Since I started using Windows XP again a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking for good freeware products to spruce up my desktop. Thanks to Carol, I came across Give Away of the Day, a site which gives away each day, for free, a piece of software that you would normally have to pay for. While the idea is a pretty good one (both for the end user and the software maker), the things they have given away makes one think about the type of things people try to sell and the things that some people will pay for.
For starters, let’s take a look at Nature Illusion Studio, graphics editing software that lets you add “motion effects” such as running water, weather effects and some sound effects to your digital photos which can then be saved in a variety of formats such as AVI, GIF or as a screensaver or standalone executable. It costs $49.95 and if I was into graphics and animation in a big way, I’d probably consider that a fair price. Then there is the Earth 3D screensaver, that turns your screensaver into “a realistic space shuttle window!” The makers of this piece take obvious pride in the level of realism that this screensaver achieves, but seriously, would you dish out $17.95 for something that is, for all intents and purposes, a toy? Sure, there is the novelty value, but there are far better toys that you can get for the same amount, and the novelty will barely last a few days. There is also Chronograph, whose purpose in life is to keep your computer’s clock up-to-date, by syncing it over the Internet. Not entirely useless, but to do this manually would probably take less than minute every few months. Would I pay $19.95 for that minute? I don’t think so.
Of course, there are a lot of things that I think are very reasonably priced. Aston Shell is a good grab for $30, especially if you’re into customizing your Windows box. For all you audiophiles, AVS audio editor for $29 and Zortam Mp3 Media Studio for $24.95 might be worth the money. I would be interested in knowing how many copies of Chronograph or Earth 3D screensaver get sold per year and how many people actually use them over the long term. I suppose it would make a good case study for economics students.
Overpricing seems to be a rather common syndrome is the software world. Look no further than Microsoft and it’s 20+ year history and you’ll see that charging extra seems to be a way of life for them. I suppose it isn’t unusual for some people to take a leaf out of Bill Gates’ book and try to sell software at absurd prices, but there is one thing that is worth bearing in mind: in most cases you’re not selling something that does even 10% of what an operating system does. Is it fair to expect people to pay 10% of the price? Software like Photoshop or Flash Professional can charge upwards of $500 because they aren’t ordinary pieces of software. The people who are buying these tools are essentially making business investments. That $500+ is going to make them many thousands of dollars in the form of design or graphics contracts. So the next time you try selling or buying a piece of software ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the functionality justifying the price?
- If it’s something that will be used to earn a living (or get a degree), will the returns justify the investment?
- Will it be used long enough and often enough to make it worth it?
- Are there free alternatives available? If yes, does the paid product have a significant edge over the free ones?
After all, if you’re spending money on something that you will almost never use, you might as well just flush that cash down the toilet.