Now from my previous posts concerning Jetbrains, it probably reads as though I'm a support of paying yearly to use software that may or may not get upgrades. Not quite true: I certainly expect to see a return on my continued investment in terms of bug fixes, if not new functionality. However, I don't believe this notion of 'renting' software works in every instance, and one case in point is Smile Software who, last week, announced that TextExpander – a piece of software that I make fairly regular use of – was moving to yearly subs.
Naturally, the internet exploded, and so I waited until the dust has settled and things had shaken out before looking at what was on offer. Waiting is good; it gives the company time to gauge reactions and make adjustments. Jetbrains did. Smile did not. Smile should have. Looking at what Smile was offering as a replacement for the standard upgrade package was an eye-opener, and should serve as a valuable lesson to any other company who is thinking of moving to subscriptions for software. In my opinion, Jetbrains got it right (eventually) and Smile have gotten it so very wrong.
So, you're thinking of moving to a subscription model. Here are the things you need to take into consideration:
Always top of the list. TextExpander will cost the individual user a staggering $47.52 a year. For a snippet engine that sounds like an awful lot of money to me. Less than half the price of MS Office, sure, but with MS Office I get a full productivity suite and online storage thrown in – which brings me to:
When Jetbrains went subs, they sweetened the deal by offering a year for free and throwing in access to all their other IDEs at a knock down price, which was great for me since I use IDEA, Pycharm, WebStorm, PhpStorm and RubyMine (occasionally). Smile too tried to sweeten the deal by offering a clould platform that would allow their users to share snippets across devices. The only problem is that TextExpanders could already do this using Dropbox or iCloud. So what did Smile do? Yes, they removed the Dropbox/iCloud sync. Now in fairness, Smile claims that this necessary because they need their own sync engine for functionality they plan on adding later on. Okay, but since TextExpander is pretty short on reasons for folk to go along with this scheme, then perhaps these new benefits should have been added sooner.
When it comes to the professional creative market, Adobe doesn't have any real competitors; they moved to a subs model and have reaped the benefits because their user base doesn't really have anywhere else to go (especially for desktop publishing). TextExpander lives in a pretty crowded market. Off the top of my head I can name Typinator, aText and Keyboard Maestro: three packages offering similar or greater functionality. And when Smile made their announcement, the competition wasn't asleep at the wheel; within the hour, blog posts began to appear showing how to move from TextExpander to competing products, and to make matters worse, Running With Crayons announced that their superb Alfred application would be getting text substitution in the next upgrade. If the tweets that followed are anything to go by, I'd say that this announcement alone will strip a significant chunk from TextExpander's user base.
So has Smile just imploded?
Probably not, no. They have another product (PDFPen), and for all I know this could be a deliberate move to shift their customer base from consumers to business users (though I'd be surprised if any business user would opt for TextExpander over a cheaper, more capable alternative). Perhaps they see a market for things like email signatures and letterheads that can be changed in one place and then accessed by everyone in the company, but their team license is priced at an outrageous $114 per year – per user! Will any company regard text snippets that highly? In my opinion, SAaS can work, but you need to be sure that you're delivering a genuine service, and not just an add-on.