I’m always stunned when I talk to people who pay $7 for their latté, but bemoan having to pay $.99 cents for an app.
Everyone expects that apps come for free. According to research, in 2013 90% of all apps in the iOS App Store were free or “freemium” (free to download, but tempting you with in-app purchases later). Moreover, survey after consumer survey has shown that people hate seeing ads in their mobile apps, but when faced with the choice between a paid app with no ads or a free one, consumers overwhelmingly choose free apps and suffer through the advertising.
I suspect we have Silicon Valley to thank: Well-funded companies don’t have to make a buck as early in their life— they can afford to wait a couple years before they monetize, attracting the largest pool of users while the app is free, and figuring out how to make money later. This conditions all of us to expect that a great app costs nothing. Of course, a lone, hard-working programmer who creates a just-as-great app doesn’t have that luxury, especially if their app is successful— more users means more servers that need to run it, and that can get expensive. I’ve read many crestfallen messages from app developers who have to pull their growing and successful apps from the store because simply run out of the money it takes to keep their apps running.
Some might suggest that this but one symptom of a larger trend: People want to pay less and less for content overall. Why pay for cable TV or download a song from the iTunes store if you can just find free versions online? Of course, if everyone behaved this way, there would be no livelihood for artists, and no budget for our favorite TV shows or films. Moreover, unlike TV shows or songs, apps record, monitor and contain our personal information and habits— I personally don’t want to leave it to chance that all that information isn’t going to be compromised. That’s why I take this contrarian stance; Whenever I can, I like to pay for my apps.
Here’s how I see it: You know where you stand with a company that makes a paid app. It’s an honest exchange: Company creates a product or service, and I pay you for it, much like I would someone who washes my car or makes me a smoothie. It’s how things have always been done. It just makes sense.
When Company creates a product or service that it gives to me for free, I have to do a lot of thinking about why Company is choosing to do that. Hard thinking that I just don’t want to do. To save you the trouble, here are some motivations that Company might have to give away all that hard work:
— The app is free, but it’s loaded with must-have features that you have to pay to unlock (the “freemium” model”).
— They want to build a large user base quickly; once you’re hooked, they’ll bait-and-switch and make the features you count on part of their paid model.
— They want to build a large user base quickly so they look white hot and incredibly valuable to a possible buyer. Once their acquired, it usually means that the app you love (and helped to grow) gets shut down.
— They’re selling every last detail you share with that app— the pictures you take, the audio you record, the things you like and comment on, even the geo-location you’re standing in when you use it— to advertisers who want to serve you targeted banner ads.
Companies like Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Apple aren’t altruistic, of course: They’ve built genius services we use every day for free, and while we don’t pay with money, we pay with a major invasion on our privacy. One that we signed up for (go back and read the Terms & Conditions). So, in essence, the business model is you.
Paid apps are dwindling in both the Google and Apple app store, which is a bummer. In addition to the reasons I’ve mentioned above, it prevents us from directly rewarding developers that create apps that solve problems for us. That feels like a good-karma thing to do. That said, I think it’s valid to want to want to kick the tires of an app before you buy, so I think that the “freemium” model is great when apps use it to give you limited access to all their features, so you can try before you buy. If more people would pony up the pocket change instead of deleting after the free trial was over, I think we’d have more innovation from independent developers in the app store, which would mean better apps for all of us.
As I mentioned before, I am especially eager to pay for apps that hold extremely sensitive information, like passwords. 1Password, my password management app, was $9.99 when I purchased it, and most people I recommended it to couldn’t believe how much I had paid for it, especially when there were other password managers that were free on the market. I would then show them this copy from my password manager’s website, and ask them if they could find similar copy on their own:
— We’re never going to have ads: we won’t advertise in 1Password, and we will never spam you or ask you to sign up for “partner” content.
— We’re never going to share or sell your information: we won’t cozy up to corporations, governments or other third parties.
— We’re never going to nickel-and-dime you for features: the new Pro Features are a single, one-time in-app purchase—and existing 1Password 4 users get them for free.
— We’re never going to make you pay to be more secure: the free version of 1Password 5 has all the same security features and safeguards as the unlocked version. It even adds a new way to protect your data with support for Touch ID.
In most cases, they couldn’t find any promises like that. I can’t say that always influenced their decision, but it certainly gave them pause. For me, $10 is a small price to pay for all those promises. (Side note: 1Password has since gone “freemium” and you can access most of it’s great features for free, with some select “pro” features costing $9.99). If you’ve come to rely on an app that stores your financial or healthcare information, I’d think hard about whether or not you want that developer to play fast and loose with your data.
There’s no easy answer to this— often, the invasion of privacy is the price we pay for convenience of mobile technology. I’d love to hear your thoughts, let me know how you feel about this in the comments.