I recently came across Wild Chocolate
which featured an article titled 13 Reasons why software is not free
. After reading the author’s commentary regarding the pricing of Mac OS applications, I found myself agreeing and disagreeing at the same time.
Let me start by saying that when discussing topics like this, I almost always side with the developer. In the article in question, the author is (I’m guessing) addressing the trend of app pricing falling lower and lower and still fighting the opinion by vocal users that the software should be cheaper or free. This is nothing new. Adobe has been battling this issue for years, so has Apple, Microsoft, and numerous other software developers.
While I understand completely where the author is coming from, I also felt like it came across as whining and making excuses.
Here are my specific thoughts/responses to some of the author’s points:
1. The majority of software is made by small software shops, usually less than a dozen people. They specialize in creating software and do not have billions in other revenue streams to fall back on.
I sympathize, I really do. But how is this my fault or problem? Few companies have billions in revenue and still manage to put out a quality, affordable product. YOUR financial situation is not MY problem, and neither is the quantity of people it takes to develop your product.
2. Software is not easy to create — especially not software that people consider easy to use and attractive. It’s a whole heck of a lot of work, in fact.
Welcome to adulthood and the common workplace. Nothing I do at work is easy, especially producing a quality product. But I have no control over what people perceive is the value of the product I produce. The market dictates the price – no matter how hard I work or how great the work is.
4. Software is created by hard working people… like you. Do you get paid for your work?
Yes, I do get paid. But as I stated above, the market dictates the value of my work. I found the above statement to be completely lame and pointless.
5. People who make software have more to do once your purchase has been made. We are here for you when you run into issues by providing a support team to answer questions, walk you through troubleshooting steps, fix bugs, etc.
Make a product so easy to use that we don’t have to ask questions. Perhaps your help files (if you bothered to create comprehensive ones) need some work. Bug fixes? Fix your bugs before you release to the masses. This is a tough one. I get the developer’s perspective on this one, and quite frankly I get quite annoyed at people that complain who don’t bother to try a little harder to understand the application they just paid for and are using. They appear to expect every app to work the way THEY want it to work.
6. Software teams are constantly working on improving and updating the software to keep up with changing technologies. It’s a continuous process.
Only if you want to continue making money on it. You could do like so many small developers who release a product, make money, then move on to other projects and never touch the original application again. They ruin their reputation by violating the trust of their customers, of course. But let’s not pretend that improving your product is mandatory and without reward.
8. It costs money to put out a software product. We have to spend years creating it, paying people’s salaries, renting office space, purchasing computers, etc. If we want you to actually find out about our product, we often need to spend money to advertise as well.
Business 101: Cost of doing business. As far as the advertising goes, in modern times you often don’t have to advertise if you build a great product. You send out some press releases and some review licenses to key websites in your market and they do the work for you.
12. Without software, your fancy laptop or iPad would be… well… pretty darn useless.
Without our fancy laptops and iPads, your software would be absolutely useless.
The bottom line:
Visit the original article and decide for yourself whether or not you sympathize with the developer or the end-user.
As for me, the bottom line is complex. On the one hand, I’ve grown tired of the latest generation of Mac users who expect software to be perfect, free, and custom built just for them. Nothing annoys me like a comment on a MacUpdate software listing like “fix these bugs/lack of feature I want and I’ll pay for it,” or the only slightly more annoying “I’m removing your app from my Dock until you add XYZ feature.”
Developers work hard (well, most of them do) on their applications, and they’re made for a specific audience. For some users, the features in any particular app are worth every penny the developer asks for. Oddly enough, people seem to complain more about cheap apps than they do with more pricey ones. There’s a sense of entitlement that some users picked up somewhere and insist on publicly complaining whenever they get a chance.
On the other hand, developers have found themselves in this tough spot of producing a quality app and having to sell it cheap or give it away by their own doing. It’s not the fault of the user that your competitor makes a similar app that’s almost as good as yours, but at half the price – or even 99 cents. Your costs are your problem, not mine. As the user, I get to decide if the price of your application is appropriate for what it does and how it makes my life better.
I use several Adobe Creative Suite applications for my work. It’s an expensive collection of applications. Heck, it’s a lot more than I care to pay. But for what I do, there’s nothing better and I generally recoup the costs in no time. It’s a cost of doing business for me. Adobe prices these applications for people like me – people who find the value in them.
As soon as a developer makes an app that’s 75% to 80% as good as Adobe InDesign, I’ll consider switching. When Pixelmator does enough of what I need it to do, I’ll be happy to consider it over Photoshop; but it currently doesn’t, and so for me the price is simply not worth it. In that respect, I set the value of Pixelmator, and it doesn’t really matter how much time, effort and money they spent developing it. And let me just say that I think Pixelmator is an awesome application – worth every penny if you don’t need the power of Photoshop like I do.
Ultimately, I think many developers try to do too much with their app. Possibly in an effort to up the perceived value. Make an app you can code in a month that addresses a popular need and sell it for 99 cents. Or make a more complex app and sell it for $39 and sell a lot less copies. Either way, it’s up to the user to decide which to buy, and complaining about it isn’t going to change anything.
One thing is for sure, if you come up with a revolutionary app, or one that is so far above the competitors, people will happily pay for it.