Ulysses switches to paid subscriptions… Faeries wither and die all over the internet

I rarely cover tech stories, but Ulysses is used by so many writers (myself included) I thought it was worth chatting about what is becoming an increasingly popular revenue model for software developers.

You can find the announcement and pricing on the Soulmen website, but the short version is that you can no longer buy Ulysses as a one-off payment; you now pay every month/year if you want to keep on using it.

Realising this won't sit well with their use base, software companies often write a tome of a blog article explaining why this is necessary and why it is good for their customers. You can pretty much skip over whatever they write because it always boils down to two points:

  1. Given the size of the market as a whole, it is very unlikely that we can sustain ourselves through yearly upgrades.
  2. If we cannot feed our families then at some point we'll have to throw in the towel, and you, dear customer, will have to find an alternative.

Now I'm not sure about you, but if I find a workflow that works for me, then I'm loathe to change it. For that reason I'm happy to support odd bits of software that charge a sub rather than setting a one-off purchase price.

If you are going to move to subscription model then there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, and unfortunately, the Soulmen have picked all the wrong ways.

The explanation itself was fine; I fully support their reasoning. However, the actual execution of the change left a lot to be desired.

Lesson 1 – Do not cosh your users.

The changeover came with no warning: the new world order was announced at the same time that the one-off payment versions were removed from the App Stores. There was no indication that this was going to happen, which left users feeling somewhat blindsided. What's worse, the new version offers no new enticing features to sweeten the deal – unless you count the new splash screen with the price list attached.

Lesson 2 – Check your timing.

Subscription models may be a necessity for smaller software houses, but that doesn't make them popular. So if you are going to introduce a subscription then don't do it when your biggest competitor is about to release a major upgrade.

Lesson 3 – Be unique.

For many people, Ulysses is indispensable, but at the same time, it is also one of a steadily increasing number of Markdown editors on the market. So the question many users will be asking is this: is Ulysses unique and indispensable enough for me to pay £35 a year to keep using it?

Lesson 4 – Don't think software, think service.

You're moving to a paid service, so stop thinking of the product and think about the services around it, then you can give the software away for free. Users can use the program locally, but syncing your notes is a service along with the theming, backup, full git-based version control, collaboration tools and formatters. And as you think of more ideas you can implement them.

I think the subscription model is here to stay. No one likes it, but without them the smaller developers will go to the wall, and no one wants that. At the same time, developers need to look carefully at how it's introduced, and deliver a useful cloud offering in return.

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