August 23, 2017

Learning from Ulysses' Struggles With the Switch to a Subscription Model

Ulysses and I. A Dysfunctional Relationship.

I have been an user of Ulysses since version 1 of the app. That is a long long time ago.

It hasn't been a loyal relationship. Ulysses III managed to piss me off enough that I developed a strange love-hate relationship with it.

I dislike the way it handles Markdown. I make periodic attempts to move all my writing to it. I give up after a few days. My established rituals for writing Markdown will have to be discarded when I write in Ulysses. I use Zettt/km-markdown-library: Markdown library for Keyboard Maestro, for writing Markdown, most of them do not work in Ulysses. Every link needs to be entered using it's pop-up dialog boxes and I get frustrated and move away from it.

The environment is beautiful. The implementation of typewriter scrolling is the best in the marketplace. Ulysses provides enough control over the look and feel of the editing screen to not be overwhelming and just perfect. I love writing in it for while and then the frustration kicks in with its half-baked support of Markdown. I get the feeling that Ulysses was not sure whether it wanted to be a Markdown based text editor or just a text editor. I write in Markdown and Ulysses always leaves me with the feeling of wearing a t-shirt several sizes too small.

So, I have it installed on my machine, but it doesn't get used much.

If you are a writer who has to have web-links in their writing, Ulysses is not an ideal solution. On the other hand, if you use headings, bold, italic, and the occasional lists either numbered or not, Ulysses is a great solution. Ulysses does a great job of supporting formatting elements of Markdown but doesn't do links or images all that well. It doesn't yet do tables. Four years after the product has been released it still hasn't implemented tables. If tables are a necessity for you, I wouldn't hold my breath for tables from Ulysses.

You can write blog posts in Ulysses if you manage to adapt your workflow to the nuances of Ulysses. I had trouble doing that. So, Ulysses was not the solution for me.

I have moved on to writing in Bear - Notes for iPhone, iPad and Mac and editing in Full Focus on Writing – iA.

Ulysses and Subscriptions

Ulysses announced that it was moving to a subscription system along with an attempt to communicate with its users through Ulysses Switches to Subscription | Ulysses Blog and Why we’re switching Ulysses to Subscription – Building Ulysses – Medium.

It was the same version that they were selling yesterday for $44.99 for the macOS version and $24.99 for the iOS version. No changes were made except that the product is now sold as a subscription service. $39.99 a year will give you both the macOS version and iOS versions. You can buy a monthly subscription for $4.99 a month. For existing users there was a deal. "50% off the monthly subscription" except that this needed to be paid for the year, or it was $29.99 for the year. In other words, it was only 25% off the yearly subscription rate.

Oh, I've made a mistake. It wasn't exactly the same version. It now has a slightly tweaked version of the old icon. This is the only change.

Predictably Twitter had a typically bi-polar reaction. One group of people were eager to tell us how quickly they signed up for the subscription, and how this switch in pricing was absolutely the right thing to do. How Ulysses was the ultimate text editor in the marketplace and the developers needed to make a fair living.

Examples of this train of thought were the following:

Ulysses Announces Move to Subscription Pricing – MacStories

The new Ulysses subscription pricing model – The Sweet Setup

Subscriptions: Ulysses joins the growing band of drip-feeders — macfilos

Ulysses Switches to Subscriptions | Infinite Diaries — Technology, Photography & Travel

The amazing Ulysses has gone subscription only – BirchTree

The new Ulysses subscription plan is a wonderful idea – David Hewson

Daring Fireball: Ulysses Is Switching to Subscription Pricing

This last one gave me pause. Gruber is not an Ulysses user. He is a Bare Bones Software | BBEdit 11 guy. Why is he opining on this change? This is what he had to say:

This is a really thoughtful article, and I fully support their decision. I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).

The usually articulate Gruber has two sentences of pablum? He has no idea of the specific circumstances of this switch for Ulysses and he has an opinion? "Truly professional app?" "Subscription pricing is an excellent option?" Really? Why? More importantly why is this system better than the one Gruber is intimately familiar with: The BBEdit example of churning out periodic updates of a mature product, and charging for them?

All of us are guilty of sometimes speaking out unformed thoughts and maybe Gruber was having a bad day. That is why he didn't give us his usual articulate, well reasoned arguments. Or maybe, pablum is all he had. It gave me pause.

