A preamble: This is an entertainment website. We write about video games like Zelda and Dark Souls, and vent about the DCU and Game of Thrones. We celebrate escapism in all forms, and cherish the things that fortify our minds and promote our mental health.
And yet, sometimes we see something so unsettling—so upsetting—in the real world, we just have to come back to reality to sound off.
MyFitnessPal Locks Barcode Scan Behind a Paywall
Yesterday, MyFitnessPal—the most popular fitness and nutrition tracker app on the market—sent out the following email to its customer base:
To the MyFitnessPal Community,
Beginning October 1, Barcode Scan will be available only with a Premium subscription. Members who use the free version of the app will still be able to log food with the search feature.
We never like to disappoint our members. While it was a difficult decision, this change allows us to continue to improve our product offerings, focus resources, and deliver excellent service to our community.
Don’t worry, you’ll still have access to many useful features to help you track and reach your goals including:
• Nutrition, weight, hydration, and exercise logging
• A database of over 14M foods and 500+ recipes
• More than 35 connected fitness partners
Plus, we’re actively working on new features so both our free and Premium members have the tools for a successful health and fitness journey.
To make it up to you, we’re offering 50% off your first year of Premium. This will get you Barcode Scan, an ad-free experience, and much more. Offer expires October 1, 2022.
Thank you for continuing to be a dedicated member of the MyFitnessPal community.
—The MyFitnessPal Team
For the uninitiated, MyFitnessPal allows its users to record their daily nutrition and track their progress over time. If, say, you want to lose 20 pounds in four months, MFP will calculate a recommended calorie count to help you hit that goal.
The way you actually lose that weight, however, is by tracking your meals. It’s the linchpin of the experience—a way to ensure users are accountable about what they eat, when they eat, and how much they eat.
It sounds daunting, and to anyone who’s ever struggled with weight gain/loss (like myself), it certainly can be. But MyFitnessPal makes the process surprisingly simple. Compared to a program like Weight Watchers, which asks members to attend group meetings and count arbitrary “points,” MyFitnessPal keeps things high level. Want to lose weight? Eat a caloric deficit. Want to gain weight? Eat a caloric surplus.
It’s all done in the app. Log what you eat for the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks), and you’ll see whether you’re above or below your allotted calorie count for the day. Green is good, red is bad. Simple.
Part of that simplicity stems from the app’s barcode scanner. Instead of manually inputting foods and calories, users can search a database of existing foods and brands. Better yet, you can scan the barcode on the box, select the serving size you ate, and call it a day.
Which brings us to today.
Why Did MyFitnessPal Remove Barcode Scan?
Honestly, I have no clue. By locking the barcode scanner behind a paywall, it’s obvious MyFitnessPal thinks it can
encourage force users to sign up for Premium. But they’re wrong—and bafflingly so.
It doesn’t take a village idiot to figure out why this is dumb. But I’ll sum it up in three points:
- This is going to piss a lot of people off.
- Pissy people don’t make for great buyers.
- Especially when Premium costs $20 a month.
You read that right: $20 a month. That’s more than certain gym memberships. At that price, you could subscribe to both Disney+ and Xbox Game Pass—and still have change left over.
Why MyFitnessPal Is Making a Mistake
I come from the world of marketing—specifically for SaaS (software as a service) products. I know what it takes to drive software usage and grow subscription revenue. And this ain’t it, chief.
Yesterday, I sent an email to MFP’s support team. They didn’t ask for my take, but I gave it to them:
I know (as well as I’m sure you do) that you’re about to receive hundreds, if not thousands, of emails complaining about this change. And frankly, you deserve the backlash.
Barcode scanning has been a feature you’ve offered for years. It’s what helped me lose 80 pounds over the course of the pandemic. I will always be grateful to your product, and to your team.
And yet, this change comes across as stingy, lazy, and insulting.
Why do you feel the need to gate a feature that your Free users rely on? If people like me aren’t converting to Premium, why wouldn’t your first instinct be to add value to Premium, rather than take away from Free?
There are so many ways you could entice someone to join Premium:
• Improve your search database
• Allow integrations with other fitness apps (like Samsung Health)
• Offer digital coaching for fitness and nutrition
• Curate cooking recipes with in-depth how-to videos
• Partner with local grocers so users can go buy ingredients
Instead, you’re choosing to reduce the utility of your Free product. Not a great look!
I had considered paying for Premium as a show of appreciation for helping me get to my goal weight. Now, I refuse to pay a dime until you revert this change. It’s not fair to your Free users (people who, like me, just want an easy way to get in shape), and it’s a slap in the face for your existing Premium users.
Do better, please.
David (once a fan)
Let me be clear: I am a MyFitnessPal power user. I’ve used it to track my nutrition for three years and counting. I went from 254 pounds to 169 (and then settled around 180), and it’s entirely thanks to the ease of use of scanning the foods I eat. I did Weight Watchers; I did keto and South Beach. They didn’t work for me, but MFP did.
My sign-off in that letter was sincere. MyFitnessPal changed my life; I love this app, and I don’t want to abandon it. But the value of the product simply doesn’t align with the steep price of a subscription.
It’s true that Premium offers a lot more bells and whistles than the base app. And for some—namely, health nuts focused on macros and strength training—the subscription is worth the asking price. But for the average Joe or Jane, someone who has struggled with food and needs a helpful nudge in the right direction, Free was enough. We paid with our eyes (there are loads of ads on the platform). We paid through positive word of mouth (at least, until now).
MyFitnessPal, congrats—you played yourself. You didn’t convert me from Free to Paid, but you did convert me from champion to hater. And I’m not alone.
Social Media Reacts to MyFitnessPal Barcode Scanner
I’ve written enough words for one day. You’ve read enough ranting for a lifetime.
Let’s pivot to social media, where people are dragging MyFitnessPal over Twitter, TikTok, and everything in between:
@alexthiemefitness This is ridiculous ?? the greed!! #myfitnesspal ♬ original sound – Alex Thieme
@sillz #stitch with @alexthiemefitness MyFitnessPal was for rookies anyways #gym #fitness #diet #weightloss #nutrition #health ♬ original sound – Sillz
If anyone sees a positive reaction to the news, let me know in the comments. ‘Cause I haven’t seen one.
Alternatives to MyFitnessPal’s Calorie Tracker
If you’re frustrated by MyFitnessPal’s recent decision to gate its barcode scanner, here are a few alternatives that may fit the bill:
Vote with your wallets, folks. Support apps that support you. Don’t waste time on a company that doesn’t care. *Drops mic.*
Update (9/16): At the time of publication, I wrote that MyFitnessPal is a subsidiary of retail giant Under Armour. That statement was inaccurate; in 2020, Under Armour sold the company to investment firm Francisco Partners (suddenly, it makes sense why MFP is putting profits first and leaving its brand, and customers, behind). I regret the error, and have since updated the piece accordingly.