Snippets, TextExpander, and Subscription Pricing

I’ve been going through somewhat of a snippet renaissance lately. Snippets are text abbreviations that get automatically replaced with commonly used content. For example, typing “;screenshare” inserts the phone number and link I use for online conferencing. The value may seem trivial, but the alternative requires me to:

  1. Remember which application has the information.
  2. Switch away from the document to that application.
  3. Find and copy the information. (This is surprisingly difficult in some conferencing apps.)
  4. Switch back to my document and paste.

Multiply those steps by the hundred or so times a year I send out an online conference and the convenience and time saved with my “;screenshare” snippet is obvious, but there is also an even bigger, less noticeable, benefit — flow. Not only does my snippet reduce steps, performing those steps takes me out of the task at hand, both mentally and in process. My snippet turns an ancillary and discrete task that requires special attention to just another noun in my document.

As someone who already loved using technology to enable laziness without consequence, snippets came surprisingly late to my arsenal of scripts, automations, and shortcuts. When I inevitably did decide to take the plunge a little under a year ago, there were a number of snippet tools to choose from. For me however, the choice was always obvious. Smile’s TextExpander was already by far the most popular snippet utility in the Mac-centric circles I tend to follow. I was so confident in my purchase, I even got the $60 family pack rather than the $45 single license, just incase my wife took interest. That may sound ridiculous in this culture of $.99 or free, but the Mac community has a long track record of reasonably priced great software with even more reasonably priced upgrades. Take for example someone who purchased TextExpander 4 when it was released in 2012 at a price of $35 and then upgraded in 2015 for $20. While the total $55 may seem cost prohibitive, the annualized cost is just under $15 – very reasonable.

In fact, TextExpander has been a great example of the value people get when paying for software… until last week when Smile announced that TextExpander 6 would be moving to a subscription model where individuals can pay just $3.96 per month. Some have criticized the model, but in my mind subscriptions are just codifying the status quo wherein developers release paid updates every year or so and good Mac citizens pay it because we like supporting great software. Subscriptions aren’t the problem, it’s the cost – plain and simple. Our example someone who was paying an average of under $15 a year is now on the hook for close to $48. Switching to a subscription model is fine, but using it to obfuscate what amounts to a 3X rate hike is borderline insulting.

If there is one hesitation I have regarding subscriptions is that they demand trust. Paid updates put the onus on the developer to release compelling updates and have faith that consumers will pay. Subscriptions are the opposite. They effectively ask customers to pay upfront and give developers the benefit of the doubt that updates will come. This is what makes converting from licensing to subscriptions so difficult. What to me is most perplexing about Smile’s strategy is that they already enjoyed a ton a goodwill, so while any subscription might have been met with some grumbles, I suspect a rate comparable to previous upgrades would have been largely accepted as a sound business move. By charging so much, they’ve effectively poisoned that well of goodwill. This not only jeopardized what I think would have been easily the type of steady revenue most developers only dream about, it also alienated their core customers who, at this price, can’t even make the once an no-brainer recommendation even if they wanted to. I don’t see how $48 price point a year grows the TextExpander community.

Smile has offered discounts to the those using previous versions of TextExpander, but the discount seems to be limited to one year. This was mentioned in their damage control blog post alongside explanations of how the new pricing will bring TextExpander into the future and the various great things to come. Unfortunately, it’s hard to trust a company that just tripled your rate.

I understand Smile is seeking a sustainable business model and I think subscriptions are the way to go. Without knowing anything about their business, here’s my suggestion from the peanut gallery – $2 monthly or $20 a year. Roughly the same price of an upgrade, but with predictable consistency. I would gladly pay it and I am sure many other customers would to.

Update: Great minds think alike. There are still some other concerns with the new TextExpander, but good on them for addressing the pricing.