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Q1 17 Update
31st March 2017 by Tim Cole
Those who have known us for many years will understand that we are restless: we are "intermorphic", meaning we are never done. From the founding of SSEYO in 1990 to the founding of Intermorphic in 2007 to now, 2017, we have continued to have a deep seated need to create, to innovate and to push the envelope of what our tools can do - either by utilising our own technologies or in supporting the use of others (e.g. iCloud, AudioBus, CoreMIDI etc.).
The last 9 months for us has been a very, very busy time - but it has also been a hugely productive one, too. We hope this blog post gives an insight as to some of why that has been the case.
By way of overview, the first 6 months of those last 9 months was largely taken up with readying what was to become Wotja 4.
The last 3 months of it were about polishing Wotja 4 to be ready for release on 14th Feb followed by a number of major improvements (Playtlist, Cut-Up Editor), minor bug fixes and sorting out some "bumps"; more on that below.
Time for change > Wotja
When we first started developing Wotja back in 2013 (Wotja 1 released April 2014) we had an idea where we were going to take it, and we knew it was going to be important for us. It was not really until the last year or so, 8-9 years on from founding Intermorphic, that we really started to feel we were quickly getting to the position of having too many apps to both evolve and maintain. We realised we had become stretched too thin and were beginning to get stuck in the treacle of never ending "maintenance".
We needed to rethink, to figure it out; we needed a plan. Yes, we could have decided to "moved on" altogether and abandon some apps and important features, in effect orphaning some user created content. It would certainly have been the easiest route forward and some developers might have taken that path, but we had never done that (see SSEYO Koan) and did not want to start now.
The four principles
We realised that to survive we needed to do 4 things. We needed to:
- Find a way to focus all our love on just one branded app that we could continue to innovate and extend;
- Find a forward migration path for user created content;
- Find a way to fund continued maintenance (the elephant in the room);
- Find a business model that could support the foregoing.
Whatever else was the case, we knew it was NOT going to be easy.
The "easy" bit
It turned out the only road ahead for the first 2 things was to consolidate all of our apps (Liptikl, Noatikl, Mixtikl, Tiklbox and Wotja) into just one. This app is branded Wotja. It was not in any way "easy" to do but we are now there on iOS and part way there on macOS (the macOS version presently has no editors for music or sound).
Come what may, we know that the Wotja app is our future and we are going to continue improving and extending it.
A head the Intermorphic,— intermorphic (@intermorphic) March 31, 2017
Want it cut-up innovate,
1000x chance to thank,
SSEYO future clearly after.
Made with #Wotja
The "hard" bit
The hardest thing of all, really, has been in finding the solution for issues 3 and 4 - finding the right business model. At the core of this is that continued software development really is a service: software does not yet create itself, maintain itself, test itself, evolve itself (thank goodness!) meaning human effort (work) is involved - and, in the case of our deep apps, a great deal of it, too.
We live in an age where much of the software we use is either free or is so cheap it is "as good as free" (e.g. a once off payment of $5). Operating systems, browsers etc. etc, you name it, and you can do most things for free if you really want to. However that software is made available to you it costs real money to build and maintain, and a lot of it, too.
The real questions
The big questions are, "who pays for all that free or as good as free software to be built and maintained, and how?". It is good to consider because, as we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch - you always pay, somehow. If something cannot be sustained (costs covered) then it will eventually die and turn to dust.
Software that is free is free for a reason: it might be free because you pay for it by paying for the hardware on which it runs (e.g. iPhone) or it might be treating you as the product (e.g. advertising supported) - for example your data has a value because with it you can be profiled for advertisers who want to sell you other things.
The problem with Software that is "as good as free" (e.g. a once off payment of $5) is that it sets the expectation that "as good as free" also comes to mean "maintained for ever".
Going with either model above can work for apps with very large or fast growing user bases. However, for very niche apps like ours with a slow growing user base neither generates enough to cover costs, let alone provide an income.
How we approached it
Like many niche app developers who do not want to make you the product, we have been caught on the horns of this dilemma. We want to continue to create and maintain things for you to use and love but it costs us a lot of time and effort to do it and to continue to do it.
We knew a few key things:
- For the last year most of our iOS App Store revenues were coming from iOS App Bundles that cost around $15 - $20;
- We had no means to allow free trial but we wanted to find a way to do that;
- If at all possible we did not want to have to resort to an ad supported model;
- We already pay for some apps via subscription and had become comfortable with it and its advantages;
- To be able to continue to fund both development and ongoing maintenance for those customers that do wish to see us survive and develop new things we had no option but to take some really, really tough decisions that we understood were likely to upset some existing customers who were used to the "as good as free" model, a model we simply cannot now afford to continue with (like any business we hate upsetting customers, but we simply had no choice).
What we decided to do
Taking all the above into account (and asking a few people) we decided to take the plunge and move to a subscription model where the annual pricing was either less than or about the same as a full bundle of apps would have been (Wotja is Noatkl, Mixtkl, Liptikl, Wotja and Tiklbox all in one). We genuinely thought it was the best solution all round, for many reasons.
A few initial bumps
However, we had not fully appreciated that at this point in time many people simply do not like subscriptions at all (despite their advantages and Apple making it easier). Because of that we did not have a non-subscription alternative available at launch and so had not got a transition bundle in place, either (these require paid apps). We also realised we needed to adjust the subscription pricing so immediately brought that down to the level it is now at. To top it off, we have had a couple of reports that the now available Transition Bundle is not working as it should in allowing purchase of apps in past bundles to count towards it (we have a support ticket raised with Apple who are investigating and we will address this as soon as we know the issue).
Ironing out the bumps
Have we have made some missteps along the way? Yes we have, as above, and we are truly sorry about those and any upset they might have caused. We are only human, there are 2 of us and we do sometimes get things wrong - especially in this trickiest of tricky areas. Once we knew about these issues, however, we moved very quickly to address them: i.e. a non-subscription version was released 2 weeks after launch and the app bundle about a week or so after that.
Aside from the above, are we happy about how things have gone since launch? Not yet, as it is clearly early days for Wotja. Although Wotja is working great and is powerful and stable, we are still in the consolidation cycle and there are many improvements we still want to make to the UI.
That said, as we now have just the one app to work on we are looking forward to delivering a regular flow of improvements and feature extensions (that said, we are presently working on adding syllable support to the cut-up editor - something we have been asked for many times).
Wotja is a powerful, deep and integrated creativity tool unlike any other - it is unique. The market for such an app is presently very small which is why it is priced as it is. If we could 1000x increase the market size then no doubt there would be some room to maneouvre!
We hope you give Wotja a chance and enjoy it as it develops and grows.
Tim and Pete