the standpoint of value and flexibility that users are losers from the perspective of the software company not that anyone is personally a loser.

But in that case the original app running on my original system will remain to do what I originally paid for. It is entirely under my control. If I choose to update the system or when I choose to do so, etc. all that remains under my control. Subscription means I am forced to pay up on a routine basis just to keep doing what I did yesterday, irrespective of the fact that nothing on my system has changed or that I wanted nothing new of the app. One model allows me to keep doing something as long as I want. The other only allows that if I keep paying and paying and paying. That makes me unfree. I don’t like being unfree. And hence I will elect to not submit myself to that system.

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Although I wasn’t the OP of this topic, I feel somewhat responsible for the flood of replies here today. I was responding to the @jweil posting that they “refuse to use any subscription based products.” Note that my reply was specifically about service based software, not the software that most of today’s conversations have been about. Eventually, @jweil even came to understand that services like TidBITS, Netflix, etc doesn’t “lock up your data” and he’s fine with subscribing. Perhaps I could have been more clear, so for that I apologize for having taken up so much time from contributors and readers here.

I think the worst generalization of a reply on this topic was “People like subscription services.“

I think I married a subscription service.

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I’m also a big fan of the business model used by Momenta for Agenda, where they keep releasing features, and if you want to take advantage of the new ones, you have to pay. But once you’ve paid once, you get to keep access to those features forever. Bugs and core changes are just provided for free. That incentivizes them to come up with new features that will encourage people to pay, lets them distribute the base app for free, and creates a somewhat recurring revenue stream (I don’t know what their schedule is offhand, but I’d guess annually).

Then there’s Panorama X, by Jim Rea. He has a subscription model of sorts, but with the twist that you only pay for months when you use the software. That makes it reasonable to have a powerful database around, but doesn’t penalize you if you use it relatively infrequently.

Thank you. It’s to the point where I’m almost nostalgic for the days when software cost hundreds of dollars because then you could spend a lot of time choosing the app that was just right and then go all in on that one app, between training and usage and evangelism. When you bought in, you bought in in a big way. I don’t remember feeling as though that was a limitation—software was just an expense, like hardware.

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I agree with you @ace that the app store model is terrible. I don’t work for free so I don’t expect others too either. And I cannot stand this idea where you’re made to pay for “free” stuff by selling your privacy.

I really do miss the shareware days. Lots of neat little tools and I always felt good paying for them. Talk about aligned interests! :slight_smile: Truth be told, I don’t really get why shareware vanished.

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This depends entirely on the nature of the subscription.

Microsoft Office, for example, reverts to being a document viewer (you can open, view and print, but not create, edit or save) when the subscription expires.

Adobe CS, on the other hand, shuts down altogether if you’re not paid up.

I have no problem with the former. The latter is a horror.

Yes, but ultimately, it depends on what the actual cost is.

In my case, I switched Microsoft Office to a subscription model because it is installed on four computers at home. With a one-time-purchase license, it would cost $150-200 per computer ($600-800 for my household). With a subscription, I’m paying $85 per year (thanks to Costco discount pricing) for all four computers.

The subscription doesn’t cost more until the seventh year, and it is almost certain that I will want to upgrade before that - which will be another $600-800 for non-subscription licenses at that time.

This is in contrast with a more expensive subscription, like Adobe’s, which wants $10-53 per month (that is $120-$640 per year) for an individual license that is only good for one person on one computer. That’s far far more expensive and objectionable than Microsoft’s scheme.

Alas, I think that it mostly just didn’t make enough money—too few people paid. There are some high-profile exceptions for utilities that were so popular that the developer was able to quit their day job and focus on it, but they’re very much the exceptions.

I do think that the cost of developing an app has also gone up, at least if you want to do professional level UI and graphics. That makes the shareware model harder to maintain, since you need to recoup those development costs.

