Subscription models and my broken heart
Do we have to pay forever to use what we love?
First of all, it is going to be a long post, it will be a little annoying and since I’ve never done this before, it is possible that I’ll make some grammar mistakes, jumping around between topics and some mild swearing, so here we go, I apologise in advance.
Yesterday, I posted a comment to a group that I’m member of on Facebook. It’s a Sketch community which you can share some design tricks, how to do’s, reviewing new features and get some feedbacks if you have any questions related with Sketch. What I posted was about how Sketch changed its business model from “buy once, use forever” to “renew your license every year”. Before going deeper on every single point that I tried to make, here is what I said on that post:
“Last year, one of the main reason I downloaded and started using Sketch was “no more subscription models, pay once and use it forever”.
A couple of days ago, I wanted to update it to the latest version and I got “you have to renew your license to get the latest version, otherwise you can keep using your current version”. Well, thanks but no thanks. It IS a subscription model, just cheaper.
Still love Sketch, still using it, just wanted to share how it broke my heart a little:)
(And please don’t start with all that ‘hey, those guys need to earn some money to make it a better software.’ Well, who doesn’t?)”
Ok, where does it come from?
Few years ago we all were looking a better solution to design better interfaces since Retina display and other resolution-rich devices on the rise. Photoshop was slow and designing for @2x and trying to create a stable asset management by using it was not that practical. I, personally, tried Illustrator as my main design tool for UI purposes along with creating illustrations and branding but obviously wasn’t good enough either. We all know that none of those Adobe products have met our expectations until XD.
Then we’ve met Sketch, it was fast, fit for purpose, still getting there but even in beta stages we loved it. And the best thing was you didn’t have to pay for it monthly or annually or whatever subscription method others already ask for. You pay for it and it was yours, truly.
Let’s make a pause here
Some says Sketch still let you use your current version if you don’t want to have the latest updates. However:
That’s why we have just made a pause. Every time I asked someone why Sketch asks you to pay for to get the latest version (if you already have previous one), I’m told that “hey man, you don’t have to do that, just don’t pay for it if you don’t want to. You won’t get the latest updates but keep using the one you have, problem solved.”
No, it’s not.. Not really…
I work for/with many different companies which are in different shapes, sizes, structures, teams and sometimes in different smell (free burritos fridays!!). Some of those have big design teams and you work together, right? So you work on the same project at the same time, and make changes, updates and iterations simultaneously, right? So how come I am supposed to work with an outdated version of a software and not be able to work on others’ documents if I’m not allowed to open a newer version?
Does not that mean I HAVE TO update/upgrade the version I have?
Get back on track
So what we have here now? On the left hand we have Adobe tools we all are familiar which previously we buy a version and wait for a major update, pay for it and keep working. It was a cycle we had to do again and again and again. Then they introduced a subscription system that we can, well, subscribe monthly and get whatever we want.
In this case, I’d like to go with Photoshop and Illustrator since I need them both. I create screens, illustrations, infographics, wireframes and so on. I don’t need all those apps they offer, I even don’t use most of them anyway. Based on this subscription model I have to pay £40/month to get them both.
On the right hand, we have Sketch, but it doesn’t do all what I need. Is there any alternative to meet my expectations to keep the ball running? Yes, there is Affinity products and they are pretty strong alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator. Not there yet but growing fast and getting there, I can use them as my wingmen (or droids, I love droids).
I paid for both Designer and Photo from Affinity and they do the work pretty well! Once in a while, I make some corrections on some imagery, or create a simple illustration to provide a better visual language of a product that I work on. It’s all about what you need to create at the and of the day, but knowing that you pay for it and forget about it is a great feeling!
Now I’m in my happy place; I have Sketch, Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo and I’ve already paid for them, got the licence and I’m not gonna worry about how much money will be taken my bank account every month, rock on!
Well, it didn’t last long as you’ve already got the point…
Stop there now!
Sketch says you have to pay 69USD (for a single license) if you keep your product up to date. And after I posted my thoughts on Facebook, some replied to me by saying “it is not that much money, what are you whining about you fuss?”.
That is not the point, not even close. But let’s analyse this for a moment.
We (humans) don’t like radical changes. Years ago, while we still were using Photoshop for UI designing, there was a big noise among the community. If someone says something like “hey, I want to do this in Photoshop but it doesn’t let me, what a crap”, there was a quick backfire from others, something like “hey, they work hard to make it better, quit blabbing, figure it out”. Then Sketch came up and all of those royal fellow designers kept their distance until Sketch has become a standard tool in our toolbox. Then they shifted their allegiance to the new kid on the block. Expected and natural behaviour, it’s all good.
