TextExpander Moves to Subscription Pricing Model

One of the most useful tools on my Mac is a utility that expands abbreviations into longer bits of text. I’ve long used such apps, and, over the years, have used two of them: Smile’s TextExpander and Ettore Software’s TypeIt4Me. As I said in a Macworld article last year:

When you write a lot, anything you can do to save keystrokes saves time. TextExpander saves me a lot of time by allowing me to set up abbreviations that the app, working in the background, expands to longer bits of text.

I have dozens of “snippets” set up in TextExpander, for quick replies to email (“Please remove me from your list,” for example, for all the junk I get from PR people), app names I type often (iTunes, iTunes Match), my address, my phone number, bits of HTML code, and more. TextExpander also reminds me when I type something frequently and suggests that I create a snippet to save even more time.

TextExpander was the third app I installed on every new Mac. Not any more.

TextExpander has announced that, with the release of TextExpander 6, the company is moving to a subscription pricing model, which means that, instead of the previous one-time price of $35, it will now cost $47.52 per year to use the app, and, if you want the Team version, which allows you to share snippets among a company, it’s almost $96 a year per user.

Text expander pricing

Lots of developers are switching to this sort of subscription model for their apps, and, for TextExpander’s Team features, it may be worth the cost. But not for an individual. I understand the need for developers to monetize their work, and I’ve been paying for upgrades to TextExpander for years. But I’m not going to pay $4 a month to use the app.

If you compare this price with other apps that are available on subscriptions, it just doesn’t make sense. You can get Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom for $99 a year. A 1 TB Dropbox account costs the same. Apple Music or Spotify cost $120 a year. Todoist, a task manager, that offers OS X, iOS, and web clients, costs $29 a year. And Evernote costs $25 for its Plus plan, and $50 for its Premium plan (they differ in the amount of uploads available). If TextExpander was offering a subscription at, say, $20 a year, it would be a lot more logical, and I’d be happy to pay that much (though I would really rather have Dropbox sync, than use their sync server).

You can still use version 5 of TextExpander, and it will certainly work at least until the next major update of OS X, but Smile is unlikely to update it after that.

I really do feel bad to have to say this; I think the people at Smile are great, and they make excellent software. But I think they’ve made a big mistake, essentially increasing the price of this app by more than double. They issue major upgrades every couple of years, and with upgrade pricing, you’d pay about the cost of a one-year subscription for two or even three years of buying the app at full price then paying for upgrades.

This is a risky choice. Apps that target business users can get away with subscription pricing, but those that are used by individuals price themselves out of the market. Perhaps that’s what Smile wants; there are many similar apps, including TypeIt4Me, which was the first such app on the Mac, and others.

Update: Listen to The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations podcast with Smile’s Greg Scown discussing the issue of subscriptions for software. Greg Scown mostly highlighted the utility of sharing snippets, which is certainly useful for business users, but certainly doesn’t affect individuals or freelancers.

Update 2: Smile Software has said, in a blog post: “For those who prefer to stay with TextExpander 5 for now, we intend to support it on El Capitan and the next major upgrade of OS X.” So if you’re using TextExpander 5 now, you can continue to do so for at least a year and a half or so, perhaps more.

27 thoughts on “TextExpander Moves to Subscription Pricing Model

  1. It’s sad to see another company embrace the “direct taxation” model. While they prefer the word “subscription”, imagine if a magazine tried the same tactic: “Pay us monthly for a chance to continue reading the same magazine issue that we sent you previously. After a few months, or a year, who knows, we may send you an new issue that you can read for a while, as long as you keep paying us monthly for that content.” Or your car: “Don’t forget to pay your monthly usage tax to GM, or your car will not start.” A brave new world of subservience to corporations awaits us.

    • These are interesting comments, but I don’t think these comparisons hold. The problem is that users expect bug fixes and improvements to apps. Additionally, due to the way in which Apple releases operating systems, apps require annual maintenance simply to keep them working.

      With respect to the magazine, imagine if every year, you had to re-write the articles in every prior years magazines in order to keep those articles readable. That’s essentially what app developers need to do when Apple releases a no OS. We need to go to all of our apps and spend at least a month rewriting it for the new tools.

      With respect to the GM model, I DO need to pay a periodic fee in order to keep using the car. I need to take it in for its scheduled service, and I pay a fee for that service. If I skip that service for too long, then the car will almost certainly not start.

      Peace.