I can agree with that. I guess it also depends if the app uses an open data format or at least a format other competing apps could import from (like to a certain degree Office). If not, you are just plain locked. Now I guess you can argue a user should never get themself locked in in the first place and I think there’s some merit to that even if in practice that’s easier said than done. There’s an iOS app I really enjoy on my iPhone and it’s clearly much better than any of its competitors, but I am trying really hard not to use it and populate it with data because it only offers a subscription plan (for real, unlimited use) and I see no way of getting out of that in the future except if I’m willing to lose all I put into it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly aware subscriptions can in many cases end up costing less, or at least not more than a one-time license.

My concern here is that once companies get comfy with steady subscription cashflow coming in, they could stop selling one-offs (as some have already done). To me the freedom I get from buying a one-off license vs. getting locked in is worth a good chunk of money. So obviously that factors into my personal cost calculation. And obviously, others might disagree and assess their cost very different. I get that. My problem as you of course already guessed is that my future options will be influenced by how consumers evaluate subscription services today. And that makes me quite vocal in my opposition to subscriptions. As always, just my 2¢.

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Sad, but you’re probably right. And back in the day you still needed to get access to the software in the first place, like disks through a MUG. Nowadays everything is at everybody’s finger tips at any time with zero-effort download and install. I guess you can imagine that hasn’t exactly increased willingness to pay.

I’m always a bit surprised to hear that because my impression (of course as a non-dev, hence not speaking from personal experience) is that the tools have become so much better. When I see Apple’s training videos for coding with Swift it seems like there is so much really powerful stuff you can do with such little effort. I recall a good friend of mine around '89 spending weeks just to put together a halfway decent GUI to what was essentially a glorified ODE solver. But I guess it’s also true that some software has just become that much more complex (like you mention, professional grade graphics). But honest to God, isn’t part of what’s changed also that you now see people who expect to be able to make a living off of an iPhone app, whereas back in the day many shareware developers had actual day jobs and their shareware was essentially a hobby (often albeit one that took up much of their time outside work) that brought in at best some beer money? While more expensive apps came from real software houses that employed dozens of real engineers dedicated to nothing but that pro product? Maybe we’ve also come to expect to get it all for nothing.

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To clarify, not support Adobe — with the photography creative cloud subscription, you get Lightroom (mobile, desktop and creative cloud versions) and Photoshop (ditto versions). The desktop versions can be installed on unlimited machines, but at any one time only authorized for two. If I cancel subscription, i can still use full desktop versions, including adding/editing photos. BUT, any photos stored/used/edited with Adobe’s creative cloud Versions will be deleted from Adobe cloud. Thus, many, including me, don’t bother at all with the CC versions of Lightroom/photoshop. I use Lightroom’s mobile camera (excellent raw capture) and editing, then simply transfer photos to desktop and my photo storage, catalogue, etc. But I do get unlimited support and updates, which to me, for $10/month total is worth it considering Adobe’s history of expensive upgrade charges.

Actually it was the other way around; iTunes quickly silenced the impact of piracy:

When Windows versions of iTunes and iPod were released, iTunes and iPod convinced many, many millions, even possibly billions, of PC users around the globe to think different about Apple hardware and software. It also helped Wall Street, the press, and financial services around the world to think that Apple had a healthy business model and was no longer on the path of imminent destruction. iTunes also contributed greatly to the successful introduction of iPhone.

Remember Zune?

Today’s news about Apple’s Services continues to show outstanding growth. Services’ revenue stream will be a big contributor to the likelihood of Apple soon becoming the world’s first 2 trillion $ company:

“Ives said the company’s services business has outperformed regardless of the lockdowns and is on pace to top $60 billion in revenue for the September 2021 fiscal year. “AirPod sales have remained relatively robust,” and should approach 85 million units this year, versus 65 million last year, he said.

The Wedbush analyst said Apple’s first virtual Worldwide Developers Conference, scheduled for June 22, should bring “a glimpse of iOS 14, with a number of mobile enhancements around virtual reality and other software updates over the coming year.”

I think it’s logical that some people like services; $60 billion a year is not chump change. And Apple’s subscription Services has been generating more revenue than Macs.