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TextExpander goes Subscription Only

TextExpander, a long-time utility for Mac and iOS, switched its pricing to a subscription service this week. Of course I have thoughts.

I’m a long-time supporter of subscription pricing. Subscriptions are going to be the primary way we pay for productivity apps eventually. It’s going to happen. It has to happen. Upgrade pricing has been rejected by most consumers[1], and many businesses tend to prefer the predictable monthly costs of a subscription. As Adobe and Microsoft have shown, subscriptions may be a hard sell at first, but the long-term benefits to the health of products based on subscription are obvious. At least for pro apps.

I have no idea what will happen to consumer software in the long run. For now, freemium seems to be the way to go. But that can’t last forever. I’m not terribly interested, to tell you the truth. Pro apps are more where I put my focus.

And that’s what makes TextExpander an interesting case. Is it “pro” software? Or is it more like a consumer product? I tend to think of it as somewhere in between.

The people at Smile are incredibly smart. They’ve been running a successful business longer than some iOS devs have been alive. So I’m sure they haven’t made this decision lightly. They know they will lose casual users over this decision.

Because I actually use TextExpander, I find myself in a position of having to evaluate this decision to go subscription-only from two different perspectives: that of a fellow developer, and that of an actual customer of the product.

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.

So would I personally pay $5 a month to keep using TextExpander? As it stands now, probably not. If I were to make that investment, I’d want to start using the more powerful capabilities that TextExpander offers. Which, frankly, might be a good thing, both for me and Smile. One of the great things about subscriptions is that those monthly payments are an incentive to be a more active user of the product. That makes for happier, more engaged, if fewer, customers.

Whether or not I’d actually take the time and explore those more powerful features is a big question, though. I have a workflow that I like; I don’t often have an interest in digging into these higher-level geeky productivity tools. There’s a part of me that wishes I did, but if I’m honest with myself, I just don’t get that deep into power-user territory. I may not be a good customer of this product moving forward.

However, while TextExpander may lose me as a customer over this[2], the people who do become monthly subscribers are going to be more engaged, more devoted customers. Which is undoubtedly a good thing. Whether they get enough of these subscribers to sustain their business is the big variable. I wish them all the best.

  1. Long-time tech geeks and developers love upgrade pricing. But since the iPhone, the consumer base has grown by a couple of orders of magnitude. And the majority of those new customers don’t really understand why they need to pay for an upgrade. Read the reviews of any consumer app that has released a paid upgrade in the past three years if you don’t believe me.  ↩
  2. I can, of course, keep using TextExpander, so when I say they may lose me as a customer, I don’t mean as a user. The older version will keep working just fine. (Update: I had previously stated that the new version also works for free, only without sync. This is not the case.) But considering what would have potentially been $20 for an upgrade, they will likely not get that money from me. That’s fine. They will make the equivalent money every four months from every customer who does sign up for the subscription.  ↩