      • You’re not paying that fee to GM (or at least you don’t have to), and a car has wear and tear, so maintenance is expected. Not a very good comparison.

        As for magazines, they do have to make changes to their back end CMSs (content management systems), so there is some work involved.

        • It doesn’t matter who you’re paying the fee to. The car needs to have it’s oil changed. It needs new tires. You need to pay to keep that car working even though you paid $30,000 for the car in the first place.

          Apps have wear-and-tear too. It exists in the form of bugs and in the form of out of date user interfaces and features.

          Why is it acceptable that you need to pay to keep your car working but it is not acceptable to pay a periodic fee to keep your app working?

          Why do you accept that in two years your car won’t have the latest features and will look old, but you (or most users) don’t accept that your app will be missing features two years after you buy it?

          With respect to the magazines, that is an interesting point about the CMS’s. I didn’t realize that, but it makes sense.

          That said, for the most part, the value proposition is different for a magazine article. Even your most ardent fans only derive value from an article with 1 reading. People that have already read an article don’t derive much value from it after that.

          • You also pay for gas or diesel fuel for a car. It’s a mechanical device; it has wear and tear. I see that as very different. You have to pay for printer cartridges, because they get used up.

            Apps don’t have bugs because they’re overused, they have bugs because, well, often developers miss things. It’s not up to the users to pay for developer errors.

            I agree that, with magazines, in most cases you read them once. But with the type of writing I do, articles live on through links and Google searches. It’s not a perfect comparison, but there is both cost and value (i.e., ads on web pages with articles that get search traffic).

            • All apps have bugs. No one can catch them all. This is true for complex apps like textExpander. And it is more true for Apps that have to maintain viability with the changes in the operating system. These OS changes will eventually stop apps from working. That being said, I prefer to pay for updates yearly or once every two years rather than have an app stop working if you miss a monthly payment.

      • Apple has been updating its OS for years. Why is this only now such an issue and expense for developers? And the pricing is out of whack.

        • Yes, I don’t really buy that argument. If you’re in the business of making apps, you know they have a limited life-span. It’s something you factor into your business model.

  2. Agreed. I’ve been using typeit4me for many years and while there are occasional issues, it’s worked very well. No subscription model. I’m not a fan of such models and only tolerate it from MS Office because my work pays for it. I recently learned that an essential Mail plugin called ForgetMeNot is now going away after El Capitan and is rolled into something called MailButler that is ridiculously expensive and subscription-only (I (over)paid for ForgetMeNot as a one-time fee). So I’m not doing that either. Sad that more and more developers are doing this. I told the folks behind MailButler that few would pay more than the yearly cost of Office365 for a mail plugin suite that is mostly not necessary, but I never heard back (and yes, they charge more than a personal office 365 subscription).

  3. As a developer who has also moved to a subscription model, I would encourage you to give this more a little more thought.

    First off, I will encourage you to think in terms of value the app provides. For my part, TextExpander saves me about an hour per day. That provides thousands of dollars worth of value to me in a year. I’ll gladly pay $50 per year for something that provides more than $5,000 of value during that year.

    Secondly, while other solutions might currently exist, they will eventually fall behind or disappear. Unfortunately, the one-time purchase model is simply not sustainable due to the breadth and scope of changes Apple makes to the operating systems every year, and the fact that they care very little about backward compatibility.

    There was a time when you could write a program for DOS and it would work 10 years later on Windows-95. These days, however, an app written for iOS8 will likely break with iOS10, if it hasn’t broken already. Also, the way Apple handles the release of its Tools means that it is very difficult to update an app written for last year’s tools. I can’t speak for ‘Smile’, but I know that I need to spend 1 to 4 months each year simply upgrading my app to the new tools and operating system.

    Somebody needs to fund those annual development costs. With the old model, those funds were provided by new users. In the iOS world (and I realize that’s not where Smile mostly operates), where there are no trials, most of those new users will barely use the app. In most cases, they’ll use it for a month or two and then discard it. Those new users that receive almost no value from the app are essentially subsidizing the hard-core users that derive thousands of dollars of value from the app.

    The subscription model flips that around. The app’s development is funded by the users that derive the most value from it. I think that makes more sense.

    You are correct that TextExpander will lose a lot of users with the switch. They’ll probably lose 90% of their user base. They’ll also lose 90% of support costs and headaches. They’ll lose the costs related to re-marketing the app every single year. Most importantly, though, they’ll be able to focus their development work on creating new features and capabilities for their power-users, rather than improving the on-boarding process or making things simpler for new users.

