Populi

Posts Tagged ‘pricing’

Value

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

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We announced our current pricing back in February 2010. We’ve since supplemented that with a few optional items: SMS Emergency Notifications and File storage (the price of which has dropped several times the past couple years). As for Populi itself, well, we’ve added a thing or two, I guess. And all along we’ve held fast to the free essentials that make it all go for our customers: implementation, training, support—and, most important, our annual Christmas photos.

It recently struck us: our Pricing Page has remained all but unchanged for the past five years. Web companies commonly experiment with their pricing—adding new tiers, shuffling features around, annual subscription discounts, and so on. You could attribute this to the flexibility of web-based software; it’s simple to justify a change in price for an easily-changed product. But such changes have never even crossed our minds. Populi’s price has remained steady for five years. The service itself, on the other hand, offers vastly more than it used to. How’d that happen?

Concerning the price, we’ve never had a good reason to raise it. Every year, our infrastructure dollars have gotten us more—in terms of utility, service, and storage. We have Moore’s Law to thank for that; the popular version purports that, every 18 months or so, computing power doubles in speed and drops in price by half. In turn, that has helped us scale up and take on more schools. That spreads our overall costs over an increasing number of customers. And finally, the revenue we take in gets plowed back into our people, our company, and serving our customers. Being privately-owned, there’s no obligation to meet the preposterous financial goals of distant, disinterested investors.

Concerning the service, we’ve only ever had reasons to make it better. Our customers ask us for lots of good things that we want to give them. Some bigger schools need things we don’t quite offer yet. The new feature we just released could use refinement. And then there’s our own temperament. We’re relentlessly dissatisfied with Populi. No matter how good it is, how many features we add, or how well it all performs, there’s always some way to make it better. Now, it’s not that our work is lousy. It’s more that we’ve been given the opportunity to do this work—so why not swing for the fences?

So. We’ve never had a reason to raise the price, and have always been compelled to make Populi better. That’s worked out well for us, and I’d wager, for our customers. Schools that came aboard in 2010 are getting a lot more than they signed up for. For that matter, so are the schools who signed up in 2011, 2012… even customers who came aboard six months ago now have something better than before.

We once likened the college software scene to shopping for a car. In a market cluttered with custom tour buses and shady used cars, Populi was the dependable Toyota minivan—affordable, room for everyone, and a great warranty. Now, imagine that you bought the minivan, and every six months or so, the dealer automatically upgraded it to the next trim level. Or installed a new motor. Or gave you a sunroof. All without you paying more or having to do anything.

That’s pretty much the deal you get with Populi.

Nielsen-Norman Group: Show your pricing!

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Website usability researchers The Nielsen-Norman Group have something to say to business-to-business websites: publish your pricing.

Business customers report pricing as the top most needed piece of information online, yet many business-to-business (B2B) sites don’t show it… In our studies, we watch participants go to competitors’ sites when websites do not show prices. If pricing information can be found elsewhere, that’s where users will be.

We’re aware of one other company in the higher-ed software industry that has up-front pricing information—Pathwright—and they’re after a different slice of pie than we are. Otherwise, we’re not aware of any services comparable to Populi that publish what they cost.

Companies rationalize reasons for not revealing prices online: we don’t want our competitors to know, price varies for different customers, price constantly fluctuates, customized services have unique prices, and so on. These excuses are legitimate reasons in almost all cases, but they’re still excuses. Not showing pricing works against customer needs and thus creates a hostile shopping experience. Remember the Halo Effect: people’s impression of one aspect of your brand (“they’re hiding the information I want”) transfers to their feelings about everything else (“they’re difficult to deal with; I don’t like them.”)

We don’t call it the “Halo Effect”, but the description of it resonates with us. We want you to know everything you deserve to know about us: What do we provide youHow will we do business with you? What are our priorities as a company? What does it cost?

This may be a murky, obscurantist industry, but hiding basic stuff like that never made any sense to us.

Ben Thompson on Adobe’s move to subscription pricing

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Ben Thompson, at his fine blog Stratēchery, goes into the economics behind Adobe’s recent (as of last May) move from the “packaged software” business model to subscription pricing.

The packaged software model:

Consumer A rarely edits photos, which means a photo-editing app is worth maybe $20 to him. Yet, he buys Photoshop anyways for $499. In this case, Adobe is, in effect, charging $479 too much. The consumer is getting a bad deal.

