Not Just for Magazines: 4 Reasons Why Software Subscription Rules

by Kate Morrical
- Jul 1 2013 - 3 min read
Micke Tong

You probably have subscriptions for all sorts of things: newspapers, magazines, blogs—maybe even fruit. (Or bacon.) But subscriptions are available for software, too, and they make just as much sense for programs as they do for periodicals.

But first, what is a software subscription? Different companies have different definitions, and a “subscription” at one place might be called a “maintenance” or “service” contract at another. Whatever it’s called, it generally means additional services on top of the basic software usage license.

And no, subscriptions aren’t free. There’s usually some sort of fee, often billed on a recurring basis—monthly, quarterly, or annually. You already bought your license—why pay extra? It turns out that when you add up the benefits of a subscription, you usually get what you pay for… and sometimes more. Here are a few examples of typical subscription features. (As always, read the fine print before you sign.)

1. You can stay current. The most common feature of any subscription/maintenance program is automatic delivery of upgrades or new versions. For engineering and design software especially, these may be critical updates. If codes or design guides have changed, you’ll want to make sure that your software takes that into account. Or maybe the developer has improved their calculation methods and come up with more accurate results. Maybe you have clients that always upgrade as soon as possible, and you need to keep up with file formats or features. Whatever the reason, you know you can’t afford to fall behind. And if you’re on subscription, you don’t have to.

2. You can get help. The second most common software subscription benefit is technical support. Anyone who’s used any kind of complex software knows that sometimes things go wrong that even the Internet doesn’t know how to fix. If you have a maintenance agreement, there’s probably someone you can call, email, or contact through a web form and expect a rapid, personalized response. I’ve had some great support experiences as a subscription customer—and not just with the big companies. The smaller outfits seem to work really hard to prove that they can support you just as well as the big guys, even if they don’t have as many people.

3. You can get extra stuff. Some subscription contracts come with access to additional programs that are separate from (but related to) your main purchase. One company I work with provides extra cloud storage with your subscription. Another includes free passes to its annual conference in their training package. You might get access to members-only resources, or discounts on additional purchases.

You might not think that you’ll take advantage of all these extras when you first sign up. But on the day you need one, you’ll be really glad it’s there!

4. You can plan ahead. The best thing about subscription is that it lets you plan for the future. If you’re on subscription, you know how much you’re going to spend on a particular product each year (or each month or quarter, depending on how the company breaks it down). Often the cost of a subscription is substantially less than a new license or even an upgrade. If you plan to keep using the program for a while, you’ll break even in just a few years. There will be no big surprises in your budget because your most depended-on software package just released a major update. There is less risk of lost productivity and billable time while you try to track down issues on your own or pay for pricey per-incident support.

Run the numbers yourself, and see which of your current software packages you should put on subscription or maintenance. It might not be all of them. But I bet it’s more than you think!

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