Why Evernote have got it wrong

At the end of June 2016, Evernote announced, via their blog, a shake-up of their pricing plan structure. In the blog post they were very open about the reasons behind the changes, the predominant one being the requirement for investment in order to keep the product developing to meet the needs of its users. No-one can argue with that requirement, but I don’t personally believe that the changes they have made will ultimately improve that revenue stream.

First, though, let’s take a look at the good stuff. Evernote Basic, the free portion of the service, now gets the Passcode lock feature that was previously only available under the subscription services. This basically adds a level of security to Evernote to stop people that share your device from snooping through your notes without the access code. Neat.

Um…. that appears to be it. Unless I’ve missed something obvious (and if I have, feel free to leave a comment below!), that’s the only positive improvement in the pricing plan for the user.

Next let’s look at the changes that are maybe not great for the user but, frankly, aren’t going to bug most people too much. (If you want to compare the old and new plans yourself, you can view the old plan here and the new plan here.)
Both subscription services (Plus and Premium) get a price hike. For Plus, that’s an extra $1/month up to $3.99/month, while Premium moves to $7.99/month, up $2. If you want to pay annually, you still get a saving, but that saving has dropped from 30% to 27% for both plans. For those people already on one of these subscriptions, making heavy use of Evernote, I would be surprised if anyone really bats an eyelid over that price increase, and it will definitely benefit both Evernote and the end user in the long run by financing new developments. Fair enough then, no argument here.
Beyond that, there’s no real change to the subscription services. Users are paying a little more for the same as they’ve had before. Might have been nice to add a little something in here, Evernote, just to provide a little extra incentive for the small number of people who might take umbridge at a price increase, but still.

So where have they gone wrong?

They’ve made one substantive change that really negatively affects their free user base, and solely, it would seem, in order to try and push those users into a paid subscription. That change is a reduction in the number of devices that you can use Evernote on. Instead of synchronising your notes across all of your devices, you can now do this on just two.

Let’s just process that for a moment. Evernote’s customer base is substantially, I suspect, made up of technology-focused individuals, and particularly those working in technology-focused industries. How many of them have just two devices? I know very few people who don’t have at LEAST one smartphone, one tablet and a laptop/desktop computer. (For record, I have 5-6 devices that I use very regularly). Forcing users to pick just two of their devices means they have to change their way of working, possibly quite substantially, and that leads to a loss of productivity. In their blog post, Evernote stated that they will never change their “commitment to making you as productive as you can be” but that is exactly what they are doing. If you work across multiple devices, this change makes Evernote substantially less productive a tool for you.

Now, this limitation is only for the app – Basic users can still access the web interface from any device, so that does mitigate this issue a little, but let’s be honest, the benefit of Evernote (beyond its search capability) is the ability to have all your notes on your device immediately to hand without having to go and log into a web service to access them. I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the web interface myself.

So go and pay for a subscription then, I hear you cry. You know, I quite probably would, if it weren’t for the one key stumbling block that Evernote have failed to consider – Microsoft.
Here’s the thing. Its quite likely that if you use Evernote you are also a subscriber to Office 365. (OK, I’ll grant you, if you’re an Apple user, maybe not, but then you’ve got a whole other cloud infrastructure to look after you).  For the same price as Evernote Premium, $7.99/month, you get the whole Microsoft Office suite, including 1TB of OneDrive space and, most importantly, OneNote. For just $9.99/month, you get this for five different users. Why on earth would I pay the same price TWICE when I already have all of Evernote’s free function within my Office 365 subscription?
I never looked twice at OneNote until now, because Evernote was free and did the job I needed. If OneNote wasn’t around, sure I’d likely pay Evernote for using its product, that seems fair. I really like Evernote, I have sung its praises and introduced many other people to it, some of whom went on to buy subscriptions. But brand loyalty will only take you so far, and for those of us that are on the fence between the free and paid-for plans, this pricing change really does force us to change neighbourhoods.

OK, clever clogs, how else could they do this in a way that keeps the revenue stream up? Look, I’m no business expert, I’d be the first to admit (my wife would be the second!), and I’m also generally not a fan of adverts within apps. However, I think that would perhaps have been the most sensible approach here. Banner ads (not full-page, wait-5-second-before-you-can-get-rid-of-me ads) that aren’t too intrusive but are also clear in the user’s interface to make them at all effective, would to my mind have been the better approach. This way you keep your user’s ability to work as productively as possible, across all devices, while at the same time encouraging them to buy a subscription, and all the while generating additional income by selling the ad-space.
That commitment to productivity they mentioned went on to say “No ads. No data selling.” I’m all for the latter, keep my data private please. But I’m not sure I see the connection between reduced productivity and a properly developed ad-enabled interface.
I’m not suggesting, btw, that an ad-enabled interface wouldn’t put some people off, but I think the backlash and migration of users to OneNote or other solutions would have been substantially less.

Did Evernote just have a Wile E Coyote moment?

Look, I get that Evernote had to do something, and I salute them for taking a brave step to try and secure their future. I just think that it might have been a mis-step that reduces their user base more than they are expecting, and shows more concern for their finances than for their users. They’re a company, of course their priority is to pay their employees and still end the day with a profit, but this move reduces my love for the company, my love for their product, and ultimately my opinion of their approach to their ethics and users.  I hope I’m wrong, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ll be around in the Evernotesphere to find out…

Featured image used unmodified under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0 from Flickr user Alan Dean

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