Lately I’ve encountered an increasing number of people belonging to the “Paid apps are dead” school of thought. I don’t know whether the model of paid apps, especially with regard to the mobile environment, is dead or not. I have always supported it, because paying for software has always felt natural and obvious to me. I remember in the Mac vs PC days how differently software was perceived among Windows users and Mac users. If you’ll allow me a certain degree of generalisation (I know there are exceptions in both camps), Mac users usually gave more value to third-party software for their Macs and were more willing to pay for it, while a lot of Windows users shared the culture of, er, ‘obtaining’ software for their PCs.
Today — in general, but especially with mobile platforms — the so-called ‘race to the bottom’ has undeniably hurt the market. What’s worse is that it’s negatively affecting the perception people have for the software that is supposed to enrich their experience with smartphones and tablets and extend the capabilities of such devices. More and more frequently, apps are considered like nothing more than widgets with little value. People spend a handsome amount on premium hardware, but somehow a $5 app is regarded as ‘expensive’. Developers who dare charge an additional $2, $3, $4 for a paid upgrade are vocally criticised for being ‘greedy’, when people really have no idea about the work, the investment and the expenses behind software development. They (begrudgingly) paid $5 in 2011 and expect free updates in 2013 and beyond. This utter disrespect for other people’s work is simply appalling (as a freelance translator and a struggling writer, I understand this all too well) and goes beyond the inherent miserliness.
To keep the culture of paying for software healthy, I believe that those who write software reviews as part of their jobs should refrain from being judgemental about price, whether directly or implicitly. Unless they’re reviewing a particularly bad piece of software whose price point is disproportionately high compared to the quality and features provided, price should be treated simply as a piece of information. Be informative, be detailed, be as objective as possible in your review (or clearly indicate that certain remarks and considerations are indeed subjective and related to your personal tastes) — this is what counts. If you’re especially excited about the app you’re reviewing, by all means be infectious in your enthusiasm. People will understand if a piece of software is a bargain for what it offers, or if it’s little more than a hack that should probably be avoided regardless of what it costs. You give them information, let them be opinionated.
I’m writing this because sometimes I fear that all this (empty) talk of “Paid apps are dead” and “freemium models” and so on and so forth might end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. And let’s avoid headlines like Tweetbot 3 for iPhone gets a fresh new design, but at a price (it’s an otherwise nice and overall positive review, why put that “but at a price” in the headline? It sounds off and unfair… It almost sounds like a warning to prospective customers, as if to say “You may like the app’s new design, but boy is it going to cost you.”)
There are enough cheapskates as it is, let’s don’t fuel their sense of entitlement even more.
- 1. If you’re too young to have paid for software back in the 1990s, let me tell you: it was on average way more expensive than what you find today in the various App Stores. ↩