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Author Topic: Why subscription-models for software suck  (Read 5246 times)
zridling
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« on: March 27, 2006, 10:52:13 PM »

I've ranted about this in other places, but I truly hate the idea of subscription-based licensing. I'm all for programmers getting paid, but the subscription model tends to force developers to insert frivolous and superfluous features into their programs — look no further than Microsoft Word — rather than just developing the program. Sure, some years development is thin; others it's fast and furious, all of which I'm willing to pay for when the program is made better, not on some arbitrary 1-year or 2-year model. Ah, it just bugs me.
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moerl
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« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2006, 12:01:44 AM »

MS Word is subscription based? Huh.. I thought subscription means having to renew on a yearly basis, or two years or whatever. I don't know that to be the case with any MS Office products. Still, I agree with you. Subscriptions suck. I'm cool with the traditional pay for one version-possibly pay for future upgrades-model. I mean, if I buy any version 3.xx of something, then it's ok if I'm expected to pay a small update fee for 4.xx.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2006, 02:58:50 AM »

I think MS have been pushing subscription model licenses in the commercial world.

Actually in practice a lot of software is effectively subscription based these days - either that or you can't even download bug fixes. Most shareware allows updates for a limited period - it is getting much rarer to get 'lifetime updates' even when we aren't talking about upgrades.
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moerl
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« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2006, 03:03:29 AM »

I think MS have been pushing subscription model licenses in the commercial world.

Actually in practice a lot of software is effectively subscription based these days - either that or you can't even download bug fixes. Most shareware allows updates for a limited period - it is getting much rarer to get 'lifetime updates' even when we aren't talking about upgrades.
Though I agree that lifetime licenses are the nicest way of buying software.. it's far from the most profitable way for a software maker. That's why there's less of that, and in essence I see nothing wrong in thinking that way. With a lifetime license, you literally give away your current work and all that follows it, which is VERY generous.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2006, 03:09:40 AM »

Not really - life time updates (ie. bug fixes, making it work properly now, fixing security issues etc) is not the same as lifetime upgrades where you get new functionality.

I realise that lifetime updates is probably impossible (who'd want to be maintaining or using version 1 of a utility written for Windows 3.1 now) but it is becoming increasingly common for software to be sold without the ability to get updates at all without some sort of subscription, or extremely time limited updates.

Actually for the individual user I think MS have got it about right wrt updating software - they basically supply patches for about 5 years for each product (loads of people still use Office 2000/Windows 2000 and still get security updates/patches/service packs for free and they are products that are about 6 or 7 years old now).
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moerl
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« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2006, 03:24:11 AM »

I don't know if we understood each other. Under lifetime licensing I understand the selling of any version and then providing updates forever, for free. For example, if you buy something at version 3.xx, updates to any subsequent version will be free. Is that what you meant, or something else?
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2006, 06:27:46 AM »

Not really -- depending on the company/developer there is a difference between upgrade and update.

For example ... JGSoft produce EditPad Pro. When you buy EdirPad Pro version 5 from them you get unlimited updates as long as version 5 is being developed but if you want to move up to version 6 when it released you buy an upgrade. In JGSoft's case this is reasonable value for money as they don't have an automatic version bump every year. Lots of companies use this model - MS Office is a product that works in this way, and older versions are support for years so it is reasonable.

Some companies work on a free lifetime upgrade policy (WinZip used to be like that until the company sold out and the policy was changed). This is great for users but perhaps a little unreasonable as it reduces any income from current customers.

However, increasingly companies are working on new models:

1) Buy a subscription to get updates - ie. you buy a package and so long as you have a valid additional 'subscription' you can download updates (eg. most antivirus and firewall companies use this model and usually the first 12 months subscription in the price).

2) Some companies are not providing free updates/bug fixes at all (not upgrades to the next product version just bug fixes) and expect customers to buy an upgrade for every update.

3) Others restrict the time scale you can get updates (I have seen some applications advertised with 30 days of support and free updates).
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mouser
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« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2006, 09:55:04 AM »

I agree that the arbitrary year-based subscription models are bad, except perhaps for things like antivirus programs where you are really paying for the continuous updating of the virus definitions.

its reasonable to pay for major version upgrades and keep normal updates and bugfixes free.

a good rule of thumb for me is that a user should never have to pay for a bug fix.

so if a program is updated to fix some bugs, that update should be free, regardless of purchase date.

the other thing that bothers me is the sometimes very high upgrade prices.  it seems to me that upgrading should really be a very minimal fee, maybe 25% or at most 50%.
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moerl
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« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2006, 10:14:52 AM »

the other thing that bothers me is the sometimes very high upgrade prices.  it seems to me that upgrading should really be a very minimal fee, maybe 25% or at most 50%.
I've noticed that too! It's terrible. And I agree wholly with your percentages.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2006, 10:23:17 AM »

Actually I think high upgrade prices are rather counter productive. If I am confronted by a high upgrade price I will think "do I need the upgrade" and if there is something I do need then "is there an alternative" ... high prices don't foster loyalty.
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mouser
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« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2006, 11:19:23 AM »

carol, yep - not only that but it's also counter productive because you have to ask yourself, do i really want to be on this path of high upgrade costs every year, and risk the possibility that the author is going to up the price even more.  i'd rather spend my money on a product where the author is more focused on treating their customers as friends.
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moerl
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« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2006, 11:41:33 AM »

Great points from both of you. I don't see how devs don't get that.. it would be so much more effective to keep userbase fluctuation, (especially downwards..), low by simply keeping upgrade prices fair smiley. Instead they jack up the price and scare away their loyal customers. Profit-hungry dumbasses cheesy
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allen
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« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2006, 11:51:59 AM »

For example ... JGSoft produce EditPad Pro. When you buy EdirPad Pro version 5 from them you get unlimited updates as long as version 5 is being developed but if you want to move up to version 6 when it released you buy an upgrade.

