June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

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June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by blinddrew »

Well, maybe not a rebuttal. Perhaps, as they say in American courts, a dissent.
For me there are three main reasons why I steer clear of subscription based services in general, and in audio engineering especially.

Firstly there is the question of how many do you actually need? A flat-rate subscription may look initially tempting, $3000 of plugins for $10 sounds reasonable after all. But on closer examination, how many of those plugins do you actually need? And, more pertinently, how many do you need that aren't included in that bundle?
Say you take the Steven Slate route at $10 a month. But then also need some symphonic additions from VSL. Then there are a couple of plugins you really like from Waves at $7 or $10 a month...
Pretty soon that's adding up to a regular chunk of monthly cash, especially if you're adding your DAW on top.
If you're running a commercial operation, or working as a full time professional these might seem like reasonable running costs. As the former you might only need a package for a couple of months whilst a particular project is running, as the latter you might be churning out paying content on a monthly basis that pays back this expense.
But as a hobbyist, particularly one who writes as he records, I might be paying these outgoings for two years, regularly going back into projects as the collection evolves, before an album is complete and offers any kind of return.

Secondly, let's consider the element of predictability.
If I buy something outright I know that I can keep using it no matter how erratic my income becomes. I've never been a fan of any kind of credit-based purchasing; I save up until I can afford something, then buy it.
As incomes in general, and particularly in an industry as volatile as this one, face into a period of increasing squeeze and uncertainty do you want your creativity to be tied up into a cycle of when you can and can't afford to switch back on a particular set of plugins or instruments?
I'd rather have a fixed but reliably-present toolkit.

But of course the idea of buying software outright can be a bit of an illusion, which brings me to...

Thirdly, do you ever really own what you've bought these days?
This is very supplier dependent but applies to a lot more than just software. From Amazon, without a trace of irony, removing copies of 1984 from people's Kindles to Tesla removing features from second hand cars, to Google bricking NEST devices, the world of smart hardware is riddled with a history of consumers getting the short end of the stick when a company decides it no longer wants to provide what was previously offered.
The same is true for software, as any quick trawl through a gaming forum will show.
At least with a subscription service the provider is being much more honest about this side of things, you only have the product for one month at a time, but what happens when your favourite orchestra supplier or, worse perhaps, DAW provider decides that the margins are no longer there and they're going to pivot to making programmable electric toasters instead.
I'm on my third reload of all my software in the last couple of years and so far I've lost nothing, even plugins from suppliers who are now defunct are still functioning because I downloaded a product that still functions rather than a subscription. And if Cockos were to go under tomorrow and stop supporting Reaper I could carry on using it for a long, long time before I hit the buffers.

I worry regularly about what will happen when iLok either goes bust or decides that they're going to require a regular fee to access all those Waves and SoundToys plugins in use on every project...
It's bad enough treading the tightrope of server-based licensing. Will the next time you have a client in be the time that the provider has decided that it's the right weekend for them to suspend their service as they migrate to a new set-up?

This is not meant to be a complete rubbishing of the subscription model. I fully recognise that it works very well for some customers and providing a regular income stream can be the difference between success and failure for developers. But I think the market functions better when the consumer, at all levels, has choices.
There is no market or technological inevitability about a world of subscription-only services and we should not sit back and quietly accept that our options should be reduced for the sake of quarterly earnings reports.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by RichardT »

For me, there is a division between my DAW software and software instruments and effects.

I would be very unhappy if Cubase were to move to a subscription model as I can’t work without access to my DAW. In this case it seems like an excuse for the manufacturer to make money without having to improve the product over time to keep their customers happy.

For access to software libraries I would have much less concern - I’ve signed up to Composer Cloud a couple of times and it can be a good model. This feels like a genuine choice I can make.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by Mike Stranks »

In another thread where subscription-access is discussed: https://www.soundonsound.com/forum/view ... hp?t=82322 James P makes a case - a good one I think - for maintenance funding for upgrades.

As a former lead developer for a software house's major product I understand completely the need for regular income. I've recounted before how, when negotiating prices with potential customers, I'd be happy to let them think they'd driven a hard bargain when I reduced significantly the up-front cost. In fact it was the ongoing maintenance cost income that helped us plan strategically, employ staff and develop new products we could subsequently sell, derive more maintenance income and thus keep the wheels turning.

I've explained in the thread referred to why a subscription model is poor value for me and why I thus avoid them. I'm often on the periphery on all sorts of issues and topics, but it seems like on this one I'm more in the mainstream of opinion than I'd realised. :lol:
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by Martin Walker »

I'm not a fan of subscription-based services either. I'm happy to buy a product outright to support the developer, and often do (particularly when offered initial launch discounts or during sales). However, I always download and audition a demo first to see if it suits me (it only takes one or two disappointments to make you wary of some advertiser's claims ;) ).

I can see the huge benefits to newbies to be able to try out dozens if not hundreds of new plug-ins for a single low monthly fee, but to my mind this inevitably leads to mental overload or the tendency to rely on presets - in my experience buying one plug-in at a time and getting to know all its strengths and weaknesses is a vital part of the learning curve.

