Monday, January 27, 2020

The marketing practices of Soda PDF

While I hate to diss on a Canadian company, I am (still) pretty mad about this one.  Mad enough to bother posting this 2 weeks later.

For those considering Soda PDF as an Acrobat alternative, it seems pretty good.  It's also possible to pick it up for considerably off the "retail" price, making it seem like a good deal.

However, what is mentioned nowhere on their site is that the price is not a one-time purchase.  It is, rather, an annual subscription.

They claim this to be a "misunderstanding", but this is obviously intentionally deceptive on their part.  Their site does not state that the price is for an annual plan

It is mentioned in the checkout process, where the item purchased is listed as a "yearly plan".  So they can argue it's your fault for not noticing.  But these are two very small small words on a fairly busy ordering page, making it easy to miss.

There are also additional items:

1.  Certain features - such as digital signatures and OCR - are not included in the base subscription price.  Rather, these are add-on modules.

Aside from some asterisks and a footnote on their main page, I was unable to find any mention of:
  -  Which features are available only as add-on modules; or
  -  How much each add-on module costs.

Nobody fails to mention these things accidentally, making these omissions obviously intentional.

Now, some people like that they can pay only for the features they need.  But the utter lack of transparency is concerning.

2.  The only mention I saw about actually buying these add-on features is during checkout, where you get a pop-up offering you a feature "bundle" for a discounted price.

However, this is another annual subscription.  This is not mentioned in the pop-up.

The bundle price is usually very small, enticing you to go ahead.  And as soon as you click on "Add to purchase", the purchase completes, with no option to review the new bundled items you just selected. 

You could argue that it is "obvious" that the add-on is a subscription since the base product is also a subscription.  But it's not obvious that the base product is a subscription, so that's not an argument.

3.  They do list their desktop "edition" software, but it is on a separate site that is almost impossible to find from their ads and landing pages.  I found it entirely by accident, and only after I had accidentally purchased the annual subscription-based plan.

4.  Their purchase form has a checkbox that says "I agree to receive email communications about this service."

Ummm - what "service", exactly?  It doesn't say.

The implication is obviously that you should check that box to get your bill / invoice, activation code, or whatever.  But I unchecked it and still got those.

What it actually seems to mean is that you're signing up for their newsletter and promotional emails.  Which is certainly not clear.

With all of the factors above, it's my opinion that Soda is being intentionally deceptive.  They're doing almost everything they can to get you to buy the subscription, but doing just enough to make it your fault if you do so unintentionally.

Lest you argue, you can compare against the Foxit PhantomPDF site, and the Wondershare PDFElement site, both of which clearly lay out one-time and subscription options on the same page.  Cloud storage providers, such as pCloud, Icedrive,  and others also manage this trick, which is quite obviously not difficult.

You could always say I'm just mad about losing $50.  Except I didn't - I did get a refund.  Yet I remain pissed.

If I used such tactics in my business, I would not only lose clients, I would be strung up by my professional association for being unethical.  Too bad the same isn't going to happen to Soda.

I'm not saying their software is bad.  But be sure you read the product description very carefully, and know what you're getting before you complete that purchase.

I utterly loathe subscriptions and so asked for a refund.  After some very unsubtle prodding as to how great the subscription model is, and can we offer you a discount, they eventually refunded my purchase.

If you're still interested, and as far as I know, their stand-alone, one-time-purchase desktop program is called "Soda PDF Edition".  The page was here, and don't forget the little "Add OCR" button at the left.  But it's much more expensive than their ads would indicate.

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