In which I try to articulate why the Ulysses subscription model is fine, but presented badly, and isn’t right for me

Almost exactly a month ago (I’m off by a day) I bought Ulysses to work on my words.

Ulysees for Mac cost me £43.99 ($57 USD), and Ulysses for iPhone cost me £23.99 ($31.12 USD). £67.98 is hella expensive, but — let me tell you — Ulysses is just awesome.

It has a lean, modern interface. It’s super responsive. The Markdown formatting options are perfect. The goal-setting and statistics are deeply motivating. And having all my work synchronised across all my devices is just wonderful.

And today, Ulysses released new apps and switched from a pay-once model to a monthly/annual subscription.

Yikes…?

Now, if you’re like me and find yourself with a couple of very expensive and unsupported apps installed, then don’t worry; the Ulysses team has two offers for you:

  1. Depending on how recently you paid for the apps, you could earn up to 12 months of free subscription access for purchasing the macOS version, and up to 6 months for the iOS version. This is calculated automatically, so you don’t have to do anything. I qualify for the full 18 months – boom!
  2. Every existing customer has a limited-time offer to sign up for a lifetime discount of 50% off the monthly subscription, if you pay annually in advance. This is a pretty sweet deal!
18 months of free Ulysses usage
18 months of free Ulysses usage
Ulysses access for £26.99/month
Ulysses access for £26.99/month

But…

…here’s where it gets confusing.

Many people — myself included — thought something like this:

I’ve got 18 months of free access, but then I’ll need a subscription. I’m an existing customer, so I get 50% off my subscription. I’ll commit to that now — before the offer expires — then start paying in 18 months when it’s due.

But when folks hit the subscribe button, they found that the payment schedule starts immediately — free months be damned.

I reached out to the dev team, who confirmed on Twitter that, yes, it’s an either-or choice. You can take the free months, or discard them and pay right now to lock-in a preferential recurring bill.

"[…] it's either-or. If you take your free period and subscribe at regular price then, break even will be in 6yrs."

“[…] it’s either-or. If you take your free period and subscribe at regular price then, break even will be in 6yrs.”

The problem is psychology

The weird thing is, I’d be happier right now if they hadn’t offered the discount to existing customers. Huh? Stay with me…

I can’t justify spending £67 on some apps, then coughing up another £26 mere weeks later for the privilege of knowing I’ll be saving money in 6 years. I have to take the free 18 months.

But… the discount isn’t actually worth that much, anyway. Remember:

  • The 50% discount is on the monthly cost, not the annual cost. even though it only applies if you pay annually.
  • The regular annual cost is already a significant discount from the regular monthly charge, at £35.99 vs £53.88 (calculated as £4.49/month multiplied by 12 months).
Ulysses regular subscription costs
Ulysses regular subscription costs

Basically, by taking the 50% existing-customer offer and committing to paying annually, you’re saving yourself exactly £9 per year — £35.99 vs £26.99.

That’s 75p per month. That’s less than a packet of decent crisps every four weeks.

And yet — and yet! — while it’s a less-than-stellar upgrade offer, I’m still utterly bummed out that I can’t take it. And that’s psychology.

The team at Ulysses offered two mutually exclusive choices, rather than one awesome choice.  They made us pick one and lose one. And I think a lot of the human beings on this side of the App Store are going to focus on what they’ve lost, not what they’ve gained.

If they’d just given us the free months without putting the weak discount on the table, I think there’d be a lot less upset on Twitter right now.

Some customers — hopefully most! — will be thrilled and take the offer which suits them best, but a lot of folks are going to think “Yeah, I’m locked into a lifetime discount, but I had to give up a year and a half of credit,” or “Yeah, I don’t have to pay anything until 2019, but then I’ve lost my kudos as an existing customer.”

But…

…you know what? I still bloody love Ulysses.

I’ve tried a ton of writing apps for macOS and iOS, and Ulysses kicks the pants off the competition. It’s easily worth £35.99/year.

…and I support software subscription models. The regular income helps businesses to stay afloat, and improvements to the apps can be pushed out incrementally rather than holding them up for a big-bang paid-for major upgrade. Everyone wins.

Personally, I’m gonna take my free 18 months, then see if Ulysses is still the best around before I subscribe at the regular price.

And I do still recommend Ulysses to anyone who’s interested. And hey, one benefit of the subscription model is that you get a 14-day free trial!

I just wish they’d presented it without the ambiguity, confusion, and making us feel like losers.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. John Man says:

    It’s a bug which will be fixed. The discount will apply up to the end of the free use period (18 months in your case). See:

    Like

    1. Ah, thanks! I hadn’t seen that update yet.

      Like

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