What do app developers owe you once you have downloaded their app? Does that change if you paid for the app? Does it change if you paid for it years ago?
Despite spending hundreds of dollars on a shiny new iPhone or iPad, it can be difficult to pay even a single dollar on an app that increases the productivity or entertainment value of that iOS device. I know, I get it: it’s hard for me too, even as someone who loves apps and writes about apps for a living. It doesn’t make sense intellectually. I don’t mind paying multiple dollars for other goods and services that could be deemed unnecessary. Many of us shell out a few dollars for a daily coffee and even spend time waiting in line for it, without giving it a thought. I have no issue paying someone a few dollars tip to bring me my sandwich in a restaurant, above and beyond the cost of that sandwich.
So why do we resist paying developers a few dollars for apps? I think part of the issue is that there are so many awful apps crowding the App Store. That’s why AppAdvice exists, so you don’t waste your time and money downloading duds. Ok, so let’s say you decide to buy an app. You use it, you like it, you’re fine with having spent the money. Over time, the app gets free updates to keep up with the latest iOS, the latest devices. It’s great.
But then one day, the app is yanked from the App Store, only to be replaced by another paid app or a freemium one that requires you to pay again to have the features you had before. Now that is infuriating. It’s patently unfair. Right? Or is it?
Developers are people too. They need to make a living, to pay their rent and their mortgages, pay off college loans, and put food on the table. Yes, a paid app does put money in the developer’s pocket. But who pays for the updates? If users are not buying in-app purchases, how are developers able to continue updating the app? Should they work for free? Should companies operate at a loss to keep updating your app for you indefinitely? Do developers owe you that?
Terminology Developer Agile Tortoise Responds
Agile Tortoise is the developer of popular apps such as Drafts and Terminology. We favorably reviewed Terminology 3 back in 2013. Agile Tortoise recently removed paid app Terminology 3 from the App Store. They replaced it with a new, freemium Terminology. It’s a free download, but users must pay a $1.99 in-app purchase to remove ads and add more customization. Some users are angry about this since they paid up to $2.99 for Terminology 3 and now must pay again to get all of the features they had. We reached out to Agile Tortoise, and the head of the company Greg Piece responded:
Pro unlock of the full version of Terminology 4 requires a new purchase. This decision was not easy, but it is simply not possible to fund ongoing development of software without additional revenue over time, especially at the low price points in the App Store.
Without continued support, these apps will, frankly, be abandoned and cease to function because even without feature changes development effort is required to maintain compatibility with new updates from Apple which change the underlying platform.
In the past, we have put out new SKUs/Apps for paid upgrades. That is certain advantages in some cases because it allows the user to choose when/if to upgrade – but it’s also an extreme and crushing blow for some popular apps because you loose all your history of review, ranking and search mojo in the App Store itself, and the history of external links to the app from outside sites, reviews, etc.
I wish there was a way to keep the old version available in the App Store without creating a new SKU, but it is not in the App Store.
We took steps to minimize the impact of this upgrade cost by reducing the price and finally removing the previous version from the App Store over the past several months, but it was necessary to charge for the upgrade to make it economically feasible to develop. In fact, best we can tell, the active user base of the app was about 80-90% people who had either originally gotten the app for free or paid no more than $0.99 for it. Most who do use it and paid more bought it 3 years ago.
Pierce also talks about the new Terminology and the double-edged sword of having an app selected as Starbucks Pick of the Week on his blog.
I do understand the frustration of having to pay for the same app more than once. But I also know that developers need to make money, to have a continuous revenue stream if they are going to continue to create and update high-quality apps. They can’t and shouldn’t work indefinitely for free. Would you? I don’t think that the price of a cup of coffee once every year or two is too much to ask for something that you enjoy and use regularly.
So what should you do when the app you’ve bought suddenly requires more cash to keep running? If you don’t particularly like or use the app, then by all means, don’t continue to support the developers. If you do appreciate the app but feel unhappy about the continued costs, then contact the developers. See if they discuss the change on their website, blog, or social media. Talk to developers directly, ask why they are asking users to spend more money. You might learn something interesting and feel more comfortable about paying again. Or, maybe you won’t want to pay at all, and you may find you’ll prefer to get a different app instead. Either way, you’ll be an informed consumer and more in control.