When CA started in 2007 audiophiles had a handful of choices for playback and library management applications. Some popular apps were iTunes, JRiver Media Center, Foobar2000 and MediaMonkey. Over the years many apps have come and gone, some haven't changed much, and others have continued to get better. The fact that we have options is a great thing. If I was still stuck with iTunes on macOS and the Apple Remote app on iOS, my listening experience wouldn't be nearly as good as it is today.
Along with application options, buyers also have what I'll call acquisition options. These options include renting, buying, maintaining, free, or software that's included with the purchase of hardware. Again, options are great.
I want to touch on what I see as differences between the models and more importantly I'd love to read feedback from the CA Community. I know there are many strong opinions on this and I enjoy reading all the perspectives.
This is what I call the traditional model of acquiring software. You pay X dollars for an application and it works as long as your computer supports it. From a consumer perspective many people like this model because of the fixed cost and they feel like they own something. No matter what happens to the software company in the future, as long as the consumer has a capable computer the application purchased this way will work like the first day it was installed.
The pay once model can be difficult for software companies due to the ongoing cost of keeping the applications updated for security and features in addition to providing user support. In a constant world without changes, it would be simple to release it and forget it. However, the world of software and technology never stops changing.
Examples: JRiver, Audirvana+, HQPlayer
This is a subset of the traditional buying model. In this case you can upgrade the software purchased or pay another lump some to continue to receive updates to the original software. This model follows a yearly or dependable cycle. JRiver has used this model for several years. It's perhaps the best compromise between the traditional buying model and a subscription model. A one-time up front purchase of the software entitles the user to updates until the next version is released, usually one year from the previous version's release. The cost to upgrade is usually substantially less when purchased early.
The Beauty of this model is that users can stay with whatever version they want and it will continue to work as long as their PCs meet the requirements for the software. No maintenance upgrade is required, it's optional. Users who want the newest version can pay for the upgrade and continue to get frequent updates and newer features.
I like this model because it allows great consumer choice and provides revenue for the software companies to continue updating products and supporting users.
Rent / Subscription
This isn't new in the grand scheme of things, but it's fairly new to many consumer markets. You pay a monthly / yearly fee for access to software. The subscription model is the one that seems to irk HiFi consumers the most. It's not a money thing. The cost of a subscription to apps isn't even as much as the sales tax paid on some experimental accessories in this hobby. The model just rubs people the wrong way or goes against their belief in owning something. Even though a license to use "purchased" software doesn't equal ownership that's a discussion for a different day.
Subscription apps such as Roon have a large ongoing cost to the company because of licensed content. The metadata, album lookups, images, and hardware certification done in-house can all cost money behind the scenes. This cost is passed on to the user though a subscription. Of course the subscription helps pay for user support and ongoing product updates.
One thing this model doesn't provide consumers is as much choice as a maintenance model. If a user doesn't want to keep updating or keep receiving metadata etc..., there is no option to put the subscription on hold and continue to use the app as intended. Roon requires an internet connection at least once every 30 days, or the user is logged out of the app, crippling functionality. I'm not suggesting this is good or bad, it's just the way ti works.
Roon offers a limited time $500 lifetime subscription that places it almost in the traditional buying model, but if Roon Labs (the company) is purchased or licensing agreements aren't renewed, there's no guarantee the app will continue to work even though it may install on a computer without issues. I believe the company has indicated it can make some of the functionality work if something like this happens.
This lifetime license is a good compromise for those that prefer the purchase model but want a software package that isn't offered via that model.
Yes free as in beer. If you don't like these apps, you're entitled to a full refund of your purchase price. Only kidding. Some offer support through forums while other such as iTunes offer support online and in person in the Apple Stores. Of course iTunes is heavily subsidized by consumer content purchasing and Apple uses user information in any way it sees fit. Free doesn't equate to bad or even a worse product. Consumers just need to beware they may be the product and their expectations with respect to updates and support should be adjusted accordingly.
Examples: iTunes, MusicBee, foobar2000, MediaMonkey, AIMP, Clementine
This software isn't free although it also isn't purchased in a line-item type of way. You can't purchase it on its own. These apps are included with the purchase of hardware. Some hardware requires the use of the company's custom app while other hardware is offered with an optional app for consumers. For example, the Aurender servers only work with the included Aurender Conductor app (sure AirPlay works but that's not even close to full functionality) while dCS products work with the included dCS iOS apps, Roon, or any number of UPnP/DLNA apps and Spotify.
Most of the meta data functionality in these apps is public knowledge. Thus, I'm unsure if they will continue to function should the company(s) go out of business or have a licensing agreement altered. Some apps don't license anything from third parties. Some apps pull in free content not in need of a licensing agreement.
Examples: Aurender's Conductor app, Auralic's Lightning DS, and apps from dCS, Lumin, Naim, and Sumaudio to name a few.
There you have the options as I see them. There are many more nuances to each model and many more pros & cons. I'd love to hear from the Community about its thoughts and any "purchasing" decisions individuals have made based on any of these factors. Has anyone selected hardware because of software or vice versa? Did the model of acquisition sway your decision?