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The Subscription Racket

The Subscription Racket

Over the last 16 years, Mellel has become the best word processor in the world. We’re very proud of what we did — and even prouder because we managed to create Mellel with a yearly budget that’s on par with what the MS Word PR team probably spends every year on cough medicine (or those very special Christmas dog-sweaters).

The only problem with that was that we’ve created the best word processor in the world… that (almost) nobody has heard about. In other words, we were awesomely horrible at marketing. We really could have written the how-not-to book on that. If not for you, our loyal customers recommending Mellel, we would have gone nowhere.

This has led us to think long and hard about our situation. So, we teamed up with a great team — that is awesome and frabjous, and oozing joie de vivre on a personal level — but also knows how to get the word out about Mellel.

The Subscription Racket

Another internal change was the decision to go back to the old and trusty upgrade system. You know, the whole buy-Mellel-now-and-get-x amount-of-time-for-free-updates. There is a lot of buzz around this right now, at least amongst developers. The two giants of the software arena, Microsoft and Adobe, changed their software payment model from a pay-for-software to a monthly subscription model. That is, you pay a smaller sum every month, and if at any point in time you feel you don’t want to continue with your subscription, you can always stop paying, trash all your Photoshop or Excel documents, (the software would not run anymore) and then commit suicide. Your choice.

At the other end of the spectrum stands Apple and the Mac App Store. I cannot say this with certainty, but it seems that Apple’s idea about the Mac App Store was that it would function as a Mac incarnation of the App Store. That is, lots of free or very cheap software (in the $1-5  realm), with a huge sales volume. That’s all fine and dandy if it works. One can make a mini-Photoshop for $19 and if that same someone can sell a million copies of this mini-Photoshop a year, than he’s in an okay situation.

The Millions that Never Were

We figured the Mac App Store would be the great equalizer: applications big and small will be able to compete as equals — more or less — within the store. Some will trade price for volume (i.e., get more copies sold with a reduced price), and we will be able to win by merit. Following that notion — and it must be said, against the advice of people of great wisdom — we launched our ill advised no-for-fee-upgrades, bumped down Mellel’s price, and waited with baited breath for the millions who’d surely buy Mellel. No updates. Buy once, enjoy forever.

Except that sometimes a million turns out to miss a few zeros at the end. And so, we found ourselves without our loyal updaters, with a price that was way below our software’s worth… and without an additional million fans. The only viable option, it seemed, was to go old school: go back to the old, trusty and fair system of paid upgrades — you buy Mellel, and then you get to update it for free for a while, and when that while ends, you can go on using it for as long as you like (it’ll remain awesome!).

You can update when we give you something new that is compelling enough to buy an upgrade. This puts the burden in the right place: we need to convince you that Mellel is worth your hard earned money, and you’re not pressured to make a decision. That’s real choice, not a fake one.


  1. Well said!


    as a somewhat recent convert to Mellel (on both MacOS and iOS), I really appreciate your stand on the whole software subscription brouhaha that seems to have surfaced off late in the Mac/iOS app space.

    The whole conversation seems to be centered around the need for developers to make money (as if software development was not a for-profit business before), and the inane and often insulting references to “priced to be less than a cup of coffee”.

    While there are some **services** that justify a monthly subscription, bread-and-butter software (such as word processors) are tools that users own and continue to use. If new updates with significant features become available, then the user gets to choose whether to upgrade and pay a fair price for the new version.

    On a different note, marketing does seem to have been Mellel’s weakness, and glad to see that you have made significant changes to make more users aware of this wonderful piece of software. We need more references to Mellel in reviews and other user-focused channels (blogs, etc.). As a complete aside, what brought me to evaluate and then buy Mellel was a very old review at atpm.com ( http://www.atpm.com/14.01/mellel.shtml).

    Keep up the good work!

    From: Anupam Comment posted on: 9-22-2017
  2. Thank you for your very kind words here. Indeed, it does seem that some software companies are focused on their income stream as if this is something that users care about or should care about. Most customers don’t care, and even those who do care — shouldn’t. Some companies phrase this in a more sophisticated way: we cannot develop a quality product, they claim, unless you help us (by paying, or paying more, or something). This sounds plausible — customers do want to see the product they use developed further into the future, but this also adds a whiff of pity-come-blackmail to the whole thing. I cannot imagine a writer claiming “you need to buy part I of this book, because if you don’t buy it I will not be able to write part II” – the book is either interesting and worth your money, or it is not – and the same goes for software.

    From: Ori Redler Comment posted on: 9-25-2017
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