When JetBrains announced a change of terms to their licensing agreement on September 3rd, adopting a subscription based model across their developer productivity tools, the company anticipated feedback. What they got was a torrent, with reactions ranging from mildly perturbed to outright apoplectic. Having published a post to express that the company was indeed listening to what its users had to say, today, in a third and final move, they’ve issued a revision to the previously proposed model. Here’s the official tl;dr from the IntelliJ IDEA providers:
We are moving forward with subscriptions with important adjustments.
You will receive a perpetual fallback license once you pay for a year up front or 12 consecutive months.
You will receive up to 40% discount for continuous subscription.
You will be able to use the software without an Internet connection.
Current customers with active or recently expired upgrade subscription get first two years of subscription for the price of one.
We still recommend you take 10 minutes to read it all for the complete details.
In this interview, Developer Advocacy Team Lead Hadi Hariri explains why the company was so taken-aback by the initial community reaction, why they won’t be simply reverting to their original licence terms, and why these changes were so important for the company and its future.
Voxxed: It’s fair to say that JetBrains created a stir with the initial announcement. Were you expecting that you’d get you would get the response that you did?
Hariri: We expected some negative feedback. We knew that not everyone would like it – there’s that expression, “people don’t like their cheese to be moved” – especially when it could have a an impact – and in this case, a lot of people felt that way.
We did do research before making the decision to move to the subscription model. We performed a lot of surveys with many different kinds of customers – everything from personal users to companies both large and small. Essentially, we tried to get a good feeling for all the kinds of customer that could exist. And, once we’d collected this data, the feedback was that this was a good way to go. There was some negative feedback in there, but certainly nothing to the extent that we got.
What do you think fuelled this unexpected backlash?
Some of the feedback got personal – calling people names, things like that, which I don’t want to repeat here. It was bad. Amongst this though, there were people who were just genuinely concerned, and it was feedback from those that had gone to our blog and other official channels and expressed these feelings in a calm way that was valuable.
Since we got so much feedback, and valid concerns, we had to reconsider. We thought maybe our research had been somewhat biased. That’s when we stopped and reconsidered. We made a decision to tell people we were rethinking things, we’re listening, we’re going to act on it – hence our second blog post. But even then, people were still angry.
It’s a great thing in a way, because it shows that we have built a really passionate community. And we’re very grateful for this. There may have been some issues with communication too – a lot of the people, if you read the comments, were also not content with the format of the post.
Who were the users who seemed most upset?
Some concerns were about the requirement for Internet connectivity. Some of the worries people had were things that genuinely hadn’t even occurred to us. For example, people were asking if we were going to use this model to hook developers in, and then later jack up the prices. This didn’t even cross our mind at JetBrains – especially when you consider a lot of our competitors are free tools. Because of this, if we don’t provide value, people won’t use us. People choose our tools based on the value it provides them, at the price we provide them. If we raise the price, people won’t use us.
I think that we listened and worked really hard in the past two weeks to coming up with a solution that, while might not satisfy all, is a compromise and hopefully shows that we did really listen, and help rebuild confidence and re-establish some of the connections we’ve built with the community.
Can you summarise what has changed since the initial subscription announcement?
We are staying with subscriptions, but we understand that, despite our low prices, people might not be certain they can renew in a year’s time, or might not know if we’ll provide value. So, what we’ve done is, if you’ve paid 12 months subscription, you’ll get a perpetual fallback licence. Whatever version was available when you started your subscription, you’ll get a perpetual fallback licence for that in case you don’t want to continue your subscription. Of course, we’ve also added benefits such as the All Products for a very attractive price, as well as monthly payments.
The key difference here is that we haven’t reverted to the first model we had – now you get a fallback licence if paying for a year (upfront or monthly) if you decide you don’t want to renew for some reason.
Why not just go back to the old model?
We’ve moved many of our products to a model whereby we release more than a few major releases per year, with features and many other important improvements. We dedicate just as much effort in getting new users as we do supporting existing ones. We’ve been able to do this because we’ve had a significant expansion of our new user base, but that won’t continue on forever. We need to align our revenue with our effort, and this move to subscription has been about finding that balance that provides us a sustainable model and allows us to continue to do what we love and our users enjoy.
Also, let’s not forget that we had and continue to have many supporters of the idea. And we really wanted to make it work for them and not rollback. It wouldn’t be fair.
Is maturity of your software a factor in the subscription model? Do you feel less pressure to keep coming up with lots of new features?
How would you respond to people who say that this was solely financially motivated?
There are 600 people in JetBrains right now, majority of whom are developers. We don’t have venture capital, and we don’t have to respond to shareholders or anything of the sort. We’re privately owned and plan to continue this way. If we’ve done this it’s because we need to, to remain sustainable.
I don’t know how things will work out – hopefully well – but what I do know is that if our users aren’t happy, we won’t be happy and down the line, whether we make more profit or not won’t matter. This isn’t and never was about making profit – it’s about providing a sustainable model to allow us to keep doing what we’re doing now.