Daniel Jalkut, of Red Sweater software fame, writes about ‘free’ software:
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.
This was in response to Leo Laporte claiming that Pukka, a del.icio.us client, should be free of charge. Software should be free of charge? I think that’s an unhealthy expectation fostered by poor communication and the hi-jacking of the word ‘free’ by the FLOSS movement.
I agree with Daniel and I’m willing to argue the point further.
Software developers are rock stars.
I’m not talking about the idea that in a software development team of 20 code-heads, there are going to be two rock star developers and everyone else there is for bug fixing, testing and coffee-fetching because I find that idea to be repugnant, elitist and indicative of a management infrastructure that needs to be dragged out into a forested area and buried alive.
Sure, not everyone has the same ability but it should be the duty of a manager to find the people who are motivated to become excellent and not just prop up those who already are.
The fact that someone can write code that can be read by a computer and then sold to thousands of other people is no different to my mind than a songwriter who records his song and then sells that to thousands. It seems bizarre with hindsight that a “Music Industry” style organisation did not spring from the early days of programming. Imagine a world where all software was delivered via four or five big labels (like, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Adobe…) and individual coders spent a lot of effort trying to build software that would get them noticed by one of the big labels so they could become software rock stars.
Oh, god, that’s already happened.
Radiohead’s In Rainbows got a lot of press because the album was provided as a download where fans could pay what they thought it was worth to them. According to Wikipedia, one third of downloaders paid nothing and yet the average price being paid was Â£4 (around $8) which means that a lot of people paid more than that. This ‘idea’ of theirs has existed in the software development world for years. Digital downloads for software are not a new phenomenon. And variable pricing is also not new.
Nine Inch Nails followed up with ‘Ghosts’ which came in a variety of versions ranging from ‘free’ to ‘Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition’. The latter, priced at $300 and limited to 2500 copies, sold out within hours. They’re going further by releasing it under “a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license” which does take it a step further.
Both of these music releases borrow heavily from the software industry’s shareware, donationware history.
I think it’s important to treat all software developers like rock stars. (This doesn’t mean feeding them sex, drugs and rock’n’roll until they burst!) I know software developers and musicians who have the talent and skill to write code but yet cannot think of what to write (the coder doesn’t know what app to write, the musician doesn’t know what song). A complementary relationship with someone who has ideas, passion, vision is exactly what’s needed and is commonly why musicians form bands. (Should software developers form bands?)
While listening to a podcast last night, the hosts were heard to comment “The term ‘starving artist’ didn’t come out of nowhere”. Treating software developers as ‘artists’ is important. No-one would expect an artist or sculptor to give away their work for free. Fewer still think that music should be free but there is a modern day implication that software should be free. In these days of digital printing, digital music and easy software duplication, I can understand why this content should be inexpensive (harking back to the 1000 fans post).
Apple recently offered software developers who wish to distribute their software for iPhone the following deal:
$99 for a certificate and 30% of all sales for placement in the App Store. Free apps are free.
It’s my opinion that musicians would give their left leg for a deal like that. Pay a $99 fee for set up of the store account and then Apple takes 30% of sales. The musician gets to keep 70% of the sale price as well as get placement on the iTunes store. And maybe that’s Apple’s intent. It’s well known that the record labels are balking at Apple’s dominance over music and are starting to offer DRM-free music to other vendors in an attempt to short-circuit Apple’s market. It would be stupid of Apple not to already have a plan in motion to circumvent that.
And why stop there. Does Apple have the potential to sell digital images for home printing? Compete with lulu.com for digital books?
The title of the post comes from the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing”. In that track, the lead character is a blue-collar worker criticising what he sees in the Rock Star world. Earrings, makeup, oodles of money, groupies. The worker doesn’t appreciate the ‘difficulty’ of writing a song, lyrics, playing an instrument and getting noticed. Similarly, when I have shown my puny efforts of software development to non-technologists, they’ve been pretty dismissive. It’s hard for these people to appreciate that some things are hard. Likewise, it wasn’t until I started reading other people’s writing that I realised that writing in a creative and interesting way was, after a fashion, hard.
I’ll leave you with this User-Friendly strip from 1999.