The problem with software

pc-frustrationThe software industry loves to talk about “solutions.” It’s not clear whose problems some software makers think they’re solving.

For years, I have used a program called Evernote, which syncs notes, webpages, photos and other things you want to save across many different devices. It’s got an add-on that makes clipping, saving and categorizing web pages simple. It’s a pretty handy tool, and it’s free.

Because its free, Evernote is always plugging the upsell. Want to search amongst your documents? Upgrade to “Pro” – a subscription-based service that promises to be even better. No thanks. I’ll stick with what I can see works.

Now, however, Evernote has informed me that if I want to sync its program across more than two devices, I will have to pay — and a subscription, no less, not a one-time fee. For years, I have had my Evernote account on six devices. Why does software which does essentially the same thing every time you use it — indeed, that’s the reason for using it— warrant a subscription? What will I get next month that I’m not getting this month?

I can only assume that Evernote’s revenue model isn’t working, and it needs a “solution” — one that comes at my expense.

I spent 12 years working for Mike Bloomberg, a man who made a fair amount of money in the data and information business. One of Mike’s first rules was that once you offer customers something, you never take it away. So while new functions were constantly being added to the Bloomberg terminal, nothing was removed from it, and the price stayed the same. (The pricing model may have changed in the 12 years since I’ve been gone.)

The point is that Evernote is taking away something it once offered me at the agreed-upon price, which in this case happened to be nothing. The fact that it was free doesn’t change the equation, other than Evernote clearly doesn’t care if I stop using its product since I’m not paying for it anyway.

But I would be far more likely to pay if I didn’t feel Evernote will simply keep gouging me.If it changes the terms once, how do I know it won’t decide to limit that number again in the future? It’s model is: if you like a little, you should pay for a lot.

There’s a better approach: Show me what your product can do, and charge me a fair price for it. Let me decide if it’s worth it. Don’t lock features away behind a pay wall. Put everything on the table and let the product speak for itself.

That’s the model used by another software program I use, Aeon Timeline, a versatile tool for building and comparing custom timelines. It’s handy for book projects like my upcoming biography of Texas oilman George Mitchell.

I knew Aeon was a great program because it allowed me to use it for free for 30 or 40 tries. During that time, I got to figure out just how it would work for me, and what I could do with it. I wound up buying it before my free trial was up. In fact, I bought multiple licenses.

I’m sure Aeon doesn’t have the revenue stream or the broad appeal that Evernote does, but it definitely has the right approach to selling software, at least from a company loyalty standpoint.

Unlike most products, too much software is sold incomplete. Software developers want us to buy into the idea of their products’ potential, then convince us to pay more to make it realize that potential. It’s a little like buying a car even though it doesn’t have wheels because Chevrolet says it is planning to add 19-inch custom aluminum rims later.

Software, of course, will always need upgrades. But when companies knowingly stunt the product offerings, it’s reminiscent of the old bait-and-switch tactics of used car dealers.

I know Evernote works, and I may even break down and pay for the subscription, but I don’t trust the company. Its relentless attempts at upselling show it is more concerned with its own revenue than with providing a service to customers. This may be a “solution” for its business model, but it makes me want to find a different program that does much the same thing. In other words, it makes me want to find my own “solution” — one that I’d be willing to pay for if I felt the company would treat me fairly.

If anyone knows of any, I’m open to suggestions.

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About lorensteffy

Loren Steffy is a writer, speaker and consultant. He is the author of Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit published by McGraw-Hill in 2010 and The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, published by Texas A&M University Press in April 2012. A journalist for more than 25 years, he was most recently the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle.
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