Subscription or no subscription? That is not the question - Founder of iA Writer

Well, we never owned the software… or the music, the movie…

I’d have said no and asked you to leave - I hope you were nice to the staff!

That article was a very interesting read and carefully illustrates the dilemmas a developer has right now without hyperbole (unlike parts of this thread).

My take on all this is that Apple disrupted the software industry, and it’s still settling down. I also think that Apple has tried to shape things to benefit the consumer rather than developers, with one of the strategies being to enable indie developers.
(Obviously to Apple’s benefit too)

Now, I don’t think Apple has been entirely successful (overly gentle wording there) and the company’s relatively glacial speed is causing numerous problems.

I agree entirely with the conclusion that 30% forever is too high, paid upgrades should be possible, free trials too, and ideally a way to protect apps from “this cheap app is such a rip off” type reviews. Those last three are clearly in the consumer’s interests too.

With those things in place, perhaps only apps that really fit a subscription model would feel compelled to go that direction (maybe those with a tangible service, and those targeting businesses and hence setting high reliability and support standards for themselves).


Ah, Rob! I’d love to read the Court’s decision. My idea of a good time is to pick apart cases adjudicated in our courtrooms.

The developer draws up a contract and grants the customer “use” of the software that cannot be transferred to someone else. That’s all I want. It certainly doesn’t mean I can go on and market it to someone else or anything even remotely relating to that.

(The last time I transferred software I gave my friend Julie a floppy with Solitaire on it. I played it every day. She installed it and got a virus! She didn’t know what to do. So I pulled out a bunch of Mac For Dummies books and ¡voila! fixed her pretty new turquoise and white Mac!)

I cannot use the software in the sense of repackaging its ideas and selling it as my own in violation of intellectual property tenets.

And I certainly wasn’t referring to anything even remotely related to that. I “own” it in the sense that I can use it for as long as I like. I don’t see the customers violating the contracts at all but there are probably thousands of developers who are doing it. Ok, hundreds perhaps. And they are doing it to get rich quick. It infuriates the everliving daylights out of me so I just try to ignore them.

Someone here indicated that it wasn’t the subscription model per say that he didn’t care for but rather the outrageous prices. I can see where that could make sense.

I just downloaded yet another productivity app tonight. The UI is :two_hearts: lovely. But it’s $6 every three months. (I know, bad example, it could be worse.) For what? I know Things works a helluva lot better. I’m going to pay $18 per year for pretty colours! I’ll just get my trusty Apple :green_apple: Pencil out!

If you’re working, that might be peanuts. But if you’re retired? It adds up very fast.

I love apps so much I want to support all kinds of developers! But they won’t let me anymore.

I cannot buy a simple collage app without a subscription. I had a few but I downloaded more so I have no idea which ones I already “own”. I suppose I could look in the App Store records and figure it out.

There is NOTHING to these collage apps. Every single one I found had a subscription tied to it which infuriated the daylights out of me! I finally just used Procreate which is for artists and it’s an awesome app with a free manual in Books. $10! My collage looked far better than it would have using a template.

Same thing with coloring apps. They are $60 per year! Mindfulness? Omg!

If I like an app enough, I sometimes go back and buy other software from the same developer. Just to say “Hey, thanks!” There’s the tip jar. There are other price models. :wink::smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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I love about the fight for subscription or no subscription always fall into first-world country problem. I see subscription as our way to be able to have an equal footing with everyone as we have different options to choose from. We can use an app as cheaply as possible depending on our needs. Your project requires Adobe, you can get it for a month. Your client don’t need PSD files, I can just use Affinity Photo that I already owned.

Being in a 3rd world country and being paid less salary as people in the first world country—it’s expensive for us to buy license to software. This is why people in SEA, Russia and any other countries who can’t simply afford a Photoshop license go through piracy. But with subscription, it gives us an opportunity to have the latest tool available for less of the price. Given that this softwares are cheaper in the long run when you buy its license and be able to use it for years and years. We simply don’t have the funds to shell out $150-300 for a software when most junior designers in my country earns that salary in a month and sometimes less.

One thing to consider too is that iA is not just a software developer. They are a design consultant firm that doesn’t reply on iA Writer to keep their lights on. It’s a great showcase to their client what their agency can do and be able to reiterate their design philosophy. It’s a win-win really. Be able to show your clients of a successful product design.

With this pandemic and being unemployed. I saw the benefit of owning an app and subscribing to an app. I am thankful that I can do design work since I own Affinity suite of design apps. Subscription based apps also showed its merit as I can just get Setapp for a monthly basis and used the plethora of design apps in their roster.

I wish software developers can also offer cheaper prices for countries that can’t simply afford their apps. Until then, subscription-based app helped us get the software we need for less.


