8/16/2017

Ulysses shifts to subscription model: some thoughts.

In short, not a fan.

For those of you who don't know, Ulysses is writing software, similar to Scrivener but not as detailed and available only on Mac. And Scrivener, in case you don't know what that is either, is also writing software, and very, very popular: I've used it for writing every single book I've produced since 2007. Recently Ulysses announced a shift to a monthly paid subscription model and saw their servers crash due to a flood of visits from people who were, so I gather from social media, less than thrilled by the news,

I've seen some solid arguments about why some firms shift their software over to a subscription model: it's because every time they release a new version of the software that's updated, there's an initial rush to buy, followed by a long spell of no purchases until the next major update. With little or no money trickling in, sometimes for years, there's little incentive to work much on updates to the software beyond hurried compatibility patches for OS upgrades. A subscription model, by contrast, keeps money flowing in regularly and allows for more frequent and meaningful updates.

And that's a valid argument - for a software company. For writers, or at least fiction writers and those who might be described as casual writers, it's maybe a different matter.

I think this move shifts Ulysses solidly away from casual to business software. I use both Ulysses and Scrivener, but for different things. I write short stories and book reports in Ulysses, since Ulysses is very good at handling short form work, but not long-form. I write novellas and novels in Scrivener, because there's no contest. It was also a nice way of compartmentalising my work: professional critiquing goes here, my own stuff goes there.

Scrivener is due an update very soon to version 3. I can tell you right now it rocks, because I've been beta testing it for months (I can't talk about it in any more detail than that, I'm afraid). It does make me wonder if Soulmen, the company behind Ulysses, saw what Scrivener are about to unleash and felt their collective hearts sink.

The question is, is it worth it to me to subscribe to Ulysses? Not really, no. Why? Because there's an alternative - Scrivener - that doesn't require a subscription. I could write the cost off as a business expense, but why pay yet more money? If I were using Ulysses for work, every single day, as opposed to spurts of activity as and when I'm asked to critique a manuscript, then a subscription might make sense.

And as a writer, my business expenses are always to the fore of my mind. Money is always to the forefront of my mind, as it is with every one of us whether rich or poor - and to be fair, it's poor, for most of us writers.

That's why this feels like a deliberate move to a specifically business, rather than casual model. If they've got a business model that can support them, great.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to keep using the non-subscription versions of the software, at least for as long as it'll work, which hopefully might be a couple of years. Ulysses has been very useful to me, but when push comes to shove, I know where I'd choose to land - with Scrivener. 

8/11/2017

Four Things I Liked This Week

If you're wondering about the results of that poll I posted a few days back, they're on their way. In one respect, the results did not surprise me. In another respect, it surprised me a great deal. I'll elucidate further in an upcoming post.

I've been meaning to share a few things I've read, seen, listened to or made use of, hopefully on a semi-regular basis. Obviously I want you to buy my books, but I don't live in a vacuum: there's other good stuff, and since most of the things I encounter are through personal recommendation, it makes sense to pay that forward. So until I post the results of that last poll, here are some things I liked this week, and that I think you might too:

Comics: Locke and Key, Vol 1-4.
I actually started reading this a while back, but picked up the most recent volumes of this comic book series by Joe Hill during a sale on Comixology.  If you were to ask me for a recommendation, this comic series would likely be top of the list.

The Keyhouse, a sprawling mansion, has been part of the Locke family for centuries. After the brutal murder of their father, the Locke children return to live in the Keyhouse with their increasingly alcoholic mother. They soon discover certain keys open doors, and that passing through those doors produce unexpected results. They can make you bigger, or change your sex, or allow your spirt to wander free temporarily. But there's something hiding in the bottom of the well, and it wants out...

Film: Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright
Baby, a former teenage car thief, pays off a debt to a criminal kingpin by working as a getaway driver for bank robbers. His tinnitus means he constantly blasts music into his ears to drown out the noise. Sixty seconds into the movie, with the sound of Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion blasting out of the speakers, I was ready to stand up and cheer. A triumph of not only vivid and powerful storytelling, but also style. A future and perhaps even current cult classic by the director of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead.

Books: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
This is the book I wish a lot of the people writing endless military sf novels set in some kind of space Vietnam would read. Orwell, like many,  went to the aid of the Spanish communists and anarchists fighting Franco's fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Once there, he vacillates between boredom, spending long weeks half-drowned in mud at the bottom of a trench to no apparent purpose, and time in Barcelona, where he sees the people he came to help disintegrate into bickering and mutual betrayal, torn apart by larger forces abroad that have their own ideas of how the war should come out. Essential reading for anyone wanting to set a story in war times.

Documentaries: The Accidental Anarchist. 
This may still be on BBC IPlayer. Carne Ross is a former diplomat to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He rapidly became disillusioned, and came to the conclusion he was doing more harm than good by aiding the Western war effort in the Middle East. Then he journeyed to Rojava, which is to modern idealists as Barcelona was to Orwell and his contemporaries: a place where a new kind of democracy could be brought into existence. There, he finds anarchism in action and working, and finds the same thing in scattered communities in modern Spain. One of the most enlightening and remarkable pieces of documentary film-making I've seen in a while.