August 18, 2022

Why Pixelmator Photo is switching to subscription pricing (and a sneak peek at Pixelmator Photo for Mac)

Hi everyone – we’ve got a pretty big announcement to make: Pixelmator Photo is moving to subscription pricing. In this blog post, we’ll explain why this is the best way forward for Pixelmator Photo and will make it into the best photo editor it can be. Also, Pixelmator Photo for Mac is coming and we’ve got an early sneak peek at what it’s going to look like!

TL;DR: Pixelmator Photo will now cost $4.99 per month, $23.99 per year, or $54.99 for a lifetime license but existing paid users get unlimited access for free. Also, Pixelmator Photo for Mac is coming! What’s more early subscribers will get access to it for the same monthly price, which will go up when the Mac version is out.

Pixelmator Photo 2.0.13

The big question – why?

So why are we switching to subscription pricing? Well, this is a decision we’ve been considering (and, to some extent, avoiding) for a good while now and there are a few main reasons why we’re making the move.

First of all, a bit of background about how a software company like ours works. We’re completely independent developers with no outside funding and it’s no surprise that we make money and pay ourselves salaries by selling copies of our apps. With a one-time purchase model, we rely on releasing major updates that create buzz in the media and with regular folks online to sell more copies of our apps than we usually do – i.e. we do our best to attract as many new users as possible. The rest of the time, the money we make isn’t actually enough to support development costs. The graphic below (shamelessly stolen from this blog post by Max Seelemann of Ulysses) illustrates this.

A graph illustrating the relationship between app releases, sales income, and development costs.

Issues with the paid upfront model

So what’s the problem – just keep releasing major updates, right? Well, you can certainly try but if an update doesn’t do as well as expected or is delayed, you’re in trouble. And eventually, your potential pool of users shrinks to make it necessary to release a paid upgrade that existing users need to pay for, too.

That’s what we’ve been doing until now and it hasn’t served us badly, but the landscape is changing and, when updates become more regular, there are some pretty big problems with the paid upfront model. Below, are some of the most significant issues.

1. Slower development

You need to purposely withhold the biggest new features from existing users and save them for major updates or new paid versions. This slows down development because large updates are harder to develop, test, and ship – releasing one major update with three big new features takes longer than releasing three updates with one major new feature each. It’s not too bad when everyone’s in the same boat, but as more apps move to subscription pricing, you find yourself at a disadvantage.

2. Paid upgrades can be too drastic

Paid upgrades need to be different enough to be super exciting and cool but not so different that they’re a whole new app that you need to learn to use (ugh, why is everything in all different places). However, if a paid upgrade isn’t flashy enough, there’s less of an incentive to upgrade, which kind of defeats the point. So it’s quite a fine balance.

3. No upgrade discounts on the App Store

If you create a major paid upgrade, people expect an upgrade discount – which is totally fair, by the way. However, we sell our apps exclusively through the App Store and offering upgrade discounts isn’t possible.

4. Users who buy early get more value than those who buy later

Let’s say somebody buys your app just after a major paid upgrade is released and gets a full cycle of updates on top of that. Great. What if they buy the app right at the end of the cycle? Not so great. So users who buy early get more value than those who buy later. We’ve seen questions about this quite frequently in the past – should I buy now or is a paid upgrade coming?

5. New users become more important than existing ones

With a paid upfront model, you’re chasing new users with major updates over making things better for existing ones until, eventually, you need to release a paid upgrade, then the cycle restarts. This means new users are more important than existing ones and flashy new features become more important than improvements to existing features.

6. No free trials on iOS and iPadOS

There’s no way to provide free trials on iOS. Occasionally, we get reviews and other feedback saying that Pixelmator Photo isn’t quite the kind of app that a person expected – maybe they thought it would be a layer-based editor, or a more basic photo editor, or the app is missing a certain feature, or is another kind of app entirely. For now, a free app with locked features is the only way to provide a free trial on iOS and iPadOS.

7. Lower prices of mobile apps

It takes a significant amount of development hours to create an app like Pixelmator Photo. It’s got some incredibly advanced editing features but, on iOS, the prices of other, less powerful apps are so low that pricing the app at, say, $29.99 puts people off, especially with no free trial. However, the current low price ($7.99) isn’t sustainable in the long run.

8. No unified purchases across macOS and iOS/iPadOS

This point is especially relevant with the sneak peek about Pixelmator Photo for Mac below. We’d love to charge one price for the app across all platforms – Mac, iOS, and iPadOS – and this is only possible with a subscription. Also a related issue is that if we charged an upfront fee and released updates and (eventually) major upgrades for each app, it’s much more difficult to sync everything across platforms, again slowing down development significantly. Side note – this is one of the reasons why development of Pixelmator for iOS slowed before and after the release of Pixelmator Pro.

As we’ve been around since 2007 now – that’s 15 years, for anyone counting (what, the 90s weren’t 10 years ago?!) – we’ve had first-hand experience with each of the above and it looks like the change to subscriptions is just the way to go at this point in time.

The big downside to subscriptions

Of course, there are downsides to subscriptions too – one big one, really. It’s more expensive. And the reason for that is one-time payment apps have a significant number of people who are occasional users – once a month or maybe even a few times a year. These people basically make an app cheaper for those who use it regularly. But with fewer paid users in a subscription model, the price becomes higher and you lose the users that use your app occasionally, instead focusing on the people who use your app the most.

It’s a little sad because there are certainly apps that we personally would use only occasionally which went down the subscription route that we don’t subscribe to. So we know the feeling well. But the hope is that there are enough users who use the app regularly and feel that the annual or monthly fee is worth it. It looks like this is the best way to ensure Pixelmator Photo can continue to be developed long into the future, keep growing, and become the best app it can be.

Sneak peek at Pixelmator Photo for Mac

Now, for some super exciting news – work on Pixelmator Photo for Mac is going well and we’d love to share an early look at it. It’s going to be incredibly cool and we can’t wait to ship it!

Pixelmator Photo for Mac

It’s going to be a completely native app – designed from the ground up just for Mac. The plan is to ship it late this year or early next year. And those who subscribe to Pixelmator Photo now will get Pixelmator Photo for Mac for free, which is a pretty sweet deal.

FAQs

Do existing users need to subscribe to get unlimited access?

If you’ve already bought Pixelmator Photo, you get unlimited access without having to subscribe.

Will subscribers get access to Pixelmator Photo for Mac for the same price?

Yes, those who subscribe will get access to Pixelmator Photo for Mac for the same price when the app becomes available. The price of the subscription for new users will go up when the app is released.

Will existing paid users get a discount for Pixelmator Photo for Mac?

Yes, unlike with paid upfront apps, it looks like it’s possible to provide discounts on subscriptions, so we’ll do our best to give existing paid Pixelmator Photo users a discount on Pixelmator Photo for Mac.

So that’s it for our news today – we’ve got some incredibly exciting updates lined up for the next few months and into next year, so we’re looking forward to sharing news about that too. And as always, if you have any feedback or comments for us, feel free to leave them below or get in touch with us at support@pixelmator.com.