It Should Be Free?

March 27th, 2008

I love several of the podcasts produced by Leo Laporte’s TWiT Network. He’s doing a great service to a variety of communities, and I particularly enjoy the MacBreak Weekly show, which features regulars such as Merlin Mann and Andy Ihnatko. The typical show includes a light-hearted roundup of the week’s (sometimes scarce) Mac news, and some regular features such as a weekly “picks” where show panelists are invited to share a Mac application or other product which they’ve found particularly valuable.

I have been very fortunate to have my own products picked by panelists on the show, and even by Leo himself! It’s a great honor to hear your own name spoken through those tiny earbuds, as you’re listening to the podcast. I was also flattered to recently hear Leo quote my twitter feedback to him about the excellent FLOSS Weekly.

On this week’s MacBreak Weekly, Leo chose for his pick an application called Pukka, which is a Del.Icio.Us client developed by my friend Justin Miller of Code Sorcery Workshop. Congratulations, Justin! Leo made a great case for the usefulness of the application, describing how it makes adding web pages to Del.Icio.Us so easy and pleasant, even celebrating the cute smooching kiss sound it makes after it does its job.

But what I found most interesting and, as a software developer, somewhat disappointing, was the way in which Leo seemed embarrassed by the fact that the application is not free. After explaining how cool it was, he hastens to add that he doesn’t know if it’s worth $14.95. “It doesn’t do much, I just love it!” He summarizes the joy it gives him by declaring “Pukka is simple. It just does what it does.” But later, when repeating the price and contact information, he hastens to inject that it “should be free.”

Now this is particularly interesting, and I don’t mean to pick on Leo, but it’s a topic worth thinking about. The majority of the show up to this point had been spent chatting with Patrick Wilson of the band Weezer, about his take on technology and, among other things, the business model for selling music to the public. During the chat, the entire MacBreak Weekly crew discussed the danger to the music industry that comes from younger listeners having a built-in expectation that music should be free.

Leo Laporte is one of the most supportive advocates for independent software developers that I have had the pleasure of (virtually) meeting. But on this episode I believe he has inadvertently helped to perpetuate the same kind of thinking about software that the panel had just finished expressing concern about with regard to music: the idea that the hard-earned fruits of somebody’s creative labor should be free.

What Does It Mean To Be Free?

Before we can understand why Leo and many other people like him have grown accustomed to expecting things “for free,” I think we need to try to develop an understanding for what it means to be free. In the English language it’s particularly difficult because we use the word to describe two fairly radically different concepts: the freeness of liberty and monetary freeness.

The free software movement recognized this problem early and has reduced the distinction to a couple of catch phrases. To determine whether something is meant to be free as in liberty or in cost, they ask whether it’s “free as in speech” or “free as in beer.” I return to this sometimes myself when trying to make sense of something’s freeness. But I also like to use the more explicit phrases “free of restrictions” and “free of cost.” Some things are neither and some things are both. You might find it easier to evaluate in which way something is free by substituting one of those phrases for the word free.

Although the freeness of restrictions is significant to software, particular as it pertains to open-sourced software which other developers are invited to use, for the topic at hand I’m mostly interested in freeness of cost. It’s freeness of cost that Leo was alluding to when he suggested that Pukka should be free, and it’s freeness of cost that I think many consumers are becoming more and more expectant of on the web and with computer software in general.

Freeness of cost feeds an ongoing expectation for more of the same. But there are so many varieties of cost-free products, that it’s worth exploring in some more detail what it really means to be free.

Five Ways Of Getting A Beer

The aforementioned “free as in beer” metaphor is valuable in that it helps distinguish monetary freeness from liberty. But consumers and developers run the risk of misunderstanding this freeness if we don’t elaborate on the variety of ways in which something can cost money, be free, or fall someplace in between. Each comes with its own tradeoffs, hurting or helping customers and vendors in their own particular ways.

Without thinking particularly hard about the idea, I came to the conclusion that most of things we receive possession or ownership of, we get through some combination of the following five avenues. I’m sticking with the beer analogy because otherwise things get way more complicated, and this blog post gets even longer than it already is.

You walk into a bar, and you get a beer in your possession by:

  1. Pure Payment. The classic mode of acquisition. You choose your favorite brew, and the bartender pours it for you. You get maximum control over the choice of product, and the vendor gets maximum compensation. Mutual gratification. See also: market price, supply and demand.
  2. Subsidized Payment. The bartender recognizes that by occasionally giving you a “free beer,” you will continue to buy beers, and may even start promoting the bar. The product is free for a moment because the vendor is virtually guaranteed it will pay itself back. Very gratifying for the customer, tentatively gratifying for the vendor. See also: loss leader, senior discount, government programs, insurance.
  3. Pure Charity. Your friend arrives to find the four of you, all close friends for years, sitting around a table. Great news: he’s buying! You’ve just been the recipient of pure charity, which comes with few or no strings attached, but which gives you very little control. Don’t like Pabst Blue Ribbon? Too bad, that’s what he’s buying. At least it’s free! See also: open source, birthday gifts, dinner parties.
  4. Subsidized Theft. You think you’re so smart. You discovered a tap at the end of the bar that almost nobody has their eye on. When the bartender isn’t looking, you can grab a free pint of whatever happens to be on tap. You don’t actually enjoy what’s in there much, but hey, at least it’s free! You enjoy the benefit so much, you insist on coming to this bar and always instruct your gigantic social group to meet here. They buy tons of drinks, and the bar prospers not only in spite of, but ironically because of your theft. See also: file sharing, mix tapes, some software piracy.
  5. Pure Theft. You’re passing by the back entrance of the bar when you notice a few full kegs of beer just sitting there. Later you come back with a friend and roll one into the back of his pickup. That night, you call all of your friends to share the great news: party at your house, free beer! Not only will you not be meeting at the favorite bar this weekend, you just cost them a keg’s worth of profit. See also: resold pirated goods, fenced car stereos, muggings, home robberies, etc.

