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 their software, 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 beyond hurried compatibility patches for OS upgrades. A subscription model, by contrast, keeps money flowing in regularly and allows for more frequent and meaningful software development.

And that's a valid business model - for a software company. For fiction writers and those who might be described as casual users, it's perhaps 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. 

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