Along with the happy there was of course a fair number of people who were not. This is a smattering of contrary opinions:

Stop the BS behind paid-subscription apps! – Olivier Simard-Casanova – Medium

To subscribe or not to subscribe | Welcome to Sherwood

Taking note: Ulysses Has Lost its Way

Taking note: Ulysses, One More Time

Ulysses Subscription Model – Benjamin Metzler – Medium

Ulysses becomes a subscription-based app | Leziak.com

I love writing apps, but now I hate Ulysses

I liked Dr. Drang's take the best:

Subscriptions - All this

He laid out some of the advantages of a subscription service and provided the reader with some new ways of looking at the scenario.

Like Dr. Drang, I don't have a dog in this fight. I loved the app, but have moved away from it. I don't have anything against subscriptions. After all, I paid for an annual subscription to Bear. I must admit I don't like them all that much but if the product is one which is integral to my workflow, I am willing to pay a subscription fee.

My decision to dump Ulysses from my workflow happened before this subscription move, so it didn't have any effect on my decision.

Issues Relevant to a Move to Subscriptions

This move by Ulysses generated a ton of negative reactions from users. Vocal, loud condemnations filled the Twitter timeline for a product which was loved by its users. So, what could developers do better?

  1. Time it better. Introduce a new version and change the pricing structure. Don't take the same product you had yesterday, change the damn icon and charge a different price for it today.
  2. Be exact in your communications. $10 off $40 is not 50% off. Try comparing apples to apples. Just because the marketing person thinks this is a good idea doesn't make it so. Your consumers are not stupid.
  3. Hire people with guts. I am sure that there was someone in the 12 employees you have who thought that "50% off" was deceptive. Create an environment where the contrary voice can be heard. If there were no contrary voices available you need to look at your management style. You have surrounded yourself with sycophants.
  4. Be prepared for the fallout. Twitter is not the right place for this debate. In fact, avoid a debate. Decide on a communication strategy and stick to it. "Sorry to lose your business, but we think this is the best way to ensure the future of our business." Something like this should have been the official mantra repeated ad nauseam. Instead you engaged in debate, you are not going to win.
  5. A focal point in responses. One person. One message. Again and again. Instead Ulysses had two people or more in various stages of sleep deprivation. Bad move.
  6. This is not a debate. This is damage control. Learn how to say "sorry." Specially when you are not sorry. Hey this is your business. You get to decide how or what you are going to charge the consumer for your product. They don't like it, they can go pound sand. You are just trying to limit the damage done to your brand. Say "sorry."

Implications of the Pricing Change

Any given market for a product like Ulysses has two segments:

  1. Pro-Users
  2. Amateurs

Breakup of UsersBreakup of Users

Pro-users are people who use your product to generate income. They are successful at it and they are price insensitive when it comes to your product. David Hewson should be signing up for the subscription immediately. That cannot be news.

The news is that the break up between pro-users and amateur users is always lop-sided in favor of amateurs. If software has to depend only on pro-users for their survival, it has to charge a lot more. Look at Tinderbox: The Tool For Notes as an example. For a writing app like Ulysses, the amateurs are the ones who pay the bills, the pro-users provide the validation. I would argue then that there are no "professional apps" in this category. Even Literature and Latte - Scrivener Writing Software | macOS | Windows | iOS which is the closest competitor has the same kind of numbers to deal with: a small section of pro-users and a mass of amateurs.

Amateurs are the difficult group. They bring various levels of commitment to your product. The ones who live in Ulysses are going to subscribe immediately. Those who are less committed are going to take time over the decision. It is in your interest to push them along that path to subscription. Make it easy for them to jump on the bandwagon. Try not to do things which encourage the undecided to look for alternate solutions.

Converting to the Subscription ModelConverting to the Subscription Model

The numbers, of course, are made-up in my example, but the principal is the relevant one. Convert the amateurs into subscribing customers. Remember that these amateurs are also your paying customers. They have already paid. They have a foot in the door. It should be easy to transition them over to subscribing customers.

  1. Don't piss them off. "50% off the monthly subscription" is guaranteed to piss them off.
  2. Don't start a debate with them.
  3. The ones debating are lost to you. Remember the ones who are not engaged in the debate but reading the debate. That is your audience. Don't piss them off.
  4. Make it as easy as possible to transition to the subscription system. Ulysses achieved this well. The transition is smooth and flawless.
  5. Don't nag the users who are still using the old version and haven't moved on to the subscription model. Remember they are people who paid you already. Show some respect and gratitude.