I realize some of these scenarios are a little far fetched, just to make the beer analogy work. But the “see also” items are meant to inspire you to think about the other transactions in your life that fall into one or more of these categories. For instance when you go to a web site and read the news for free, you’re participating in a subsidized payment. The advertisers just happen to be paying for the content for you, in exchange for your attention to their products. Likewise, a big software company such as Apple might give you “free” software such as GarageBand or iMovie, which is actually subsidized by the cost of the new computer you just bought.

You Get What You Pay For

When Leo suggests that Pukka “should be free,” I believe what he’s suggesting is that because the application is simple, and because it works with a popular free web service, that it should also be free as in pure charity. But this makes some hasty assumptions about the product and the developer. If the product were “free as in charity.” Would the product be as good as it is? Would the developer have income to survive?

In short, if the product were free as in charity, would the product even exist, and be good enough to mention on MacBreak Weekly, where Leo could wish that it was free? Don’t get me wrong, there do exist many, many fantastic products of charity. And there also exist many total pieces of commercial crap. But the mechanics of the transaction are most obvious and, in a sense, honest, when they are reduced to pure payment.

Going back to the bar analogy, let’s consider the free peanuts that you might see in bowls at many such establishments. These subsidized freebies are a tasty snack, and furthermore encourage customers to continue buying beers. In New York City and other large cities, you’re liable to find street vendors on many corners, peddling peanuts and other snacks that are quite similar in quality and quantity to what you’ll find for free in some bars. “These peanuts are great, but they should be free.” Try telling that to the guy standing in the cold on 34th Street!

Software costs money, time, and resources to develop, just like many of the other products in our lives. And just like those peanuts on the bar, many companies with other things to sell you are in a good position to give away freebies that help to promote their business; to encourage you and your friends to give them money for different reasons.

But smaller companies don’t often have the variety of products and services that lends itself to such a complex strategy. Given a good product idea and a market to sell to, they’re forced to adopt the simplest of all strategies: pure payment. Build something brilliant, and be rewarded with money. This money translates into a great motivation for the developer, which in turn translates back into product greatness. It’s easy to understand why the majority of great products in this world do cost money to obtain.

The next time Leo has such a gushingly positive reaction to a product, as he’s obviously had to Pukka, he might consider all the materials going into creating it, and what it costs to perpetuate it. In the case of Pukka, he might have better exclaimed “thank God this isn’t free!” Because if it was free, it probably wouldn’t have rocked his world so hard.

87 Responses to “It Should Be Free?”

  1. Sandy Says:

    Imagine del.icio.us had software that works just like Pukka.

    Now imagine they offered two levels of service:
    – del.icio.us free ($0 – no software)
    – del.icio.us pro ($15 – includes Pukka)
    Would you sign up for the pro version?

  2. Jeff Says:

    Interesting discussion.

    Most of the stuff that I’ve written for the Mac over the years I’ve just given away. It’s not a philosophical statement, simply a reflection of that fact that so far, it’s not been worth the effort to try and collect money for it. Most of what I’ve written have been small niche utilities that I didn’t expect to see much money from, and I had steady income from my day-job work writing software on a contract basis. To me, the software I wrote on the side was a simple by-product of keeping my skills up, and I was happy to share them, especially since I’ve been the beneficiary of much free advice and free software over the years.

    Pukka’s in a weird spot. If they charged much less for it, I’m not sure it would be worth the author’s time, after credit card processing fees and the like, and the volume he’s have to sell to support his efforts would be tremendous. I think there’s a perception if you drop below a certain price that your software isn’t valuable, also. It’s a tough line to walk.

    Now if Apple were to extend the idea of the App Store from the iPhone to the desktop, then it might make sense for authors to sell software for $5 or even less because they would have such wide exposure and relatively low transaction overhead. But there isn’t really anything like that now, so independent authors have to scramble for exposure, set up a way to get money from people, etc.

    If Leo loves the program as much as he says, he shouldn’t have a problem paying the equivalent of a couple of cups of Starbucks coffee for it. If he doesn’t think it’s worth $15, that’s fine, but to say it should be free is kind of rude. Perhaps he should offer to subsidize the development of Pukka so that the author can give it away, rather than expecting somebody else to work for his benefit for free.

  3. systemsboy Says:

    This is a great post and a fascinating discussion.

    As an artist and education employee, I have sympathy for the Jenna Fox point of view: I simply can’t afford to purchase expensive software (like Adobe products). If these weren’t subsidized by my employer, I’d most likely pirate them. But I make no money from owning these products — they’re used completely for artistic endeavors.

    I’ve occasionally wondered if there could be certain types of tiered software distribution methods for people like artists and students. For the latter there are often (but not always) educational discounts. So tiered license models can exist and thrive. But right now they seem extremely limited (like to education, mainly). Is it just more trouble than it’s worth to set up such a system?

    In a sense, artists often give the fruits of their labor away for free, and I could spend a great deal of time arguing why it’s so very important for this to continue in any evolved society. So how do these folks acquire software at prices they can afford?

    I don’t have any answers, really. But there do seem to be certain inequities in the software distribution model, and these inequities often lead to piracy. A tiered model might turn at least some of those “pirates” into paying customers.


  4. Shane Crawford Says:

    Very thoughtful post Daniel.

    The paragraph ending with: ‘“These peanuts are great, but they should be free.” Try telling that to the guy standing in the cold on 34th Street!’ tied the whole article together nicely.

    Great job!

  5. Doug Adams Says:

    Bravo. It’s hard to talk about this without insulting customers. The take here is very refreshing.

  6. Doug Adams Says:

    Oh, and I should add: I offer hundreds of freeware apps and only charge for five of them. Yet by far the largest amount of support requests I get is for the free stuff. Charging for a few apps offsets my own expense and time in handling support (which isn’t really touched on much here as being a part of pay-software value). So writing free and pay stuff pretty much balances out.

