Regarding TextExpander, subscription pricing, and internet outrage

TextExpander recently shocked customers by switching to a subscription model. It's an attempt by the developer, Smile, to create a sustainable business that'll let them continue working on the app for years to come. It's forced many people, however, to take a long, hard look at the value of not on Smile's software, but software in general.

Joe Cieplinski, writing on his blog:

As a developer, I completely understand and support Smile's decision. I'm sure there are a number of hard-core TextExpander junkies who use the software several times a day. For these folks, it should be a no-brainer to fork over $5 a month.As a customer, it gets harder for me personally. I've been using TextExpander for many, many years. I've upgraded to the latest version up until now. But I've never been what you'd call a "power" user. Basically, everything I do with it I could probably pull off with the built-in text shortcuts in iOS and OS X. TextExpander does way more than that, obviously, but I personally don't use those extra powerful abilities.

Joe is an app designer and part of the Release Notes podcast and conference. So, this is his business and his business, and his take is sharp. Read all of it.

I use TextExpander a lot. I type a few keys and most of an iMore show post magically appears in my editor. I'm pretty sure it'll be worth my money to get on the subscription train. But I had to think about it.

Others didn't. My Twitter feed is full of complaints. Nay, outrage. So are TextExpander's reviews. Part of that was Smile not doing enough to set expectations before the business model change. Part is casual customers feeling abandoned. Part is just the new normal.

Expensive software isn't a problem in a world where the average person wants or needs six apps a year. But when they want or need 60? 600? More?

