MereCivilian’s thoughts on Subscriptions in 2021

My thoughts on subscriptions and what am I paying for now..

Context: I am a consumer and have no relationship and/or association with anyone who earns a living from software subscriptions. In short, my perspective is independent and unbiased.


I recall Dropbox being the first service I considered paying for because, at the time, I was reaching my 2gb storage limit. Syncing with Dropbox was like no other. It was magical, and it worked reliably and consistently. I did not end up paying because, at the time, I bought a Samsung phone which provided me 100gb of free Dropbox storage for 2 years.

The second service, I considered and ended up subscribing, was Evernote. The reasoning was the same: great sync and storage limitation. I realised that subscription made complete sense when there is a server component > the presence of ONGOING COSTS other than DEVELOPMENT COSTS.

This started a trend for other services such as Google (Drive), Microsoft (OneDrive) and Apple (iCloud) to introduce subscriptions for storage and most people (including me) accepted this business model for SERVICES. More than just accepting it, I found it reasonable to pay for a service, and I still do.

Apple’s subscription era

Apple’s push towards increasing their revenue from services has become apparent, as is clear in the chart from Six Colors:

I do not begrudge Apple’s attempts to increase its profits. After all, its primary purpose for existence is to grow for its shareholders. One does not become a multi-trillion dollar enterprise by leaving money on the table.

However, It does not sit well with me that Apple’s provides limited avenues for developers to grow other than through subscription. To this very day, developers cannot offer upgrade pricing. And perhaps, Apple’s push towards subscription has worked out well for developers at the expense of subscription fatigue for users. Regardless, this is the world we live in.

In 2021, if a developer has ongoing costs, a subscription may well be the only viable business model. After all, one cannot expect developers to keep providing updates, features, bug fixes, compatibility with future OS updates for free till the end of time.

I made my peace with it

I always had conflicted thoughts on subscriptions, where my decision was based on my needs and my desire to support the developer to ensure continued updates to my favourite apps. Couple that with the desire to not commit to paying a said amount for the rest of my life. This is added stress, I much rather not have.

In recent times, I have taken somewhat of a selfish approach where my decision is based on my needs and my needs only, ignoring/accepting the commitment to keep paying for something every year. I think of it as a superpower where I get to vote with my money by not subscribing should I not be happy with the direction of the app. This is impossible to do with an upfront/one-time app purchase. The developers’ priorities are also aligned to its current subscriber base because the developer is trying to please its subscribers rather than always seeking new customers.

I only subscribe to an app if it meets the following criteria:

  • best serves my needs, with the least compromises
  • I can afford it (reasonably)

In the past, besides the above, I also had a criterion where I will only subscribe if its value for money. Value for money is subjective. For example, someone who has meetings all day will find Fantastical excellent value for money. Others who only use the iPhone app may feel ripped off paying the subscription cost. For me, it’s a bit on the expensive side, but I enjoy using it.

That being said, I thoroughly review of non-subscription-based alternatives. Without thinking or proper consideration, I am more inclined to pay for a lifetime purchase, even if it 5 times more than the subscription price. This is because subscription fatigue is a real thing and lifetime purchase is just like any other one-time purchase. It is for this reason, there are many apps and spreadsheets dedicated to tracking subscriptions and almost nothing to track your one-time app purchases.

My App Store Subscriptions:

The list of subscriptions outside the App Store is probably twice as long. Rest assured, I review each subscription before its renewal. I recently canceled my Fiery Feeds subscription because the Feedbin app was sufficient for my needs. Every year, I also consider moving to iA Writer but for good reasons, I choose Ulysses.

Some may argue that my time is better spent elsewhere. However, I enjoy seeking alternatives and trying new apps and services. This is my problem.

Besides a subscription model, some developers are also giving customers an option for a lifetime purchase rather than subscribing. These are priced at least 3-5 times the annual subscription.

To date, I took advantage of the following apps that offered such an option :

My preferred subscription model

I am not opposed to paying for apps. However, I would much rather developers adopt a subscription model like Due and Agenda. It’s relatively simple, where the customer pays a non-renewing one-time payment and receives updates for the next 12 months. After 12 months, the customer can choose to pay for another 12 months. However, if they do not, they still can continue using the app with features they bought. This is PERFECT. Best of both worlds.

Subscriptions are here to stay and I made my peace with that.


Please consider sharing it with your network!

If this article has sparked some ideas, or you want to discuss it, please email me at [email protected] or contact me on Twitter @MereCivilian.

If you would like to support my work, you can make a one-time contribution here.

Hold on... there’s more