Ongoing product value and paid upgrades

Hello everyone! If we haven’t already been acquainted, I’m Eric, CEO of Topaz Labs. I hope you’re off to a great start in 2020. I have an announcement that may seem like bad news at first, but will end up being good news in the long run:

Starting in August 2020, we will charge for product upgrades to DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, Gigapixel AI, and Mask AI.

Every company says that they value their customers. When we started Topaz Labs many years ago, we tried hard to figure out ways to show this through actions instead of just words. One of the ways we did this was by offering free major upgrades for all of our products. Conceptually, this felt really good to us; we loved the idea of acting differently than faceless corporations by giving ongoing value for free instead of charging for every little thing.

Within the last few years, though, we started to realize something. Product development and research is expensive! It turns out that if we can only earn money by releasing new products, there’s a very powerful internal incentive to only do that. Despite our best intentions, we found that we weren’t focusing as much as we wanted on improving our existing products. We ended up with several different products that did similar things, which caused confusion about which tool to use. Although it started out with good intentions, our free upgrade policy ultimately prevented us from delivering the best possible products to you.

Make no mistake about it: this situation was 100% our fault. We were not thoughtful enough about aligning our pricing structure with continuous improvement of our products. Since realizing this, we took some major steps to improve in 2019:

  1. Consolidated all of our offerings into a single product per category (noise reduction, sharpening, effect creation, etc.)
  2. Massively shifted our internal goals to prioritize improving existing products over releasing new ones
  3. Stopped advertising free upgrades as a policy

Despite not advertising it anymore, in 2019 alone we were proud to give away over $8M worth of claimed free upgrades to major new products like DeNoise 6 => DeNoise AI, InFocus => Sharpen AI, Adjust 6 => Adjust AI, and Studio 2. We’ve already seen a major improvement in the usefulness and experience of our products, and we’re excited to continue down this path in 2020 and beyond.

The next step is to actually move to paid upgrades to finally align our pricing policy with how we want to build products as a company. Basically: it’s our fault, yet I’m asking you to lock arms with us and walk through this phase of our development by accepting this change. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but I hope you can agree that this path really is best for continued improvements to the products that we hope you’ve grown to rely upon.

Here’s how it will work:

Upgrade license renewals

  • After buying a product for the first time, you’ll receive 1 year of free major + minor upgrades from your date of purchase.
  • After your first year of free upgrades is complete, you can buy another year at any time in the future - for any single product for $49.99. If you own multiple products, you can activate a year of account-wide upgrades for $99.99.
  • Only DeNoise, Sharpen, Gigapixel, and Mask will require an upgrade license in 2020. Other products remain under the old policy.

We want you to own your software instead of having to pay to keep accessing it. Once you buy one of our products, you can keep using your purchased version as long as you want regardless of upgrade status. We’re really proud that some of you have continued to trust our products for over a decade after buying it once, and we’d love for this to continue.

Similarly, you should also be able to choose when to upgrade and not be penalized for it. If you don’t think a certain upgrade is worth it, don’t renew your upgrade license just yet. Wait until it actually includes something you want to pay for. This also incentivizes us to make sure that the improvements we do implement are useful enough for you to upgrade.

Example

As an example, let’s say you buy Gigapixel AI for the first time today (2/13/2020), so you receive free upgrades to Gigapixel AI until 2/13/2021.

We then release Gigapixel v4.5 in March, v5 in May, v5.1 in August, and v5.2 in December 2020. You receive all these upgrades for free as part of your initial 1-year upgrade license.

Now imagine we release Gigapixel v5.3 in May 2021 and you decide it’s not worth it. Even though your upgrade license has expired, you can continue using Gigapixel v5.2 (your last owned version) for as long as you like.

Gigapixel v5.3 in May 2021 has a feature you really want, so you purchase an upgrade then. You receive Gigapixel v5.3 and another year of free upgrades starting from the time you purchased the upgrade until May 2022.

