On TIME Magazine’s site, Anita Hamilton discusses the impending influx of iPhone applications and poses the question “why can’t all iPhone apps be free?
The following was posted as a reply to Ms Hamilton. (please read)
Pointing to the plethora of ad-supported free software applications available, Hamilton acts as though the idea of paying for things is kind of novel and quaint these days. As though we all queue up at the supermarket to watch a bunch of ads instead of paying for our groceries. I don’t know about you, but my credit card still gets a healthy workout there. Not to mention at the gas pump—though, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind watching a few ads instead of paying $60 to fill up my car.
But I’d like to flip Hamilton’s question on its head and ask “why should all iPhone apps be free?”
Despite the recent advent of ad-supported programs, people have been paying for software for years. And developers put no less time and energy into writing software than a woodworker puts into fashioning a table or a chef puts into cooking a dinner—yet nobody demands that those products be provided on an ad-supported basis.
Ad-supported programs work well for Google and social networking sites because the function fits the form. Lest we forget, Google is an advertising platform, despite the myriad of software that they produce. Likewise, social networking sites appeal to a captive audience—not unlike people watching a TV show. But such is not necessarily the case for someone developing a word processor or photo-editing program. Do you want an ad to pop-up while you’re writing your novel (or worse, your TPS report) or touching up those vacation photos?
When it comes right down to it, what’s wrong with exchanging money for a product? It’s a system that’s worked pretty well for, oh, a few thousand years. Why should developers have to negotiate deals with advertising providers instead of simply charging their customers as they’ve always done?
There seems to be some sort of bizarre perception that developers who charge for their software are forces of evil out to rip off the unassuming public. As Hamilton says, “this arrangement forces consumers to shell out for programs they may use only once.” As opposed to a book you may only read once? Or a movie you may only watch once? Or batteries you may only use until they run out? Or food you may only eat once?
We are not entitled to software any more than we are entitled to the other products that we buy day in, day out. We’ve been spoiled because so many developers give things away for free (which, of course, is their prerogative), and we’ve gotten used to the idea of streaming our television online, or even stealing our music from file-sharing services. The idea of “free” has been co-opted into the idea that products aren’t worth money—which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The whole point of payment is that you give someone money to take care of a problem that you don’t want to do yourself. You could save a bundle of money by not hiring people to cut your grass, for example, but then you’ll have to use the time you’d rather spend doing something else mowing the lawn yourself. Just as you could save some cash by developing a word-processor yourself, but heck, in the long run, it’s probably cheaper to let Microsoft do it for you.
This is economics at its most basic. Seriously. It doesn’t get any more basic than this.
The people selling software on the App Store aren’t moguls—most of them aren’t companies remotely the size of Google or Microsoft. They’re people eking out a living, just like you and me—well, just like you, anyway. Only they do it writing software that they hope people will use and enjoy. That seems worth $10 to me.
Come to think of it, what about all those times that I’m forced to watch ads and pay for things? I’m going to a baseball game tonight, where I fully expect to be bombarded by ads from every corner of the field, scoreboard, and concession stands. And I still have to pay five bucks for a hot dog? Now that is deserving of outrage.
Posted by Dan Moren