Well said and you’ve given a fresh perspective that I hadn’t considered!

I like subscriptions generally, however I think they need to be relatively low cost per month so as not to become significantly more expensive that purchasing the software. If developers prefer the constant payments rather than one-offs, then they should prove this by pricing the subscription around the cost of the lifecycle of the product (e.g. $100 for an app that might have a 3-year life-cycle would cost around $2.99 per month).

When apps start charging $5 and $10 per month, such as Omnifocus and Fantastical, things start getting a little silly (I’m not prepared to upwards of $190 for a fancy calendar app).

Finally, if an app needs to charge very large amounts of money for a subscription, then the only conclusion I can come to is that they need a lot of money per user to sustain development, which either means the product is extremely niche (and worth paying for), or not very popular (and you can find an equally good alternative for less money). I assume Omnifocus falls into the first bucket, and Fantastical into the latter.

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I read it as Android only, sadly. Apparently Android users don’t like to pay for anything, and so $5 a year is a very low bar/carrot/whatever

Since July, we offer our customers a choice between subscription and ownership for our Android customers. The initial results are encouraging.

I understood it a bit differently.

iA Writer is offering Android users a choice:

  • buy the app for 30 bucks or

  • subscribe for 5 bucks per month.

So, those users can decide freely what route to go. And that is what iAWriter thinks to be the best way.

iAWriter’s developers do not provide iOS users with the same options, you have to buy the app. Why? Well, they explain it.

iAWriter states that they make more money from users who buy the app upfront per se (although Apple takes higher fees).

Apple wants developers to offer subscriptions. If you don’t do it they will take 30% from your revenue (buying upfront) instead of 15% revenue (subscription). If you offer subscriptions, your app will be promoted on the App Store more likely. If not, you have to spend money on App Store Search Ads to get exposure. Subscription apps are being listed as free which is misleading and causes confusion, but they get exposure.

Apple loves subscriptions, but it is hard to move users from buying to subscribing because developers lose users in that process. And those users leave with a bang: anonymous ratings, bad reviews.

“(…) if you offer subscriptions, you get to keep 15% more of your revenue. 15% is about half of the profit a digital company makes, on average. We were ecstatic when we first heard about the lower revenue share. Then we observed what happens and we pictured the scenario asking for a subscription on our productivity tools and the excitement dropped week after week. We discussed it internally, up and down. We concluded that, if we offer subscriptions, we had to find a way to offer both ownership and subscription.”

And that can’t be done in the iOS App Store. At least, that is what I gather from their article.

As I said previously, I really like this blog post because it offers a nuanced explanation from a developer’s point of view why Apple’s App Store is flawed and why developers are scared. Why is iAWriter not criticizing Apple more openly? Well, “developers are scared”.

But, of course they can choose not to be on the App Store. Oh, wait! No, they cannot choose not to be there: it’s either the App Store or you do not sell anything to anybody with an iOS/iPadOS device. “Developers are scared.”


The key is, software should be a one-time thing. I’m not asking for new features, not asking for major updates. As long as the app doesn’t crash, I don’t care whether the dev continues to develop it. The argument that devs need money to continue developing is of no concern to me.

In order to provide a lot of software today devs must incur costs associated with backend servers, hosting data, etc. Very little software these days is software that runs entirely on your device. Ongoing costs, much like the constantly provided internet bill you pay, do add up and is something devs need to offset the costs of (either via higher initial purchase price, subscriptions, or the google/Facebook route of harvesting your data).

There was a time when software was prohibitively expensive and very few people could afford to buy much of it for their personal use.

Prior to Office 365 I owned one copy of MSO. I attended one of Microsoft’s regional kickoff events for Office 2000 and won a copy of the software. At that time the retail cost of Office Professional was $599 which in 2020 dollars would be $928. If you wanted to upgrade from Office 97 that was $309 ($479 today). This is why most people who used MSO at home “borrowed” a CD from the office to install at home. Those that weren’t comfortable pirating software used shareware or a much less expensive option.

The software available to us today is an unbelievable bargain compared to what was available in the past. If something like LumaFusion was available in those days it would have likely been so expensive that I would have had had to go through a couple levels of management to get approval to purchase it.

I admit I’m not a fan of subscriptions, but I do not blame developers for pricing their software at whatever level they choose. Much of the software we have available today, such as Reeder or Fantastical is written and maintained by one or two developers.

And because they now have a way to offer their software to the world, I have many more great products to choose from. And if I don’t like the price, I just don’t buy it.


Let me state that I agree with you, and believe what you say is true.
I’d add that (arguably) developing costs have decreased too.