Consumer B is a graphic designer. She uses Photoshop every day, for hours a day. Without Photoshop,she couldn’t do her job, for which she is paid $60,000 a year. In this case, there is a consumer surplus of $59,501. Adobe is getting a bad deal.

Consumer C is a student. He has aspirations for being a photographer, but is just getting started. He buys Photoshop, but finds it very hard to use; in fact, he is losing time trying to figure it out. Yet, over time, he becomes proficient, and eventually an expert. The economic surplus shifted from producer to consumer, even though there was no transaction.

… and the subscription model:

The price is much more approachable for Consumer A. He can “try out” Photoshop, and if he ends up not using it, he can simply end his subscription. More importantly, there will be a lot more Consumer As, and some of them will stay subscribed.

Consumer B will get a great deal right off the bat, but as she uses Photoshop throughout her career, Adobe will be along for the ride, making revenue every month as opposed to every few years.

Consumer C is similar to A: Photoshop will be much more approachable, and there will be a lot more Customer Cs. As they become real users, Adobe moves with them.

Moreover, Adobe is well-incentivised to maintain the app to reduce churn, and users always have the most recent version. It really is a win-win.

The whole article is full of good insights on why subscription pricing is ideal for professional productivity software. Even Microsoft, sitting atop their giant pile of packaged-software-derived cash, is moving that direction with Office365.

We’ve always viewed the subscription model as a win-win ourselves.

More free file storage for everyone!

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

About this time a year ago, we dropped the price on file storage from $2.50/GB per month to $1/GB per month. In the tradition of doing cool stuff with file storage during the Summer Term, we’re pleased to announce that…

…We’re upping everyone’s free file storage limit.

You might’ve guessed as much from the title of this post, but it seemed worth repeating. Every Plan is getting its free file storage limit upped. Small goes from 10 free gigs per month to 50, Medium goes from 50 to 100, and Large goes from 100 to 200. This applies to all of our current customers and anyone else who has yet to jump aboard with Populi. Using Populi to store and deliver your video and audio lectures and materials now makes even more sense.

Know what else is cool about this? Our Plan pricing is remaining the same. So, all those extra gigs-per-month really are just plain ol’ free.

This change is effective as of immediately. That extra file storage is yours to use right now!

We’re dropping the price on file storage

Monday, July 30th, 2012

On August 1st, we’re dropping the price for additional file storage* to just $1 per GB per month.

Additionally, we’re no longer going to charge for storing your encoded media—so you’ll get even more bang for that buck. But the service itself will remain the same: simple storage, backup, encoding, and streaming of your media files, together with tools that let your students watch videos and listen to audio right in Populi from almost any device.

We built Populi file storage so our customers would have a simple, inexpensive way to stream audio and video through their Populi courses. The infrastructure, know-how, and expense required to do this is out of reach for most small colleges. You’d need (at minimum)…

  • Servers to store your files
  • More servers to back them up
  • Encoding into multiple formats so different devices can play them
  • A content delivery network to optimize streaming wherever your students might be
  • An easy way to incorporate the media where your students can find it

All that, and the time and expertise to make those things work together. Most schools just don’t have the resources to pour into building that themselves. So we conceived of file storage as a way to let schools offload that challenge onto us and designed it accordingly—all anyone needs to do is upload a file and start using it. That’s it.

When we released file storage last year, we priced it at $2.50 per GB, putting this service within the price range of many of our customers for the first time ever. We based our price on estimated costs, anticipated usage, and a little sandbagging to ensure it wouldn’t send our families to the bread lines. With a year of hard data and customer feedback to go on (and some lower costs from our vendors), we were happy to discover that we could lower the price and make the service even more accessible to our schools.

But it’s not just a price drop—that dollar now gets you “more” storage than you were getting before. To explain: the encoding process creates multiple copies of your media file to make sure any device can play it back. We were counting those additional copies against your file storage total. So, you might upload a 300 MB video lecture and discover that the one file had eaten up 1GB worth of file storage! Our newly-rejiggered calculations now exclude the encoded copies from your storage total. If you’ve uploaded a lot of video, the next time you look at your file storage total in the Account section of Populi, you’ll likely see that you’re using “less”—in some cases, a lot less—than you were before.

The net effect: where $2.50 used to cover, say, one hour-long video, now $1 lets you store and stream three hour-long videos**.

You’ll see the new pricing reflected on your August 1st invoice, and the new storage calculation on your September 1st invoice.

* Additional file storage is anything over the limit included in your pricing plan.