  7. Bill S Says:

    I just couldn’t be bother to read through the whole thing. You can have as many analogies about why it’s wrong to think things are free as you like. The fact remains, in one man’s opinion Pukka doesn’t do enough to justify $15. I’ve looked at it a few times it’s been posted to the del.icio.us mbwideas tag, and frankly it doesn’t look like it’s going to be worth the cash. Sometimes software just really isn’t worth what the author thinks it is, sometimes it’s worth nothing. Maybe I’m wrong about Pukka. I’ll likely never know…

    Don’t get your panties all up in a bunch about an opinion about a piece of software you don’t even write.

  8. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Bill: I appreciate your candid admission that you couldn’t be bothered to read my post. I did read your entire comment, and all the other ones here, for what it’s worth.

    After all, we’re only communicating. No panties in a bunch.


  9. Jim Matthews Says:

    Daniel: excellent post

    Jenna: You write “In my whole life i’ve never heard a compelling argument why I shouldn’t use unlicensed software when I can’t afford to buy it.” Here’s an attempt.

    When you have a limited amount of money to spend, and have to choose how to spend it, your choices have consequences. If you buy a coat instead of groceries you may be hungry; if you buy the groceries you may be cold.

    The ethic you propose for software — buy it if you can afford it, pirate it otherwise — removes the negative consequence of spending money on something besides software. So if you buy MarsEdit instead of groceries you go hungry, but if you buy groceries and pirate MarsEdit, you lose nothing — you can have your cake and blog about it too.

    Removing that consequence introduces an enormous temptation. Anyone comparing the option of spending money on something that they have to pay for, versus spending that same money on something they can get whether they pay for it or not, is going to be strongly motivated to consider the first item more important.

    Imagine a thought experiment: it becomes possible to duplicate socks, for free. Now, whenever someone has to decide between buying shirts and socks, they also have the option of buying the shirt and duplicating a pair of socks. In such a world, what do you think would happen to sock sales?

    So while your individual decision to pirate software does not directly hurt anyone, the justification you use is a poor basis for an ethical society. It puts all the burden on your conscience to correctly judge when you can and can not afford something — i.e. when having it is more or less important than having something else — without the benefit of any real consequences to deciding falsely.

    That said, software publishers are well aware that our products are worth different amounts to different people in different circumstances, and often try to made suitable accommodations. Fetch is free to educational and charitable users, and we’ve given licenses to many people in situations like yours. We like to see people using our software. But for people who do not qualify for a free license, we want our work to be treated like everything else that people buy: if it’s worth it to you, pay for it; if it isn’t, do without.

  10. David Chartier Says:

    I think another significant factor of this equation from the consumer perspective is how many of the application’s features appeal to a user. Writing about software for a living, I see a lot of discussions center around a product and whether a cheaper or free alternative that has just one or two of the key features is “better.”

    .Mac is a great example. There are a lot of consumers who only own one Mac, so one of .Mac’s arguably most appealing features (sync) becomes more or less worthless. This makes that $99 yearly subscription fee seem a lot more expensive when considering the other features that are left (web hosting, vanity @mac email, iDisk, etc.).

    Pukka can also serve as a pretty good example. Most people look at it as just a “post-to-delicious-from-my-browser” utility, of which there are plenty of free alternatives. But Pukka does tons more stuff, like integrating into Mac OS X with Bonjour discovery of other users, a bookmark menubar item for accessing ‘marks in any browser, integrating into NetNewsWire, multiple accounts, type-ahead support for tags, and tons more. That’s why it’s worth $15 (I own a license myself).

    But all most people see is “well, it posts to delicious. So does that free browser extension.” Maybe they don’t care about Bonjour. Maybe they don’t even know what it is. And maybe they don’t use NetNewsWire. Regardless, I think it’s this inability to see all the other features—or a simple lack of caring about them—that drives people to misguidedly wish for a product like Pukka to be free. I haven’t listened to this week’s MBW, but did Leo even mention any other features?

    Perception is everything.

  11. Jenna Fox Says:

    Jim: The problem with that, is it’s a dream world. You can’t depend on people following laws and social constructs like that. People ARE using commercial software unlicensed. People like me. Students, Artists, People in poor countries trying to escape poverty. This social construct of ‘if it isn’t worth the price, however exorbitant it may be, just don’t have it, even though it’s relatively easy to get it for free’.

    I just don’t buy that argument. Why should it be the user’s responsibility to live in a fake universe where piracy isn’t a very real option? It exists, and it’s never going away. In my world, it’s the software publisher’s job to make sure that:

    • The user is able to buy it easily
    • As many user’s of the software can afford it as possible
    • It’s easier to buy than to download on BitTorrent
    • It’s easier to buy than to download a demo and enter a license key found in google.

    I propose that the biggest reason for piracy is a failure in the first two points. Kids don’t have credit cards and shouldn’t have a PayPal account. Their parents aren’t so savvy and while ten years ago they probably would have been happy to fax an image of their credit card to a mail order company, they worry about sending the details for it through a 128bit encrypted tunnel on the internet.

    Sure, there are people who pirate because they think it’s cool or something, they’re weirdos and there aren’t very many of them. Most of the people I know who use unlicensed software either can’t pay for it because a publisher only accepts credit cards and the likes, or can’t afford it because a publisher has priced it too high. There is one other odd case, which is Microsoft operating systems, where it is often used unlicensed for moral reasons of not wanting to support Microsoft in future endeavors to further monopolize the market.

    The reason why people buy software isn’t because of social constructs that make them pretend using the software unlicensed isn’t an option, it isn’t because they’re inherently greedy or mean, it usually isn’t a fear of being sued, usually it’s quite a simple line of thought:

    I really like this software, it’s great. I or my children could get it from Bit Torrent (or already did), but I’d like to support the author for this great thing that has helped me. I’d like future updates too!

    Feeling warm and fuzzy inside, helping the author to do what they love, helping ones self with access to future updates not only because of the technical blocks in place in many software, but also because without the support of user’s, the author might need to get another job and might not have the time to update it anymore.

