Final Draft, Inc. is a software developer that takes pride in being the industry standard for screenwriting software. I have considered myself a fan of the program and the company ever since my exuberant scriptwriting teacher in art school recommended Final Draft (version 2damnLongAgo.0) to me. I have used it for every script I’ve conceived; that includes short films, television commercials, corporate videos, and comic book pages. Naturally, I was extremely excited in March of 2010 when Final Draft announced that their software team was in the lab mixing up an iPad app for screenwriters. It only made sense that such an app would be built by the leading developer of scriptwriting software, and that it would work on this shiny new tablet that enables us to review information and manipulate the world with our fingertips. The news kept on getting better! Final Draft published a notification form on its website that offered users a chance to be part of a focus group and beta test the application. We got to be part of the creative process! The company was asking for our feedback! What could go wrong? Not only would we use the iPad to surf the internet, play games and send emails, but now we could use it to create…write…work…
More then a year and a half later, in December 17th, 2011, to be exact, I received a Final Draft iPad Survey from the Production Development team at Final Draft, Inc. The following is an excerpt from the email:
You have registered on the finaldraft.com to participate in market research regarding Final Draft’s iPad Application.
We are hoping you will spend a few minutes to provide us your thoughts on some feature concepts we are considering.
This survey should take only a few minutes. To participate, please follow this link to the survey: Link.
Thanks in advance for your participation!”
Exciting! Of course I’ll participate in a survey regarding the application that has potential to change my entire working life. But my excitement started to dwindle when I took a survey that not only scared me, but offended me. It was asking me weird questions about Reader apps and how I felt about this high price bracket versus that high price bracket.
1. Would I prefer one app that was comparable to my awesome desktop program? Yes.
2. Or would I like a series of lesser apps that would eventually do the same thing that my desktop program could do after I bought all of them? No.
A Reader app? Final Draft exports to PDF form. iBooks is free and enables the ability to read PDFs. I don’t need a Reader app. Furthermore, there are already PDF reader apps like PDF Expert available in the App Store that let me highlight and take notes, and they are a fraction of the price that the survey was displaying. I thought the idea of a Reader app was a terrible one and I said so in the survey. They asked me how much I would pay for such an app. I wanted to say nothing but even with the capitalistic, condescending tone of the survey, I was still a fan of the brand, so I said a couple bucks. 2.99 to be precise—consider it a donation, Final Draft. From me to you! Use it to help yourselves, the industry Kingpin, as you figure out how to build the app correctly.
I can’t imagine that my thoughts were that much different from the rest of the survey participants. We’re writers, we don’t let the price of coffee go unquestioned, let alone a tool for our profession. I can’t picture a single tech-savvy author of scripts being thrilled by the survey. “Yes, I do want an app that just reads scripts. Maybe it could let me highlight things too, that would be nice. I would pay twenty dollars for a feature like that!” Maybe, but my gut still tells me no.
February 16th, 2012: the app goes live and it is not a game changer. It’s not even a game player. I wouldn’t call it a cheerleader…it’s that drunk guy who goes to the game and yells expletives from the bleachers. That guy who tries to direct the coach who is dedicated to getting the job done. The coach has a plan; the coach wants to help his team produce and succeed. The other guy highlights. The other guy asks for twenty bucks so he can grab another twelver and a bag of jerky from the corner store.
When I saw the app that shared the logo to the piece of software I use for my career and read the word Reader next to it, I wanted to face-palm. When I saw the nineteen dollar and ninety-nine cent price tag next to it, I wanted to cry. They did everything we told them not to. They hosted focus groups and conducted online surveys just to ignore our feedback and do what they wanted to, no matter how deconstructive it was to our profession and their company. So what did I do? I purchased the app. I did it so I could leave a comment. I was angry, I felt let down and I wanted to let the company know how I felt. The App Store only lets you leave a comment if you have purchased the app, so that’s what I did. However, the feedback section was on lockdown. After purchasing the app, I attempted to leave a comment from my iPad, iPhone and desktop—and each time, after purchasing the app and logging in, I wasn’t allowed the permissions. I then read the feedback and started putting one and one together. Out of eighteen reviews, seventeen were very poor. One-to-two stars. In the words of Ebert: “two thumbs down!” They were all sharing the same sentiment that I was feeling, and I couldn’t contribute because we were no longer allowed to post. The app was being ridiculed, and someone behind the curtain was putting a stop to it.
Final Draft aficionados received an email yesterday from Final Draft, Inc. The newsletter showcases a series of apps designed for writers and filmmakers. In the newsletter, Final Draft speaks on its decision making process for the Final Draft Writer for iPad – Writer in Development.
“We’ve decided on which features will be in the first version of the Final Draft Writer for iPad and the user interface (UI) has been designed. It will go out to our product testers soon so they can let us know what works and what needs to be improved.”
The letter then goes on to talk about its already released Reader app. “Perfect for agents, executives, managers, producers and writing partners. Now it’s great for actors, too. The latest update includes an added feature – Character Highlighting – which allows you to single or multi–select characters and assign them different color highlights. This feature is great for table reads, casting calls, and more!”
No update will turn this into a writer’s app. Maybe there are some P.R. politics going on that we don’t know about. What I do know is that the app is subpar to the readers and writers that are already available and are considerably cheaper. I also know that as a consumer and a writer, I expect more from the industry standard, and can’t help to feel that there should be a level of accountability here.
The App Store has turned commenting permissions back on so this is for you, Final Draft, Inc. Your most recent email to us shows promise. But the potency in your promises is weak, your credibility is being questioned, and only you can protect your brand. If the Reader is twenty dollars, how much will the Writer be? The answer should be twenty dollars. Upon the release of the Writer (that should also share all of the features the Reader has), you will remove the Reader from the App Store. Everyone who has purchased the Reader app will get a free download of the Writer—consider it an update. We’ll be happy, we’ll ignore the last two years and get back to writing with your software, and most importantly we’ll honestly endorse your company as one we believe in. Over time, the twenty dollar price tag will drop to something a little more affordable, and your clientele will increase. This will encourage new, happy customers to buy your desktop software that is compatible with the iPad version. This is good news for you. If this doesn’t happen and you don’t embrace your community and you decide to release a Writer app that is more expensive than the Reader, with no kickbacks to the people who downloaded the Reader app, you will continue to anger your community and compromise your clientele, your business, and your brand. We won’t be able to believe in you. Please don’t do that. I consider myself a fan of your company, and I have been using your software since my art school screenwriting teacher recommended it to me nearly a decade ago. Why would you want to jeopardize that?