Many continue to lament the loss of value in software. Yet, when developers resort to new apps or new business models, there's a backlash. That highlights the disconnect — how does traditional software thrive in the age of pop apps?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • My take is that, because of lower app prices and the ability to share apps with myself and family members due to the App Store, I buy way more software than ever before. Way more. Too much actually. But it's cool to see and try apps. Fun. Even if the app doesn't help me or benefit me, the lower price and convenience of purchasing simply allows to me to accept the financial loss and move on without requesting a refund. I also often recommend apps to friends because even if they don't work out for them, the cost wasn't very high. But as prices head back up and subscriptions start being common, I'm going to prune my purchases and software use and my cloud services. I should probably be doing that anyway. Too many photo apps. Too many utilities. Too many cloud storage services. Too many PDF apps. I've bought many versions of PDFPEN and PDFPEN PRO over the last five years, spending hundreds.. But between Preview and PDF Expert I'm probably OK. Finally, app companies have to balance lower prices with selling many more copies and having much less piracy. Because it's hard to transfer App Store purchases, because the prices are low enough to tolerate lemons, very few pirate---never see that any more. Heck, I reverse pirate. I've bought several apps 2-3 times because I use different Apple IDs on different computers and I didn't want the hassle. But somehow subscriptions and private servers for each app bother me. I want sync based on standards: Dropbox and Apple are standards. I don't want Smile to have my snippets. I'm probably going to drop Day One for the same reason. I loved that app until the last release, but the development team doesn't seem to understand its user base any more.
  • I agree that at lower prices the impulse buys are more frequent, but I still am willing to pay for quality. PDF apps specifically have been expensive, and they aren't all worth it. I landed on BlueBeam Revu. It is geared toward architectural plans. Lots of tools for counting, measuring, markup & collaboration. It does much more than most others, as well. The usual form fill out & sign stuff. The desktop app is great and powerful, and the iPad app is a great in-the-field-companion. It also syncs files much better than PDF Expert, which really doesn't sync, it only allows download then manual re-upload. You also hit a great topic of data storage. iOS and apps therein are still completely f'd when it comes to file storage; can't open this file from this app, or can't access that storage app from this app. And if you can, the app usually saves a duplicate within that app that has to be resaved back into the server storage app, rather than just "open with" from anywhere, then tap save and it saves it right where it came from. Most apps don't do this. When things are hectic, it's hard to keep track of which is latest or sometimes it doesn't get pushed up, and you have to go back and do it.
    And the countless re-logins. So yeah, one more place to trap your data... No Bueno. As for the topic at hand, I haven't used this app, but I find it very hard to believe it's worth $5/m or $60 a year. Compared to other dissimilar services at similar rates. (Hulu is $8/m, our primary TV service, used hours per week)
    All these subscriptions add up. Sent from the iMore App
  • Smile Software didn't take the time to communicate this change to its customers, what they did was very sudden. First of all, I have no needs for their sync service or nor their sharing features, so I do not see any needs for the 5$ a month plan. Can I still upgrade to the new versions for 25-50$ I'm willing to pay and keep for a few years until I see another upgrade that justify the fee? No, they're effectively shown me that they don't want customers like me, they want customers that can afford 5$ for these things they think is worth the value of their software. I personally find the value in the core features, not these so called features that they said mandates the subscription. That's fine with me, I wish them all the luck but I will not pay for these and will instead fund the developers that believe in the core features that I want and I've already switched over to Typinator and paid 30$ for the license.
  • They screwed up. Big time. Let's hope they have corporate customers. Otherwise- sayonara TextExpander
  • I looked at TextExpander several years ago to solve an annoyance I had. I thought it was more expensive than my problem was worth. Disclaimer: I sell software for a living. My job is to help customers figure out if we can help them solve a problem, and simultaneously figure out how much solving that problem is worth. There is very little point in trying to justify spending $100k to solve a $10k problem. The business Math for how much TextExpander (or pretty much anything like this) is worth is based on saving time. So, how often you use it and how much your time is worth are the questions you need to figure out to put a value on it. If you used it for work once every day (estimate 250 working days per year), then it would have to save you $0.24 (we'll call it 25 cents) worth of time for each use. If your time is worth $15 per hour, then it would have to save you 1 minute per day. That is a basic break even calculation on a basic task. A few of things to keep in mind on both sides of the issue:
    1. Competition exists and alternatives can sometimes solve the same problems for less cost.
    2. Some folks are what my dad called "rock squeezers" (as in the old proverb of not being able to get blood from a stone), which means that they spend time and energy trying to get something out of nothing, or whatever they have, even if all they have are rocks. Those people will not pay for something unless someone else tells them they HAVE to.