    So software vendors, developers, publishers: It is up to you! Make it easy to pay, for everyone, even kids. Price it so average people can afford it, not just white americans making $40,000 or more a year. Give licenses away to those who ask nicely, they can and will use it unlicensed otherwise, and you could make a valuable friend who can contribute resources other than money, and will surely benifit from the promotional value of someone saying ‘wow, this really nice guy Allen from TextMate gave me a free license when I told him why I couldn’t afford it!’. That really makes the author, especially for indies, seem like a really nice guy. People feel warmer, fuzzier, and safer knowing their money is going to a nice guy and not some jerk.

    The most important thing though is simple:

    People using your software unlicensed are your users too. They are no different from demo users. They aren’t inherently bad, they aren’t your enemy. Treat them nicely. Treat them like friends. Friends help each other. Creating the illusion of opposing forces through nasty words like ‘piracy’ is pushing them away, and some are starting to believe you are an enemy and not a friend. Do you really want that, Daniel? I have used software unlicensed and later paid full price for it many times, but I feel a lot less inclined to support someone or a company who actively villainises me when I have not done one thing to hurt them. I am not a bad or immoral person. I am a poor person. To every software author whose software I use unlicensed, I would happily give a smaller amount that is more within my means. But importantly, I would happily give other resources, like helping with software development, promotion, friendship, usability feedback, hosting, and anything else I can.

    And finally, to Jim of Fetch Softworks:

    I would pay $10 in US or Australian currency for your software, that’s what is within my means. I would first go to isohunt.com, and attempt to find an unlicensed copy, and after using it for a few days if the software was good I would usually email you, offering the $10. So far no software author has accepted my offer, some have given me a complimentary license in friendship, some have never replied. Of those who haven’t given a license and haven’t accepted my donation, I’ve never received an email in return. From my perspective they must think I am too disgusting a person to use their software unlicensed at any less than full price, maybe they just don’t think a pensioner is worth the time of even a short reply, or maybe they are too embarrassed to say no to my offer.

    It must be hard for authors to reject offers of friendly donations while continuing the ‘pirates are the scum of the earth and should be imprisoned and fined great amounts’ line that the media industry started pushing so long ago. To all of you out there, that is exactly the feeling you portray to us when you use the word ‘pirate’ to describe your user’s.

    I used to do the same thing with music artists, but eventually tired after endlessly being ignored.

  12. Breton Says:

    Wow, Jenna already said most of the things I wanted to say, but I suppose I can reiterate by saying it in my words.

    You can cry and whine all you like about somehow being entitled to compensation for your work. Maybe you’ll even convince a few people, but you’ll hardly make many friends. The reality of the world is that people *do* expect free. If you, as a software developer aren’t clever enough to figure out how to make money in this reality, then you perhaps should think about doing something else as a day job.

    Because really, at the end of the day, the burden is on you to figure out how to make money, the burden is not on other people to feel guilty enough to pay you. They won’t be. Guilt simply isn’t the primary motivator for software purchases, and complaining about that is just not effective marketing. Self righteousness and ivory tower speeches won’t appeal to the masses like a John Lennon song. Deal with it.

  13. B.M. Says:

    Playing devil’s advocate here…

    To Jenna:

    How is your financial or personal situation different when comparing a software purchase to say a clothing purchase? Would a clothing store provide you with a discount just because you have very little money or special needs? Why should they? Why should a software developer provide you with a discount/free software?

    To Breton:

    What if your neighbor was an apple tree farmer. Is it right to steal his apples just because he doesn’t have a fence around his tree? Would it be OK to take them when he’s not looking? What if he has a stand out the front his house and he sells them to passersby for 20c, but you still nip around the back and take them off of his tree… is that the right thing to do?? Apples are actually pretty easy to grow, does that make your actions right?? Please enlighten us all and explain how a software product is somehow different to a more tangible product like an apple??

    My understanding of life is that if something has a price on it and you don’t pay for it, then you are in fact, stealing it.

  14. Geira Says:

    As so often people do, you confuse cost with licensing issues (to the point of using beer in your analogy). The problem with Pukka is not that it costs money, but that you’re not able to do what you need with it.

    All to often the developer takes your money and drop the program, or worse, force you to buy it all over again. When switching from PowerPC to Intel, how many programs didn’t we have to upgrade only because we couldn’t do a simple recompile ourselves? Or how about all the problems that came when del.icio.us changed their API to version 2.0 while actually enforcing HTTP Authentication instead of just claiming it?

    Most upgrades cost 30–40 % in repeat investment, yet still often contain 90 % of the same code that you’ve already paid for. All because the developer has a business model where he needs to ensure his software has obsolescence built-in.

    So-called “freeware” being just an in-joke for “no-money-until-next-week-ware”, paying for software may actually be preferrable since it at least gives you a legitimate reason for complaint in case something goes wrong. And I wouldn’t mind paying for software if I could get the source code and license to do what I need with it. Lots of companies earn much more from support than code anyway, so giving it away for free is often a sound business model. But no, freshman programmers tend to hold on to their source code like it’s the crown jewels, whereas their real business asset is their knowledge and brand recognition.

  15. Jenna Fox Says:

    B.M. The problem with all of these analogies is that in software, there is zero cost per unit. A clothing store sells clothes which cost an amount in materials, plus a hopefully small extra to cover the costs of shipping, staff, etc. All of these are resources and their costs are incurred for every item sold. A clothing shop should cover those costs and a little more for profit.

    When I download something from a torrent, all of the resources I use are those of peers on the network, which I replace afterwards through ‘seeding’. The result is a balance of resources in and out, and nobody looses.

    A much more accurate analogy to this situation is that I can go to a shop, buy a pair of pants, take them home, and then I can get my sewing machine out and make a copy out of materials I supply. This doesn’t cost the shop anything, but I gain a second pair of pants. The shop might wish to prevent me from getting a second pair of pants without paying the shop for them, but there is nothing in the real world to make me take notice of that. They try to bend copyright law in to a tool to make their wish come true, laws which were designed not to control citizens, but to help large companies stop other large companies from copying their idea’s too quickly after they go to market. It is not my morals that are questionable, but those of greedy companies trying to bend copyright law in to a tool to control what I do in my own privacy with things I own, or anyone else who would like to make a copy of something they own using their own materials and resources like electricity and internet bandwidth or blank cd media.

