It’s been quite some time since I posted anything to the blog – I’ve been busy working on my debut novel since going full time as a writer. However, yesterday afternoon an email popped into my inbox. It was from The Soulmen, the developers of Ulysses, my writing app of choice, notifying me that they were moving the app to a subscription only pricing model.

I’ve been a fan of Ulysses for a long time, and have written a number of articles singing its praises, explaining how I use it to write and why. Given this significant change to the app’s offering I felt compelled to give you my thoughts on the matter.

What a subscription for Ulysses means for me

Generally speaking I’m not a big fan of subscriptions for apps. I avoided subscribing to Office 365 for example, and have so far always chosen non-subscription apps over others that require continued payments. But after about twenty minutes of deliberation I signed up for an annual subscription to Ulysses. For an app that I’ve already purchased on both Mac and iOS that says something fundamental about my relationship with the software.

You see, as someone who writes for a living, this decision was a no brainier for me. Despite there being plenty of competition out there, Ulysses is simply the best writing app for my needs:

  1. It offers a Mac, iPad and iPhone version with unrivalled, rock solid iCloud syncing between them all. I was previously a Scrivener user, but my multi-location, multi-device writing needs made me switch to Ulysses. Scrivener has an iOS version now, and offers Dropbox syncing, but I’ve heard reports that it doesn’t sync so well between devices, with some users citing data loss during the process. I can’t comment on that as I’ve not experienced it, but Ulysses’ syncing is flawless.
  2. I can do all of my writing tasks in the app, from a full 100,000 word novel to a short blog post (which can be uploaded straight to WordPress or Medium from within the app).
  3. The application doesn’t get in the way of my writing. It’s interface is minimalist but behind the scenes Ulysses offers a lot of power features for writers – project planning, plot outlining if you choose to do this in app (I use Omnioutliner 5, simply because I prefer to keep the two disciplines separate), writing goals, image handling, keywords, filters to help segment and track various parts of a writing project and much more.
  4. Quick, easy, yet very powerful export options which allow me to upload blog posts straight to my blog, export an entire novel manuscript into PDF for revising and annotating, or sending a document into Microsoft Word to send on to others. And all of this comes with fully customisable formatting to suit a wide range of finished document requirements.
  5. A fully customisable user experience featuring themes to suit the user’s needs. Ulysses is drop dead gorgeous by the way and a joy to use because of it.
  6. A brilliantly implemented version of Markdown called MarkdownXL which allows for inline editing, formatting, non destructive deletions, and a quick and easy way to write without worrying about how the final document will look.
  7. A dedicated, helpful and passionate development team behind Ulysses. This counts for a lot believe me. They have always been on hand to help if I’ve ever needed it. They also listen to their users and are open to suggestions for future development requests.

Now, I realise that my writing needs are likely to be very different to someone who will use an application like Ulysses on a more casual basis, say to take notes, or to write short form documents like letters. There is plenty of competition out there for writing apps that might suit these users’ needs better and at a lower cost. Which might mean Ulysses’ move to a subscription based model will make some users switch. I know I considered it. But ultimately anyone like me, who needs a dedicated app to carry out professional writing projects in, won’t be disappointed that The Soulmen have made this move. It means that they can continue to develop and improve Ulysses in what has become a very crowded marketplace of writing apps. I’m happy to continue to support them and I hope other users do too.

So how much will a Ulysses subscription cost?

Full details of all the options are available on their website and they cover the background to why they chose subscriptions on their blog. There is also a separate post by one of the developers, Max, on Medium which is well worth a read.

In essence though there is a monthly plan and a yearly plan, with a limited time, lifetime discount for existing users. I took advantage of the discount, at 50% off the monthly subscription price of £4.49, to get an annual subscription for £26.99. As subscriptions cover both the Mac and iOS versions I can carry on using this on all of my devices for that price, which is only £2.25 a month. You can download the app for free and trial it for 14 days, but if you want to continue using it you’ll need to subscribe. If you’ve already bought Ulysses before the subscription model was implemented you can continue using it without subscriptions, as long as you don’t update to the latest version. However, new features and developments will only apply to the subscription version of Ulysses. For anyone who has only recently bought the app they can continue with a free use period of up to 18 months on Mac and 6 months on iOS, depending on when they purchased the app. There is a student pricing scheme on offer too.

This shows that The Soulmen understand that subscription based pricing models are contentious at best. It also however demonstrates how much they care for their users by trying to make the transition as painless as possible. Of course they don’t want to lose users also. But as Max points out in his Medium post, the existing business model just didn’t make financial sense. It’s a problem a lot of developers are currently facing. Which might mean we start to see other apps also making the move to subscriptions.

Final Thoughts

So, is Ulysses, an app that some people will have already purchased on a one off basis, worth paying for all over again with a subscription? That depends on the user I guess. If, like me, users need what Ulysses has to offer, and they appreciate excellent software for a small monthly payment, then Ulysses can continue to go from strength to strength. It will certainly be interesting to see how this latest development pans out.

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