The “cash cow” model for apps

Drew McCormack has an article on Medium from January 15, 2018 in which he explains the rationale behind the somewhat unorthodox purchase options for the Mac/iOS note-taking app he helped create, called Agenda.

It’s a hybrid model that is related to, but not the same as the dreaded subscription model. Even more now than before, we are seeing signs of subscription fatigue from users–something that must be weighing on the minds of Apple’s executives as they get ready to unveil multiple new subscription services at their event tomorrow. McCormack cites the example of Ulysses, pointing out how people have gleefully torpedoed the average rating for the app by one-starring it solely for switching to a subscription model.

And I think that’s valid. It is and should be a dealbreaker. Ulysses’s devs may go on about how it only costs the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee per month, but their subscription doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s one of many apps to now demand a subscription simply to use it. The subscriptions add up and eventually the user will say, “No more” and may even start cutting back. In the case of Ulysses, there are plenty of other writing apps out there that do not charge a subscription fee for use. (Note: As I’ve also reported, I finally gave in and reluctantly subscribed to Ulysses, but only after holding out for 18 months. And my loyalty will only last until I find a better non-subscription writing app.)

This leads into what Agenda is doing differently, and it’s an approach I really like, and hope that other developers will adopt it (maybe some have–it’s been over a year since the blog post was written).

Agenda is free to use–there are no ads, no up-front costs, no subscription. There are, however, a set of premium features that require in-app purchase. This purchase gives you permanent access to the premium features, along with any added over the next 12 months. You can keep using this version of Agenda forever and never pay again. If a new premium feature or set of features comes out after the 12 months has lapsed, you make the same in-app purchase and get those features and any others added for another 12 months, again keeping them permanently.

My only quibble is the actual price–$35 is not a ton of money, but it does seem expensive for a note-taking app. Also, the Mac and iOS versions must be purchased separately.

Still, I think this is an excellent way to avoid subscriptions, while still allowing for an ongoing stream of revenue for the developers, and I’d like to see it adopted more widely.

Maybe if Ulysses switched over to this model they would finally rid themselves of the plague of the 1-star reviews.

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