    If I use a sewing machine to make new pants like pants I bought, or if I use the processor of my computer to make a new file similar to the one I bought, the only difference I can see here is how easy it is to do? Indeed it is easy and quick to copy a piece of data inside a computer with materials and resources like a storage medium, electric charge, and the necessary replacement of components as they wear.

    That is, until licensing. Software licensing isn’t a part of the real world, it is an invented social construct that seeks to control when copies are made, and what people do with things they have bought. Fortunately, these invisible invented constructs are very easy to avoid, by simply ignoring them. If you don’t believe in santa clause, he wont give you any presents at christmas. If you don’t believe in a software authors right to control everything you do with something you buy from them, well, you get to do anything you like with it and it doesn’t end up affecting anything at all really, except the creation of blog posts and silly lawsuits by those annoyed that you aren’t playing by the rules of their game. It’s you’re game, I never asked to play.

    My suggestion for a more effective way of life is to treat user’s as friends and peers. That’s what they are in the real world anyway, so it’s not hard. If you want cattle to prod and move around and exploit for your own gain, you should not look to humanity for that. There are more effectively controlled animals available, such as, well, cattle. If we forget the software licensing control game, software developers and user’s alike, we can all work together as friends to help meet each of our own goals in life. We can all be friends. There will be no frustration from the control game not working if you stop playing it too. A game where one person sits up high and dictates down to everyone else below what to do is no fun for all but one of the players, so you shouldn’t be surprised when people like the great ‘pirates of the superhighway’ (normal people) stop playing your game and do what they would like instead, or when the people who talk loudly in crowds say things like “This is no fun, we should have freedom too!” to paraphrase Leo Laporte.

  16. Jenna Fox Says:

    To be less philosophical for a moment:

    You don’t have to force me to pay your licensing fees. If you come down out of that high chair, stop telling me what to do, and your software is neat, i’ll be thankful and want to help you too for your gift to me. Like a year long christmas time, gifts to each other. Maybe money, maybe other stuff, but we can be friends and help each other out. :)

    These messages of mine are directed to the entire group of indie mac software guys, and not specifically Red Sweater to clear things up a bit here. I’ve never used Red Sweater’s software and likely never will unless they release something new that’s helpful to me some day. Hopefully that day will be a day when they aren’t playing the game anymore, and we can just be friends instead of the evil untrustable users / ‘pirates’.

  17. Breton Says:

    B.M. , you have completely failed to notice what my point is. Morality simply doesn’t enter into it. Piracy is a fact, the only question is whether as a software developer, you’re going to actually be clever about it, or are you just going to depend on your ability to guilt everyone into buying your software? I see the latter as a terribly misguided marketing strategy, and I lose a serious amount of respect for those who try it. And in case you’re wondering, I actually do buy software, on occasion.

    Since you brought up clothing stores, did you know that they set aside part of their budget to allow for theft? Do you know which part of their budget? Marketing. The grown up businesses have given up whining about theft and actually see it for what it is: an opportunity.

  18. Mathew Says:


    “are you just going to depend on your ability to guilt everyone into buying your software”

    Why is it ‘guilting people into it’ to ask for payment? Isn’t it just like offering any other product for sale?

  19. Breton Says:

    Mathew: I did not suggest that.

  20. Daniel Jalkut Says:


    I’ve never used Red Sweater’s software and likely never will unless they release something new that’s helpful to me some day. Hopefully that day will be a day when they aren’t playing the game anymore, and we can just be friends instead of the evil untrustable users / ‘pirates’.

    Where the heck did that come from? I’ve been reading and appreciating your contribution to the dialogue here, because I think it represents a meaningful part of the discussion.But you’re putting me in the position of an adversary here where I don’t think it’s justified.

  21. Robert Says:

    I don’t agree with the claim that there is zero cost-per-unit when it comes to software development.

    Let’s say a software developer wants to design his/her own toolbar icons and other interface elements. Unless I’m mistaken, he/she will most likely be using an Adobe product like Illustrator. $700, legally obtained, give or take. Otherwise, said designer will be hiring a designer or buying royalty-free stock icons. Also not cheap.

    Let’s say he/she wants to test the software on multiple versions of OS X for compatibility reasons. This means a large hard drive for partitions, a machine with multiple bootable hard drives, or multiple Macs. Remember, you can’t virtualize Mac OS X.

    Time is involved, and (to quote a movie from the 80s) time is money. I don’t program – not because I’m incapable but simply because I have a full-time job and a wife to pay attention to. To become a full-on programmer, I think I’d have to give up one of those, and it would be the job. Hence, sudden loss of ~$2,000/month of income, which could lead to nasty things like collection calls, foreclosure, inability to pay medical bills, etc.

    Then, if a software developer wants to belong to ADC (at a really useful level), that’s between $500 and $3,500 per year. Otherwise, said developer will always be playing catch-up with new technologies and will be scrambling when a major OS update hits.

    It would not surprise me if people like Daniel are out something like $5,000/year to keep their shop running – and unlike large developers, clothing chains, and major retailers, people like Daniel don’t have reservoirs of investors and the like to fall back on to recoup loss.

    Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate free software as much as the next guy, but when I find something I like that has a charge, I feel morally obligated to pay for it. Otherwise, I settle for something else. I would like Photoshop, but I can’t afford it, so I’m testing Acorn and Pixelmator right now. They cost less. I haven’t purchased a new version of Office in ages, so I keep using the version I have. On the other hand, I do keep up-to-date with iWork versions. iLife, not so much.