The problem is that each situation is unique and learning from them is a function of looking at the mistakes and trying to avoid repeating them. I think subscription systems are here to stay, but they are limited by their nature. A consumer is a lot more willing to part with $40 as a one time payment than she is in signing up for a commitment of $30/yearly. Only a few kinds of programs lend themselves to a subscription system. They have to be integral to the regular workflow of the consumer. The value-proposition has to be clear and defined. I suspect that developers in an effort to justify the subscription system are also going to introduce bloat into their product. We shall monitor how this goes.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Ulysses Writing macOS iOS Subscriptions
June 13, 2017

NotePlan Tackles Your Tasks and Notes Through Text Files

NotePlan iconNotePlan icon

Product: NotePlan
Price: $19.99
Product: NotePlan iOS
Price: $14.99

Note: There is a two day launch discount on June 14-15 for both the iOS and Mac versions of NotePlan.

Quite a few attempts have been made to incorporate task management into the world of plain text files. Two of the notable ones are:

  1. Todo.txt: Future-proof task tracking in a file you control
  2. TaskPaper – Plain text to-do lists for Mac

Todo.txt is distinguished by being supported on multiple platforms. There is an active community around the product and they have turned it into a capable task manager.

TaskPaper is a Jesse Grosjean creation. He of WriteRoom fame. Jesse has dumped the iOS version. TaskPaper is now a macOS only solution. Developers have filled the gap on iOS, Taskmator - TaskPaper Client, Plain Text Todo List on the App Store is a good example of that.

There is a new entrant in this field with a complete multi-device solution. NotePlan promises to provide "Efficient Daily Planning for Professionals Using Markdown." It is a system which incorporates markdown, a calendar, and notes.

These are the key elements of NotePlan:

Markdown Based

Everything is Markdown-based. You write plain text files with Markdown.

Calendar View

Calendar ViewCalendar View

The calendar is a daily note. You write a unordered list in Markdown on the daily note and they are parsed as individual tasks. These individual tasks can have subtasks.

Date ViewDate View

You can have different markdown headings for different projects. The individual tasks show up in calendar view as tasks. You have the ability to assign sub-tasks to a task by indenting the content. The preferences give you the option of showing/hiding the subtasks from the list of tasks shown in the calendar.

Task ManagementTask Management

NotePlan has good task management commands built in. You can mark a task done (⌘+D). You can cancel a task (⌘+R). Mark as scheduled (⌘+⇧+D), which will let you assign a reminder to it. Or, Send to (⌘+⇧+S) a different day.

An area of improvement for NotePlan, if a task has several sub-tasks and the main task is being sent to a different day, the subtasks should move with the main task. At this point, even though there is a hierarchy, the application treats each task as a separate entity and doesn't move the subtasks.

Notes

NotesNotes

Along with the calendar, NotePlan lets you manage your notes. These are markdown notes. They are stored in iCloud and synced between your devices.

Filter by TagsFilter by Tags

You can add tags to the notes and filter the notes through your tagging system. Efficient and easy.

Markdown aidMarkdown aid

You can link between notes and there is a nice distraction-free interface with markdown aids for you to write your notes.

iOS Versions

The iOS versions are well-designed. The developer has obsessed over each feature of the product and it shows throughout the iOS versions.

iOS CalendariOS Calendar

This is the calendar view on the iPad version. If you click on the icon second from the right-hand corner, you get this view.

Alternate Calendar ViewAlternate Calendar View

Saves you a tap. The tasks for each day are shown at the bottom of the calendar, which is shortened. Useful for a quick look at your schedule for a particular day.

Daily Calendar ViewDaily Calendar View

This is the daily calendar view.

Choose Calendar or NotesChoose Calendar or Notes

Clicking on the list icon on the top left of the screen gives you the choice of switching to the Notes or Calendar view and the Settings of the application.

Notes ViewNotes View

This is the Notes view of the iPad app.

Editing NotesEditing Notes

This is the Notes editing view. The additional keyboard row gives you often used markdown commands.

NotePlan syncs data through iCloud. Makes NotePlan a complete, device-independent, text-based solution for your note-taking and task management system.

