Are Software Subscriptions a Good or bad Idea for Consumers?

Simply put, it depends.  Value can be found at the consumer level, but you have to read and understand the EULA (end user license agreement) and if you need to be online before you buy-in.

Software subscriptions work in the enterprise and work for software companies, but may or may not work for consumers. Value for the end user depends on how the vendor licenses the software, and if you have to be connected to the internet in order to use it. Most people won’t care if, in the long run they feel they’re getting some reasonable level of value out of the recurring cost.

Many consumers never read an end user license agreement or EULA. Ever.  In many cases, even software users were required to activate has been installed on more than one PC, regardless of whether additional installs violate the licensing agreement, simply because the software was considered too expensive. Versions of Microsoft Office from Office 95 to Office 2010, fall in this category. Its one of the biggest reasons why MS has opted to switch to a subscription model for future Office sales.

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The key to successful consumer adoption, however, is how the licensing is written.  I have found that most people are honest and will buy software instead of pirate it; but the licensing associated with any particular title is often very confusing.  Many people have more than one computing device; and will want to use software they purchase where ever and with whatever they’re computing with.  As long as the licensing allows them to install it where they need it, and the subscription costs aren’t too high; and/or don’t exceed what a consumer would pay for the software at retail, then I don’t see why a user find a subscription model acceptable. However, where and how the software is installed may also be an issue.

My biggest concern is where and how the software is used.  Subscriptions for some software may require an online connection to a subscription validation server in order for the software to work.  If I HAVE to be online every time I want to use the software that may be a problem. Internet access and mobile broadband are in a lot of places, but aren’t everywhere. If I want to use it someplace where I don’t have a connection and the software won’t start, then the subscription model is broken. The cloud isn’t everywhere, and I may not be everywhere the cloud is. Software vendors moving to a subscription sales model need to address this in some way to insure that I can use what I’ve paid for, even when I’m disconnected.

I also want the software installed locally and don’t want to HAVE to use an online version like Google Apps or Office 356 Online, again, for the same reasons. I don’t want to HAVE to be tied to the cloud or an always on network connection in order to be able to use something I’ve purchased. Once mobile broadband is ubiquitous, this may be a non-issue, but until then, it may be an issue for some, especially in areas where connectivity is spotty.

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