Software Subscriptions: Why I can’t be mad at them (and neither should you)

Remember when a new version of Windows came out and those of us that were capable of upgrading our computers ourselves, we would all go to our local computer shop and buy a copy of it on a CD and that was it. We owned that version of Windows. There wasn’t an on-going monthly or annual cost, wasn’t that great?!
There has been a trend going on for the past few years that has been becoming increasingly popular among software companies known as software-as-a-service or SaaS or subscription pricing models. So instead of putting out $50 or $100 for a piece of software once, you pay a minimal amount every month to have access to the piece of software.

This trend was made mainstream when Adobe started selling their flagship product, Photoshop as a subscription. Then Microsoft followed by offering Office as a subscription. But where this model has really taken off has been with smaller software development companies, for instance, Evernote has always been a subscription, my journaling app DayOne has recently switched to a subscription model, hell, the app I’m using to write this right now, Ulysses switched this past week.

Nobody I know likes this trend, in fact, everyone loathes it. But I have a different take on it because of personal experience. For the first half of my business career, I made approximately 80% of my income developing custom databases and software for local businesses. I would go in and spend a few months trying to understand the clients workflows and processes and then when I got a good grasp on what they needed, I would spend the next six months to a year building their software for usually in between $6,000 – $12,000. It was great! I was happy, the clients were (usually) happy with the end product, everything was good…until it wasn’t.

What I learned was that software is never truly “done”. Just to keep it running as is, there’s always the inevitable maintenance that needs to be performed. And in my case, the software I developed always had a database backend so that meant that servers had to get paid every month, security patches applied religiously and of course backed up constantly. Aside from general maintenance, on every occurrence, for every system I developed, once it was in place, a few months would go by before I’d get a “what if…” email with a question or a request that someone thought about would make the system work better. That’s all well and good but the problem was that even if the client was willing to pay for the extra work (which typically wasn’t the case), I had already moved onto my next project and didn’t have the time to put the energy in that it needed. After all, I still had to live, I HAD to move onto the next project in order for cash to keep coming in to be able to pay rent, eat, pay whoever I had working for me at the time, etc.

This is why I think more and more software companies are moving to subscription based pricing models. Because the people who are writing the actual software have mortgages, families to take care of, car payments, dogs to feed, etc. Good software is very hard work and the people that do the work deserve to get paid for it.