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Should more app developers use subscriptions?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

As an indie developer, would you make your apps available as a subscription?

James Thomson: As a developer, I would love subscription revenue. It would be amazing. Regular income, people keep using the app, you keep getting money, sounds great. As a customer, I hate them. I'm prepared to subscribe to a couple of apps. But then once it's every app, then at what point do I say, “no, I'm just going to use the built in calculator. I'm just going to use built in notes. I'm going to use some other tool or I'm going to use a lesser free tool or a tool that has a paid level, but I can get on the free level or something like that.”

I know I have this visceral reaction to subscriptions and I don't like them. So how do I square that with my, as a developer that wants to be sustainable and wants to make money and wants to be able to continue to have their business grow, or at least stay at a level where I have income, but I hate this. Do I have to inflict them on my customers? It's a really difficult thing and it'd be nice if people just paid for software and bought the things that they liked. That doesn't seem to be working quite as well. And Apple's not helping either with developers whine for years about wanting paid upfront subscription.

Apple had what, 11 years, 12 years of the App Store now? It's not coming. I mean there's other things that are even more scary on the horizon. We've got Apple Arcade, and Apple Arcade is interesting from a consumer perspective, You pay $5 a month and you get all these games from lots of developers. You don't need to get any other games. If they did something similar for apps where does that leave us? If for another $5 you get the best of the App Store and if you're not in that group, well that's your income gone because everybody's going to go for this thing. But if you are in that group, what does your income look like then?

I don't think we know what the contracts are like for Apple Arcade. I think I've heard from some people that it's actually pretty good or the Apple's acting as a publisher paying for development or something that. But for an app where you're in it for the long haul I'm not sure how well it would work. But that's the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. How is this going to work?

Right now our app developer income is down like everybody else's income. The last few years have been pretty good, and I don't know if that's because I was saying their income was going down, but it's like for developers where it's marginal as to whether they're making a profit or not, a 50% loss of income could be the difference between whether it's a sustainable business or not very easily. You know, even 10% can make that difference.

Paul Hudson: I think the gap is that with Apple Arcade, how many platform games could you have? The answer is quite a few. How many racing games? Quite a few. How many shoot em up games? Quite a few. You wouldn't mind buying 10 or 20 of them. No one's going to say. “Yeah, I'm really glad I have four calculator apps on my phone.” You'd have one app and you'd stick with that one app or the one weather app or the one camera app you use. I have Halide, I have PCalc, I have Dark Sky. The apps I use, I'm not going to jump around too much between them.

“We talked about a number of different ways of getting visibility, but if it did go to that overall subscribing model, you could see just whole product categories just getting wiped out.”

James Thomson: Yeah, but you could then see in that situation maybe then it comes down to you have to be the one that's in that situation. Well I would hope it would be me.

Paul Hudson: Who else would it be?

James Thomson: Well then that's the thing. I sound like the BBC – “other calculators are available.” There are other things that work better for other people. PCalc's not a graphing calculator. It's not an expression-based calculator and there are people who need something like that and there are better products out there for doing that. I'm in a particular niche. For any one product, there are lots of different versions on the App Store for it and it's hard to get that visibility. We talked about a number of different ways of getting visibility, but if it did go to that overall subscribing model you could see just whole product categories just getting wiped out.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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