In short, we don’t like changes at first but when we do we get addicted bitches and we stop questioning what is going on.
Keeping that in mind, having these comments make sense to me. Designers get attached what they like and they defend it. But come on fellas, we are in the same boat; we work hard to get somewhere better and we all need money to survive.
Ok, you’re getting out of hand, back to the point please.
Right, let’s look at those comments I got and make a conversation from there (it’s gonna be fun, I promise):
You’re right sir, good point. However it does not align with reality, in most cases. I don’t have a fridge which fills itself up daily, I can’t teleport to work every day, I also have to pay for it (not for the teleport but train, and it’s expensive). I have other softwares that I have to pay (subscription or not) and I like to go to see a movie sometimes, you know, we also need to get relaxed once in a while and we pay for dome entertainment.
There is a huge competition out there and you need to get better as a designer. It doesn’t have to be, so to say, Jack-of-all-trades role but you’re supposed to know some animation, UX, prototyping, typography, marketing, development to create a better design to cover your part of this process.
(If you are a happy designer who just take wireframes and skin them with nice gradients and buttons, I assume you don’t get paid much and subscriptions can still hurt you, my dear Dribbbler).
I put this one just for fun. I didn’t get what he was trying to point out as a reply to my post. Still working on it. Let me know if you figure this out.
This person got it all. I mentioned that I read an article which is also on Medium and it was about Figma and somewhere in comments (if my memory serves me right) someone says that we should get used to those subscription models, everyone is doing the business that way.
And her analogy is great! Hooked on a hospital machine and then boom, you die if you don’t pay.
What a monster I am! And shame indeed! Let’s the sarcasm rolling on; I am a person who doesn’t understand how to develop a product from the ground and what it takes to make it better. While some other good products doesn’t ask for your subscription, Sketch and some others do, because they work hard, they provide nice features, how dare I say why do they do this?
Does that mean Affinity products are so bad that they can’t ask for you to subscribe? They may do that as well, in near future, I have no idea. But they haven’t gone for it yet, which means there can be another way to keep your company alive?
Exactly! If your company doesn’t cover your software expenses (and probably they don’t if you are a freelancer/contractor), what are you supposed to do? You HAVE TO pay for it.
There are other comments an convo is still going on but we don’t need to cover them all on here. Let’s move on.
You were saying?
After I posted my thoughts on Facebook, I didn’t expect a backfire, not really. Since it’s a group that dedicated to designers (and to whom may interested in design and Sketch itself) I was hoping to get some constructive feedback such as “what kind of plan would be better for us, what is an alternative to any existing subscription method”, but it didn’t happen. It’s not a dead end though, we can just ignore those people to get rid of negative side of human nature and focus on if we come up with a good, ground-breaking, mouth-watering payment plan!!! But since I’m not a sales person or a business adviser or whatever title they give those people these day, I can’t justify an idea by only writing it down here (However, please comment your ideas if you have any, by all means).
Still, we can take a look what others do when it comes pricing:
We’ve already covered this but it doesn’t harm to emphasise on it anyway. Affinity offers “one time purchase” as Sketch used to do and it comes with billions of features, add ons, etc..
Figma offers a free plan for starters. I’ve started using it recently and if you’re an only designer who is in charge of all libraries you create, it is enough. I like that “Team component library” and I may need it in future so have a shared Pattern Library with others, then I’ll pay for it. Not now.
(Another little pause here, I know some of you will mention that some of these products are not relevant to Sketch, or not even an equivalent which is true. We are trying to figure out what kind of payment plans out there regardless what they are selling, so sit down mister!).
Get started absolutely free.Free forever. No credit card needed.
Invision gives you a nice start by offering you a free account in a small space to do but hey, it doesn’t scare you by having you subscribed already!
Alternatives for current plan
Let’s say that existing subscription models are the only way, nowhere to escape. What we can change under the hood then?
- How about changing that annual plan to monthly (I’m talking to you Sketch) and let me freeze it when I don’t need to use it? I’m going holiday for 3 months and why would I pay for it?
2. It is an obvious choice but make your product compatible with earlier versions. Most of the time, updates you make come from your users, they suggest you to do those changes, because you probably hasn’t covered it yet (which is either a part of evil plan to sell your future updates with those features or you broke something and you even didn’t fix it).
It is not an excuse to make your users obsolete by not giving them a compatibility option.
Another conversation is also going on about Sketch’s new pricing model here, take a look if you are in a mood for reading.
Allright, we’ve heard you, go back to your room now.
Thank you if you’ve reached down here, so patient you are. I hope I made my point but I know there will be some comments down there which may even not relevant what we talked about, it is all good. They call it “diversity” these days, let’s play along.