Announcement! Beeminder has stopped selling lifetime plans. Obviously if you already have one, we will honor it forever and ever . We’re just not selling new ones. We’ve thought about this hard and have five(ish) reasons:
- Inability to give lifetime people premium credit
- Special cases and complexity in the subscription logic
- Lifetime plans take away your leverage as a customer?
- We don’t know how to price them fairly
The premium credit reason is small but has been mattering more and more lately. There are dogfood bounties and various promotions. It’s extremely convenient to be able to pay a user money by adding credit and know that it really is equivalent to money because we’ll be adjusting their next premium payment accordingly. (Fun fact: we pay interest, compounded continuously, on all premium credit balances.)
Point 2 is code cruft, and it isn’t that bad. We can just pretend “lifetime” is 1000 months and let our grandchildren worry about it. Still, there are surprisingly many complications that arise in the code (and in the math). In a sense, point 1 — not being able to give lifetime folks premium credit — is an instance of this. It’s another set of special cases we have to keep in the back of our minds in every situation.
Point 3, about your leverage as a customer, isn’t really a reason from our perspective but may count as an argument against lifetime plans in general. Having a lifetime plan means you can’t take your ball and go home. The company has no incentive to care about you anymore. Of course, that’s the (counter)point — you’re willing to get a lifetime plan from Beeminder in particular because you trust that we won’t be like that.
Which brings us to point 4. It’s true that we won’t be like that. But that makes the price we need to charge — for quasi-committing  to support something literally forever — very high. When we first realized we were selling lifetime plans way too cheaply we did jack up the price. But that price was so high it made us seem like price-gouging jerks. Not that we believe in the concept of price-gouging, but there’s more to it. We’re actually currently working on a revamp of premium plans — though it’s still a big nebulous mess — and it’s possible that some premium perks will become free and that others won’t exist in the future.
(This is the very ironically named point 5 — also kind of part of point 4.)
“From a business standpoint, it was a horrible idea”
We think that’s fair and a risk people took in getting lifetime plans, similar to the risk of Beeminder dying. And we always bend over backwards to not break any existing use cases so it’s always been a reasonably small risk (especially the risk of us dying, now that we’ve been around this long!). But as soon as we have even the inkling that perks could go away or become free, it doesn’t feel right to sell them for life anymore.
Stepping back, remember how American Airlines sold a lifetime unlimited pass in the 1980s and later decided to just fork their customers in the ear? That’s how I’d remembered it anyway, but the Wikipedia page about it has American Airlines coming out of it looking pretty alright, surprisingly. They revoked exactly two of the lifetime passes for what kind of sounds like blatant, cheaty abuse and are still honoring the rest.
But my point is that, from a business standpoint, it was a horrible idea.
Adam Wolf has an example personally of a small business who he got a lifetime plan from and them later being like “yeah, we don’t honor that anymore”. Rage-emoji.
Side note: Roam’s 5-year “believer” plan seems like a nice compromise. Beeminder currently has biyearly as our longest option.
Anyway, so, yes, we now wish we’d never offered lifetime plans in the first place and are telling you (other startups) so you can avoid that mistake. Obviously we would never in infinity years rescind existing lifetime plans. We have thought about how we could fairly undo the mistake and — using blog-post-driven development — came up with the following. It mostly serves to illustrate that there just isn’t a realistic undo. We offer it as a cautionary tale!
So there you have it. Or don’t have it, if you didn’t already get it. A lifetime plan, that is. Also that hypothetical email is not something we expect you to ever get because it’s just too messy, and probably too expensive. (For example, a big monkey wrench is that option 1 is way too generous for anyone with a lifetime plan below the most expensive one.)
To conclude, we shall now enumerate, for posterity and fairness, five arguments we collected from our users in favor of lifetime plans, even though we think the five contra arguments above outweigh them.
Going lifetime makes you feel bought in and committed.
Getting the premium payment out of the way maximizes the motivational impact of subsequent pledge payments. It could be anti-motivating if instead of “risk paying $5!” it’s “risk paying $21 instead of the usual $16”. (This one doesn’t feel too persuasive to me because I think normal people — er, normal Beeminder users — naturally think at the margin.)
A couple lifetime folks suggested they might quit if they had to reassess Beeminder’s value every so often, which, ouch. I don’t think they mean it though! I do think there are arguments along these lines that apply to monthly payments but they apply much less to yearly. And I think the option of biyearly payments mostly rebuts the pro-lifetime arguments I’ve heard of this form.
A couple lifetime folks like the strategy of leveraging the sunk cost fallacy for Good. Fighting irrationality with irrationality; I’m on board!
To some people, ongoing subscriptions are just gross in principle.
PPS, our next blog post on pledge focus vs premium focus clarifies what the impetus was to pull the plug on selling lifetime plans.
 Fine print: What we mean is that you’ll have your lifetime plan forever and ever to whatever extent those perks exist in Beeminder. For example, we could conceivably decide that pledgeless goals should just not be a thing and in that case the Beemium people who paid for that feature could be out of luck. We’re very reluctant to tell people they’re out of luck but we have to be focused on what’s best for Beeminder long-term and not have too many balls chained to our ankles. (Pledgeless goals are just an example and we don’t [as of 2021] actually plan to get rid of them. We’re just not making infinitely long commitments to specific features, is the point. And if we do kill a feature you specifically paid for, we’ll bend over pretty far backwards to make it fair.)
Thanks to the daily beemail subscribers — especially Benjamin Fox (AKA zzq) — for helpful discussions.
Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves.