Deal with it: software can’t be free forever

In just few days I’ve came across three examples of how “software for free” model hardly works, at least for developers. One of them is tr.im, the service to shorten long URLs. According to their blog, they’ve unsuccessfully tried to find an investor for their service. Of course, without proper funding, why would they spend any more time on it? And moreover, who will pay for hosting and other administrative fees? Second example is a project management / source control service codespaces.com. They recently decided to cease free plan and started charging $3 for it.

Another popular example is a great instant messaging client Digsby. They are trying to find a sustainable reason to continue developing it, and, as it seems, they plan to do that by displaying advertisements. In my opinion it’s a wrong method. So called “adware” model was popular about 10 years ago and it failed miserably. What happened now is that part of the community is actually angry on Digsby management. Can you believe it?

Related joke

One man was giving a $100 bill to a beggar every single day. After some time, those 100 bucks gradually became 50, 40, 30, and finally one day he gave him only $10.

B: Excuse me, sir. Can I ask you something?
M: Sure!
B: How come you always gave me $100 and now it’s only $10?
M: Well, you know, in the meantime I got married and we got a kid, our expenses are much higher now, we are building a new house…
B: A house? You are building a house? With MY money???

There simply must be a way of paying those developer-days/months/years or the whole project is doomed. Just browse some of Open Source repositories and check how many software sits abandoned. Alas, developers must eat too. 🙂 Some businesses succeeded to persuade Venture Capitalist to initially invest money for the development, but sooner or later this VC will stop throwing funds away and expect the return of this investment. It’s simply how economy works, like it or not. As some have predicted before, this whole “software should be free” bubble will burst, and it’s now becoming evident for those who didn’t believe it.

Before someone says “electrons are free so software should be too”, here’s few considerations to think about:

  1. Developer’s time is not free
  2. Your time is not free
  3. Knowledge (education) is not free
  4. Equipment (computers) is not free
  5. Electrons are not actually free either (you still must pay for web hosting)
  6. Nobody works for free unless someone else pays their bills (parents, for example)

So there’s really no point arguing on this. Lawyers don’t charge just for cost of a peace of paper, taxi drivers don’t charge just for a gas, professional football players don’t play for free, cars are not priced just on value of raw materials – the list can go on and on. So why then some people think that developers should charge just for a CD?

Of course, some free-to-use software will always exist, but in a long term, it must pay off in one way or another. Being it through  consulting and support (applicable for enterprise markets), advertisements, information access (various Google products), offering a premium version, or whatever works in a specific case.

So, people, you have no right to assume to get something for nothing – at least not forever…

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3 thoughts on “Deal with it: software can’t be free forever

  1. JAY

    You are so right! Free does not work! Who does Google think they are. Anyhow? Or Yahoo? Or Firefox? Or OpenOffice?

    The problem is not with “free”. Networks still make money from “free” T.V. (The consumers cost is in the hardware and the delivery.) Money is still made with “free” radio.

    The problem is with atrophied thinking and outmoded vision. The failure of adware was not one of model, it was one of overly blunt and intrusive design and poor execution. The Yugo did not do well in the market place. That does not mean that people reject CARS.

  2. JAY

    PS – I could tell you how to give the software away and still make a ton of money, (a lot more than you are making with your present strategy) but why should I? What’s in it for me? Make me a reasonable offer and I will add a digit to your bottom line.

  3. vradmilovic Post author

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t think we disagree too much. My point is that there must be some way of earning and that people should be aware of that, which often isn’t the case. TV and radio stations earn from advertising, but we still all hate to be interrupted while watching the movie (including me). That’s why there’s an interest in DVDs, TiVo, paid channels, etc.

    If some TV station broadcasts advertisement-free program for a year, and then they introduce another free channel with advertisement and start charging for the first one, lot of people would surely be annoyed with this decision. But do they have right to feel that way?

    As of Yugo, as I’m living in the country of its origin, I’m actually delighted you mentioned it, 😉 although I fail to understand what it has to do with free. Because of low labor, material and technology cost, this was a cheap low-quality car. The problem was that average USA citizen doesn’t need car that cheap, but in other parts of the world where average salary is under $50/mo, it’s the only car people can afford – it doesn’t matter if it requires to be pushed once in a while… 😉

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