On paying for software

The business of software is a bit of a miracle. Properly designed, software isn’t more expensive to create when more people use it. In fact, when network effects are involved, it’s actually more efficient when more people use it.

That’s one of the reasons that people hesitate to pay for software. There isn’t a feeling of scarcity, that the store will run out if it’s free…

But of course, this overlooks the two-and-a-half essential missing factors:

  1. Businesses need money to make the software in the first place.
  2. Software is complicated, and it breaks. And when it does, you probably want to be the sort of user that gets focused, fast and useful help. And you want ongoing upgrades that make it better still.
  3. It costs money to market the software, to tell you about it (that’s only .5, but still)

I like paying for my software when I’m buying it from a company that’s responsive, fast and focused. I like being the customer (as opposed to a social network, where I’m the product). I spend most of my day working with tools that weren’t even in science fiction novels twenty-five years ago, and the money I spend on software is a bargain–doing this work without it is impossible.

To name a few, I’m glad to use and pay for: Overcast, Feedblitz, Discourse, ZapierDropbox, Roon, WavePad, Bench, Nisus, Zoom, Slack, SuperDuper, MailchimpHover, TypeExpander, Tidal, and many others. I wish I could pay for and get great support and development for Keynote. And I’m sorry I ever encountered the one or two rare exceptions in an industry that generally does amazing work with care and responsibility.

In my experience, the great software companies are run by singleminded people who bend the physics of design to their will, creating powerful leverage for those that they serve. They are craftspeople, impatient with the status quo and eager to make things better.

In many ways, software development has plateaued, and part of the reason is that people hesitate to pay for software worth paying for. I’m looking forward to the next golden age of tools that open new doors for creators and organizations.

PS here’s a ten-year old talk on this topic. And a sequel a few years later.