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Subscription Software – Yes or No?

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Or maybe? We have our opinions, but we’re also interested in yours.

Like it or not, a lot of the music software we rely on is being licensed by subscription rather than permanently. Of course we around here have our own opinions about that, but we’re also very interested to hear yours.

Please let us know on our Facebook page or via this link. A lot of people from software companies follow Synth and Software, so this should also be an opportunity for your voice to be heard.

Of course, a lot depends on the individual license terms and how the subscription is implemented. Some companies offer both permanent licenses and subscription options, others charge for updates beyond a certain amount of time, and so on.

But with little further ado, here are all the pros and cons we can think of.

Pros:

• Subscriptions are good for developers.

– They provide them a steady income, something free-lance musicians understand only too well. That doesn’t necessarily go to support lavish lifestyles, and it’s to our advantage as users for them to stay healthy and keep updating the tools we use.

– They ensure a stable base of captive users. (Yes, that’s also very appealing to companies looking to acquire them.)

– Subscriptions can attract customers who would rather pay a monthly fee than a larger lump sum, i.e. who would otherwise be inclined to pass.

– This is a maybe: copy protection could be quasi-innate, in other words software with a time bomb that expires can’t be stolen.

• You can rent software as needed rather than paying for a full permanent license.

• The cost may be about the same as a permanent license plus periodic updates that you’d buy anyway (or not – and the cost of multiple programs can add up very quickly, but here we’re talking about the pros).

• No-brainer convenience: just paying and keeping everything updated, especially for larger commercial facilities and schools. (See below for the flip side to this.)

Cons:

• Money money money, and also money.

– “Only fifty dollars down, fifty dollars a month, for fifty years.” (Was that Firesign Theater?)

Yes, a recurring bill is very different from a one-time purchase made while your treasury is flush. Again, every free-lance musician can relate to this one!

– Not being able to use tools you rely on when the treasury is empty and you’re forced to let the sub lapse. 

Frankly, that’s a scary prospect for anyone who lived through a temporary loss of livelihood during the Great Recession. Those wounds are still fresh.

• Worse, not being able to open old projects if you don’t keep up with the sub, whether for financial reasons or just because you don’t need the software anymore. Maybe you switched to another program, or maybe you no longer use it regularly enough to justify an ongoing subscription.

Now, the argument to that is that software tends to require updating to work anyway, whether because of an operating system change, a host DAW update, Apple comes out with new Macs that use new processors – there are any number of reasons.

And then the argument to the argument is that you can always pick up a ’90s vintage computer for $10, stick in a floppy disk, and load that copy of Opcode Vision.

Also, you can just save audio files of your work, and that doesn’t require that you own the programs that created them. But those are immutable.

• Do you allow your computer to be updated automatically? If so, you’re living dangerously – not that all subscription software does that.

But untimely software updates can be extremely disruptive. Few musicians use software just from one company, especially plug-ins (such as, oh, softsynths). And software has to coexist with other software.

You can’t even count on every developer to come out with equally timely updates to maintain compatibility with the latest operating systems and machines, let alone with, say, your DAW.

• Time-bombed software can be a nasty pain in the nether regions even when it’s not subscription, especially when it comes with a warning that the software is going to expire. Imagine launching your DAW and having to dismiss – I’m not kidding – 50+ of those warnings from one unnamed developer. Oy!

What say ye? Have we missed anything?


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