Your App Doesn't Deserve a Subscription Cost

The popular email client app “Airmail” abruptly changed its payment style from a one time fee of 4.99 to a monthly subscription of 2.99 a month or 10 a year. So let’s math it up shall we? A thing that used to cost 5 dollars to use for the rest of its lifetime which is about 7 years thus far, now costs up to 36 dollars a year. No matter which way you look at it, that’s a big jump from the previous cost. Those who purchased the app within the last 4 months will have a 4 month grace period before they lose features they already paid for, like push notifications. Oh gee thanks. And in a response to MacRumors Airmail described Push Notifications as a “side service of the app”. Yeah cause only pros want to be notified when they get an email.

But this goes beyond Airmail. This is something I feared when it was rumored that Apple was secretly pushing app makers to switch to subscriptions. Not every app can go the Apple Music or Netflix route and charge a monthly cost for their service. Apple Music, Spotify, NYT, Netflix and Hulu have an ever changing catalogue of content that is consistently being produced and put out. A document scanner app should be a one time fee because it has a specific function and requires no monthly changes, a coloring book app should be a one time fee and then have in app purchases for new books, a repetitive mobile game can have ads and on option for a one time upgrade to remove them, and you know what? An email app can have a subscription model. I can stomach the yearly $10 that Airmail has as a second option, but give users one year - not 4 months - grace period to ease the shift.

I’m not advocating for free apps, and I’m someone that believes apps should cost a little bit more upfront, but unfortunately many users scoff at paying $15 dollars for a game on the iPhone, yet are perfectly fine with that same game having a ridiculous amount of in app purchases.

I know app developers need to make money, but in a world of ever growing subscription models, it’s the responsibility of the developer to figure out exactly where their app fits and many app developers let their hubris lead them to believe “well they’ll definitely pay monthly for my app” and it’s reminiscent of a college professor giving an excessive amount of homework, neglecting to acknowledge that students have other assignments due for other classes as well. Before you know it the poor kid is having a panic attack in the library because every professor thought their class was the one that deserved the most attention.

Update: Article updated to more clearly reflect Airmail’s $10 yearly subscription