Just Like Winter, Subscriptions Are Coming

LIT SOFTWARE has always been committed to creating great software that allows our users to do more with less. In creating great software, we've never seen ourselves as merely selling apps, but instead as providing solutions to problems, and streamlining difficult tasks, with a better user experience than currently exists on any platform. Our maintenance and support has always been included, and we have some of the best documentation available for any app. We've also constantly and continually updated our apps to add new features and improvements based on our users' suggestions. We plan to continue that well into the future. 

The only way any development company can competently make plans for future development is to have a business plan with a clear path forward. Many software companies have turned to subscriptions to give them the capital needed to continue to develop, and to continue to exist. But as Lee Rosen points out so well, while subscriptions are good for the developer, they are equally, if not more beneficial to the consumer. And for that reason, just like winter, subscriptions are coming. 

With the (rapidly obsolescent) traditional software purchasing model the consumer buys a piece of software, installs and uses it until they choose to buy an updated version, or until it no longer works on their hardware and they are forced to abandon it or buy again. Depending on the category of user, a new version is released for sale every year or two, and the developer uses sales revenue to continue to work on compatibility updates, bug fixes, and new features and capabilities. 

At first blush, this model works well for the consumer. But time and technology has changed the relevancy of the old model so that today there are several drawbacks for both the consumer and the developer. Subscriptions seem to be the answer to most of the drawbacks, and that's why they're imminent. 

Problems with the old model include slower development timetables, compatibility issues, and inevitable product bloat. Developers in the traditional model often felt it appropriate to hold new features or capabilities "hostage" for the next version to justify charging an upgrade fee. Holding back features for a big update gave them something to market, and encouraged year-over-year income for their business. New features and upgrades were offered yearly (or more), and required another purchase. 

Asking users to pay again often had the effect of users sticking with the old software until they felt they had to update it. But, if users waited too long to upgrade, or upgraded only their hardware, it could mean lost data and loss of work, or even a non-functional piece of software. Developers found themselves supporting multiple versions on multiple platforms — a support nightmare that also required extra work in compatibility patches. So, they started charging yearly maintenance fees on top of the cost of the software. Users paid again and still felt the frustration of software bugs, and not being able to use something that was supposed to make life easier. 

The problem compounded when developers continued to add lots of new features to the same software. Doing this created software that was no longer feature rich, but bloated and confusing. Everyone has seen this kind of software. It has tools that no one uses, multiple confusing drop down menus, and resultantly requires training — another source of revenue to the developer and a software training cottage industry. 

The end result of the traditional software model was often bloated, expensive software, with yearly maintenance fees, per seat costs, associated hardware like servers, and a need for training. All of that became so expensive that many solo law firms couldn't contemplate the privilege of dealing with all that complication because of the high cost. 

Subscriptions fix both the software and cost issues. They allow developers to add features that users actually want, and delete the features that are no longer used. This is good for the consumer because it means leaving behind ugly, complicated, applications and replacing them with clean and nimble apps that you'll actually use. Subscriptions allow users to budget on a consistent basis, and guarantee the latest version all the time, rather than having to decide between paying a big upfront cost to upgrade or just stick with the old version every year. There's no reason for yearly required maintenance anymore, and good developers can make sure that their software stays feature rich without requiring extensive training. If the consumer stops using the app they don't pay for it, and if they decide to use it again at a later date it will be compatible with the latest hardware and OS, and will still be eligible to get the frequent updates. 

And speaking of frequent updates, on the developer side, subscriptions provide a constant and predictable revenue stream so that they can keep up with the lightning speed of modern hardware and OS development. When the traditional software model was taking form, it didn't have to contemplate rapid changes in hardware development, or constant and free operating system upgrades that are commonplace today. Users could, and did, hold onto old operating systems and computers for years at a time. With the iPad, the hardware and the iOS are overhauled every year. Additional new and significant iOS features are also released throughout the year. Developers must keep pace with that development speed, or their apps potentially die. 

If a developer isn't able to keep up, and the app dies, that's disappointing when the app in question is a game, but it is potentially devastating if the app is a key part of your practice. With the advent of iOS 11, many apps created and sold on the App Store will cease to work without a significant update as they were initially created as 32-bit apps, and iOS 11 requires 64-bit apps. iPad users are not going to hold off on hardware and software updates so that their favorite apps will continue to work on their devices, nor should they. Instead app development needs to keep up the rapid pace that makes apps so nimble in the first place. 

As iPads become commonplace to lawyers, our users have gotten much more sophisticated, asking for features and capabilities that require significant development effort and resources. Many of the features and capabilities we are working on now have taken months, even years to develop. Our users deserve to have software that is cutting edge, that works when and how they need it, and they need our company to consistently deliver that high-quality software into the foreseeable future.

We plan to continue adding new features and improvements to our apps, and developing new apps. To do that effectively we may need to change our pricing model in order to stay current, competitive, and profitable. Many developers are moving to subscriptions, not just for themselves, but to better serve their users. As we plan for the future, we may go the subscription route as well. Just like winter, subscriptions are coming.