Vesper, the note-taking app created by John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus, is shutting down:
What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money. Why we didn’t make enough money, what we should have done differently to make more money — those are complex questions (which I’ll tackle below). But what actually sunk Vesper was not complicated. Even as a relatively popular app at a relatively high price (for iOS), revenue was never high enough. Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.
I bought Vesper when Gruber announced it on his site because I knew there was probably a lot of care and attention put into it, but the truth was, I had already started my relationship with SimpleNote (SimpleNote was acquired by Automattic, the makers of WordPress, in 2013).
I can’t remember if SimpleNote had their native OS X app from the start, but they did have a web app version which I used all the time. It’s still a part of my daily workflow and note-taking.
In the original version of his post (Google screenshot), Gruber mentions the font-licensing as one of the two, big, ongoing costs to keep the app running (he seems to have removed any mention of fonts). As a designer and type aficionado, I can understand the desire for great typography in an app or website, but I wouldn’t let it break the bank, especially with the solid lineup of fonts to choose from in iOS.
Vesper uses Ideal Sans, from Hoefler & Co. who are notorious for their hefty licensing fees. Back around 2011-12 I worked briefly on the redesign and rebuild of HBO.com while at Roundarch (now Isobar). We looked into the licensing of HBO’s identity typeface, Gotham, for use on the web and I think Hoefler & Co’s license was in the tens of thousands per month (a quick look at the current HBO.com reveals they still use a version of Gotham).
It’s too bad Vesper didn’t pan out. I’m a big proponent of creating things you want to see and use in the world, not creating for some imaginary customer or fan in your head. Q Branch did just that and I respect them for it.
As Gruber points out, their timing and execution were just a little off, and sometimes that’s all that separates the successes from the failures (for more on timing, talent, practice Outliers by Malcolm Gladewll is a must-read).