Areas of Improvement

These are some suggestions for improvement:

  1. Full-screen mode on an iMac is unusable. The text covers the whole screen, no one can write like that. In full-screen mode, the text should be soft wrapped, say to 80 characters, or lower, which will mean that the body of the text will be centered on the screen and won't span the whole screen.
  2. Another addition could be typewriter scrolling. That would improve the experience of writing notes in NotePlan on both macOS and iOS.
  3. The markdown implementation can be improved by supporting footnotes and tables.
  4. Themes and user-selectable font would make the user experience complete.
  5. There should be a quick entry option. I need to be able to enter data quickly to the NotePlan Calendar without switching to the program itself.
  6. iCloud has improved but there are users who would prefer a Dropbox option. Dropbox just works better.

Recommendation

I am not switching from my tool chest of 2Do and Sublime Text. Those are the apps I use to do what NotePlan does. 2Do maintains my lists and todos. Sublime Text is where I manage my notes.

NotePlan is intriguing because it is so accomplished. Using one program to maintain everything would be fantastic. NotePlan gets there with its release of iOS versions. What NotePlan lacks at this point, for me, is related to the Notes section on macOS. The writing environment needs work. I spend hours every day in my note-taking application. I can't afford the friction that a poorly designed full-screen implementation provides.

If you are starting off now and are intrigued by a text-only implementation of your calendar, todos and note-taking needs, you need to consider NotePlan. NotePlan does provide a wealth of functionality, all through plain old text files.

NotePlan is recommended.

macosxguru

NotePlan Task Management text macOS iOS
May 29, 2017

Notbloko Pays Homage to Notational Velocity

Notbloko iconNotbloko icon

App Store Link: Notbloko on the Mac App Store
Price: Free (In App Purchase of Encryption Feature for $5.99)

Paying Homage to Notational Velocity is Notbloko.

Notational Velocity introduced the unimodal search and input window. Notbloko simulates the same unimodal window. The same window lets you search for text within your notes and also lets you add notes to the collection. Makes the two important tasks relevant to your notes easy: creation and search.

Notbloko misses out on the other defining feature of Notational Velocity and its efficient cousin nvALT. Notational Velocity and nvALT can save your collection of notes in a proprietary database or as individual text files. The ability to save your notes in individual text files gives you the following advantages:

  1. No lock in. You can use any program you want to access and edit your files. You can use any text editor you want and your files are ready to read, edit and manipulate.
  2. Universal Access. Save your files in a cloud solution like Dropbox and your notes are available to you on every device you own. On the iOS devices, there are text editors like, iA Writer, which can read your files from a Dropbox folder. Your notes are portable and accessible everywhere. Text files are the secret behind this portability.

Notbloko doesn't give you this feature. Notbloko is a proprietary database. Which means that the notes you maintain in Notbloko are accessible to you in other programs if you take the additional step of exporting them out as text files.

Features I Am Fond of in Notbloko

Notbloko is well-designed. The developer has attempted to make the ideal note-taking program inspired by Notational Velocity. These are some of the things I like about Notbloko:

Notbloko ScreenNotbloko Screen

  1. You can have multiple Notbloko documents. Each Notbloko document is a collection of notes. Notbloko supports macOS Sierra's Tab Bar. Multiple Notbloko documents can be open in their own tab.
  2. Notbloko is fast. I have a collection of more than a thousand notes in one Notbloko document and it is quick in both search and creation of notes in that rather large document.
  3. Notbloko is minimal. It supports rtf files and text documents. You can write markdown in the text files and Notbloko deals with it as text.
  4. The export function can deal with exporting a single file or many files as text files out of the program. This lessens the fear of lock-in that plagues me whenever I see a proprietary database as the storage mechanism for a note-taking program.
  5. The preferences are adequate and well-targeted to the task of note-taking.
  6. The program is well supported with keyboard commands available for most regular tasks.
  7. Extensive support of tagging to organize your notes. You can search for documents through the tags. Prepend the tag with a / (forward slash) and you can search for notes containing the tag.
  8. There is a Safari extension which lets you add snippets to Notbloko. In Notbloko you have the option of taking the snippets and making individual notes out of them.
  9. If you buy the in-app purchase you have the ability to password protect your notes.

