Charging for Bike

I want to see if I can sustain Bike’s development with NPR style memberships.

You are expected to get a membership if you use Bike, but Bike’s functionally is not gated behind that membership. You are asked to pay based on the value you receive and your means to pay. Price points are monthly:

  • $0.99
  • $2.99
  • $4.99

If you don’t have an active membership there will periodically be requests that you become a member. I would also reserve the right to gate functionality behind membership in the future, though my hope is that I can make it work without having to do that.

Reasonable? Please let me know what you think and if this could work for you.

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It would not work for me, as (from a philosophical stance) I don’t like subscriptions/recurring payments for apps. In my personal experience, the ratio of cost vs. benefits are very low for the end user.

I prefer paying a one-time fee for version 1 and then a discounted upgrade fee for version 2, etc. I feel that this model motivates developers to make significant improvements to the app over time (and if they don’t, I have the choice of not paying for the upgrade—and I get to keep using the version that I paid for).

Periodic requests are nags. Back in the old shareware days, they never felt good to me.

I used to love Ulysses. When it moved to a subscription/ recurring payment model, I dropped it. I did give it a year. I wasn’t seeing significant updates or valuable improvements over that year, so I canceled the subscription. And I haven’t looked back.

I love your work and apps. TaskPaper is invaluable to me. If it moved to a subscription model, I would be frustrated.

Bike has yet to find a way into my workflow. For $12, I would buy version 1 (rather than paying 99¢ per month), just to support your work. I’ll be honest—I live paycheck to paycheck. There are months were I miss meals on some days, as my budget didn’t allow for them. Subscriptions wouldn’t help my situation. That is probably way too personal, but I felt that it would be best to be honest about my situation, in case it helps.

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@Jim Thanks for your feedback. I will have to think on it.

I don’t think the standard pay a fixed price for each major version works well for the App Store. I’m also unsure if it is a great model for creating software. I also agree that a pure subscription model isn’t great for end users, I’m trying to find an in-between that works well for both.


There’s no strait forward way to sell versioned software in the App Store. A big part of that formula was offering an upgrade price and you can’t do that. Also you can’t really charge for version 2. Instead you create a whole new app and just use the same name and hope people find it. I think it ends up being confusing for both devs and developers.

Second I think that sales model is a difficult way to develop software. If you are smart (ie know how to make money) then as soon as you’ve sold 1.0 your focus needs to be on holding back features so that 2.0 is flashy and will generate upgrades. So if you are doing it the right way you always need to be maintaining the current version and holding lots of stuff back for the next big release. That’s a hard way to work, especially for an individual developer like me, one project becomes two projects, and you need to do a lot of work in bigger chunks without feedback.

I’m trying to setup a situation where I can work as I currently am on Bike, but in a way where I can also make a living at it. That is every week (or maybe it stretches to a month, but never to 6 months) I post a new release with new featuers. Get some feedback, and then post another release. I enjoy the discussion, I enjoy the incremental progress.


I also agree that as a customer (if you ignore the fact that software might be constrained by marketing concerns) subscription is a worse deal. I don’t want to be forced into 50$ a year, and then loose access to everything as soon I stop paying.

With the membership idea I’m trying to get best of both worlds:

  1. It should be possible to develop the software in a more incremental and strait forward fashion.
  2. Users get to pick price point. And one of those price points is free … in which case you’ll just be periodically reminded that the software needs members to survive.

I’m willing to tweak this model. But I don’t think the old model of selling major version will work for what I’m trying to do. (maybe membership subscriptions won’t either, but I’m hoping they will)

In your case where you’d like to support the app (thanks if you do!), but don’t yet plan to use it daily then I think you would just subscribe for a while then cancel subscription. App would continue to work, you’d just see a notification in upper right that membership expired. You are in full control of what you pay.

Do you see any tweaks I could make to make this more appealing?

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Good thoughts Jesse.

Let me dedicate some deep time this weekend to coming up with ideas and tweaks.

The goal, of course, is to make Bike sustainable and profitable by maximising the whole area under the demand curve.

i.e. not to optimize for one end of the market or the other, but to optimize for total revenue, in the light of the whole demand curve.

Multiple price points (with correspondingly multiple affordances), are, of course, a classic way of feeling your way, experimentally, towards that optimum.

Any kind of free-ish access leaches sustainability away, which isn’t in anyone’s interests, so I think the low-cost end of the spectrum would need to have significantly reduced affordances.

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On one-off license fees – the appeal is understandable, but unless they are associated with upgrade fees for a series of versions they are poor match for ongoing development costs, and over-dependent on new license sales, becoming unsustainable when the market approaches saturation.

There is also, of course, the model (Bohemian Software (Sketch) and Mellel comes to mind) in which a fee covers upgrades for a finite span – e.g. one year, and older licenses continue to work, but only with the older feature set.


Incidentally, I don’t know about other jurisdictions, but in the one from which I write, software costs can be tax-deductible for relevant income streams.

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I was looking for a model like that, but didn’t see how to manage it in the App Store. I don’t see Sketch in the App Store… I do see Mellel, but it’s not clear that they are using that model in the App Store. Are they? I don’t think there’s a way to track original purchase date and then disable versions after that. I generally like the idea of 2 years updates from the day of purchase… and then any of those versions continues to work forever.

