Thanks for asking this question in a constructive way. I’ve wanted to write a blog post on this because users and developers have different perspectives.
TL;DR: I’ve tried one-off payments and it’s unlikely I’ll try it again. Subscriptions are the future.
First, there is no development team. I’m a solo developer.
A little history (Note, Flowx needs about $4000USD/month to cover costs):
- 2012: started Flowx as a side project.
- 2013: Released with ads. Revenue ~ $30/month
- 2014: Added $2/yr subscription. Revenue ~$60/month
- 2016: Flowx was earning about $100/month and my internet cost was $200/month. Not sustainable.
- 2016/2017: I rewrote the app and released it with a $5 one-off purchase. Revenue increased to ~$600/month. Initially one-off payments was 80% of revenue but a year later it represented 60%.
- 2017/2018: Added high-res data (HRRR), removed $5 one-off purchase, added Bronze/Silver/Gold ($5/yr, $10/yr, $20/yr) subscriptions. Revenue increased to $1800/month. Still not sustainable but there’s a glimmer of hope.
- 2019: $2200/month
- 2020: Dark Sky removed from Android. Flowx benefits. $3400/month
- 2021: Goggle reduces their take from 30% to 15%. $4400/month Yay!!! Flowx is sustainable.
What are the Flowx costs
Servers (12 running today), hardware (5 laptops so far, ~10 phones), support software (code editors), education costs (online tutorials), services (map tiles, ip address to city look ups, search place, etc…), office rental, internet and my time. You will notice all these costs are on-going, even hardware needs replacement. In other words, all Flowx costs are like subscriptions.
What do I spend my time on
Support: I get emails every day for support. Over 90% of users are free users but they still require support.
Maintenance: on servers, updates to processing scripts if the weather data sources changes something or falls over, upgrading code to cope with Android releases (think widgets, background services, etc…new Google libraries), general maintenance to code, and bug fixing.
Development: features are a “one time development” cost but over time the app requires new ways of doing things so other features can happen. This means most previous features need to upgraded to cope with the new way of doing things. Many examples come to mind: 1. when we added regional models which fallback to GFS, for example, users want it to fall back to something else, like ICON. This requires a big redesign of how we set data sources. 2. the code architectures change over time, e.g., MVC, MVVM, MVI, MVP, and coding technologies change, e.g., Java to Kotlin, Objective-C to Swift, Jetpack Compose, Kotlin Multiplatform, and code/features have to be upgraded to these. 3. Designing a theme editor that is easy to use by flexible.
Now that I’ve outlined Flowx work, costs and revenue, I think you would agree this is an on-going venture where the costs are on-going. So it’s natural that the cost of the product is a subscription model. If revenue stopped coming in today and I completely stopped working on Flowx today, I think the app might work for a few years but the servers and data processing will fall over within a year.
Why Not One-Time Purchases?
The problem with one-time purchases became apparent when I released Flowx with the $5 one-time purchase. At first it looked great with the revenue coming in and then is dropped down to about 60% of total revenue. But then I realized that all these purchases won’t happen next year so I would have to actively search for new users to maintain that revenue. In other words, advertise which costs money which increases the total revenue required to sustain Flowx. In other words, you aren’t paying $5 towards Flowx development, you are paying for advertising too.
In contrast with subscriptions, I could predict future income based on the previous year. I can then plan how much contract work I have to do on the side to cover living costs.
Subscriptions matched the on-going costs of Flowx, was predictable and much less stressful. One-time purchases did not match Flowx on-going costs and were unpredictable which means continuous search for new users and increased advertising costs and stress.
But here is the crux: Flowx has to be sustainable. If it’s not sustainable with one-time purchases it will die and no one uses Flowx. If it’s sustainable with subscriptions, then it survives and people have the choice to use Flowx.
Just before releasing the 2017/2018 Bronze/Silver/Gold subscriptions I was thinking “If this release doesn’t make a big impact maybe I’ll have to give up on Flowx as a business and do something else. Maybe pull the free version and make it a friends and family app.” Then I decided 2-days before release that instead of $2/$5/$10 per year for Bronze/Silver/Gold, I’ll make it $5/$10/$20. I released, most people bought gold and revenue increased substantially. This was a turning point and the glimmer of hope I mentioned above.