Notbloko PreferencesNotbloko Preferences

Things to Improve in Notbloko

Of course there are things I would like Notbloko to improve:

  1. Notbloko includes an Edit With… function. You can take an individual note and choose to Edit the note in another program. Even when you have explicitly told Notbloko to not use the RTF format, the only choice of editors are RTF editors. In fact, the file that you are editing is a RTF file. You don't have the ability to edit the file as a text file. If you choose a text editor, you are now dealing with the file embellished by the RTF code in the document. That is not something I care to deal with in my text editor. I would like to be able to work on the text file and not the RTF file.
  2. The export of documents from Notbloko is a file with the .txt extension. I want to be able to choose the extension. I deal with .md files. Save me the extra step and let use any extension I choose.

Recommendation

Notbloko is a well-designed note-taking application. It is fast and efficient. If you are comfortable in working in the RTF format for your notes, you are going to be happy in Notbloko. It's support of the text format needs some improvements. It is a good solution for your note-taking needs in a crowded marketplace.

I recommend it heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Notetaking Notbloko Notational Velocity
May 15, 2017

Matt, Apple Isn't to Blame. Developers Are.

I have been following Matt Gemmell and his writing since he was a student. I am a fan. But his latest post on Apple, the App Store and the market economics of software is… tripe.

Matt says:

No company has done as much damage to the perceived value of software, and the sustainability of being an independent developer, as Apple.

The argument is flawed at the outset.

It's resolutely the fault of us as consumers, and it's actively encouraged by the App Store.

No. It is the fault of the developers. Developers have the ability to set the price for their product. Consumers can choose to buy or not depending on the perceived utility of the product and the price, but the power rests on the developer. Apple doesn't care. They are going to make 30% off any price the developer charges. The developers have complete responsibility for the race to the bottom in prices.

Take any market. Any product. There is a segment of the market who are happy paying the price the developer is asking for. There are a bunch of consumers who are willing to pay a lower price. The developer can choose to sell at the higher price and tell the ones who are seeking a cheaper price to go buy something else. They didn't. They rushed to the lower price and it is the fault of the consumer and Apple?

Matt goes on to state:

Target the largest customer base, so they get 30% of the biggest potential income. That means selling at a low price, because most customers will only pay low prices, and all customers prefer low prices. This teaches customers that software's average value is low.

Again. No. I am assuming that "biggest potential income" is revenue maximization because that is what it sounds like.

Revenue maximization would occur if you accounted for the different price elasticities in the marketplace. What that means is that you would charge the highest price the market would bear for the product. Let us assume that the highest price some consumers are willing to pay is $10. You would then charge $10 for the product, the customers in the marketplace who are willing to pay $10 for your product would enter the market. There are some customers who are willing to pay $9 but they are tired of waiting and they will enter the market. When you have covered this segment, you reduce the price to $9. All the folks who were willing to pay $9 and not $10, now enter the market. There are some people who were willing to pay $8 but they are by now, tired of waiting and they enter the market. This process goes on till you charge $0.99. What this pricing strategy does is charge consumers the highest price they are willing to pay. This is how you maximize revenue. You take full advantage of the different price elasticities in the marketplace. This strategy would net the highest revenue for both the developer and Apple. By jumping to the lowest possible price, you are leaving both revenue and profits on the table. The lowest price is far from the "biggest potential income."

The best low price is free. If all customers preferred low prices, people would only use free open source software. Let's put this another way. People obviously prefer a low price. If you charge them a lower price than their perceived utility for the product, obviously they are going to be happy and that is what they want. This doesn't mean anything. Their perceived utility also means that they are willing to pay a certain price for the product and if your price matches their notions of perceived utility, they will happily pay the price and move on with their lives.

To make sure that you are not counter-arguing with my analysis: As long as the size of each of those segments is a non-zero number, taking care of different price elasticities will give you higher revenue. If the whole market is only willing to pay $0.99, that is a price inelastic market. If that is the market the only price you can charge is $0.99. Software, which by definition is endowed with intangible benefits can never be an inelastic market. Any half-decent marketer should be able to change that price elasticity.

Build a universal app (iPhone and iPad versions, in the same package) to increase the attractiveness and convenience of owning multiple iOS devices. You'll earn a "+" in your app's buy-button on the Store. This teaches customers that supporting multiple devices isn't something to pay extra for.
Also include an Apple Watch version within the iPhone app. As above.

Apple did not force anyone to do any of these things. Developers wanted to differentiate their product from the competition. They made universal versions available to the consumer. Sometimes, the users put pressure on the developers. I remember Ulysses was supposed to have a separate SKU for the iPhone version and a few vocal users made some noise and the developer caved. They introduced an universal version.