    Anyway, I hope this might help you rethink your opinions about subscription-model software. For my part, I am always happy when one of my primary tools moves to that model. It means they will continue to improve the tool and focus on my needs.

    Peace.

    • Don’t think I haven’t given this a lot of thought. It’s not the first app to move to a subscription model.

      If a developer wants to divest its users, and focus on the enterprise market, it’s up to them. But it’s hard to justify this sort of pricing when you compare it with other subscription services (such as Office, $99 a year, or Apple Music, $120 a year).

      Companies have been doing just fine for years on the sale model; not only has TextExpander been around for a long time, but there are other apps that are even older, that are making enough to stay in business.

      FWIW, Text Expander doesn’t save me an hour a day. In fact, since its statistics have been broken for a long time (it says it has expanded 2,147,483,647 snippets, and has saved me 89,478.48 hours), I have no idea how much it saves, but it is measured in minutes. I can understand that for developers it saves a lot more time.

      • Hmmm. I would kindly ask you to consider that companies did well renting VHS tapes and DVDs for years too. Then they didn’t. Times change. We’re not all switching to this model because we’re greedy. We’re switching because we have to. Of course, there are companies that will be able to make it work, but most will not, especially makers of niche apps that don’t target a giant market.

        ….

        I did not know about the statistics screen ;>) Mine works. It shows I’ve saved about 70 hours last year. I think that’s only for my Mac, though, and most of my usage is on my iPad. Even at only the 70 hours saved per year, a $50 annual subscription fee is a steal, for me.

        Finally, with respect to the Office and Apple Music, those are the sorts of comparisons make sense, because we can treat them as simple comparisons of value provided, rather than consider things like physical wear & tear. For my part, I haven’t tried Apple Music yet :>), and I purchase Office because I have to in order to interact with other businesses. That, of course, has value, but I think I derive more value from TextExpander.

  4. There are a few things that took place several years ago, and it has taken developers a while to adjust to the new model.

    – The most significant change is that operating system upgrades are now free and they come out every year. OSX upgrades used to cost $50-$100 dollars and they only were released ever few years. This meant that most people would remain on the same OS for 5 years or more. With that model, a developer could develop an app and sell that app for years without too much maintenance work. Aside from that, it was generally understood that you would need to purchase an upgrade for that app if and when you ever did upgrade your OS.

    – With the free OS upgrades, Apple has essentially stopped caring very much about backward compatibility. This means that apps are very likely to break when run on the new OS that is released annually. To keep them working, developers need to perform maintenance. Some years (like with iOS6 to iOS7), this maintenance is essentially a rewrite of the entire app.

    – The way in which Apple releases in development tools also changed a few years ago. When you install a new version of Xcode, every other version of Xcode is deleted. It is possible to avoid this, but it requires a lot of effort. The result is that if a developer has a app that was released with Xcode 5.2 and they want to perform a one-line patch to that app and release it as a security update, it is nearly impossible.

    • Every business has their inherit problems and obstacles.

      As a self-employed sole proprietorship for over 40 years … whining to customers about the nuances of the trials and tribulations does very little to increase customer enthusiasm.

      • Hmm. I don’t my previous post got connected to the question I was trying to answer. That was a post that asked, “what has changed?”

        I listed 3 things that have changed.

        Since you’re a business owner, though, I’ll put it a little more simply: “Costs have risen”.

        • So … costs rise all the time … to increase the price by 100% in a heartbeat is rather significant. Businesses must weigh such increases against the perceived value of the product. It isn’t as though TE is required for survival. This software is a commodity and not necessary to survival of the species. There are several alternatives that have less impact on the end user’s bottom line.

          I can relate that the COD has gone up for Smile in recent years … that in of itself does not make the Text Expander utility any more valuable to me as a user … at least not at 100% increments.

  5. The only problem with the subscription model is … you end up paying the developer before they produce something. With a normal perpetual license, you get to decide if the new version is worthy of investment before you purchase the license. You can’t request a refund or redo after the fact.

    While I whole heartedly support any developer to earn a decent living, eventually, complacency increases while ambition for innovation suffers when your income is not based upon a merit system.

    Plus … for this app, the subscription price point is way out of whack … considering you can get the full version of Photoshop and Lightroom for $9.99 per month. I receive a much, much higher return on that investment. TE doesn’t really put any significant cash in my pocket by comparison.

