App subscriptions make so much sense… but I don’t want to buy them.

A new trend in app development are apps that charge you a monthly fee. This is either for use of the whole app after a trial period or to unlock premium features (mainly the features that you really need).

I’ve been using smartphones and their app stores since their inception and have watched the respective app stores change many times. I’ve never been a stranger to paying for an app, and in fact several of my core ‘daily’ apps I have purchased. I believe in supporting the developer for their work, and I believe in paying for a quality product. But while I’ll happily fork out ten or so dollars for an app, I currently cannot bring myself to pay for an app on a subscription basis.

And it’s not like Developers are being greedy here, well most aren’t. Product ecosystems change over time and with it so do pricing and payment models.

An application isn’t just made once, so why should it be paid for just once? Developers are expected to add new features to an app which costs money, apps that use network features need to pay for server costs, often monthly, updating an app to the newest version of iOS or Android also costs money, not to mention all the fees along the way taking their cut. App developers have to fork out money for their product repeatedly and yet the user gets to pay for it once and use it indefinitely?

It’s not really a sustainable model and I understand why app developers are turning towards a more robust revenue model. If they have to support an app like its a service why shouldn’t the user pay for it like its a service?

So why can’t I bring myself to fork out for the subscription?

I’m happy to pay for the gym and Netflix every month so why what’s stopping me from following suit?

One theory I have is down to how apps have been pitched over the years. App developers have shied away from charging too much, so they have always been affordable in some shape or another and then when you do finally commit to paying some cash it has been in small amounts. Some apps I buy and because they cost as much as a coffee or two I’m not upset if I stop using the app a month down the track. Just like I have no regret for the money spent on a bad coffee four weeks ago, the purchase of an app has never passed the threshold of causing regret.

This has put the app into the a headspace of consumable product that I own. Like deodorant, it’s cheap, it lasts me an unknown amount of time, I never remember the specific date I bought it and I’m happy to shell out money when it needs replacing, I’m never looking at my budget going “I have to get new deodorant this week, how will I manage?” This is exactly how micro transaction culture has become so profitable for more than just apps.

And this is where I have drawn a subconscious line in the sand. Purchasing an app has always been cheap enough not to threaten my budget but all of a sudden wanting me to shell our $9 every month changes the game as it becomes a perceived budgetary stress. I can justify having two less coffees this week but to commit to two less coffees every month is a different mental process.

It’s also not helped by the marketing tactic of saying its $9 a month or a yearly payment of $89.50 (there is always a discount). It’s like when you stop and think that your daily coffee and scone habit at work actually costs you over two thousand dollars a year! It’s more confronting than anything else. The only time I want to be offered a discount for long service is on my insurance or mortgage.

The last thing that prevents me from crossing the line is the removal of ownership. Yes I am aware that even if I buy an app I don’t really own it, but it feels like I do. Subscribing to an app means that I never own it, I pay a monthly access fee and I always fear I’ll not be able to afford it the month I really need it. Sometimes you just want to feel like you possess something, I’m happy paying for access to Netflix but if I couldn’t own a lamp, and the only way in the entire world to have a lamp in my bedroom was to rent it, it would feel odd, off putting, especially given I can own other things.

So to cut a very long ramble short, I understand why apps need to go subscription. As they do more and more of the things that we expect them to do, we should be happy to pay them fairly for that. I just don’t have to like it now, it feels weird. It may go away as unviable, or it may be the new norm in five years time and I’ll think back fondly of the times you could buy apps outright.