The App Store Economy Ain’t Broken (So Don’t Fix It)

I came across this article via Daring Fireball, and figured I’d post my two cents about it.  I disagree with the both the premise of the article and some of the specifics.

To the question of “why are so many of us so surprisingly cheap when browsing the virtual shelves of the App Store?” I’d say because quite a few vendors have conditioned us to expect high-quality apps for a fairly low price. It’s the same reason that the vast majority of people expect news to be free on the Internet.  Those news sources that went online with paywalls at the beginning (The Wall Street Journal and The Economist are two publications I read for example) are still doing just fine financially.  Those that didn’t are struggling financially (or going out of business altogether).

The idea that “we as cheap customers are having a negative impact on a lot of both real and potential businesses” is one I disagree with.  One, because the author doesn’t quantify the negative impact.  Two, because a potential business is a valueless unknown (and as such, can’t have any real weight in a discussion of what to pay for products from real companies).  I’ll certainly buy an app if I use it a lot (and/or get tired of seeing ads in the case of most games).  The benefit of the low pricing both to us as consumers and to app developers is that we can buy multiple apps that do similar things without having to think much about the cost (it’s why I own more than one photography app, for example).

I’m not a big fan of in-app purchases (especially after finding out how much my wife spent on a single game), but I don’t see much of a difference between that model and the licensing/subscription model that more and more software companies (Adobe, Microsoft) and others (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora) are moving (or have already moved) to.  The author’s focus on social media apps and games leaves out more serious “service-backed” apps like Evernote, GitHub, Flickr, DropBox, Box, LinkedIn and Google Drive that let you use a limited set of functionality for free and pay more for additional features or storage space.

Companies who sell apps aren’t doing it for charity.  So if they’re any good at business at all, they’ll sell their products at a price that will keep them in business–or they’ll go out of business.  It isn’t our job as consumers to keep poorly run companies in business by buying their software.  And despite the author’s suggestion, paying for great apps now certainly doesn’t mean great apps later.