Subscription Pricing Isn't as Evil as You Think It Is

With Smile’s announcement yesterday came a new wave of anti-subscription sentiment when it comes to paying for software. Frankly, I think that sentiment is pretty short-sighted. I would also posit that most people who are complaining about a change to the subscription model are folks who avoid paying for upgrades until absolutely necessary, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just important to qualify where the negative sentiment comes from.

I think another, perhaps larger group are folks who aren’t happy about the net increase in price of Smile’s TextExpander with the new subscription model. Depending upon how you do the math, it’s reasonable to presume that the new version of TextExpander will cost you double what you paid before without offering you any new features that you care about…yet. And that’s a fair gripe.

But let’s not vilify the entire concept of subscription pricing for software in the process of complaining about these other things that bother us. Subscription pricing can be very, very good for consumers. For one, recurring revenue might just be the thing that keeps your favorite app alive. Yes, it might keep your favorite software developer alive—or at least eating—too, but let’s focus on what’s best for you, the user.

The biggest benefit I see is that subscription pricing allows you, the user, to get new features the very moment they are ready for you. If you’re paying only for occasional upgrades then developers must hold back features and bundle them together in order to create a compelling reason for you to pay again. With subscription pricing, developers have to compel you to continue paying regularly, and that means rolling out new features regularly. If they ignore one app for too long people can simply stop paying for it. Suddenly that developer is far more incentivized to keep you happy with both new features and stellar support.

How again is this bad for consumers? What is it about this that you don’t like?

Oh yes, the recurring payments. I get that, but again, instead it's better to look at the overall out-of-pocket cost for, say, a year (or two) of using the software. In the case of TextExpander, that probably just doubled for you. So yes, you have a decision to make about whether or not the price increase is worth it.

Remember, though, Smile won’t be getting all of that money from you at once if you choose monthly payments. That means you’re in the driver’s seat on this one. If they want to double the price, make them double the value for you. They’ve just moved to a model that gives you the power to say, “No thanks,” at any time. They could have simply offered TextExpander 6 for double the price. Would we be having a different conversation in that case?