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Remember Low App Upgrade Prices?

It wasn’t so long ago that users of an application could buy the all-new version at a discount. Usually it was half price, but it might be less, depending on the publisher and how recent a version you had. Some companies, such as Adobe, would actually charge more if you upgraded from an older version. That’s the price for not upgrading regularly.

But the software publishing business is changing, and Apple is only part of the picture.

Adobe has moved the Creative Suite to the cloud (hence a CC designation). Instead of making a new version a major event, updates are always incremental. But you pay the same monthly fee regardless of the frequency of those updates. In theory, the version you install today may be unchanged for the next five years, but your payments will never change unless they change for all users in the same category. It almost sounds like an insurance policy.

With the App Store on the iOS and OS X, Apple has put the kibosh on the usual paid upgrade cycle perhaps by benign neglect. You can get free updates, no problem. But if a publisher wants to exact a fee for a major upgrade, it has to be released as a separate version. Existing users do not receive any benefit for being a loyal user of the app. They pay the same.

I suppose that’s not such a big deal with a cheap app, or an OS X upgrade, where the prevailing fee is $19.99, although it could also be free when Mavericks arrives. But when you pay $199.99, as you do with Apple’s digital recording suite, Logic Pro X, it doesn’t matter if you used the previous version or not. Everyone is equal. Imagine buying a new car. Five years later, you’re ready to get the new model. But the dealer won’t accept your old car in trade. If you want to sell it by yourself, fine and dandy, but it’s not their problem.

All right, I realize the car business is not the same as the app business, so different standards apply.

Assuming you accept Apple’s financial model, buying an app is no different from buying a can of bathroom spray. You pay for it, use it as you wish, and when you buy more, you pay the regular price. You can’t give back the spray can if it hasn’t been emptied and get a new one for a discount. All right, I suppose you could bring it back to the store and tell them it didn’t work, or made your skin itchy, but that trick will only work one time.

This doesn’t mean that OS X app developers can’t give you a discount for the new version. Nothing stops them from selling it to you directly. That leaves the Mac App Store out of the equation, although more and more apps will depend on being available in Apple’s software repository to reach the maximum number of potential customers. Of course, with iOS you can’t buy software from another vendor unless you jailbreak the device and are willing to take the chance.

Regardless, it’s not that Apple is apt to explain a corporate policy, except in rare circumstances. On the few occasions where Tim Cook has been interviewed, I do not recall him being asked why Apple doesn’t believe in giving existing customers a discount when upgrading to a new version of an app. I suppose, to Apple, it puts everyone on an equal footing. When the new version arrives, it’s a new product. Buy it or not. It’s up to you, and nothing stops you from using the old version until it is no longer supported. Perhaps there will be free updates to fix bugs.

To be fair, Logic Pro X is a great deal. Imagine getting a state-of-the-art recording suite for just shy of $200. Maintenance updates will be free and, when there’s a Logic Pro XI or whatever it’s called two or three years from now, it’ll be another $199.99 I suppose. Such a deal! Indeed, companies who make more expensive recording software have to be shaking in their boots over what Apple has done.

Also, Apple’s approach is helping to reduce prices for apps across the board. If you can buy professional video editing software, Final Cut Pro X, for $299.99, and other apps for less, wouldn’t that encourage major developers to rethink their pricing strategies? Yes, I suppose it would hurt the income stream, but reaching more customers may make up the difference. If you could buy QuarkXPress, the high-end desktop publishing app, for $199.99 instead of $849, wouldn’t those who use lesser programs to create documents, such as Apple’s Pages, be more inclined to give it a try? In the end, Quark might gain substantial market share against Adobe InDesign, particularly in a climate where people are rebelling at the latter’s software rental scheme, where the app stops working if next month’s payment isn’t received.

But it’s still too bad that app developers, who have their products in an Apple App Store, can’t access their customers information directly, unless they register in the app itself. That’s something that still should be fixed, even if upgrade discounts become history.