** Assuming that each video weighs in at around 300 MB…

File storage and streaming media

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Back when we released our update to Populi Financial Aid, we also changed how Populi handles files. It’s been a low-key update thus far, but our new files setup opens up a ton of new possibilities for our customers—including hosting and streaming video right from Lessons and Tests in your Populi courses. We’re also updating our pricing plans: each one will include a generous chunk of free file storage with the option to add more as you need it.

The old way and the new way

Files include everything from your personal document storage to the syllabi you upload to courses to your profile pictures. Previously, your files lived on our own servers, but this proved too limiting:

  • We had to limit the size and quantity of files our customers could upload.
  • You could only upload or download files. If you wanted to stream, say, an MP3 or video, you just couldn’t—even if it were small enough to upload in the first place!
  • We didn’t have the resources to make our files setup accommodate where we want to take Populi.

The kind of file hosting we’ve been wanting for Populi is two things: A) surprisingly complicated and B) not one of our core competencies. It’s surprisingly complicated, for instance, to enable media streaming that plays on enough devices—PCs, Macs, iPads, Android phones, etc.— to make it at all useful. If you want to do anything more than store and serve files, you’re getting into outlandish territory for a college software company—our specialties are software and support.

So we took up with Amazon Web Services’s S3 cloud storage. AWS gives us access to Amazon’s cavernous servers, economies of scale, global reach, and some excellent tools we didn’t want to spend years developing ourselves (more on that in a minute). We also reconfigured our backups to make use of Rackspace’s cloud hosting services. Amazon and Rackspace are two of the top cloud service providers, with better than 99.99% uptime and reliability. When it comes to files in Populi, we’re more than happy to hitch up to those wagons.

So now, when you look up a student, Populi makes a few calls to Amazon and retrieves their profile picture, files stored in their Activity Feed, documents attached to their application’s custom fields, and so on. When you upload a document to a course, it lodges on Amazon’s servers and a backup copy takes up residence at Rackspace. It’s a great, reliable setup that capitalizes on the expertise, tools, and infrastructure of two of the industry’s best cloud storage services.

But that’s all on the back end, and from what our customers can tell after two months, nothing much has changed at all…

Here’s what’s coming soon: Bigger file uploads and media streaming

Alongside our upcoming refresh of course instances, we’re going to unlock even more of what our new files setup can do for our customers. Gone is our old 32 MB limit—we’re upping it to 2 GB*. Effectively, this now makes Populi a viable option for hosting video and audio files, which can be pretty gigantic.

But what’s more, we’re also taking advantage of Amazon’s CloudFront Content Delivery Network, which will enable embedded media streaming right from your Populi courses. Here’s how it works: When you upload a video lecture, it goes to Amazon’s S3 cloud servers (and gets backed up to Rackspace). It’s next encoded with different resolutions, bit rates, and formats, optimizing them for the wide variety of devices your students might use to watch it—including iPads, iPhones, Macs, and PCs. Meanwhile, Amazon will put its numerous U.S. and overseas data centers to work. When one of your students streams the lecture, Amazon will cache it at their nearest data center, thereby increasing its speed and availability. In other words, if you have foreign students in Japan watching a lecture you uploaded in North Carolina, Amazon’s worldwide reach optimizes everything on the back end to make it play smoothly and quickly.

Price

We’ll be including a certain amount of file storage free with every Pricing Plan. Small comes with 10GB, Medium gets 50GB, and Large features 100GB. Additional gigabytes will cost $2.50 per month. Our Pricing page and Terms of Service have the details.

Here’s what you get for that $2.50:

  • Bigger file uploads
  • Multiple format encoding for video files
  • Storage and backups on Amazon and Rackspaces’s world-class cloud offerings
  • Optimized streaming and bandwidth baked in
  • It’s all integrated with Populi—there’s no setup required to start using it!

That $2.50 will be charged on a pro-rata basis—that is, you’ll only pay for what you use above your Plan’s built-in storage. So, if you upload a 50 Mb file in the last week of a given month, that’d only cost about three cents. Account Admins can monitor how much file storage they’re using at any time, and your storage charge, if any, will be itemized on your monthly invoice.

To our current customers, based on your current file storage, no one will need to pay more—everyone is well below their Plan’s file storage allocation.

The long and the short of it

No one else offers anything like this, especially not for this price**—media hosting and streaming automatically integrated with your Online Learning software (which, in turn, is integrated with your SIS and Billing software). We think this is a great addition to Populi and a huge step forward for what’s available for small schools who want to get serious about online learning.

* 1 gigabyte equals 1 billion bytes.

