Popular writing app Ulysses switches to subscription model

Ulysses is one of the most popular apps for writers. It lets you write, edit, organize, sync and export all your writing in a single, unified interface. That’s why it’s interesting to see that it is switching to a subscription-only business model.

I’ve already written about Ulysses a few times. It’s a rock-solid, well-designed writing app for iOS and macOS. It relies on Markdown formatting and lets your export your writing to WordPress and Medium — among other things.

Ulysses is the exact same app on iOS and macOS, proving that you can make professional apps for the iPhone and the iPad. The company behind it won an Apple Design Award at WWDC. It used to cost $45 on the Mac and $25 on iOS.

While the company released a free macOS trial on its website, there was no easy way to let you try the app on your iPhone or iPad. Additionally, it was a bit confusing that you had to buy the same app twice so that you could use it on all your devices. But if you were a serious writer and you were willing to spend $60 on two apps, Ulysses could become your writing studio.

Yesterday, the company announced that it would drop upfront purchases altogether. If you want to use Ulysses, you can now download the app on iOS and macOS to start a 14-day free trial. After that, you have to pay $4.99 per month or $39.99 per year. There’s a $10 discount on the annual subscription if you were a previous Ulysses user, and students are also eligible to a special subscription of $11.99 per six months.

And it turns out that people care a lot about subscriptions. While hundreds of millions of people pay a subscription to access Spotify, Netflix and other content services, making people pay for apps is still unpopular.

Max Seelemann wrote a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind subscription pricing. As a customer, I’m more than happy to see that subscriptions are going to make Ulysses more sustainable.

According to Ulysses’ website, there are a dozen people working on Ulysses. I looked back at my purchasing history. I was an early Ulysses buyer so I ended up paying less than the full price for both apps. I paid $20 for the Mac app 4 years and a half ago and $20 for the iOS app 18 months ago.

There’s no way you can build a successful business with customers that pay $40 over the course of four years and a half. Your local coffee shop probably has a higher customer lifetime value while hiring fewer people.

Software giants, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have successfully switched to subscriptions. The majority of customers and companies pay a monthly fee to access Photoshop, Microsoft Word and other productivity apps.

But most small software companies still rely on upfront purchases and regular paid upgrades. That’s why many apps end up being neglected or stop working after a major operating system update. Let’s see if Ulysses can reverse the trend.