Friday, August 11, 2017

Ulysses, One More Time

David Hewson writes that the Ulysses subsription plan is a good idea. He also finds:
Some of the moans out there also remind me of a curious fact I noticed years ago. There are lots of people who want to write and expect others to pay for their writing. But when it comes to paying for the intellectual property they use themselves… well that’s different.
I cannot share this feeling. The moans are for the most part not by people who have not paid and who are not willing to pay but by those who have already paid and who would be willing to continue to pay for updates whenever they become available. I would certainly fall into that category.

Nor am I against subscription per se. I do subscribe to some services, journals, and newspapers. I might even be willing to pay a subscription fee for some software, but I resent the fact that when I bought a license for a certain program, I am forced at some point (without prior consultation) to switch from a straightforward license to the subscription model. It used to be my free decision whether to upgrade or not, now I would be forced to pay a monthly or yearly fee to use it. As I try to keep my monthly outgo to a minimum, I will not subscribe. My budget for software is limited. And whether or not spend more money on Ulysses has to be weighed against other needs.

Nor is the price of software of 20 years ago relevant to the consideration of whether Ulysses has enough value for me to justify the expense.

I also understand that some software is more important to others than it is to me, and that they might be willing to pay more on a regular basis. I am not one of those. Nor do I consider this change a "wonderful idea" for the user. A carpenter needs a hammer to conduct his business. That does not mean that s/he should pay a subscription for a hammer. (I do understand that you never really own a piece of software, but get a license that allows you to use it, but this does not change the fundamental fact that the move to a subscription model changes the cost structure and is far from "wonderful" for the user. I have written books, and I have made money from them, but I would not consider it fair if my readers were all at once forced to pay a subscription" for being able to continue to read them because there might be new editions in the future.

Software developers have, of course, the right to charge as much they want, or better: as much as the market will support. But I reserve the right to reject the subscription. You may call this a "subjective" reaction, but it is no more subjective than my (and anyone else's) decision to buy, say, a robotic vacuum cleaner.

That being said, I wish the developers of Ulysses all the luck in the world.


Mark Krieg said...

Well spoken and I agree with you completely. I've purchased everything this company has made in the past two decades. And I would be glad to continue purchasing upgrades, But being forced into a subscription at such a high price is too much for me. I've already subscribed to several apps that I use daily, but their subscription prices are far less, and the apps are far more sophisticated. Ulysses is great, but there are other great markdown editors out there.

Todd Lucas said...

Ulysses, on iOS, no less, has recently become my primary writing tool, so this has me in a bit of a quandary. I could go ahead and subscribe, get my 50% lifetime discount, and pay my $2.50 a month from here out. I could just stick the current version as it will continue to work, as installed on my iPad and iPhone right now, which is perfectly fine by me (I can't think of a lot to improve that I believe they would ever actually do). I could just give up and go hunting for new tools and processes, AGAIN ...

I don't use a Mac, mainly as a cost of entry issue. I would only want something to act as a MacOS desktop machine, and Apple isn't currently in the business of producing a cheap desktop machine using anything like current hardware. My 5-year-old salvaged DELL laptop on a dock running Win10 is 2-3 times as powerful as any new Mac I could get for under $1100 and does all my heavy lifting. What I would like to see, and never expect to, from this "all platform" subscription would be a version for Windows. If they could tell me that was in the works, coming soon, or at least being seriously considered, I would jump on it in a second.

Anyway, I've cut material out of this comment three different times because I started writing a book, so lets just say, its complicated, what this announcement is doing to me and my productivity, and I sincerely doubt I'm much of an edge case. Gotta go find a way to put a cap on how much writing time this ends up wasting for me. And yes, I'm almost willing to forgo the whole deliberation and just throw money at it, AGAIN, kinda like I did when I bought the iPad and ClamCase keyboard in order to use Ulysses in the first place.

Matthias Steffens said...

Thanks for this article which resonated with me!

I very much value software that's well written, maintained and supported, and I'm happy to pay for it. But I want to decide myself if/when I upgrade. This is especially important for applications which I use only casually. The Ulysses subscription model works well for power users but leaves out many casual users (at least if they use the software like once per month instead of only a few months of heavy use and then no use during the rest of the year).

My biggest issue however with software subscriptions is what Steven Zeoli described nicely under "Loss of control" (at Here's a concrete example: I'm a former researcher studying sea ice biology in polar areas. And, similar to all field-based research disciplines, long field trips (up to 3 months long) weren't uncommon. During these field trips, you're mostly working offline, w/o any internet access. But these field trips are usually also times of heavy writing: they often given you the chance to also focus on your current writing project w/o the regular distractions. Now imagine if, after some time, your writing app (or knowledge/reference manager) suddenly jumps into read-only mode just because it couldn't verify your subscription with the company's server. A desaster. For people outside the field-based research disciplines this scenario may sound like a niche problem and somewhat constructed, but it's a real concern for a large part of the natural sciences.

I am now working as a Mac developer myself (currently working on an info & knowledege app which combines academic note-taking and PDF annotation), and I can fully understand the reasons why the Ulysses folks decided to go with a subscription model. Still, I think they should have given users more options, so that casual users or users with special needs (like described above) aren't forced to leave.