Provide regular updates, at no cost; so much so that there's no mechanism for paid upgrades at all. This teaches customers that they should expect free upgrades for life, no matter how little they paid for the software initially.

Innovate. Look at iA Writer. There are a ton of minimal text editors in the marketplace. They have managed to iterate and charge new version prices for each new version. That is an extremely competitive space they are playing in, yet they manage to churn out new iterations with added functionality and charge a premium price in the iOS marketplace.

Give some customers the finger. If your product fulfills a need, you are going to have a bunch of dedicated users and a whole host of others who are not wedded to your product. Look after the dedicated users. Ignore the others. Don't listen to them and please don't let them affect your product strategy.

Make exactly one sale of an app per person, ever, regardless of the number of devices they own, how often the app has been updated since they last used it, and so on. This also teaches customers that they're entitled to come back to a free app at any point in the future, no matter how long ago they paid for it.

The rules were laid out in advance. Every developer in the iOS space knew the parameters. If you don't like the parameters, go develop for Android. Okay, I am being an ass.

There are creative ways around this problem. A new SKU for every new version of the OS? Again, there would be some users who would complain and you would get a bunch of pissed off people but if your product provides value, you would also have users who understand that developers need to eat too. It is a truism in business, all business, work for those who are willing to feed you. Take care of those customers. Ignore the others.

In the App Stores Apple created an environment where consumers could give an application poor ratings without the developer having any recourse to a response. Consumers gave products a slew of 1-star ratings and developers got afraid. They had no way to respond to the negative ratings and the negative ratings affected their sales. The developers got intimidated by consumer power. If a consumer says that there should only be universal versions, the developer should have the ability to say, "It took me 17 months to make an iPhone version and 12 more months to come up with an iPad version, I need to get paid for the twelve months of work that I did on the project." Or, "I worked on the iPad version for twelve months and it is an extra SKU. If you don't like it, you are welcome to go pound sand." Or…, you get the idea. There was no way for the developer to respond so they folded. They were mortally afraid of negative ratings and the vocal minority of users got to define the culture of the iOS store. Apple is to blame for that. They took too long to give developers the opportunity to respond and by the time that came, it was probably too late.

One measure of the value of a person's creative output is what another person is willing to pay for it. Low prices actively court those who place less value on work. That's not an admonishment; it's just a simple fact.

I agree with Matt on this one.

And no, you can't balance the price-point and the sales figures to achieve the same income: there are far, far more people who will only buy at $1 (or free, if you're trying to sell in-app purchases). If you sell at $3 instead, your number of sales will go down by much more than the factor of three that you increased the price by.

If your goal is a "sustainable small software business," you should probably stay away from the iOS App Store. The data is actually noisy. There are a ton of developers who are not looking to build a software business. They are trying to make some money off a cutesy game they designed on the way to learning how to program or learning computer science. They are looking for a quick hit. Some of them get lucky. If you are interested in building a software business, you are not in that pool.

Your tasks are different.

  1. Design a product which has legs. A game usually doesn't. A product which the consumer is going to use for a long time. A product which is deep or has the potential to be deep. Deep in the sense that it is feature rich. A product which lets you reiterate.
  2. Design a product which is differentiated from the herd in the marketplace. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. You need a hook and that hook has to have traction.
  3. Make noise. You need to find every avenue you can get your hands on to generate noise for your application. Work your socks off in this arena. The greatest product in the world will not have any traction without the noise which will let your prospective consumer know that you exist.
  4. Support your product.
  5. Price your product right. Right for you and right for the consumer.

This is by necessity an incomplete list with insufficient information. I am going to be writing an article on Reference price soon and that will have a lot of this better flushed out.

The Globalization Explanation

There are other explanations for this race to the bottom. The iOS App Store changed the dynamics of the competitive space. Software was a first world market. The developers and the consumers were primarily first world folks. Software pricing reflected that. The iOS App Store reduced the barriers of entry for developers from the rest of the world. So, engineers from India, Vietnam, China, Ukraine, Russia and other countries now had an infrastructure which they could access to sell their software. Their revenue needs were different from that of the developer based in Scotland or US.

