When I first heard that Amazon Storywriter — the online, web-based screenwriting application — was shutting down next month, my first reaction was, I admit: wait, didn’t they shut down a while ago? Then I remembered that’d been Adobe Story, another (at least partially) online screenwriting application.
But here we are, and here’s another online screenwriting service going away — one of several in the past few years, and this one made by one of the largest companies in the entire world. Apparently Amazon Storywriter was quite popular, too, probably partly because it was free but also because of its integration with Amazon Studios’ submission process.
But now, for whatever reason1, Amazon is yanking the plug on theirs, and just as was the case with Adobe Story, I feel genuinely bad for the writers who are losing their writing tools and having to scramble to download their work and find a new home for it in the next couple of weeks. Just like I felt bad for the writers it happened to before that, and just like I’ll feel bad for the writers it’ll happen to next time.
We’ve seen this happen repeatedly, with multiple online screenwriting services, and by now all I really want to do is warn people.2
The appeal of using free online screenwriting software is obvious. First of all it’s free, and that alone is some pretty good appeal. Secondly, the online part usually means you can access your work from anywhere because it’s not stored on your computer but on the software’s server, and all you need is a web browser.
But first of all: nothing’s really free. No company — not Amazon, not Adobe, not anybody — provides a software service without a plan to get something out of it. It would be nice if that were limited to merely corporate good will, but far more likely it involves anything from keeping you in their ecosystem long enough until you do start to pay, to monetizing you or your information through advertising or some other form of marketing (whether you know it or not).
Secondly, when you put your eggs in someone else’s basket, whether it costs you anything to keep them there or not, there’s always the chance of them taking that basket away, along with everything that’s in it. That’s what happened with Adobe Story. That’s what’s happening with Amazon Storywriter. And if, say, you don’t check the email account you used to sign up, and you don’t log in to the service — yes, even for months, maybe because screenwriting is a hobby for you and you’re, you know, busy with other things — then it’s entirely possible you’ll miss the announcement email and won’t be able to get to your work after the shutdown date. Even Google shutters its online services on a whim at a surprisingly regular rate, sometimes after years and years of popular usage.
And it’s going to happen again.
And again after that.
There are a number of similar services waiting in the wings that are going to come — and undoubtedly go — picturing perhaps the untold riches to be had in getting aspiring screenwriters to pay a monthly subscription to write online. (I honestly wouldn’t know. I’m certainly not aware of any riches, untold or otherwise. And with Fade In you pay once and the software’s yours to use. You don’t keep getting charged. And even that’s not entirely undue to the fact that my wife would kill me if I gave it away for free.)
I’ve said in the past that there’s no need to pay real, hard-earned dollars for screenwriting software if you don’t need to. That’s still true. If you’re just trying out screenwriting, just dipping your toes in: by all means don’t go spending hundred of dollars3 on screenwriting software. You can type in almost anything (and Fade In, for one, will probably be able to import it). You can even write it all out on a legal pad.
But if you are going to use a free and/or online alternative, just be on guard. Protect yourself and your work. The first rule of screenwriting club is: back up your work. The second rule of screenwriting club is: back up your work. Be disciplined about doing it. Don’t get in a position where some company pulling the plug on their project can leave you and your projects in the lurch.
I’m fond of saying that, for a bunch of reasons, Fade In can’t go out of business. But even if everything were to disappear in a puff of smoke tomorrow4, you’ll still have the software, on your computer, and be able to access your work.
That’s pretty important.
- I mean, we could speculate on what Amazon’s reasons are, and we’d be right on at least a few of them because they’d basically come down to some variation on “not making enough money”. ↩
- You might be tempted to say that someone behind a competing screenwriting software alternative possibly has an ulterior motive — and I guess you’re welcome to think that — but I’d also ask that you keep reading before you make up your mind. ↩
- In the case of that Other Software. ↩
- I’m very much against this happening. ↩