Sketch has announced their intention to change their product versioning approach as well as the upgrade window available to people who buy Sketch app.
There have been many different reactions, some positive, some negative, some confused. While I feel Sketch is really trying to do the right thing, I think this mixture of reactions is due in some part to lack of clarity on some points. I also think that Sketch may have made the assumption that everyone would be familiar with the tradeoffs of traditional licensing vs subscription models. Here’s some input that will hopefully further the discussion.
You buy Sketch, you own a copy of Sketch that you can always use. That said, the version of Sketch that you wind up owning will be dependent on when your last paid license expires. This is less like a subscription and more like a traditional software license model.
However, the proposed advantage is that the license will represent a unique year-long window for each user to access the most current version (versus upgrade periods being tied to a version number). For example, in the past when Adobe products were under a license model, you could potentially have been in the position where you purchased a license for version 1 (to keep it simple), and three months later version 2 rolled out. In such a scenario, this new version would’ve required a paid upgrade (usually at lesser cost than first-time license purchase).
Sketch aims to make this traditional license model more fair by tying access to latest product updates (versions) to the duration of license ownership instead of via major product version number.
What Details Are Missing?
- Pricing: The article did not include any proposals for pricing structure and this was probably not helpful in pitching the idea IMO. Currently Sketch costs $99, so everyone is currently assuming this will be the annual licensing fee. If this is going to change in either direction, it would probably be helpful for Sketch to add clarity here. However, based on past company models like the one mentioned above, it’s conceivable that your first-time Sketch license could cost more than upgrade pricing (or not). Sketch needs to detail their strategy here to really get an honest market reaction.
- Security Patches & Bug Fixes for Past versions: Leaning on the Adobe model again, even after major version upgrades Adobe used to rollout free updates if any major bugs or security issues were found in older code. Will Sketch release bug fixes and/or security updates to past versions for people who do not renew their licenses? Their current history of releasing versions with major bugs and issues makes this a question that Sketch has to answer. Either they’ll have to support a free patch model, or they’ll have to adopt a more strict promise of quality and stability for each release. See this comments from @AndyStannard and @michaelvanhavill for example user reaction to this point.
- Initial rollout of strategy vs. ongoing yearly cycle: Sketch states “If you own a Sketch 3 license, we can guarantee you will continue to receive free updates for at least the next six months — or until one year after you originally purchased Sketch — whichever comes last!“. Overall this sounds great, but again it’s not crystal clear. Perhaps Sketch can also follow up on this with a specific cutoff date. If you bought before date X you get six months, if you bought after date X you have a year-long license that started on your purchase date. Starting with this ambiguity and then transitioning into a year-long model may be good in the short term, but it introduces complexity that makes it harder to ‘sell the vision’.
- Backward compatibility of files: Sketch is proposing that keeping your version of Sketch, even after a license expires, represents value. However, that value is greatly diminished if they do not support some level of backward compatibility in their native file format. This comment from @mariashanina addresses this issue well.
It should have been anticipated by all, that Sketch would be making some kind of change to it’s pricing and licensing model. A ‘buy once, use forever’ license is not a sustainable business model for a widely adopted design app. For example, a designer would not expect to be on the hook for free updates on a web project that ended 1.5 years ago, right?
Sketch is trying to offer something that’s better than a traditional software license, while avoiding the pitfalls of subscription models. As a user community, we can all hope that this will allow for a better ongoing revenue model and business health outlook for Sketch, so that they can continue to update and improve their products. Whether they planned for it or not, Sketch is now a ‘big player’ because so many people are now using their app for everything from hobbyist experiments to big budget mission-critical projects for major brands. In order to live up to this responsibility, it makes sense that they need to evolve their pricing to become a stable force in the design software market.
With that in mind, Sketch will need to improve their QA process and overall customer support. Public releases will have to stop introducing (in some cases) catastrophic bugs or performance degradation. Our hope should be that their new balanced approach of ‘fair licensing for a fair price’, will lead to maturity and stability in future version updates.
The best part is that Sketch is trying to be transparent and they are definitely listening.
@sketchhunt very good points on that article, we’ll try to clarify some of the issues you mention : )
— Sketch (@sketchapp) June 8, 2016
Best place to comment is actually on the post from Sketch!
We’ve updated our blog post with a FAQ
“Versioning, Licensing, and Sketch 4.0”https://t.co/zrM3lO2Gv2
— Sketch (@sketchapp) June 8, 2016