Updates are indeed a source of contention - to resolve bugs at no extra charge is one thing, but expecting a developer to continue adding features or supporting new operating systems over the years without any form of recompense is not sustainable.

However, many musicians are now regularly following and supporting some of the smaller 'boutique' developers who keep their prices competitive and their media presence cheerful and responsive, encouraging more purchases long term. They also tend to be able to respond to user feedback quickly, whereas (in my experience anyway) the larger conglomerates who offer a subscription model tend to take months and sometimes a year or more to respond to bug reports and operating system updates.

The boutique developer (even with products like Reaper, the team remains very small) is to my mind is a healthier approach to longevity than attempting to dovetail development across multiple teams with different specialities in the manner of a Hollywood Blockbuster.

To my mind, subscription models work very well with consumables (such as Netflix or Amazon Prime) because you pay a flat fee for things that you typically watch once and then move on to something else, and you can stop at any time if you get bored with the content. With office software it also makes sense, since your requirements for word processing, spreadsheets, databases and the like are likely to vary over time, so having access to them all from day one means you can dip in as your needs dictate.

However, a musician tends to evolve over time, and there are a huge number of skills to master along the long road to perfection. Starting small and continually learning as you go along makes far more sense to me than jumping in at the deep end with all the tools but few skills to use them.

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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by ConcertinaChap »

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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by muzines »

A few years back, I wanted to get a to-do list app for my iPhone - you know, a simple app that lets to define tasks on the phone, and tick them off. I surveyed a bunch, and chose one that was simple, looked nice, and functioned as I'd need. I paid £5 for it to unlock the full functionality, to add tasks as needed, which on the scale of simple iOS apps, was "pricey" - but it was a functional app I'd use, so I was happy to pay.

I used it for a year or so, and then didn't use it much.

Today, with renewed vigor to create and tick off tasks, I loaded the app I'd paid for, to create some new tasks and monitor my performance. I now find that, despite previously paying and unlocking full functionality, the app I paid for will not let me add any new tasks - it's essentially been rendered useless, and the functionality I'd paid for had been, unknownst to me, removed somewhere along the line.

Ok, it was a cool and useful little app - maybe I should just pay for it again. Happy(-ish) to do that - except that now it's now a £52/year subscription. For the same app that once cost £5. That I bought, and seemingly no longer own. To enter a few items on my phone, and markd them as done, and show some simple stats - no involvement with the developer, or ongoing server costs for them, or anything that would require a constant income. The app itself isn't that complicated either.

I would be more open to subscriptions if developers hadn't got rather greedy in their pricing models - more than a few £40 Mac utilities have now become £120/year subscriptions. If I had to continue to pay monthly for everything I currently own, I would be *forced* to de-own them. And I absolutely hate being effectively held to ransome to *access my own data*, because I'm loading a project with something that I once had a subscription for, but no longer do, and am required to pay a bunch of companies more money to re-start subscriptions just to get at my stuff.

I understand the need for software developers to maintain a constant revenue, especially with mature apps when sometimes there's less user incentive to continue to upgrade them. But don't suddenly up the price of a product you've been selling for years 5x, and continue to charge, without expecting some customer pushback.

There *are* subscriptions which make a lot of sense - a good one for example is for a working photographer paying £10/mo for Photoshop & Lightroom - essential tools for the business, and it makes a lot of sense to have these as a business expense. And there are also very good commercial use cases for subscriptions too.

But it kinda feels like some company wants to find a way to get me to give them money every time I want to do something with my stuff. Is the future of "you own nothing" along the lines of: want to pick up and play your guitar? £10/month to Fender, please... (per guitar)

I'm ok subscribing for a *service*. I'm less ok with subscribing to a *product*.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by Martin Walker »

muzines wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 6:47 pm I'm ok subscribing for a *service*. I'm less ok with subscribing to a *product*.

That single sentence could have saved me typing so much - beautifully distilled! :clap:
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by ConcertinaChap »

Indeed. The whole post is well argued, Desmond.

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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by BJG145 »

Well said.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by James Perrett »

Martin Walker wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 4:10 pm However, many musicians are now regularly following and supporting some of the smaller 'boutique' developers who keep their prices competitive and their media presence cheerful and responsive, encouraging more purchases long term. They also tend to be able to respond to user feedback quickly, whereas (in my experience anyway) the larger conglomerates who offer a subscription model tend to take months and sometimes a year or more to respond to bug reports and operating system updates.

This is an area where the big boys could really up their game. While we are realistically unlikely to have direct access to the developers, a customer facing product manager who has the power to get things done with the development team would inspire far more confidence in potential customers.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by James Perrett »

muzines wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 6:47 pm I'm ok subscribing for a *service*. I'm less ok with subscribing to a *product*.

Exactly! With software, new versions and support are a service but the software itself should be licensed to the user in perpetuity.
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Re: June 2022 Editorial - Paying Our Dues, a rebuttal ;)

Post by ConcertinaChap »

Just a thought, Drew, but have you thought of offering this or a derivative of it to the mag as an opinion piece? You could call it "Why I hate ... software subscriptions".

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