Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Free?

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Daniel Jalkut wrote an interesting text about the ‘free’ aspect of software, triggered by the 15 US dollar price tag for a utility application being criticised as ‘too high’. In a way I can understand Daniel’s argument. But in another way I can also understand why people would want such an application for free.

I think what this bit of ‘dialectics’ comes down to is the simple fact that the wonderful world of capitalism suggests that the price we pay for anything doesn’t need to be directly related to the effort made in producing it. Rather, we are trained to think about the ‘value’ we see in something and judge whether we consider the asking price as justified from there. ‘Moral’ considerations just don’t factor in. Nothing is supposed to be bought for charity reasons and we aren’t supposed to think about the way things are made. It’s just about buying them. Whether it’s child labour sneakers or starving programmer software doesn’t really matter. Nobody gives a damn.

The perceived value of goods varies widely. A piece of software that interacts with a web site may be considered much more useful that – say – a golden ring with a diamond by some. Yet, the monetary value of the latter will usually be considered to be hundreds if not thousands of Euros while the monetary value of the former will be considered somewhere close to zero. However well a software like Daniel’s example, Pukka is made (no judgement there, I haven’t used it), it will a tool with a very narrow / small / focused set of features and a similarly small set of users. The number of users who will actually think it’s more than ‘nice to have’ will be even smaller (who’s that serious about online bookmarking services? and why would anybody be?). And the number who’ll actually pay among those will be even lower.

With our own Rechnungs Checker application I feel I’m in an even tighter niche. Most people won’t even bother to find out what it’s good for because of the German name and very few of the rest will have actual use for it. Some of the remaining few actually like it because does something slightly useful and saves them time. But it’s a tiny audience and there’s no way to seriously turn this into a cash cow of any sort with an audience size like that. Yet, I thought that I won’t make it totally free but put a small shareware fee (€5 and that was in the days when this was the same as 5 US dollars) in there without adding any crippling. Hoping that a low price might actually encourage people to pay, not for the money but for getting a bit of feedback and possibly encouragement.

I’m not sure this worked so well, but then again I don’t even have a good idea of how many people actually use the application. Frankly I don’t care too much either. It’s doing the job well for me and has done so for quite a while. That might be worth the effort alone. And it has a reasonable size for a side-project for learning some Cocoa programming. Writing it was also an exercise in stubbornness because I still don’t forgive Objective-C/Cocoa for only being pseudo object oriented with floats not being objects and NSNumbers being useless for computations. Of course I took the unreasonable high ground of converting things back and forth whenever having to do computations. With the actual computations done by the application not being too many, even that doesn’t really matter – but I can chuckle about it every now and again…

March 29, 2008, 0:13

Tagged as software.

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