Mellel

They’re certainly using it for directly sold licenses

True, though I hope that I won’t need to fully optimize. I would like it if “pay by use + means” can work and get me to a sustainability point. Maybe that’s a fantasy, but I’d like to try and I think it makes sense for the 1.0 release.

The current 1.0 version is bare bones enough that it doesn’t really make sense offer different features based on membership status. Everything needed! :slight_smile: As future features like scripting and themes are getting ready I will at least have some input on how many people are signing up for Memberships. If it looks like it can be sustainable then I’ll keep on course. If not then those future features might be membership only.

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Yeah, I think that must be the direct download version only.

That would be another way to go, but I would like whatever option I choose to be fully App Store compatible.

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A quick comment on the Mac App Store, as this happened with me today.

MacFamilyTree version 10 released today. He sent out a newsletter to existing users, saying:

50% Discount for all customers – only for a short time!

…and I was motivated to upgrade right away.

So this strategy works.

Certainly worth considering.

Good data point! :slight_smile:

Though again it also shows some problems with that approach in the app store. For example the version history starts at 10. It only has 20 ratings and no reviews. There’s no way to try out the app before purchase. (I see you can download a demo version from their website, but no way through App Store). I also expect that if you have version 9 of the app you aren’t notified about the 10 download availability. The model just doesn’t fit very cleanly into the App Store.

None of these issues is insurmountable, demonstrated by the fact that you just bought this upgrade and the app’s been around for many years sustaining a company. It maybe even be a better way to make money, It’s hard to say without trying both ways.

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My quick reaction: the original subscription plan struck me as sensible. I would pay the $5/mo happily, but my gut tells me $3/mo might maximize revenue although I’m not sure. That the ‘cost’ of free means interruptions asking to become a member seems totally reasonable to me.

So my vote would go to: $3/mo base subscription, with $5-$6/mo as an optional “I simply want to pay you more money” option.

So, while thinking about this last weekend, I returned to an idea I came up with for TaskPaper. I never suggested it to you, as I presumed that you were doing well as is, and didn’t need to explore an alternative income stream.

Since the idea is for a service, it would fit into your membership model.

Syncing and cross-platform access to one’s documents can be challenging. The premise is that you offer a syncing platform built for the text documents that Bike (and/or TaskPaper) creates.

Text files are relatively small, so this should be cost efficient to host. I would bet that syncing would be incredibly fast, and would compare favorably with third-party syncing apps, such as Dropbox or iCloud.

Make the syncing efficient and reliable, and only available for members. I would subscribe in a heartbeat.

Add in a web interface for edits and such (making things cross-platform and device independent), and this alone would make the membership a worthwhile ongoing investment. One would not need an iOS app, if the web interface works well.

If this service is adopted, you could give the apps away for free, and thrive off of the monthly membership income. Just make sure that the server uptime is solid.

Just putting this out there, as I think that it could be very successful.

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My other idea:

Membership gives you monthly points. 99¢ gives you one point. $2.99 gives you three, etc.

Points can be spent on:

  • Five points adds a month to your current membership
  • One point equals one vote that you can use to vote for feature requests (the highest vote total get implemented first)
  • Five points can be used to request a custom Bike JavaScript from you
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I did!

And it was better in some ways. Sync could be much faster than waiting for Dropbox/iCould. It also did automatic merging. At the same time it added a new layer of complexity to my life, needed support whole different kind of app (server).

I already have so much todo with Bike that for the foreseeable future it will keep me plenty busy. So maybe longer this will be a thing again, but I would rather outsource to a more generic service like iCloud or Dropbox even if the fit isn’t always perfect. I really want to focus on just making Bike as great as I can.

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Just to follow up here in case anyone finds this thread and gets confused…

Bike will now have two payment models

  1. If you purchase from Hog Bay Website you will get a copy that you own plus one year of free updates. Those updates will continue to work in fully licensed mode after that year … just like the good old pre subscription software days, it’s your software.

    If you wish to get NEW updates after that year has completed then you will have to renew your license. Renewing your license will cost around 50% to 70% of original price. Renewing your license will get you another year of updates.

  2. If you purchase Bike from the Mac App Store then Bike is sold using the standard subscription model with a monthly and yearly license subscription.

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Congrats on getting this new app out the door (or mostly so)! I just heard about it, downloaded it, played around a bit, and bought it.

I think the payment models you settled on sound great. But right now, as far as I can tell, the Bike home page does not make these clear. Even after clicking through to final purchase, I thought I was buying a lifetime license. Only when entering my license into Bike did I see the note about the “one year of free updates.” And there it does not specify what you say above, about how “renewing your license will cost around 50% to 70% of original price.”

Please note, I’m not complaining about the payment models, and I’m not unhappy about my purchase. I just would recommend you make these things (more) clear and state them in (more) obvious places, in case future customers are caught unaware and don’t like it.

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Thanks for noticing that. I’ll update website soon.

Let me know if this is clear enough or can be improved upon:

You are buying a license that entitles you to one year of free updates. After one year your copy of Bike will continue to work–you will need to renew your license to receive future updates.