Another Data Point on Free-to-Try

February 23, 2016

After months of mental weeping and gnashing of teeth, I’ve decided to take the next version of NextPage (NP3) from a paid to a free-to-try model.

90mi

The decision was not easy because I feel very strongly that software should not be free. In all true business transactions a exchange of value takes place. If it doesn’t, it’s a hobby activity or perhaps an act of charity, but it’s clearly not a business transaction. At the Release Notes conference1 last fall, I was impressed (and later haunted) by David Smith’s comments about dealing with things as they are. If a paid-up-front model is barrier to getting your work into the marketplace, and ultimately limiting your success, then you need to figure out how to remove the barrier rather than whine about it.2

NP3 will be a new app in the store for two reasons. First, it is a live performance app for musicians. I’ve made a number of major changes and the risk of undiscovered bugs will naturally be higher in the .0 release. The price of ruining someone’s performance is higher than the loss of reviews and ratings with a new app id. I am willing to pay the latter price, but not the former. And as we all know, should NP3 have serious issues, I won’t be able to get a fix through App Review fast enough. By letting NP2 live alongside NP3, my most conservative users can have a saftey net to fall back on should the worst happen during the NP3 launch period. How long NP2 will remain in the store I have yet to decide.

Second, I don’t have sufficient business justification to build out the plumbing required to grandfather 5 years worth of customers who paid full price and upon upgrade, would suffer a downgrade to 1 set list and 5 songs. It seems better to simply start with a clean slate. Also, I have long term users who have not paid a dime since they bought the app in 2010 for $5. I think it’s only fair they experience an upgrade event.

As hinted to above, NP3 will be fully functional and free to download, but with limits: 5 songs in the song library, 1 set list, and 3 songs in that set list. I feel that will be enough to let a musician decide whether NP3 fits their needs. While the app remains in free mode, the button I normally use for “Leave Feedback” will say “Unlock Everything”, or something like that, and send them into the in-app purchase workflow. The goal is to encourage a purchase, while also eliminating support emails from folks who have not paid for the app. The purchase workflow will also be triggered when the user tries to go beyond the 3 limits. I’m still mulling over the final upgrade price, but it will be north of $10, and possibly $20.

I build software with the solitary goal of helping people be better at what they do. If a paid-up-front model is limiting my ability to do that, and it appears that it may be, then I owe it to my audience to at least try other ways to get my work in front of them.


  1. You really need to go to this one.

  2. Paraphrase mine.

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