A nice aspect of JGSoft in that regard, is they don't absolutely abandon one version when the next releases -- while no new features are added, the previous version does see fixes to significant bugs that are found.  It ceases to be supported in much the same time frame as it ceases to be used -- old versions sort of phase themselves out as users move on to new versions, bugs fail to be found/reported and there's no more need for development.  It's nice to see a willingness to support users who don't need the new features.

In his blog, Jan Goyvaerts discussed this briefly (most of the post is about his EULA, which is rather progressive itself).
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I ’m also happy to promise free bugfix releases. They’re essential to keeping customers happy anyway, not to mention keeping them recommending our products to everybody they know. Fixing bugs costs time and money, but not nearly as much as acquiring new customers through means other than word-of-mouth. And those new customers would just be as dissappointed about the same bugs. Yes, it does happen that we can’t resolve a problem. For those situations, there’s my personal money-back guarantee.
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brotherS
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« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2006, 08:45:51 PM »

In his blog, Jan Goyvaerts discussed this briefly (most of the post is about his EULA, which is rather progressive itself).
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I ’m also happy to promise free bugfix releases. They’re essential to keeping customers happy anyway, not to mention keeping them recommending our products to everybody they know. Fixing bugs costs time and money, but not nearly as much as acquiring new customers through means other than word-of-mouth. And those new customers would just be as dissappointed about the same bugs. Yes, it does happen that we can’t resolve a problem. For those situations, there’s my personal money-back guarantee.
That is so true! It still amazes me to see how little some coders/companies focus on fixing bugs...
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allen
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« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2006, 09:16:22 PM »

It has always been my experience that individual developers and smaller companies (to my knowledge, JGSoft and the "we" used on their software pages refer exclusively to Jan Goyvaerts) seem to really be mindful of and focus on creating solid, bug free (insofar as it is possible) applications -- while larger companies focus first and foremost on expanding and locking-in their userbase, rather than pleasing it -- always a classic example, Microsoft.

The Bat! is an interesting study, to me -- as they really do seem to care about these things and try to address them but have some fundamental organizational problems and little to no business sense.  Their mail client is great, the most powerful I've seen, but not without its issues (lack of sufficient documentation not withstanding).
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mouser
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« Reply #15 on: March 28, 2006, 10:03:46 PM »

i was talking to someone about this phenomena recently and it ocurred to me that the problem is that from a business sense it all makes sense:

when you are small and word of mouth is important, a few vocal complainers could hurt you, and some vocal supporters can help you, so you spend time making sure your users are all happy, even if on a per-user basis you are losing money (ie 10 hours of customer service costs you more than the user paid).

but when you are big and own marketshare, a single user's opinions are not going to be able to effect you, so there is no point wasting customer service dollars on them.

sad but makes sense.. unless you have a more active community that pays attention to such things such that there is a price to treating customers badly.
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allen
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« Reply #16 on: March 28, 2006, 10:33:08 PM »

Yeah, but I think the real big issue isn't business -- it's the fact that to those small developers, the products are more than products.  They're works of art, of a sort -- something that they fell connected to.  Its quality is a direct reflection of them.
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mouser
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« Reply #17 on: March 28, 2006, 10:56:24 PM »

yes definitely - i'm not trying to say that small businesses are motivated purely by money at all.
the analysis above is just meant to say why ignoring users may become a "good business decision" for big companies who are concerned just with maximizing profits.

personally i think we need to stop this obsession with maximizing profits.  the goal of life is not to maximize profits. somehow we seem to have entered an age of hyper capitalism where everyone seems to just take it for granted that the goal of life is to maximize profits.  why can't the goal be to make reasonable profits?
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zridling
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« Reply #18 on: March 29, 2006, 11:07:44 AM »

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that Microsoft Word was subscription-based, but only an example of how a developer who's on a preset schedule to get the next upgrade out might repeatedly insert frivolous and superfluous features into their programs instead of either leaving a good version in place and fixing existing bugs or adding needed features to an upgrade. There are exceptions. One developer who has a yearly upgrade model waited 16 months to get his next upgrade out, giving everyone four months for free. However, users were grateful because it was a solid upgrade that had been thoroughly tested, and he was happy that almost everyone chose to pay the modest fee for another year of updates.

One other gripe. I recently moved and my IP address changed. But with all the "check for updates" and "phone-home" features added to many programs, I've already had to dispute my licenses with several vendors. Two have denied me upgrades saying I'm not the same Zaine Ridling, despite having all my original emails, purchase receipt, license number, and email address. One even said, I can't let you have the update (not even an upgrade), but I will allow you to buy the update for the upgrade price of $29.95. What a rip!
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« Reply #19 on: March 29, 2006, 11:22:34 AM »

THAT is interesting (and very worrisome), Zaine. Which companies have treated you like this? If you'd prefer to answer off the forum, I understand, but I am very interested as I am likely going to be moving house and ISP in the near future.

Nice to see you back at DC!
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #20 on: March 29, 2006, 01:26:01 PM »

How bizzare - what happens if you are with an ISP that uses dynamic IPs ???
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noth(a)nk.you
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« Reply #21 on: March 29, 2006, 02:23:12 PM »

what happens if you are with an ISP that uses dynamic IPs ???

They might accept any IPs from the range your original ISP holds.  At least, that seems to be the smartest of the stupid ways to do it (the alternative being login-based).
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