New software used to have a really big “cool” factor. Yearly update fees were reasonable, and each new update advanced capabilities by leaps and bounds.

Lately the market has gone in the other direction, with software packages becoming substantially more expensive for little more than cosmetic changes and a different layout of commands.

It’s hard to fault the software developers. After all, their businesses have been built on selling software as a product, and software as a service takes time to translate into higher revenues. But with the persistence of the old models, everyone is missing out. Service providers often can’t afford to upgrade, so established software companies lose potential sales. Meanwhile, emerging developers struggle to break into the market because users are afraid to take the risk of switching to new software. And clients pay the price by having to settle for less-than-optimum deliverables.

Even in cases where the software updates do offer major advances in capabilities, cost is a substantial challenge. Take the laser scanning market, for example, which is still in its relative infancy. New programs and updates typically offer solutions for specific needs in the market, but how many businesses can afford to buy all of these programs for $5,000 to $30,000 each?

If software developers instead charged per-use fees or set rates for blocks of time, service providers would be able to easily budget their software costs and include software as a line item in their project budgets. A whole new world of opportunities would emerge.

Some companies have already begun making a shift in this direction. For example, ClearEdge3D, developer of the EdgeWise and EdgeWise Plant software for automated feature extraction, laser scanning and 3D modeling, allows users to purchase the ability to process a set number of scans or pay an annual fee for unlimited scan processing. Other companies have hinted at launching similar programs.

It’s time. Moving to a pay-per-use or time-based system where users only pay for what they need makes sense in the current environment. Software developers, service providers and, ultimately, clients will benefit.