    If I use MarsEdit without paying for it, then I am depriving Daniel of his livelihood to some extent. I am enjoying the benefits of his labor and the financial investments he has put into his work in an exploitive manner. I sympathize with some of the arguments here, but so much of this discussion merely illustrates the fact that too many of us are willing to apply a different morality online than we will in our daily non-virtual lives. We don’t see how we are affecting them adversely. Everything is anonymous (although I respect Jenna’s openness with her identity), so the traditional rules of “do unto others…” stop applying.

    I blog and give away presentation tips for free. It has resulted in some paying gigs, but it took something like three years. I’ve preached for free. I’m a teacher, so I give a lot of time to my children for free, and I don’t begrudge a moment of it. (Sometimes I might begrudge a parent who is an hour-and-a-half late picking up their child from an after school activity because he/she admits to having lost track of time while trying on clothes!) However, I don’t get to my blog as often as I might if it generated some kind of revenue. I don’t teach for free.

    I don’t expect my next tank of gas to be free nor my next meal, and I don’t feel entitled to free software. It’s nice when it happens, but many developers – especially these one-man/woman operations – work hard and risk much in their profession. Simply paying for something I use should not be such a moral quandary.

  22. Robert Says:

    Sorry for the epic post. By the way, Daniel, I found this post through Twitter. I love that site!

  23. LKM Says:

    The whole piracy discussion seems to be slightly off-topic, but I would like to add my 2 cents, anyway.

    @Robert: Creating the software obviously costs a lot. Making a copy of it, however, is free.

    As a software developer (admittedly one that – as of now – mostly does contract work), I don’t particularly care about people like Jenna who don’t pay me, but also couldn’t possibly pay me even if they wanted to. They don’t cost me a dime, but make my customer base larger. Actually, if the choice is between them using my app while not paying, and using somebody else’s app, I *want* them to use my app; both because I write software so people use it (and in fact, the Weezer guy said something similar in the podcast: he’s still totally happy about the fact that people even care about Weezer at all, whether they pay for the music or not – I think Daniel mischaracterized that discussion), and because she presents a potential future paying customer.

    Somebody brought up stealing apples. When I was a kid, I had to walk by an apple orchard four times a day on my way to school. Admittedly, I stole a few apples over the years, although I doubt somebody noticed the dozen or so apples which went missing over a five year period. Later, I used to buy apples from that orchard, paying back my “debt” many times over.

    As a software developer, my hope is that people who can’t afford my application will simply download it off some file sharing network it instead of using a free alternative; at a later date, when they gain some money, they might buy the app. If they get used to the free alternative instead, they’ll never give me any money.

  24. Jenna Fox Says:

    Sorry Daniel Jalkut, I didn’t mean that at all! I’m simply saying that none of your products offer anything to me at the moment. I was trying to be clear that all the stuff I’m talking about has nothing specifically to do with Red Sweater. You seem to make quality products and as far as I know, the members of red sweater aren’t bad guys. It’s just I will likely never need a crossword puzzle app or a desktop blogging editor.

    In the second part I was also trying to communicate how it feels to me when software authors use the word ‘piracy’, or anyone else really. That’s the kind of adversarial feelings I feel from people using that and related words, almost certainly due to the aggressive actions of the media industry towards their own customers, but also a bit because the word originates from viscous killers of the sea who stole very real things and seemingly had no ethics at all. It’s not a nice thing to be called, and it communicates some amount of hatred to me.

    Some people take pride in being called pirates. These people seem to like having an evil force in the world to be against, be it the government, the media industry, or the software industry. I imagine these people as the kind that go to bars looking for fights late at night, but I don’t really have any good reason to think they’re the same people. :)

    To Robert: By cost per unit, I mean the actual cost per unit. There is a cost to create software. There is a cost to sell it in stores — the cost of CD’s, boxes, shipping, all that. There’s even a cost per unit to sell online, being the tiny bandwidth costs, and the credit card processing cost. But there is no cost per unit to a group like Panic, Red Sweater, Plasq, Rogue Amoeba, and all the rest, when someone like me goes to a torrent search engine, and downloads a torrent containing both the application, and a license key to activate it. It doesn’t involve the author at all.

    The cost per unit when someone downloads a copy of unlicensed commercial software using a peer to peer system is zero. The profit is also zero. A software author has to invest an amount of resources to create software before the release. And that should certainly be factored in to the decision to make an application. It should start with a thought along the lines of:

    I have an idea for an application. Can I build this application to release quality efficiently enough that I can then sell it at a price where most user’s will choose to use a licensed copy, but which is high enough to recover my losses invested in its creation? If not, will the building of the software itself pay me back enough in gained experience to be worth it even if it wouldn’t sell at a high enough price to pay back the cost in resources? Can I use it as a promotional tool that will provide income somewhere else that is enough to be worth it? Failing all of that, will I enjoy making this software so much that it doesn’t matter if I do it at a loss?

    A software author shouldn’t just make something without considering those, and then later price it as high as needed to have made their previous efforts worth while (and then some) and then complain if that high price results in a lot of people not being able to or not being willing to pay it. The price of your software ideally has nothing to do with how hard it was to make or how much you spent on it, just simply a price low enough that most of your users can easily afford it, and high enough that if you do in fact have many user’s (i.e. your software is good) you’ll be able to make a version 2 using the profits.

    To LKM: What a great comment! I love your attitude on things. I sure do buy products I’ve previously used unlicensed when I find myself with spare money. I think a lot of other people do too. I really think my earlier point about making it easy for kids to get licensed copies is important though and hasn’t been talked about enough yet. Kids pretty much have to pirate software. They don’t have money, they don’t have credit cards. For them it isn’t an option, it’s the option. Find a way they can buy it, maybe prepaid cards, maybe through their mobile phones? Or you could even give away licenses to kids who can show you a photo of them and their Student ID card (could even make a little flash app to take a photo from their computer’s webcam if they have one!). It would make them feel nice, build friendships (or you could call it ‘brand loyalty’ if you’d like to see if from a cattle point of view), and help it to be the normal thing to do to use licensed software.

