Subscription software is death by a thousand cuts

By | septiembre 28, 2017
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Over the last decade, the software business has undergone a revolution. In the past, companies like Microsoft and Adobe would charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for their software. And every two or three years, the software would be updated and we’d fork out hundreds more to upgrade. Now, we pay a few dollars — perhaps the cost of a two or three decent coffees made by the local hipster barista — for access to software each month. But are we better off?

I received an email this week from Microsoft telling me the annual subscription fee for Office 365 was going up by $10 a year from 12 October 2017, the first price increase since the launch in 2013. And that made me think: what am I paying in annual and monthly subscriptions?

Here’s what I’ve got (all the numbers are annual although some are billed monthly):

  • Office 365: $129
  • Google Apps: $66
  • Adobe Creative Cloud (I only need InDesign): $343 (ouch!)
  • Netflix: $168
  • Accounts system: $440
  • Spotify: $120

That’s over $1200 per year. And that’s after cancelling Stan, WWE and a couple of others.

Over the last few years, I’ve heard a number of small business owners lament the shift away from perpetual licenses to subscriptions. In the past, they could buy a computer and load it with a perpetual version of the current release of Microsoft Office. But now, they are being slowly pushed towards Office 365.

And while the upfront cost was high, they could write it off with the computer purchase all at once. Now, they have another transaction to reconcile each month.

Curated app stores like the Windows Store or the macOS App Store offer the best of both worlds most of the time. There’s a one-off purchase of the licence with automatic software updates rolled into the package.

Not all software vendors embrace this model, preferring the regular cashflow that comes from subscribers, over the lumpier revenue that comes from major releases.

With subscriptions software and cloud services becoming more prevalent and the ease with which we can sign on, it’s easy to start adding costs to your bottom line, especially when each app or «only» costs a cup of coffee or two each week.

How can you avoid subscription software?

With Microsoft announcing a new perpetual release of Office — Office 2019 will be out in the second half of next year — there is a way to avoid some of the subscription pain. And, while many popular apps have gone down the subscription path, there are perpetual alternatives.

For example, rather than add Photoshop to my Adobe Creative Cloud account, I’ve purchased Pixelmator for use on my Mac and iPad. And I get by with GIMP on my Windows machines. Office 365 is tough for me to move from, particularly as many of the people I work with use it and dealing with compatibility differences on some documents would add pain I don’t want to deal with.

But, Open Office and Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) are more than good enough for most people.

In most cases, there are options if you’re prepared to look away from the larger software makers.

When do subscription software and services make sense?

There are cases where I think software as a service makes good sense.

File syncing and cloud storage are great use cases for individuals and businesses to look at software as a service. It’s possible to create your own file sync solution using a NAS like the Synology DS1517+ but, for many, it makes better sense to use an online service.

Accounting software is another category I think is a good candidate for subscription. Being able to access your accounts solution from anywhere and automatically receiving updates pertaining to legislative changes makes this useful, at least in my case.

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