Existing customers

For the listed products above, existing customers have an upgrade license starting from a year since they purchased. For example, if you bought DeNoise AI in November 2019, your upgrade license will last until November 2020.

That said, we thought it’d be unfair to immediately expire licenses for people that have purchased over a year ago. So for anyone in this situation, we’re extending a minimum 6 months of upgrade licenses. Even if you first bought our products years ago, the earliest you’d possibly need to pay for an upgrade is in August 2020.

Starting soon, you’ll be able to see the remaining time on your upgrade licenses in your Account.

Why?

I know this is a major shift. We’ve offered free upgrades for so long that it’s become part of what we’re known for. I guess this change all comes down to a single core idea: to be truly useful to you, we believe we should be offering fewer products that go deeper rather than a buffet of shallow products.

In other words, we don’t want to offer you novelties that you’ll stop using after a month. Instead, if you buy DeNoise AI, we want to help you handle noise reduction forever through our software. This means constantly evaluating and adding the most promising cutting-edge noise reduction techniques, relentlessly improving integration with your workflow, and continually adding major new functionality like batch processing (just released!) and selections. You shouldn’t have to worry about noise reduction ever again… or at the very least, you should be able to rely on us to worry about it for you. Paid upgrades are necessary for us to support this kind of deep focus.

Again, this was not a quick or easy decision to make, but we think it’s a necessary one in order for us to deliver massive value for you in the future. All I ask of you is that you give us a chance to prove this through our product improvements in 2020 and beyond.

Thanks so much,

Eric Yang
CEO, Topaz Labs

Let us know any questions or comments below!

25 Likes

While I can’t say I like the changes proposed, it makes common sense. Every other software company handles upgrades in a similar way other than those offering subscriptions (which I’d never buy). I expect software purchased to function as long as its minimum requirements are met by a current system without upgrades.

As suggested, I’ve been buying software since the 1980’s. When upgrades have been made, I’d download a trial and evaluate whether or not it’s worth the additional investment. On average, I’ve upgraded all my software being used at least with every other version. Those with minimal upgrade charges might be upgraded every year. I have a few odd applications that are used so seldom that upgrading won’t be considered until they no longer operate on whatever system I’m using (if they still exist). My equipment is kept up-to-date, upgrading, so far, on an average of every 3 years. It is not used professionally so not usually with the best specs available but always with better than its predecessor

11 Likes

I understand from a business standpoint and agree with everything Eleanor said above.

5 Likes

Hi, yes OK I understand and will probably buy upgrades but what I will not do is buy an upgrade that has not been fully tested before release unlike the last offering released for DeNoise AI

23 Likes

If you’re going to do this then please make sure your products are properly tested before being released. I won’t pay for something that I then have to do all the testing on.

33 Likes

I guess I’m still waiting for the good news?

41 Likes

Thanks - this makes total sense to me.

When upgrades have been made, I’d download a trial and evaluate whether or not it’s worth the additional investment.

My equipment is kept up-to-date, upgrading, so far, on an average of every 3 years.

This is exactly the desired scenario, actually! We want you to be able to space out your upgrades appropriate to how much and how valuable the products are for you. No point in paying for an upgrade every year if you only use the products infrequently.

3 Likes

I hear you on this! We’re doing a lot of work to make sure our update process is more solid, especially in light of this change. Sorry for issues you’ve faced till now.

Just making sure: did the problems get resolved on this already or are they still outstanding?

2 Likes

$99 per year makes you almost as costly as Photoshop/Lightroom, but with way less functionality. I cant work without Photoshop but I can work without Topaz so you better have some pretty special features and capabilities coming out this year.

62 Likes

I purchased your programs in good faith with the promise of free upgrades. Now your changing the contract you made with me, buy my purchase, to fit your financial needs. This is an unfair burden on users. I could see your changes on new purchases, but penalizing previous buyers is not a legal concept. Your company decision in this matter is opening you up for litigation for failure to comply with your previous purchase agreement for each product I paid for in good faith.

