App monetization affects everyone. Companies big and small try in earnest to entice users to pay, while those same users are sometimes reluctant to even pay a dollar for an app they use constantly. A new app has some fresh ideas on how we should treat monetization.
Still in beta, Agenda is set to launch January 22. It will first land on the Mac before making its way to iOS. It’s billed as a sort of cross between a calendar app and a note-taking one (it’s cagey about how or what it does, but the takeaway is that it aims to simplify how you manage your time, and maybe life).
In a Medium post, developer Drew McCormack discusses how Agenda will generate money. It’s free, but like most apps, the free version is quite basic. There’s also a subscription model, which is an annual charge that adds professional features. Then comes the twist: instead of simply asking users to pay annually for a block of features, Agenda will build out new features every year and sell those. The upside is that it’s recursive; all paid upgrades stay with you. So if you bought Agenda’s premium upgrade in 2018, but the 2019 upgrades weren’t interesting, you’d still have what you paid for.
Users who purchased a 12-month upgrade in May of 2018 would also see new features released in February of 2019 (for a few months, at least). A 12-month license also gives a user preview access to newer features before it’s time to consider an upgrade.
It’s a marriage of loot-boxing and subscriptions. Paid updates are good for life, but the 12-month unlimited access allows the customer flexibility to decide if features are right for them. It also affords the developers a bit of room to work. “The development team is not forced to disappear for 6 months to develop a major new release,” writes McCormack, who notes this was all inspired by apps like Sketch.
This model comes with a few noticeable drawbacks. First, it’s not how Apple designed the app monetization system. For macOS, this isn’t a huge issue, and Agenda could very well decide to forgo the Mac App Store (which may not be a bad idea) if it runs afoul of Apple. As McCormack notes, Agenda has its own Swift-based licensing server based on Kitura, Vapor and Heroku.
When Agenda lands on iOS, it’s possible this all becomes a bit fussier. The iOS ecosystem is very restrictive when it comes to monetization, and for good reason. Apple says developers earned $26.5 billion in 2017, with some estimates pinning iOS’s mobile services revenue at about $180 billion.
Apple explicitly prohibits the use of outside servers for iOS subscription billing. It’s the cause of so much consternation between Apple and Spotify. Apple does allow users to take advantage of features that were acquired outside of an iOS app. Logically, Agenda users on a Mac could pay for a premium upgrade via the company’s licensing server, and have those changes reflected on the desktop and iOS.
It’s hard to say what differentiating features Agenda will have, but it’s reminiscent of Things 3: At WWDC, the Things 3 team told us its $80 cross-platform subscription pricing was aimed at the ‘dedicated’ user – the one who makes the service central to their daily lives. Notes and calendar apps have the power to do that.
Agenda seems forward-facing, but Apple may pull the rug out from under it. If a recent report is accurate, Apple will allow apps to be created and managed for both macOS and iOS with one binary as soon as WWDC 2018. We’re skeptical of that chatter, but it could upend Agenda’s forward-facing business model.
It could also be the proof of concept that macOS developers are looking for. A MacPaw survey showed developers felt subscription pricing made them more creative. Because it straddles the line between subscriptions and paid upgrade, Agenda may double-down on that synergy. Time will tell, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.