Pixelmator Photo switches to subscription model

The Pixelmator apps have been a staple for iPad, iOS, and macOS users for years. From the original app, called just Pixelmator, to Pixelmator Photo for iPadOS and iOS, and Pixelmator Pro for macOS, it’s such a great suite of apps. I named Pixelmator Photo one of my favorite iPad apps of 2021, which you might recall.

One of the reason the Pixelmator apps are beloved, outside of being truly great software, is that they differ from Adobe’s offerings by being one-time purchases. Well, that’s going to change in the near future, at least for Pixelmator Photo. It’s going the subscription route, something I’m not the biggest fan of.

So, how is it going to work? To be fair, the Pixelmator team are doing everything right by current users. Their announcement blog post states the following:

Pixelmator Photo will now cost $4.99 per month, $23.99 per year, or $54.99 for a lifetime license, but existing paid users get unlimited access for free. Also, Pixelmator Photo for Mac is coming! What’s more early subscribers will get access to it for the same monthly price, which will go up when the Mac version is out.

Good news for multi-platform users, especially since Pixelmator Photo will sync edits between platforms. That means that you can start working on a photo on your iPad, and finish up on your Mac, if you like. It’s all within the same subscription, too, just like writing app Ulysses.

Current users aren’t thrilled, however. There are 76 comments to date, and it’s not exactly a community of users applauding the decision. The subscription model works for the app developer and publisher, but it’s not user-friendly whatsoever. As someone who’s running a site funded by subscriptions, I still can’t help but feel that it’s less than ideal. Advertising models might work for some – apps and sites alike – but it’s definitely not a catch-all solution. At the same time, if you, as a user, expect an app to get updates and evolve, then the developers need to get paid. A one-time purchase three years ago isn’t going to cut it forever. The model’s broken, but I do understand why some app developers are feeling forced to go that route.

I’ll give the Pixelmator team the benefit of a doubt, for now. They’re applying the model to new users, current users get a lifetime subscription automatically. That, however, has been troublesome in the past. Journaling app Day One handled it poorly, for example, finally having to backpedal to a legacy sort of plus account (or whatever it is they’re calling it these days) for people who bought their apps. It’s a stumped subscription compared to the premium offering, not supporting audio or video. And, to make matters worse, this is an answer in the comment section, to a question posed to the Pixelmator team:

For existing users is this free forever or for x years? Darkroom did something similar and at the time said existing users who had purchased would continue to receive updates forever. Earlier this year they changed this to 2 years since subscriptions were introduced and put the lifetime price up significantly at the same time.

We haven’t made any decisions regarding this, so there’s really not much I can say here. We’ve always strived to be as fair as possible as far as our users go and that’s not going to change.

Again, benefit of a doubt, but that answer doesn’t exactly fill me with certainty.