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Occasional Usage Software Licenses


There should be a cheaper option for apps you don’t use very often.

There are some apps that I don't use much but for which I still pay a monthly subscription price.

This me no like.

Photoshop is the perfect example. It costs me ~$15/month, and I use it once in a light month, and maybe 10 times in a heavy month. Totally not worth it, but take it out of my workflow and I go bonkers when I need it. As such, I’ve cancelled and re-signed up several times based on usage because, when I’m too busy doing things that don’t require it, I don’t want to pay for it.

More companies are moving to subscription pricing for software. Ulysses, the app I use to write this blog, wants me to sign up and pay monthly to get future updates. After I've already shelled out over $100 for the Mac and iOS apps. (But hey, it's only the price of a coffee per month!)

Um, no. I’ll just stick with the old version. It’s not a big enough part of my life to warrant a monthly expense.

Monthly expenses can quickly get out of control.

If software companies insist on moving to subscription billing, they need to offer a license for casual users. Maybe it’s half the price and you can only use it for 10 days per month. Or maybe you buy packages of ‘access’. $20 gets you 20 days usage to be used whenever. That would be perfect for me.

This is basically what public transit does. Imagine if the only option for taking the bus was paying for a $100/month transit pass. Great if you take it every day. Terrible if, like me, you take it once a month. I buy a bunch of single-ride tickets up front, keep them on my card in my wallet, and use them as I use them.

With software you can be cleverer than this and auto-scale based on usage. Who would ever cancel their Netflix account if every month you were billed on how often you used it? A max of $20 if you use it every single day for multiple hours, but only $1 if you watch a single show in a month. Then $0 if you don’t watch a thing.

However I suspect the business model for these apps is centered around people paying for a certain amount of non-use. It keeps the top price down so they look competitive. Gym memberships have worked this way for years. If everyone who had a gym membership actually went regularly, the place would be an elbow-to-elbow sweaty mess of people. They’d need to charge more and outfit a bigger space.

I don't like those business models.

I happily pay for software and services that I use regularly. If it’s a one-time charge, I don’t mind if it sits on the shelf 364 days of the year. But subscription pricing? There are so many I want to subscribe to and use now and then, but there's no reasonable option for casual use.

So dear consumer-protection-law-loving Quebec government, here’s a consumer protection law for you: All subscription service pricing must scale based on usage. I’d never leave your province.

Since writing this, I’ve decided to double-down on the one-time-fee Pixelmator license that I already have, and spend some quality time becoming extra-efficient in it. As a bonus, it feels much nicer as a casual tool.