    3. Try to remember that software sometimes has multiple uses, and therefore has multiple values, but the only thing that really matters is if it solves YOUR problem and how much it is worth to YOU.
  • I strongly disagree with the concept of software as a subscription service. It's a scam. It discourages innovation and promotes "bad government" like qualities in the company. The customer has to pay the price of software every year or lose access to it as opposed to the developer making the next version compelling enough for the customer to buy. Subscription is for continuing services. Not mostly static products like a version of a software or an edition of a book. When you purchase a first edition of a book, you don't lose access to it when the next edition comes out. Payment for next edition, newer version, etc. should be based on utility of that newer version not fear of losing the existing one. It is a customer's right whether to upgrade from version 10 to 11, or skip 11 and wait for version 12.
  • Exactly. Adobe's software is a good example of the bad side of subscriptions. I get spammed by Adobe all the time encouraging me to try new software I don't need or want. In fact, this past week, it was telling me every single day that the Adobe Cloud app was broken and had to be downloaded before I could continue. And then it insisted I download and install some new app aimed at marketing wonks. It was clear it was going to annoy me until I did. So I downloaded it and waste that much space on my 1TB drive in my Mac Pro. We ended up purchasing Quark Publishing System because Adobe's competitive solution seemed unaware that print still exists. Adobe has lost track of its heritage and it's gotten lazy. And subscriptions play right into that laziness. That's what happens when you get rid of an engineer as CEO and replace him with a marketing person. I've made a commitment to switch away from TextExpander for many of the reasons mentioned. I was blindsided by this. No notice whatsoever and bam, here it is. Yes, I could get the special 12-month deal for previous users. A mere token of acknowledgement that they screwed up. What after that? Why bother continuing to develop my snippets and processes in TextExpander when I no longer trust them to keep my interests at heart? Nope. I'm switching. I thought it might be TypeIt4Me, but I'm finding Typinator, with its regular expressions and other features, turns out to be even more powerful than TextExpander. And there's no subscription. They have every right to do what they want with their product. But they also have to realized when you change the calculation so abruptly, you make people mad. And that's the beginning of a downward spiral that could lead to disaster.
  • Completely agree. I'm not angry at Smile for trying whatever they think is best for their business (I'm not a customer anyway), but I just can't pay for something as a subscription that will stop working as soon as I unsubscribe. I can't bring myself to pay for Apple Music for the same reason. What the vendor of the service wants is exactly the opposite of what I want: for me to become addicted to the service so that I can't quit. But I want something to show for my money if I stop. Even when I don't renew a magazine subscription, I can still look at at back issues whenever I want. I do have sympathy for app developers, but I also think they have helped to bring this "race to the bottom" mentality on themselves by not having the resolve to just go with a paid upgrade model. Tapbots does it, and they seem to be doing okay, I think? Sure, people will moan and whine but they do that with the subscription model too. Bottom line: I'm not buying SaaS when it's really not a service at all, but just software.
  • The money issue aside, I look at how I'm being treated as a customer. And that's the biggest place Smile is changing my opinion of them and their software Not only did they change the model, but they removed features that competed with their new marquee feature. And there is not a single mention i can find of the removal of features. In fact, I don't see anyone from Smile engaging their customers in any way other than breathless cheer-leading for syncing. No blog posts about the change in business model. Nothing apologizing for removing features then increasing the price. I think perhaps they should take a page from Panic software, a company quite open about its business model, and one that lets you know whats going on and the reasoning behind their decisions Smile seems to be taking advice to bunker down, say nothing, hope for the best, and think of their customers as revenue streams. I originally was 100 percent against this, I'm still opposed, but willing to listen to Smile regarding their reasoning, to engage them. But they stay silent. And that silence speaks volumes to me.
  • I first heard of this through my sister, who does use the app. I think the biggest complaint I am hearing is not the subscription, per se, but the fact that it was "BOOM, we changed." with no warning. I'll take a similar (though less financial impact) app situation I experienced. Skitch. I love that app. They got bought by Evernote, and suddenly there was a new version and less/different functionality. I tried the new version, but it wasn't cutting it. Fortunately, Evernote kept the old version available, with a few tweeks, and I continued to use it over the newer version because it was familiar, and my workflow worked better with it. Over time, the improved the new version, added features back based on user feedback. The biggest thing they did that helped the transition was to communicate with it's customers, in advance. Oh, side note: What finally got me on the new version path with Skitch? The fact that all my Macs became retina, and I couldn't stand the old, non-retina menubar icon. Silly reason, but it is what pushed me over, after several improvements to the "Evernote" created version.