It’s interesting to consider what makes a consumer feel they are seeing a benefit of the subscription. Based on reflecting, it seems that seeing frequent updates and new additions influences how I feel about the subscription. All the apps that I feel have benefit from a subscription model are great about communicating new changes. They also seem to be intune with how people are using their app and continue making useful changes. I wonder how common this expectation I have for new and better will influence development of apps.

Software subscriptions where, as a consumer, I feel the developers support the claim that they use the subscription to continue improving their app

  • Day One
  • Ulysses
  • Drafts
  • Fantastical

Software subs where I feel the app could be a single purchase and/or isn’t making progress to show the benefits of the subscription model. I probably see most of these apps as locking away features necessarily to require a sub. I’m actively looking for replacements.

  • Paste (debated on this one. It works so well and with very few issues. Syncing is fast)
  • Tile
  • Textexpander (promised great new features… Nope. Nothing that I noticed. I like their interface and I’m afraid of missing out on new updates)
  • Prizmo (cancelled)
  • Math Tango (cancelled)
  • Grocery (cancelled)
  • Bookends (cancelled)
  • Focus (cancelled)

Software companies I see as providing a service or I just have no choice and just need

  • Apple Music
  • Dropbox
  • Apple News
  • Netflix and all video streaming
  • Adobe
  • Office 365

Over time, consumers should become more sophisticated and evaluate subscriptions more on their usefulness or pleasure relative to the cost, and less on the perception that they are being updated, or that the developer has high costs.

Omg! I had NO idea! I knew Apple was actively pressuring developers to use subscriptions but they are really being held over a barrel!

Pardon my pontification! Wow!

Can you refer me to the article where you got your information, please? I’ve been reading about this off and on all day long and doing other things so I’m a bit disoriented. For some reason, I just now read your post.

I’m flabbergasted.

That certainly explains a lot of things although it doesn’t explain the outrageous prices so many of these developers of these apps are pushing for! (Unless the developers just want to get the hell out ASAP).

That flies in the face of Apple’s consumer friendliness that I thought they’ve always had which is one reason for my brand loyalty and my willingness to pay so much more to :green_apple: for decades.There are lots of us trusting souls out there!

But if this is true they are screwing everyone over ISO mega windfall profits.

[Incidentally they have made a mess showcasing various apps. I use to look forward to it every night.]

So in order to get a reasonably priced app I would have to go with Android? In order to have any sort of choice, I’d have to go with the Android?

Riddle me this. What sort of business practices is Apple practicing in China?

Please answer soon, Christian! Thanks.

Microsoft has been extremely aggressive with Office365 pricing - you can get a personal subscription containing Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook plus 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for under $60, or a six-person Family plan for $100 (with a 1Tb OneDrive storage for each family member). Given that iCloud by itself is $36 for 200Gb or $120 for 2Tb, Microsoft’s offer is a screaming bargain for the price.


I agree with @bowline Microsoft 365 subscription is really good value. My family has been enjoying it for a few years now.

iCloud subscription has a tax imposed for being in the apple ecosystem. And there is no solution for this. For example, having your photos synced using apple photos is easy as it does this in the background. For google photos, you need to launch the app every now and than. Its this sort of things that Apple does that annoys me as its chasing every dollar it can by ensuring alternatives are not that good by disadvantaging competitors.

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It is the blog post @MereCivilian has linked to (you can find the link in the first post of this topic).

Apart from that, Jason Snell, John Gruber, Rene Ritchie and others have talked and written about this topic (oh, boy, this will get me into trouble again :laughing:).

Just to be clear: I am happy with iOS and the apps that are available to me. I am also fine with the pricing structure (I do not think that “Android prices” or “free” are the way to go, a business has to be sustainable). If something is too expensive in my personal use case, I will not buy or subscribe. The stock apps are very good and they are a fantastic starting point. I am also not an opponent of subscriptions per se. I am sad about the way Apple is handling developers and how they are pushing what they think is right. I believe in “free” markets and in the ability for customers to choose what they prefer. And that can be achieved even if there is only one App Store. I like the protection the App Store provides when it comes down to malware and security threats. Apart from that, Apple really should let the developers operate freely instead of getting them tangled up in rules and even more rules that apparently have become so chaotic that even Apple’s reviewers do not seem to be able to keep up with them.

I do not know anything about Apple in China and, to be frank, I am just a tech enthusiast listening to podcasts and reading blogs. I would not consider myself as a person of too much knowledge in these matters. :slight_smile:

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exactly. Let’s do this instead.

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I agree, I just wanted to point out that developers do have non-negligible ongoing costs

… and ‘we’ can’t ‘do this’ for them. At best market forces will determine whether the payment option is sufficiently popular with users and profitable.