What's a good (mobile) app subscription price?

During the last year more and more apps have moved from a one-time payments to subscription systems. Apps that were previously available for 5-10 EUR and then charged their users again for the next major version moved to either monthly or yearly fees.

This has a couple of upsides not only for the developers but also for the users of such applications:

  • The developers can, to some degree, expect a constant stream of income if they continue supporting their applications. The user benefits from that by helping keeping an app they use well-maintained.
  • Developers no longer have to create a whole new application if they want to see some money again. For the user this also has the advantage that they don’t have to migrate data, or just invest any time and effort in addition to money on such new major upgrades.

Perhaps the first mobile app where I myself opted to pay for a subscription was Overcast. I didn’t do that thinking I’d actively subscribe to something but simply because I wanted to support the author and wanted to see the app being maintained and worked on in the future. Marco Arment wants € 10 per year: A classic no-brainer. Paying for Overcast was in fact the first thing I did when I switched back to iOS a couple of years ago.

Recently, I ran into some issues with iA Writer and therefore started looking around for alternatives. Thanks to the Nested Folders podcast I had stumbled upon Drafts and set out to give it a try. Drafts is usable without paying a monthly fee but I want some of the “premium features”, so would this be worth it for me? It’s € 20 per year (or € 2 per month) for a better text editor with working sync, lots of automation options, but no support for images. I won’t be able to use it for any kind of confidential drafting as everything either is or is not synchronized through iCloud. You cannot tell it to never sync everything but all drafts with a specific tag. This means that I cannot use it for diaries and company drafts, but I can use it to draft tweets, toots, non-critical emails, and blog posts. For these use-cases, I think, € 20 is at the upper limit of what I’d be willing to pay every year.

Yesterday I ran into a situation that was even harder. I’ve been using Feedly for lots and lots of years now as my feed aggregator and primary source for non-local news. I have a life-time subscription there for which I paid € 100 once. Yesterday now I came across a feed reader called Unread 2 which has a really nice user-interface, tons of interesting features, and synchronizes my reading status through Feedly. In fact, Unread 2 requires some kind of service like Feedly, Feedbin, or FeedWrangler. You cannot just subscribe to an RSS from the app without having one of these services set up first.

What made the situation complicated was that Unread 2 is a subscription-based app that costs € 20 per year. If I hadn’t bought the life-time subscription for Feedly I’d have to pay around € 5 per month for that and then another € 1.67 for Unread 2. That’s around € 80 per year just to read the news. If Unread 2 supported direct feed management within the app (and synchronized through iCloud) the decision would have been quite clear-cut for me.

On the other hand there are applications like Apollo. Apollo has a couple of ways to support its author:

  1. a tip jar with tips ranging from € 1.09 all the way up to € 21.99
  2. A one-time “Pro” unlock which makes tons of features available except for those that would create recurring costs to the developer
  3. An “Ultra” subscription at € 10 per year that covers those recurring expenses

I have so far bought a Pro unlock and an Ultra subscription and have had it for some time now. Same with the subscription for Overcast, € 10 per year is a no-brainer for an app that I use daily (actually multiple times per day but who keeps count). Combine that with a tip-jar and you have a pricing model that should be appealing to pretty much everyone while allowing power-users and fanboys like myself to thank the developers even more.

Depending on the app, € 20 per year might simply be a bit too much on its own especially if additional costs are involved. Apps are running the risk of becoming a victim here of more and more products that were previously either not subscription-based (e.g. music or games) or large ones with lots of content (e.g. cable TV). At least I am getting really tired of having to pay an annual or monthly fee for pretty much everything I want to consume. I now subscribe to Amazon Prime, Spotify, and Netflix and I will probably also have to get Disney+ once it is available in Austria. All content that I can only consume as long as I’m paying the subscription and the service is allowed to distribute it. Anything that goes beyond € 1 per month is now something that I think really, really hard about before I hit the “subscribe” button…

P.S.: Over on MacStories Ryan Christoffel has a nice review of Unread 2 that pretty much convinced me that it may be worth € 20 per year 😅