Two data points:
Per capita GDP Ukraine $8,230
Scotland $45,904
US $57,220

Average Salary Ukraine $200-300/month
Scotland $2900/month
US $3200/month

What this means is that the definition of a sustainable software business is different in different countries. Developers in first world countries are suddenly faced with competition from less developed country developers and the pricing of products has reflected that.

Some Other Explanations

Some more alternatives to the "Apple destroyed the software business":

  1. A large number of software developers have the creativity of a piece of wood. They clone successful products and provide no reason for the consumer to be loyal to them. They know their product is horrible and their pricing reflects that.
  2. Even when you have success in the marketplace, it doesn't mean that you are going to sustain it. A lot of the developers are good at developing software but not very good at running a business. I am looking at Editorial.
  3. A large number of developers would gain from employing a professional when it comes to pricing their products or marketing their products. These skills have value and too many developers don't get that.

The Nature of the iOS Software Marketplace

I know Federico Viticci and Ben Brooks are using the iPad as their main computer. I am sure there are many more. However, there are also people who having given the form factor a chance, have run up against its limitations, and gone back to the laptop/desktop as their main device and the tablets are used for a subset of activities like reading, drawing, playing games and so on. Maybe the device is not yet the product Apple wants it to be. In other words, the iPad is good for certain kinds of software and not for others.

The iPhone is a hugely successful device for Apple. It has achieved huge sales all over the world, but what does it mean for software sales? What do people use these devices for? What is the kind of software that makes sense on the platform?

I gather that Panic is not happy with the sales of pro level apps in the iOS space. Take Coda on iOS, it is a pro app. Panic did a great job with it. But is there a market for it? Are people seriously going to be using their iOS devices to design major web sites? Probably not. The occasional tweak, the addition of a blog article is probably the extent to which the iOS device is going to be useful. Maybe Coda at $24.99 is the wrong product for that marketplace. Textastic Code Editor 6 at $9.99 might be a better product for that task.

We need a better understanding of the kind of tasks that people are willing to do on the iOS devices. We are getting there but slowly.

This process is helped significantly by the notion of segmentation. Let me explain this in a little more detail. Take Final Draft Writer, a screenwriting software which is available on iOS. Final Draft is the dominant player in the world of screenwriting. They have versions for Windows, and macOS. They charge $249.99 for the Windows and macOS version. The iOS version? $19.99.

Now lets break up the segments of consumers on the iOS side:

  1. Group 1: These are people who are professional screenwriters who use the desktop version and want an iOS version to take their work mobile.
  2. Group 2:These are the amateurs who would like to try their hand at scriptwriting on their iOS devices.
  3. Group 3: People who have no idea that scriptwriting needs specialized software but are interested in trying to create a movie.

Obviously the size of Group 3 is larger than the others. Significantly larger. Group 1 is the low-hanging fruit. They are already wedded to the desktop versions and by virtue of being professionals are not particularly price sensitive. The price could have been $49.99 and they would have paid up. They would have complained but everyone complains about Final Draft, they are used to it. They charge $19.99 for the product, they are targeting Group 2. These are people who are more price sensitive than Group 1 but not as price sensitive as Group 3. It is an in-between price. Frankly, I am surprised, I think Final Draft can be $29.99 or even $39.99 without there being much of an impact on sales volume.

It is specialized software for a particular task, therefore consumers are relatively price insensitive. The low price of the iOS version makes me feel that Fountain is having an impact in that marketplace.

As an exercise in pricing learn to segment your marketplace. Find the needs of the price insensitive segment and cater to that. Ignore the masses. Focus your attentions on a segment of the total market and be the best solution for the needs of that segment.

What Do We Do Now?

There are about 700 million iPhones in use in the world. It should be possible to build a sustainable business in that marketplace. Maybe it is not Apple's fault and you are doing it wrong?

The first thing I would do is get a copy of this book, and read it. Again and again. And again.

The second thing you do is bookmark this video and watch it periodically. It doesn't deal with software pricing but it gives you the essence of a world view you need to be successful in business. Any business.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

App Stores Pricing Developers
April 30, 2017

A Minimal Text Editor and Two Strange Beasts

Product: Klipped
Price: $0.99

Product: Anyfile
Price: $0.99

Product: Origin
Price: Free (in-app purchase of $4.99 to make the product useful)

I am going to talk about a text editor and a couple of strange beasts today.