93 Likes

I own several products and not knowing what the renewed cost for updates is concerns me. Will I have to pay for each one and if so, how much?

1 Like

I concur, from a business standpoint, and am likely to pay the annual account-wide amount. It mirrors what I do with other products, e.g., MS Office 365 and the Adobe photographer’s package. It is effectively a hybrid subscription, with ownership rights on installed versions.

Nobody ever rightly assumed photography was an inexpensive venture.

7 Likes

Finally. I was surprised about the “free upgrades forever” policy some time ago when, after not updating for a while, I sent mail to support asking how I bought an upgrade (vs paying full price). I have not liked the resulting move to make new, overlapping products (like DeNoise, DeNoise “AI”) rather than upgrading existing products. I’ll be much happier with a sensible product line (no overlap) and a upgrade subscription, especially since I want Topaz to both continue to exist and continue to release improvements regularly. It’ll make it a lot easier to set up new or reimaged machines, too, because I won’t have to play “which set of these forms a working version of the latest tools”…

7 Likes

This just makes good business sense. Otherwise it’s like the customer that wants you to take a set of photos for them, then demands perpetual edits for free.

5 Likes

You said nothing about legacy products. Is Topaz going to support them, or at least the ones not duplicated in the AI products. What about 32 bit apps that need to be updated to run on OS Catalina?

1 Like

Eric,
I understand your changes. But I own DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI and Sharpen AI isn’t working properly. In particular, I can’t use the GPU acceleration option because it produces artifacts (vertical bars of noise across the image) that don’t show up in the preview and don’t appear when I disable the GPU. However, disabling the GPU makes the product so slow as to be unusable. I have reported this problem to Topaz support a few weeks ago but nothing has been done.

There is a thread at dpreview talking about a similar issue when enabling the GPU in DeNoise AI.

So I suggest, before you start thinking about how to get more money from your customers, you fix the product so that it works the way you say it supposed to work!

34 Likes

From a business perspective this was coming. All of my other photo software runs under this model, so as a consumer, I need to decide which software I really need to upgrade, otherwise the cost of all the upgrades together (i.e. Adobe, FForge, OnOne, etc) is too expensive to continue. Topaz AI products top my list and also two of the older products (which I use all the time) - Lens Effects and ReStyle. Will these older products be discontinued with no upgrades to them in the future?
…and thank you for all those years of free upgrades…
Pat

4 Likes

In general it makes sense, and as long as you continue to bring good products and improvements it’s fine with me. Maybe the wording is a little confusing (but I’m not native speaker to the English language). Paying for upgrades would suggest that you pay for the upgrade only (let’s say USD 10). What you technically want to sell now is some sort of subscription, that you can switch on and off with a year running time after any switch on. Maybe just a semantical difference, but ‘paying for upgrades’ for me rings a different bell…
Cheers, Hans

2 Likes

As a retired person on limited income, this is disappointing news. While I do understand the need to generate research and deployment income, it can be a hardship for some of us who are either not wealthy or a professional photographer.
One of the reasons I moved to Topaz in November of 2019 was the perceived commitment to avoiding the “rent-a-program” model of Adobe. I still have what are now ancient versions of Lightroom and Photoshop since I can’t afford the monthly rent. (Try buying a prescription when you are on Medicare).
My request is for you to consider how this will impact people like myself who are serious hobby photographers without unlimited resources.
If you are charging for upgrades, you also should be providing better tech support and materials. I’ve had a number of issues using your software and there are few options for guidance. This would align with goal two to improve the products.
Thanks for your thoughtful letter and best wishes for a successful future.

38 Likes

Upgrade pricing can be problematic if the price is 80% of the initial cost as some other photo software companies charge. When I see that, it seems like another form of a subscription service, especially if the new software has essential functionality improvements but few new features. I won’t purchase software if it has this subscription like aspect. Topaz Labs products are excellent but I don’t use them regularly as my images only need extra care in special situations. $99 a year for me would be too much for the use that I get and I don’t think I will continue.

17 Likes