TL;DR — Pricing models for stuff — especially on the web — are flawed. The Open Source model is flawed, as are premium price products and services such as CodeCanyon. The Pay-What-You-Want model is awesome.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. People don’t like paying for stuff. As humans, we love stuff. We can’t get enough of it. We need more stuff every day, and as soon as we have that stuff, we want some other stuff to replace it. Stuff 2.0. The Stuff 3GS, 4 and 4S. McStuff deluxe. You get the point.
But people like stuff that’s free the most. We have those who will spend years collecting coupons for their supermarkets just to save 10 pounds on a holiday; people who download music, films and software illegally. Why spend your hard earned cash on something you can get for free?
On the other side of the bench are the stand-up members of our community, who pay their bills on time, purchase 10 copies of Adobe Creative Suite, feed homeless indie developers and fund the maximum amount possible to projects on Kickstarter. God bless them all. When it comes to software, pricing is a sticky situation; in particular, pricing for the web is a sticky situation.
The Open Source model is flawed
Let’s get one thing straight from the start — in my opinion, while the idea behind it is brilliant, the Open Source model is flawed. Let’s take Android as a well known and popular example. When the Android mobile Operating System was announced, the world let out a giddy scream of excitement — finally, the world would see a competitor fit to challenge Apple’s highly popular iPhone. I was even excited — at the time, I couldn’t afford an iPhone, and the idea of a cheap step into the smartphone world was an exciting one.
And then came the hardware manufacturers. Names such as Samsung, HTC and Acer came poking around Google’s brain with their sticky fingers. They took what they liked, and threw away what they didn’t. They shipped millions of phones loaded with proprietary bloatware, with multiple screen dimensions and hardware configurations. Of course, this fragmentation of the Android OS doesn’t stop them selling like hotcakes — but I’ve always held the opinion that anyone buying an Android device is settling for it. They want an iPhone or an iPad, and an Android device is “as good as”.
And then there’s the software itself. Open Source as an idea is great — I’m all for community development. A lot of the time it can be a very good thing. However, opening up an entire Operating System leads to thousands of developers all thrusting their code into multiple distributions and applications of the same nature, blindly submitting unapproved applications to the Marketplace and thoroughly degrading the (probably) great user interface Google had intended for the OS. (Feel free to go through this and replace ‘Google’ and ‘Android’ with ‘Ubuntu’ or ‘Firefox’ — it’s all the same)
But it’s all Apples and Androids — Droid users will no doubt argue that Apple’s ruthless application approval process is it’s downfall, whereas fanboys would say it’s their selling point. The victor in this argument is still unknown.
So pay for stuff?
Yeah. Sort of. Giving developers your money is a little bit like saying “Great job dude! Here’s a coffee!” It’s a nice motivational tool. It’s also directly supporting the continued development of a potentially mind-blowingly awesome product.
But then again, we’d be buying Adobe 1,000 cups of Americano every time a copy of Photoshop is sold. And Photoshop is certainly not a mind-blowingly awesome product — it’s filled with flaws. (On a related note, it astounds me there’s nothing close to Photoshop) There are a lot of products that take their premium a little too seriously. They don’t need any more coffee — they’re rolling in it.
The answer to this predicament has recently become a little more popular — the pay-what-you-want model.
To me, this model is perfect. You make awesome stuff, and you let people download it for free. But then if they really like it, they can give you some money. It could be a dollar. It could be a hundred dollars. It could be a thousand dollars and their aunt’s favorite pack of cards. Leaving the price tag down to the customer means they can be as generous as they want, which is great.
Obviously, there are some exceptions. Let’s say you’ve made a jQuery plugin that instantly makes your website super cool. You give it away for free and encourage people to pay what they want. A few months later, your plugin is getting a million hits a month and your servers are struggling. At this point, you’re probably thinking you wish you’d charged a minimum of just one dollar. It’s a very tough call to make.
What's your point?
I’m not too sure any more, to be perfectly honest. I came to my blog with the aim of writing down some processed thoughts on a recent event involving my own Animate.css, but it’s turned into more of an insight into my own thoughts on the entire pricing process. I haven’t written anything as concise or helpful as Jessica Hische, but it might be interesting to some.
To sum up, I don’t like the idea of charging for the things I make. Obviously, for websites and full-on projects, I need to charge something to pay my bills and feed my mouth — but the things I make for myself, things I find useful and things I made to do really cool stuff on the web — they’re always going to be free. It’s why Brills is free. It’s why (for the time being, at least) Owlr is free. And it’s why Animate.css is and always will be free.
I get a huge sense of fulfillment making these things for free — it’s wonderful to see it being put to use, getting emails from kind strangers, and getting help from some of my long-admired peers. I guess that’s one of the reasons the Open Source community keeps on going. No matter how many developers spoil their Android broth, Google have made something great — for free.