  • I want to support good software development and those who make it. This is a result of the race to the bottom in app prices. But it adds up for many of us. (It feels like leasing software too.) If more and more devs choose this, it's going to force harder choices and "maybe I don't really need this", where I was happy to pay a one-time premium--and yes occasional upgrade prices--for good apps. I don't want my software to turn into another big monthly bill like a cable subscription.
  • That said, I discovered they were offering a one-year discount to upgraders, so I paid for one year. It works out to be $2/mo. I also didn't realize the payment would be all at once, which I prefer, because then it is like I'm paying for an upgrade rather than a subscription. I know that's semantics, but the psychology of it does matter. (I wish Apple would do it for iCloud storage, rather than charge me 99 cents a month.) For $24, I am willing to see how this works in order to continue to support a valuable tool. If it doesn't, I'll find something else.
  • I'd rather pay $60 than $5/month. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but I hate monthly obligations. Between Patreon and Evernote and Office 365, these begin to add up. Instead, just charge what you think the software is worth, and feel free to hit me up with a new version each year. Parallels does this, for example.
  • I think they will find they had a ton of paying 'casual' customers ... way more than they think.. I was one.. I've moved over to aText.. Does the job, syncs to iCloud.. done..
  • I don't mind paying for apps that provide value to me. For example, I pay for Omnifocus and OmniOutliner - which aren't cheap. But the cost for these valuable apps is worth it to me. Text Expander, on the other hand, is nice but just not worth the price to me. If others want to pay that much for Text Expander, that's fine with me. For me, the value just isn't there so I will be switching to something else. I'm not upset about it, because it's just software. It's not a moral issue. They are offering a price for Text Expander and I'm declining their offer. No big deal.
  • The software as a subscription model is just a shift in the race to the bottom app pricing model. Right now not a lot of software is based on straight subscription. I can see if more developers move thus way that they will end up with the same result as they have now. People will be unable or unwilling to subscribe to all the software they may want or need. I think a good balance is the way Evernote does it. You can use a lot of the core app but if you have the want or need, then you pay for the subscription to the upgrades. This makes more sense to me and shows that you value your customers and respect them. What Smile did is a big middle finger to those of us who like the app and pay for it but just can't justify the new subscribe or hit the bricks stance they have taken. And their silence about this as mentioned above speaks volumes. Sent from the iMore App
  • There's a simple phrase for what Smile did. They moved the goalpost. You go into something with a set of expectations. Smile changed those expectations for their benefit, not for the customer's benefit. This is a greedy move. It does not add a service that wasn't already available and they know it. I paid for this software on my Mac and iOS devices, and now I'm being told that it's going to cost me even more money. Well, no. TexExpander is just a convenience for me, not an essential part of my day. I'm not giving into the "It's only $5" argument. I have a LOT of vendors who now want a monthly siphon from my credit card and it adds up. There's just no value proposition in this change for the customer.
  • Wow! Is that really how it works? I had assumed that unless you updated to the new version, your old version would keep trucking along.
  • As others have said, this is a huge change in Smile's business model. They are now requiring customers to pay a monthly fee in order to use the app. Smile removed previous sync functionality via Dropbox and iCloud. They opted to build their own sync service so snippets could be synced in a way Smile thought was better. It seems Smile tried to solve a problem that did not exist. The only thing it seems Smile is trying to fix is how they can make more money. I completely understand that they are a company and need to make a profit to survive. However, I can't help but feel this could have been done differently to cater to different types of customers. I don't know what that way is because I'm not a business person. Judging by comments I've seen on blogs and Twitter, Smile has alienated casual TextExpander users and have chosen to cater to power users. I say this because casual users (and probably even power users for the most part) were happy with how the product worked and that it synced via Dropbox and iCloud. At least if you were a TextExpander 3 user, you can continue to use the app until an iOS or Mac update breaks it for the respective platform.
  • Actually we might not even have to upgrade to the next TextExpander. We just wait for the next major version of Alfred.
  • I have Alfred. Tell me more...
  • Just my take but I agree with what several people say about finding value and the value is saving you serious time in the long run. Subscriptions vs. paying for the next version plays directly into this. I have never used Text Expander but I do use Parallels and Day One. Parallels basically leaves old versions to die every time OS X gets updated and that gets expensive having to pay $80 yearly per computer just to update OS X, never mind that I have been using the same version of Windows for the last 4 years. But, I pay because I have to have it for my work. Day One is an excellent app and I have faithfully used it since 2012. But, the dev decides to push an update without defining that the app will now take my features that I paid for away just so it can go free on the App Store. This has left me to either pay for a new version or stop using the app. Luckily I don't have to have Day One so I'm still undecided if I will support the new version. Two different tactics, same end result: Forced upgrade.