**We looked, we asked around, we did research… and just like our SIS competitors, the other companies out there A) won’t cough up their pricing and B) require some IT elbow grease to make it work for your school. This assertion is based chiefly on anecdotes from customers who’ve considered some of these other systems.

Nonsense-free pricing

Monday, July 11th, 2011
…a tale told with bullet lists

Simple as we think our pricing is, the college software industry seems to have primed our market to think that we’ve just gotta be hiding something… or lying. Some typical exchanges:

  • Us: Populi has no upfront costs.
    College: Okay, how much do you charge for implementation?
  • Populi charges per active student.
    What do you charge for alumni?
  • We do not charge for software updates.
    How much do you charge for new versions of the software?
  • The entire program is included in the price.
    What’s the charge for extra modules?
  • For one price, everyone at your school can use it.
    How much for additional licenses?

We get these questions because almost no one in this business makes their pricing clear or even public. Just look on any education software website and try to find a number—any number—indicating what it might cost. Most of them want you to trade a bunch of institutional information with them for a “free, customized quote”. Our customers who’ve moved over from other systems (and prospects evaluating others alongside Populi) tell us that even these “customized” quotes are opaque and deliberately obfuscating. So when schools look at our pricing—which tells you what you get and what it costs—previous experience has trained them to read between the lines. This industry has made small schools cagey about just taking us at our word.

So, we’d like to present to you a basic summary of what’s covered on our Pricing page and in our Terms of Service. Here’s what’s in between the lines, as it were:

  • We have three pricing plans (Small, Medium, and Large) aimed at different-sized institutions in the small college market.
  • Each plan includes a monthly Base Rate (which covers unlimited faculty, staff, and so on) and a per-student price.
  • By “student” we mean “active students”. Active students are only those who were enrolled or auditing a course for more than seven calendar days in a given month.
  • We charge you this month for last month’s active students. So, your September 1 bill includes your base rate and whatever active students you had in August.
  • The base rate and per-student price are all that we charge you (well, there’s also a late fee if you don’t pay your bill). Between them, they cover absolutely everything that we offer with Populi.*
  • That includes the software, support, infrastructure, implementation, maintenance, upgrades, and whatever else you can think of.
  • We integrate with some other services which might cost you money. We don’t charge you—they do—we simply provide you with the integration tools.*
  • We don’t charge you to set up the system, train your users, provide support, maintain historical info, back up your data, add new features, store your alumni, let your students log in… and whatever else the other companies nickel and dime you for.
  • We just don’t! We’re not out to get you. We’re not sneaking stuff in. We’re not making stuff up.

In other words, there’s nothing between the lines.

Here’s an example of how our pricing works:

In April, you have 100 enrolled students and auditors for the whole month. On May 6, your Summer Term begins and 90 students go home (25 of whom graduated and are now alumni). Ten students stick around for Summer Term to make sure they’re caught up for Fall Term. You’re on the “Small” pricing plan ($199 Base Rate, $7 per Active Student).

  • Your May 1 invoice, which charges for April’s students, comes to $899—$199 + ($7 x 100).
  • Your June 1 invoice, which charges for May’s students, comes to $269—$199 + ($7 x 10). Not even a penny changes hands for those alumni.
  • In April, you have full access to everything Populi offers.
  • In May, you have full access to everything Populi offers.
  • For that matter, in June, you have full access to everything Populi offers.

Of course, you might still have questions. We understand, and we’re happy to tell you what you want to know—about our pricing, or just about anything else about Populi. We don’t have anything to hide.

* So you know, we’re considering some “premium” options that’d cost extra. We, of course, promise to be clear and upfront about them, too… but there’s nothing concrete to announce at this point.

 

Thoughts on outsourcing IT to us vs. going in-house

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

As we’re wont to say here, we built Populi to put good software within reach of small colleges. We do that, in part, by giving them access to high-octane technology, otherwise out of reach to most schools, but made affordable by the wonders of economies of scale. This lets our customers offload much of their IT burden—infrastructure, processes, and maintenance—to us. Of course, there’s more. Gliding atop those servers and databases and terabytes of storage is some elegant, easy-to-use, ever-improving software that helps a small school do more with its data. And, there’s yet another layer: the people who use Populi have access to the people who run Populi. Need help with something? Wanna know how something works? Did something break? Support is always near at hand.

That, in a paragraph, is what’s for sale here: high-end technology, excellent software, and people to back you up. And if it doesn’t work for you, there’s no long-term contract forcing you to continue.

