Remarkable is a company that sells E INK based writing slates and has two different generations, the Remarkable 1 and Remarkable 2. The company not only makes money selling the hardware, but also sells premium accessories such as cases and a few different stylus. The company, like most, used to only make money from their customers when they purchased and the hardware and maybe a few add-ons down the road, such as replacement nibs. In order to generate more revenue they made the controversial call to offer paid subscription tiers. Why is Remarkable the only company experimenting with subscription based revenue and why hasn’t it caught on?
In October 2021 Remarkable announced two membership plans that they unveiled to all of their users. The first paid tier is called Connect Lite and gives you all of your notes in one place and unlimited cloud storage on the Remarkable servers, this costs $4.99 per month. Connect is their highest tier membership and gives you all of your notes in one place, unlimited Remarkable cloud storage, Google Drive and Dropbox integration, handwriting conversion, screen share and more powerful features in the future, this will cost $7.99 per month. If you feel a subscription is not right for you, then you can still take notes, read web articles and ebooks, annotate PDFs and organize all your notes on a device designed without distractions with the free plan.
When Remarkable first announced their paid plans, users were not happy. They felt that Remarkable took some free features and made them paid. Paying $95 a year for the premium membership is pricy, when the existing Remarkable hardware is somewhat expensive. Now that almost a year has passed, Remarkable hasn’t really added any new features or enhancements to the program and they don’t even talk about it on their blog posts.
I think Remarkable generating additional monthly revenue was a good move. The company has raised millions of dollars various financing rounds in order to hire more staff and advertise their products all over social media. You can only raise money for so long as a somewhat mature business, before investors start wanting to see meaningful returns. Monetizing your existing user base is a good start, it adds hundreds of thousands of extra cash, they otherwise wouldn’t be making.
Why aren’t other companies emulating Remarkable? There are two types of businesses in the e-reader and e-note world. You have the devices that are relatively inexpensive for customers to buy. The price is relatively low, because they are gateways for selling digital content, such as audiobooks and ebooks. The largest brands that adhere to this model are Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Tolino, Bookeen, Tolino, HyRead, Mooink, HyRead and a number of others. There is also companies that charge more and generate all of their revenue by exclusively selling hardware and accessories. Examples of this include Onyx Boox, Boyue, Pocketbook, Quirklogic, Fujitsu, Sony and Hisense.
I believe the best course of action for the e-reader and e-note companies that only make money by selling hardware, to develop meaningful subscription model. There is a smart way to go about this, where users don’t feel cheated about previously free features going paid. Premium templates would be a good draw, they could be extra ones that can be loaded to an e-note. Most of these devices only ship with basic ones and having a wider selection would appeal to a wider audience. Most templates could be interactable, such as a calendar, where you can edit dates and times, reminding you, or maybe a to-do-list that would sync with your phone, helping with grocery shopping.
Color e-notes have been a popular niche for e-notes too. Onyx Boox sells the Nova Air Color, and Bigme sells a number of them, including the Good e-Reader/Bigme Inknote Color and the Pocketbook InkPad Color is great. Most of these devices have between 12-18 colors available for freehand drawing, editing PDF files or taking notes. In addition to templates it would be a smart idea to offer a wider color gamut, adding in shades or other colors, maybe doubling the number of colors available. It would be fairly easy to develop a color wheel, with all sorts of color wheel hex codes. Additionally, adding more file formats would also be welcome. The vast majority of e-notes only save notes as PNG or PDF. Adding in SVG and other lossless formats would be welcome.
There are plenty of things that e-reader and e-note companies that only rely on hardware sales could develop a meaningful paid subscription that only adds in extra features that power users would enjoy. It would build brand loyalty, if you bought an Onyx and paid for a subscription, whenever you upgraded to a new model, you would still get all of the paid features, effectively locking you in. I think we can learn from the failure of ReMarkable execution and develop something better.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.