    While I use TextExpander a LOT … I can get by with a competing option for much less expense.

    Fortunately, there are now, and there will likely be more, developers offering a better pricing model for such utilities.

    It’s a shame too … because I’ve recommended TE to a bunch of folks. There will be no more of that I guess.

    • Well, you can request a refund, and it would be up to the developer whether they’d give it to you or not. But, yes, the Photoshop/Lightroom price is another one I could have included. That seems to have a lot more value, if you use those apps.

      My logic with an app like TextExpander has been that I’m happy to pay for an upgrade once every year or so (looking at my licenses, the last upgrade was in May, 2015; before that, version 4 was in 2012). If it’s a $15 or $20 upgrade every year, I have no problem paying it for an app I use. But once you force a subscription at a much higher price than the app cost before, it just doesn’t seem right.

      • >If it’s a $15 or $20 upgrade every year, I have no problem paying it for an app I use. But once you force a subscription at a much higher price than the app cost before, it just doesn’t seem right.

        I agree completely.

  6. Whether a subscription works or not really depends on the app. Microsoft and Adobe can force subs on their users because there users will not/can not risk millions of legacy files by moving to something else.

    Now, will an app that handles text snippets have the same kind of hold on its user base, or will their customers simply move to something else?

    • There are lots of other options, such as TypeIt4Me, which I mention in the article, and which I’ll be returning to.

  7. To me, this often comes across as: We can’t make enough compelling features for upcoming versions that would make you want to move off your current one and give us the regular upgrade fee, so instead we will force you to pay us for ongoing “upgrades” whether you feel you need them or not.

    In general, I despise it. Maybe not even just “in general”, maybe I despite it overall and have to be convinced not to.

    As you pointed out, though, for teams and such, where the value-add of the cloud integration may make it worth the service charge, that is a good option to provide. But make it an option, and only when you are truly adding value, not just looking for a quick way to force people to pay you forever.

    • Also, the team model allows (I assume) an administrator to manage accounts, which greatly simplifies deploying such software in an enterprise context. So there is value to that, if you’re using the app in that way. To be honest, I didn’t know that TextExpander was really the type of app that businesses would use like that, but someone told me that it is often used to provide boilerplate text for employees to reply to customers. I assume that Smile has done enough research to know that this aspect of their model will be attractive to some.

  8. I would think that there are a lot of people that love apps like this (I do) but I can’t justify to pay $5 -10 every month for the useful apps. But maybe they just want to make apps for professionals that save like Rich said lots of money with the app. Now I am scared PDF-Pen will go the same route.

  9. I’m still using version 4 in El Capitan because it does everything I need it to do. Perhaps I’m a light user because the stats page tells me I’ve only saved 16 hours in 38 months or 21 minutes a month on average. At the new subscription model rate that’s about $10/hr. Nope. Nope. Nope. There is no way I’m paying forever on the promise that the dev will add sufficient value each year.

    I’ve already made a value judgment with version 5 and found it not worth the upgrade. Many apps will last for years if you don’t need the latest bells and whistles integration with new OS features.

    Recently Circus Ponies dropped support for NoteBook. My only option to get my data out is a tedious copy & paste, or to export as a web site. But the app is working decently and probably will for awhile yet.

    Today I learned that Neat dropped all support of their desktop scanning s/w, without notifying their customers no less, and are pushing people to store all their data in the cloud with a subscription model. There is no way I trust them with my documents given their track record of letting bugs languish and abandoning the app in a pre-release form that crashes regularly.

    I will likely never accept a subscription model, especially for small companies who can go out of business tomorrow or suddenly drop support.

    With the purchase model I get to decide when the developer has done a proper job of support and feature additions to warrant paying an upgrade fee. If the dev drops support, the app will likely be usable for several more years. With a subscription model that decision is taken away from me.

    Let me close by saying that Smile’s pricing reminds me of the folks who cluelessly wander into Shark Tank asking for a company valuation that’s absurdly inflated for what they’re offering or how it compares with the competition. For me personally, I don’t get sufficient value to move to a subscription model and will simply chose one of Smile’s competitors when TextExpander 4 no longer works with the latest OS. YMMV.

  10. I’m not remotely interested in supporting any vendor that offers software by subscription. I can see how a vendor might be able to use its dominant position to effectively force its customers to abide to such a model, but only for mission critical software. And don’t think for a minute that those users would not jump ship if given a chance. But why a small developer would do this is incomprehensible. Good luck with this one, Smile.

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