In September we launched a new 'Personal License' option which allows iOS and Android users to make an in-app purchase to access Mobile Learn. Users can either pay $1.99 per year or $5.99 for lifetime access. While we recognize this is a big shift in direction, we are confident that this change ultimately benefits all of our users. We wanted to clarify our thoughts and reasons behind this new change here.
We thought it was time to evolve our business model. And your feedback contributed to that decision.
When we launched in 2010, we encouraged Blackboard Learn customers to license our mobile apps on behalf of their users (students, faculty, etc). This meant that if an institution had not licensed Blackboard Mobile Learn, its students wouldn't be able to use the app to interact with their courses. As result of a partnership with Sprint, we also provided a free option for institutions, which allowed them to provide students and faculty with access to Blackboard Mobile Learn at no cost if they were on the Sprint network, or on iOS over WiFi. While this option had some benefits (no cost to the university and very easy to set up), it caused some understandable frustration for users since not all devices and network types were supported.
This led us to conclude that we needed a new business model-- a model that is fair for our Blackboard Learn customers, and isn't confusing for students and faculty; a model that lends itself to a better experience with our product; and a model that still allows us to make the ongoing investments we intend to make to continue developing and improving Mobile Learn. So, we decided to create the Personal License model. If you are a student or faculty at an institution that has not yet licensed Mobile Learn, we're giving you the option of purchasing access to the application using an in-app purchase ($1.99 per year, or $5.99 for life). This purchase will allow you to use the application and all of its features across any network type (WiFi, cellular, etc) for the term of your purchase. If you prefer to wait in case your institution licenses Mobile Learn on your behalf, you can choose to do so-- but we felt it was important for you to have this choice.
I get that you changed the model. But why didn't you change Blackboard Mobile Learn to be free?
While we'd love for as many users as possible to have access to Blackboard Mobile Learn, we need to generate revenue in order to fund our team's ongoing investment in supporting and developing our products. We did explore other revenue-generating options beyond in-app purchases, such as advertising. We believe that it's challenging to implement advertising (and other non-user-incurred) revenue models in mobile applications without diluting the user experience. And we believe firmly that the experience one has accessing their educational content should not be diluted with advertising.
Furthermore, we believe that $1.99 per year (or $5.99 for life) is an affordable price to use an application that makes it more simple and elegant to access course content, contribute to discussions, upload documents, and take tests (among many other things!) from a mobile device. We don't expect users to make these in-app purchases if they don't find our application worth it. And it is this precisely this expectation that will make us constantly strive to craft the Blackboard Mobile Learn experience with such excellence that users will pay to use our service. In a way, this shift in our business model establishes a necessary trust-relationship between Blackboard Mobile and its users that didn't exist before; our end users are now our customers. If we don't serve you well, develop new and exciting things and address your feedback and concerns, we don't expect you to use our service and pay for our software.
Can I expect you to add new stuff to Blackboard Mobile Learn?
We're working very hard to add new features to Blackboard Mobile Learn, to improve existing parts of the applications, and to address feedback on stability and bugs reported by our users.
First, on Support: We encourage our users to report any issues (crashes, bugs, ideas, suggestions) to our support portal in the Help section of the application or at help.blackboardmobile.com. We have millions of users accessing Mobile Learn around the world, at different institutions which all have different technical configurations. This makes it difficult to address feedback when it comes in the form of App Store or Google Play reviews. It pains us to read about frustrating bugs or crashes reported in reviews that we can't investigate (not to mention communicate about resolution) since these reviews are anonymous. We'd never discourage you from speaking your mind in an App Review, but we ask that you reach out to us if possible on our help portal so we can actually diagnose and resolve the issue. You'll find that we have an eager support team, hungry to find and squish as many bugs as possible.
And, with respect to new features and development: YES. We've got lots of plans for improving Mobile Learn. There's a lot we want to build, and a lot we want to improve. You have our commitment that we're investing significantly in building new, exciting things with Mobile Learn to make accessing your courses better, faster and more conducive to learning.