Paper and in-app purchases

The iPad drawing app Paper has gotten a lot of attention in the past week. One of the interesting bits about Paper is that the app is free, and gives you access to one of the 5 available drawing tools. To access the others, you have to buy them for $1.99 each. So to get the full functionality of the app, it costs $8.

This doesn't bother me, in fact I kind of like this model. You can try out the app for free, which is nice since there are no trials on the app store, and is preferable to me than having Paper Free or Paper Lite. If you don't use the watercolor brush, you don't pay for it, so the app is cheaper than it would be otherwise. This all makes sense to me as a user and developer, and seems like a good approach.

But there is a reason we don't see this model more, and it's because most users seem to hate this. They feel like they're being ripped off, nickel and dimed for each piece of functionality.

A post on Macdrifter sums this up nicely:

I would have simply preferred an honest version of the app with all of the tools for a single price. Yes, through IAP, I can get all of the “essential” tools for one price. It feels sneaky to me though…

Here’s the rub with IAP: I’m left wondering if cut-and-paste as well as zoom were omitted only to be added as additional purchases. When an App is dependent on IAP, I’m doubtful that much attention will be given to updating the core functionality.

It's a valid criticism, and I can see why it would make some users uneasy. Next time they release a new tool, I may have to cough up another $2. This free app might cost $50 after a while. If you look at the app store reviews, you'll find the majority of the negative reviews of the app are really about the business model, which is a shame.

I'm a bit torn on this, between a better experience for the user and making things sustainable for the developer. Releasing a $0.99 app and supporting it for free forever is not feasible. Maybe the solution is in-app purchases or maybe paid upgrades or maybe built-in support for free trials. Regardless, it's good to see developers experimenting, and hopefully we'll find a nice middle ground.