Anyfile Is a Simple Text Editor

Anyfile IconAnyfile Icon

This is Anyfile. It is a fast simple text editor. It lets you open, edit and save text files. Doesn't do much of anything else. It is a window where you can deal with text files in a quick way.

Anyfile EditorAnyfile Editor

AnyFile is devoid of preferences. It is an editing window where you can write. You have no opportunity to customize anything.

Anyfile's claim to fame is that it opens every file. It opens every text file, irrespective of the extension. Doesn't give you syntax highlighting or anything fancy like that, but it opens it. Opens the file quickly.

Anyfile ImageAnyfile Image

If you open an image file in it, it gives you a binary representation of the data of the image file. If you are a developer, this might be of interest to you, but for me, I have no idea what to do with the data. If the binary data floats your boat, have at it.

Anyfile is fast. It is barebones by design. It is well-designed in that it makes conscious choices of the features it wants to support and those it doesn't care for.

It does support automatic saving of your documents and builds in support for the macOS versions function. It doesn't have a print function. It supports the macOS tabs bar. So you can have multiple documents open in it.

In a crowded field of text editors, Anyfile brings too little to the table. If you are looking for a cheap text editor, there is a plethora of choices nowadays. Both BBEdit, and CotEditor are much better options. They both do a lot more than Anyfile. BBEdit has a free tier and CotEditor is free.

Klipped Is the "Back of Your Hand"

Klipped IconKlipped Icon

Klipped is strange beast number one. Conceptualized by the developer as "the back of your hand." It is an editable clipboard. One window. You write or copy stuff into it. You take the stuff you have in it and copy and paste into something else. Klipped can lurk around being the repository of random snippets of text. Just text. No save function. No export function. No preferences. Just a window where you can type some stuff in.

Klipped Editor WindowKlipped Editor Window

Surprisingly, it supports the print function. There is a background mode where the user interface changes to a menubar application. The program in this state grows two settings: A lights off mode (a dark option), and whether you want to be in windowed mode or not. I prefer windowed mode. In background mode (the opposite of windowed mode), Klipped disappears from the task switcher which means that I need a mouse/trackpad to get to the editing window. I am not fond of moving my hand away from the keyboard.

Klipped is the back of your hand in the digital sense, or a scratchpad to record your musings. It is just one window. It is an effective metaphor for a place to scribble on.

If this sounds interesting, you should download the application and try it out. You might also want to check out FromScratch, a Place to Doodle With Words.

Update: Klipped now costs $0.99.

Origin: A Pathway to Your First Draft

Origin IconOrigin Icon

Origin is strange beast number two. Teachers of fiction-writing sometimes tell aspiring novelists to just write the first draft. Don't edit. Just write. Editing is for later. Origin makes that possible.

Origin Edit WindowOrigin Edit Window

The developer of Origin describes Origin as

The Ultimate writing tool to go from an idea to the first draft. A simple, minimalistic, distraction-free, typewriter styled writing tool, that lets you just write and save plain-text files.

Origin is defined by one unique feature and the absence of a whole host of other features.

The one feature which distinguishes Origin is the mode of entering text. The cursor in Origin is at the center of the input window. It doesn't move. The paper behind it moves with the words you type on it. It is a simulation of the typewriter paper scrolling at the back while the keys hit the paper. It is an interesting and somewhat hypnotic effect on the computer screen, specially in full screen mode.

The features which are absent are the other distinguishing characteristics of Origin. You can't delete anything which you have written previously unless the stuff you want to delete is right around the cursor of your present edit. In fact the only way to delete is to delete everything from the cursor to the content you want to delete. There is no scroll. No undo/redo. No cut, copy or paste. There is no formatting, no tweaking of the already written text and there is no printing. There is also a Strict Mode where you can't edit anything or go back at all. In Strict Mode you lose the delete key. Rather harsh but effective.

Finding ForresterFinding Forrester

This is a writing environment where you type. Just type. Tell your story. Editing is for later. Reminded me of a scene from a movie called Finding Forrester.

I am going to be using Origin to work on the first draft of a novel which has been brewing in my mind. Will let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, Origin is a unique writing environment which forces you to type out the first draft of the idea you have in mind. It is well designed software for a very specific need. If you have that need this is a very decent solution.

Origin is recommended heartily for delivering on its promise.

Klipped was free. I got AnyFile when it was on sale for free, and I paid for the in-app purchase of Origin.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Anyfile Klipped Origin macOS writing