The not so obvious cost of apps

We often buy apps that require ongoing subscription fee. How do we manage that and what should we avoid

The not so obvious cost of apps
Photo by Rami Al-zayat / Unsplash

Going back years, many people paid for daily delivery of their local newspaper. Our lives were relatively simple.... Until the Internet comes along, news become available in digitised
version, then some people expect to receive the news “free”. As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Either we pay for the product or we become the product. More and more, people adjusted to the concept of paying for quality news feed.

Similarly, the concept of Software as a service (SAAS) has changed developers’ behaviour. Instead of selling their software or apps with a one off payment and charge a discounted fee for major upgrades, a lot (if not the majority) of apps are now only available in terms of “subscription”. The popular model is to charge for a monthly fee and a yearly option (upfront payment) at a cheaper rate.

This arrangement may appear to be more palatable for end users, but in the long run they may end up paying a lot more. It is like the analogy of buying a house versus renting it. The developers favour the subscription model as it provides more certainties of regular income.

However, from the end user perspective, we have to be more diligent in managing the expenses. Each subscription may only be a small amount, but the total cost is adding up.

As a tech and app junkie, I use an app called subtrack to monitor the subscriptions. Based on the app, I roughly spend AUD5000 a year, including apps, streaming service, cloud storage, etc. I was late in finding out about Setapp, otherwise I am sure that I would have used this great subscription.

There is, however, a positive side to paying the app via subscription. In most cases, we do not have to pay for further update and upgrade fee. The ongoing subscription also supports the developers in making ongoing improvements to the apps.

Despite the trendy subscription model , there is still some great app that charges a very reasonable one-off fee. An example of this is [GoodLinks] ( This app lets me save the links and extract the article from the Internet so that I can read that later without the distraction of any advertisement. It is only $4.99 and no ongoing subscription fee requires.

Overall, I prefer to pay for app that does not require subscription fee. However, I would still consider paying for subscription under the following conditions

  • it is a great app
  • the subscription cost is reasonable
  • there is a good track record that the developer has been actively making improvement to the app.