In September of 2012 we launched a new Personal License option which allows iOS and Android users to make an in-app purchase to access Mobile Learn. 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 applications on behalf of their students and faculty. This meant that if an institution had not licensed Blackboard Mobile Learn, its students wouldn't be able to use their mobile devices to interact with their courses. As a 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. One that is fair for our Blackboard Learn customers, isn't confusing for students and faculty, lends itself to a better experience with our product, and allows us to make ongoing improvements to Mobile Learn. 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 to purchase access to the application using an In-App Purchase. 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.
We believe that $1.99 for lifetime access is an affordable price to use an application that makes it simple and elegant to access course content, contribute to discussions, upload documents, take tests, and more 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 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. This shift in our business model establishes a 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 features, and address your feedback and concerns, we don't expect you to use our service and pay for our software.