Writing

The new Ulysses subscription plan is a wonderful idea

Yesterday my favourite general writing app Ulysses announced a change in pricing. Until now you’ve paid a one-off fee for the Mac app and another one-off fee for the iOS one. Now the app is changing to a subscription system. You can read the details here. In a nutshell,  a fixed fee per month or a year ($4.99/$39.99 with hefty lifetime discounts for existing users and a generous free trial)  gets you both apps on all your devices.

I suspect most regular, professional Ulysses users will breathe a sigh of relief and think, ‘Thank goodness for that.’ As Max Seelemann, one of the app’s founders, says in a longer post here, ‘Our users expect a continuously evolving high quality product — and subscription is the only way we can truly deliver on that expectation.’

Amen.

Still there are, inevitably, a few people out there shrieking in fury about greed and ‘bait and switch’ tactics to squeeze out of an impoverished public the equivalent of the cash we’d happily spend on coffee and a donut in a couple of days. All for something which in my case has earned pretty large sums of money (four published books, two published audio works and more in the pipeline). If you’re of this mindset may I point out a few facts?

  • Using computers is cheaper than it’s ever been. When I first started writing for a living the average desktop (without screen) cost well over a grand, laptops over two grand and both of them were obsolete within three years of purchase if you were lucky.
  • A copy of Word for Windows when it launched listed at something a little way under $500. Yes $500. Today I think it a relative bargain that I can get a subscription for Microsoft Office for £80 or so. Not that I use it except for dealing with manuscripts going to and fro between publishers.
  • The app store model is simply daft. I bought Ulysses back in 2013 and made it my primary writing tool because it matched my approach perfectly (though I still use and like Scrivener for script development). In that time Ulysses has been updated nine times, very substantially, adding more features and an iOS companion app (similarly updated for free since purchase). I haven’t paid a penny for those extra features. They were gifts from the developer and would stay that way forever. For a commercial company this cannot be sustainable.  Think of the business you’re in. Imagine you sold a product years ago and then promised to improve it in perpetuity for free. How long could that last?

I’m really delighted Ulysses has gone down this path. I raced to take out a subscription as quickly as I could. As an existing user it means I will get the finest pure writing app around on all my devices, Mac and iOS, for £26.99 a year. That’s less than I spend on inkjet cartridges per annum and I don’t use ink much at all.

For some reason the internet has encouraged us to place little value on the things we use, even the ones we rely on heavily day to day. It’s not just software. Books have been discounted and devalued in many places to the point where the people who write them get a pittance in return for their work. Apps have been driven down to price points where people buy them casually, never use loads of them, then wonder why the things don’t get fixed or improved then disappear a few years down the line.

As a solitary producer of intellectual property myself, I want to pay a fair price for the products I use. It’s important they produce a return that persuades their makers to stay in business. They have lives to lead, families to bring up, companies to develop. They need our support.

Some of the moans out there also remind me of a curious fact I noticed years ago. There are lots of people who want to write and expect others to pay for their writing. But when it comes to paying for the intellectual property they use themselves… well that’s different.

Ulysses is a high-level, professional product being shipped at bargain prices. I’d pay twice that for the efficiency and productivity it brings through that marvellous combination of simplicity and power.

There’s no such thing as free beer. Only beer that someone else pays for. And one day their generosity will run out.