    They may have to use unlicensed software in the future if they are too poor or otherwise unable to buy it, but for them it will be something a little sad and unfortunate. For me, in school everyone used unlicensed software. Nobody had credit cards and nobody had money to buy it with, so for me, it was a bit of personal growth and self exploration to come to understand that buying software when you can is the right thing to do, and is a worthwhile thing to do that benefits both ones self and the software author. It would be nice if kids didn’t have to live a ‘life of software crime’ and become so used to not paying for anything except hardware.

    I’m kinda tired, I didn’t proof read this response properly, I hope it all makes sense. I might leave this discussion for the night rather than put myself in any more language induced stress.

  25. John Muir Says:

    And this is why it took Apple’s announcement of the AppStore for me to finally give coding a serious try. Fingers crossed it can be extended to the Mac.

  26. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    This piracy tangent does seem to be sort of taking over the comments. I would like to ask people to try to make their points more succinctly, or else possibly take the lengthier debate to another venue.

    Let’s not let the “multiple comments longer than my post” trend continue too much longer :)

  27. Jenna Fox Says:

    Okay! I think I’ve said everything I wanted to. :)

  28. Justin Williams Says:

    Looking back at this a few days later makes me certain that software should be priced based on value, not complexity or a feature set.

    When I am looking for a new tool, the last thing i am looking at is the price. The first thing I care about is if it accomplishes the task well. The second is if it is usable and a better solution than what else is on the market. If it meets those criteria, I ask myself if the price is worth the value add it brings my life. In most cases, it is.

    Daniel charges $25 per license for MarsEdit, but I think he could sell it for $49 and still make plenty of sales because of the value it offers users. I can post to 5 different Weblogs on various platforms from a central point. That’s awesome! I don’t need to justify the price of MarsEdit by assigning a dollar value to each specific feature. The time savings the core functionality of the application offer is far more important.

    With Pukka, I’d say the same thing. I could use Delibar, Cocoalicious or just the bookmarklets to post to delicious for free, but Pukka offers me a better experience doing that simple task and that is well worth the $15 I paid a year or two ago.

    Having said that, I still don’t think there is much you can ever do to appease the freetards that haunt message boards and comment threads. I’ve just become accustomed to regarding their opinion as being on the extreme end of the spectrum.

  29. Jenna Fox Says:

    I’m not personally a supporter of Open Source. It sounds like a nice idea, but I’ve yet to see any well made software come out of it. Open Source is very selfishly designed software, where every feature, every little thing, was added because a selfish programmer wanted it for their own uses. It is almost never designed for normal people. There’s certainly a lot more value in commercial software for the average user because it’s designed for them and not a unix geek. I like the system of developers writing apps for users, and user’s supporting developers with resources including money. Open Source commercial software, where one pays for access to both the binary and the source is interesting, but it doesn’t feel like something which will work in the real world, though I can imagine it working okay with micropayments, I don’t know that they will become a reality in our lifetimes though.

  30. LKM Says:

    @Justin Williams: When Fake Steve talks about freetards, it’s funny because we know it’s a comedy blog and he isn’t serious. When people use the term seriously, it’s just insulting, like calling Mac users religious fanatics. Also, it doesn’t even make sense in the context of this blog post. Fake Steve’s freetards or proponents of free-as-in-speech software, not free-as-in-beer software, which is the subject of this post.

    Jenna Fox wrote:
    > [Open Source] sounds like a nice idea, but I’ve yet to
    > see any well made software come out of it

    Apache, gcc, MySQL, WebKit, Darwin… Or do you mean user-centered software? Firefox, Ubuntu, Audacity, Abiword, Adium, VLC… In fact, doesn’t your very own blog run on WordPress? WordPress is licensed under the (wait for it…) GPL and thus Open Source.

    There are many valid ways to distribute and license software. Calling people “freetards” because they like free-as-in-speech software, or pretending that one kind of development style and license couldn’t possibly create good software isn’t exactly helpful. As a developer, I’ve often been thankful for being able to look at the source of something I’m using, or for being able to use open software for my own good, or (license permitting) even as a component of my own software.

  31. Jenna Fox Says:

    I did implicitly mean user facing software. My blog does run under wordpress because I’d heard good things about it, and my web host had an automatic wordpress installer. About a week in to installing it I was seriously regretting it. It’s difficult to impossible for me to manipulate beyond installing premade plugins and changing the user facing template. The admin control panel has too many options, is too wide for my typical web browser window, and the post creation window has so much junk in it they needed to break it all in to movable collapsable modules to fit it in. WordPress is the worst kind of open source, the kind with no project leader who has vision, just a whole lot of coders with little to no understanding of usability and general UI design adding more and more crap to the system.

    I might change to a hosted web journal provider or something. I’m not sure yet. It’s really only there still because i’ve been lazy about maintaining my website and I’m not sure what my options are as far as better journal software is which can migrate my data out of wordpress’s propritary database structure.

    Before wordpress I was using iWeb, which was a wonderful experience except when it came to trying to upload things. Ideally I’d like to switch back to that some day, but it doesn’t seem like that will be practical unless I pay apple for .Mac service.

    From my experiences your list of user facing software (of which I have used all of them in some time in my life) none of those have been a good experience.

  32. Jonathan Grynspan Says:

    I feel you’ve left out a type of transaction, i.e. the discounted sale. In the beer analogy, that would be equivalent to the barkeep selling some brew for 25% off. Now, it might not be your favourite, or even fresh, but it’s more affordable than the other lagers and ales and just might do the trick. See also: Boxing Day sales (in the Commonwealth), Apple student pricing, tax refunds, shady expired produce markets.

  33. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Jonathan: As you might imagine, I could feel the edge cases beckoning as I tried to summarize things into a mere 5 categories. I consider the discounted sale to be part of “subsidized sale.” I think it’s basically one of many arrangements by which the seller considers some degree of “freeness” to be worth it, in exchange for compensation.

  34. Peter Maurer Says:

    Another thing missing from the bar analogy, IMHO, is donationware. It also seems to be what Jenna is asking for. And I’ve done it. In fact, I’m still doing it. It’s great, and I’m very proud of those $2 donations by users who just couldn’t afford more, while still being eager to contribute.