Every now and then, we lose a sale not to an established competitor, but to a school’s in-house IT staff. Now, don’t get us wrong—if Populi doesn’t fit, don’t try to wear it (to abuse the old proverb). If a school needs something different than Populi, we’re the last ones who’ll try to talk you into signing up. But the decision, from what we’ve heard, usually has little to do with service or functionality. A lot of times when a school says, “We’re gonna build it ourselves…” the next line is usually something like, “…because we wanna keep expenses down.”*

Now, on the surface, this might make some sense. Your 400-student college didn’t get that way without some sort of IT staff and technology investment. And if IT is already baked-in to your institution, then you already have a lot of what you need covered. A little extra development time, judicious use of free open-source technology, a stopgap Access database in the meantime…

Yeah, it could be done. But what will you end up with? Going by our experience, here’s the bare minimum of what you’d need to build something comparable to Populi:

  1. A team of ten to twelve full-time employees.
  2. Ultra-conservatively, about a million bucks.
  3. Four years of continuous design, development, implementation, and refinement.
  4. A roadmap for the next several years of the same.
  5. Dedicated support staff, including a full-time writer to manage documentation (we’ll assume you won’t need to maintain a blog or a Twitter feed).
  6. A well thought-out approach to user interaction design.
  7. Top-end, incredibly secure servers, data centers, backups, file storage, etc.

Here’s some of what you’d need to make the month-to-month cost comparable:

  1. No dedicated staff on your payroll (but wait… what about point #2, above?).
  2. Server and infrastructure costs shared among 90+ other colleges.
  3. The ability to deal with problems quickly so your operations don’t grind to a halt.
  4. Nimble, proactive security protocols to ward off information thieves.
  5. Justin Bieber haircuts for your staff.**

Now, let’s put this in stark economic terms. Say you take a look at what Populi would cost your 400-student college over a five-year period:

  • During the 9-month academic year, you’re sending us $2,899 a month (under the Medium pricing plan)
  • During the 3-month Winter and/or Summer downtime, you opt for Small, and send us $199 a month.
  • So, for the year, $26,688. Over five years, you’ve parted with $133,440, give or take.

So, over five years, you’ve spent on Populi what you’d spend on—let’s assume your saintly staff works for peanuts—three annual IT salaries. All you need now is another seven people, items 2-7 from the first list and 1-5 from the second list. And someone to take over what your three IT guys were doing before you pulled the trigger on a new, in-house system.

So, yeah: we built Populi to put good software within reach of small colleges… because the service we offer—taken as a whole—is generally out-of-reach by other means.

Post script: Read about our own approach to outsourcing software here. To summarize, don’t outsource just to outsource—make it part of your strategy to focus on your core competencies.

*The decision to build in-house sometimes comes down to finances, but often also hinges on a perceived need for a different kind of feature or a different way of handling a certain workflow. We’ll look at that in another blog post.

**Isaac and Toby like to get their hair cut every three days! It’s a good thing that expense is spread out over 90-something customers.

By the way, Populi Library is free!

Monday, April 11th, 2011

As we said on Twitter this morning…

Some customers have asked if there’s an additional fee for Populi Library. There isn’t! As with all updates, this is a totally free upgrade!

Announcing New Pricing Plans

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Announcing our new pricing plans!

We’re offering three “sizes”: Small, Medium, and Large. Each plan gets you everything we offer: access for unlimited faculty, staff, and students; customer support; training; implementation—the whole works. They elaborate on our core pricing principles: to keep Populi affordable and keep the price transparent. So what’s the difference? Just some of the math. We priced the plans so Populi would make even better fiscal sense for colleges in the 400-students-and-above range.

So, the specifics:

  • Small, which we recommend for colleges with fewer than 360 students, is $199 a month, plus $7 per student per month. This is basically our previous price minus $1 a month.
  • Medium, which we recommend for colleges with between 360 and 840 students, is $499 a month, plus $6 per student per month.
  • Large, which we recommend for colleges with more than 840 students, is $1199 a month, plus $5 per student per month.

We based the plans—and our recommendations—on the annual cost for a college based on a typical school year: 10 months, give or take, of full enrollment, with two summer months of low or no enrollment. If you have 520 students, Medium makes the most sense; if you have 114 students, Small gets you the best deal… and so on. Picking a plan doesn’t lock you in to anything long-term, and you’re free to change it at any time.

If you’re wondering which plan makes the most sense for your college, we’d be happy to talk about it with you.