There are a few things in life I've never done and in fact, have no intention of doing. Bungie jumping is one; we outlawed hanging several decades ago in Great Britain, so the thought of paying money to do it for entertainment is something I'll pass on. Parachuting is another 'sport' I'll pass on, if somebody needs my money then I'll find another way of raising the cash rather than flinging myself out of a metal tube at 20,000 feet. Both of those pursuits I avoid for the simple reason I'm not brave enough, or stupid enough, depending on your point of view.
However, another thing I've avoided is buying lottery tickets, an activity which millions of people do every day around the world in the hope that one day they could be the lucky one to have a life-changing jackpot. It's not a moral position I hold, just one based on sanity and probability, spending money in the vain hope of winning with odds that are higher than me being killed in a plane crash... no thanks.
There's been quite a lot of discussion around the latest release of Pro Tools 2018, version 2018.10 and what Avid have delivered. If you've missed the news, the Pro Tools 2018.10 offers mainly bug fixes and yet still does not provide compatibility with macOS versions 10.13.6 and above at the time of writing this.
Understandably there's a lot of people asking if the ongoing subscription payments they make are money well spent, it's a fair question and brings up the whole issue of using the software on a subscription, is it another lottery?
Perpetual software licences are what most people are used to enjoying, this is where for a single payment you get to use the software indefinitely. The benefit for the user is that they get to see what features are on offer before making the payment, on that basis they can decide if the product offers things they need and represents excellent value for money. The downside of this model is that it requires the user to make one large payment up front. Some argue that it also means waiting until the next release, sometimes one to two years away before getting new features. I disagree with this argument, disproved by brands like PreSonus and Apple with Studio One and Logic Pro X getting significant feature improvements during the life of the current version... for free.
Subscription based software offers many benefits, one being that you don't have to pay one substantial upfront cost. It is for this reason that I use Adobe Creative Cloud, and it means I get to use the latest version of Photoshop for about £8 per month. I don't even think about the possible features that may arrive or bugs that may be fixed, I just want to use Photoshop, and at £8 per month, it's a steal as far as I'm concerned.
So to be clear I'm not against software subscriptions as a matter of principle or some deeply held conviction, I think the best way to approach this kind of question is to remove emotion and do the maths.
We should not write off all subscription plans based on a few that don't seem to add up. That would be like saying some marriages fail, so marriage is terrible; they do, but it's not.
To my question, are software subscriptions just another lottery?
Well, that depends on what you get and the terms on which you sign up. If you pay annually for a software plan you are effectively taking a gamble that the developer will not only deliver new features but also the ones that you need, otherwise, you may feel you have wasted your money.
Some subscription services offer outstanding value for money, Slate and McDSP to name two brands that have done an excellent job of implementing the concept and delivering exceptional value, so you need to judge each one on a case-by-case basis.
Here are my thoughts on software subscription plans;
ALWAYS offer a perpetual licence as an alternative, some people just like them and will never use subscriptions whatever argument is made. It’s an almost zealot-like reaction to the concept and they would rather switch products than sign up.
If you are going to offer them then don't penalise people who want or need to pay monthly. Circumstances change, and the only thing you do by tying people into plans is you end up pissing them off. I was once talked into signing up to my local health club, and within months I decided it wasn't for me. Then I realised I had signed up for a year and just had to watch the money leave my account; it was my fault I hadn't considered the risk of me not continuing, the company had every right to keep taking my money. I called them and asked if they would consider letting me leave early and quite rightly they said no. Irrespective of the legal aspects it left a nasty taste in my mouth, and to this day I will never use that brand again.
Allow people to take breaks and don't penalise them with arbitrary costs to rejoin. You might make a few extra dollars in the short term, but the damage to your customer relationships and brand is not worth it.
Bug fixes should NOT be part of any subscription plan. This one issue is where the latest release of Pro Tools has caused the most upset. A bug fix only release to subscribers is bound to cause upset and anger. Bug fixes for a particular version should be free to all owners of a version of the software irrespective of their payment status. There's been a lot of value added to Pro Tools since it went to the new 2018 model, but users have short memories, and when a bug fix only release happens then Avid should expect some understandable adverse reactions from users. I return to this subject further on in the article.
Mike and I were talking about this subject yesterday, and he does not regret paying his Pro Tools subscription, he has done the maths, and for him, it adds up. Pro Tools 2018 when seen as a whole represents great value for many users. Other people may not have the same feeling, as you can see from comments on various forums.
This article is not an Avid bashing session; it's an attempt at trying to present the valid concerns people have about software subscriptions and in particular about the Pro Tools plans. Avid has done tremendous work in the last few years in trying to win back customer respect and loyalty and should be commended for that.
I don't see Avid making many changes to the plans for now, but I do think with a few minor tweaks they could make them more flexible and in doing so more attractive. Furthermore, these changes would engender better positivity around the plans. Avid serve a broad church, and their customers are everything from billion-dollar TV companies to small one-person operations struggling to make their business work from day-to-day. Of course, there is not a one size fits all approach when you have such a diverse customer base, but I think there is still work for them to do on the plans.
The only thing I do have a strong opinion on is the issue of bug fixes and including them as part of plans. With my customer hat on I think it leaves a nasty taste in one's mouth and appears to be unnecessarily mean. As a marketing consultant I think it's bad for business and gives their marketing and PR teams a headache they could do without. In other words, it's a policy that needs rethinking. It may also need to include an engineering solution that delivers bug fixes to those who just need them, it may not be easy, but it’s worth it in my opinion.
I know that some at Avid will read this and wonder why we are writing this, aren't we supposed to be friends? We are, and we value the rekindled relationship we have with Avid. My good friends sometimes have to sit me down and tell me I’m getting something wrong, they do it because they care. However, we are also here to serve our community, and sometimes these matters need to be raised in a forum like this for a broader debate. If you are one of the Avid team reading this, then it may be a case of showing it to your boss and saying that at grassroots some of the policies on release schedules and subscription plans need tweaking to avoid unnecessary harmful bad press, after all, reputation is tomorrow's profit.
In conclusion, subscription plans are not a bad thing in principle, and each one needs to be judged on merit. In some cases, you may look at them and think it is a lottery, if that is the case then you may be wise to avoid them. After all, it is understood that Dr Johnson defined a lottery as a tax on the daft.