    However, I’ve got a couple of questions for you, Jenna:

    1. When you were still working, did you ever do anything like that? Would you even have considered it? Do have the slightest idea how hard it is to survive on voluntary playment? It starts with things like convincing services like macupdate.com that maybe donationware shouldn’t be listed as freeware.

    2. You seem to feel entitled to use software you can’t afford. How come? What exactly do you _need_ your computer for that couldn’t be achieved via public library, snail mail and a typewriter?

    3. This is more a suggestion than a question: As long as you don’t feel bad about using commercial software without paying, I don’t think you should be too offended by being called a pirate. It’s not like you’re being attacked without any reason; and it’s just a technical term. Also, did it ever occur to you we software developers may feel disrespected by users who use our products, but don’t seem to care about how we’re going to make ends meet? Nevertheless, you’re definitely right about one thing: software developers should treat pirates with kindness — after all, they’re future customers. Personally, I like to pull their leg ever so slightly (one of my apps greets them with an “Arr Matey” full-screen window), but not in a malicious way.

    Anyway, yeah. It should be free. And whatever you are doing for a living, dear reader, should be free as well. In the real world, however, that doesn’t really work. Some of us Europeans tried it for a couple of decades, but even the Russians seem to like capitalism these days.

  35. Jenna Fox Says:

    No, I was not asking for donationware. Just senior/student/pensioner discounts, negotiable if possible. I am also asking for a less aggressive attitude towards unlicensed user’s by the industry to avoid alienating them. I’m also asking for software developers to have a ‘donate’ button or link or a casual mention of ‘paypal email’ somewhere so that even people who can’t afford full price, and aren’t qualified for an official discount, can donate whatever amount they want if they want to support the author. I’d like to see the last one applied to musicians too.

    Things I am not asking for: Freeware, Donationware, Open Source, Reduced normal pricing, or anything like that.

    My own personal experiences with donationware have soured me to that idea. Website statistics show that only about one out of every one thousand of my user’s donate anything, and they usually only ever donate one moment before emailing a stupid support question.

  36. Jenna Fox Says:

    Answering questions from Peter Maurer above:

    1: I have never been able to work, I was born with psychological problems, which have been made worse by a childhood and teenage years full of abuse. I’ve been hurt so much by situations like school, where I legally had to be there and had no way out, that I’m so scared of commitment, the commitment of a project deadline and feature requests and even support scares me to the point where I am so locked up in my own fear that I cannot even walk upright, type, speak, and in the worst cases, understand the meaning of other people’s speech beyond the individual words they say.

    Once, last year, I was living with someone I thought was a friend. I had been experiencing a bad day, a bad week, and I walked down the hallway of my mum’s house, got to the bathroom door, tried to open it… When I turned the door handle, but the door didn’t open, the stress finally collapsed from that little bit more confusion. I collapsed too, banged my head on the luckily carpeted floor, and laid there for hours in pain, unable to move or communicate. My supposed friend came along, and talked to me. I didn’t understand it, but I did hear this one word.


    My income from donationware is about $10–20 per month. For which it might as well be freeware. My income from the government pension I receive is 8k a year, which still leaves me unable to cover my food, electricity, rent… Luckily my mum is covering that.

    2: I can’t handle odd textures on my skin, like paper. It leads me to panic. I live at home, with only one friend in the state, and so usually the only time I leave my house is to go grocery shopping with mum. I also have a fear of shopping centers, but that’s irrelevant. I’m scared to be outside on my own. I’m trying to get the courage to do it, step by step, but it’s hard when one has no place to go. So I use my computer and my internet connection to download entertainment, to socialize with people far away who help me feel a little safer and calmer, and for creativity, like drawing, as well as interactive art.

    I have a hard life, and I am not going to consciously choose freeware that will make my life harder over well designed commercial software. It is as simple as that and has nothing to do with money or copyright or anything else.

    Even the holy texts of many cruel religions have stories of how it is okay for a poor person to steal a loaf of bread to eat. Why is this different? This is better, I can take my loaf, and the vendor doesn’t have any less loafs of bread. They incur no loss. I once used to steal from a grocery store for a few days, I would go in there, buy some candy, and i’d steal a packet of Tic Tac’s. Theft was something my father showed me, but after about the third time I decided it was wrong, and that I would not steal anything again. And I havent. I am very morally opposed to theft.

    As far as your aggression towards me, I always donate to donationware projects when I download and make use of them. I haven’t used any of your tools, but I’ve come close. I remember your webpage… You have just bullied away a potential future paying customer. I have also donated to some applications my webhost uses, like Apache, and nonprofit websites like Wikipedia. My strong morals are about all I have to be proud of in this world, so I suggest you get stuffed Peter Maurer. What you have done is not debate a real issue, but take out frustrations with your business model on a mentally disabled 19 year old girl with all but no friends and nearly no life, who regularly spends days considering suicide using the very tranquilizers that keep her panic’s in control, between near daily panic attacks.

    3: It is not a technical term. It is a mean spirited derogatory term invented by the media industry to make a villain of those who share their product with friends. It is designed to express hate, and to compare customer’s to ethic-less murderers. You are a very cruel person to want to call me that. You deserve what you get with that attitude of hate towards your potential customers. I’m really depressed about the thing’s you have said about me, but I know deep down through experience that you are just an asshole, whose words are cruel and meaningless.

    Did it ever occur to you that just because someone can’t pay full price on a product, doesn’t mean they “don’t seem to care about how we’re going to make ends meet?”. It is a flaw in the business modal and not in the user to be unable to pay. There are jerks who will use your product and never donate. I am not one of them.

    Does anyone else want a piece of me? I must be an easy target with all this honesty about what I do and personal weaknesses. I’m now going to make an effort to spread this information about Peter Maurer’s attitude towards users.

  37. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    OK, Jenna. You get the last word. I’m tired of the downward-spiraling tangent. I’m closing comments now.

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