Is Software Food or is it Medicine ?
Dave has a very interesting article about how no-one wants to pay for software yet our economy is increasingly based on software. That's certainly true. From Open Source to Napster and Kazaa, an increasing array of forces are driving "don't pay for software".
For the last few weeks I've been asking anyone who will listen if it isn't weird that our economy is based on software, more and more, yet users don't want to pay for software.
In the same breath I express sympathy for the music industry, because they're going through the same devaluation we went through in software in the 80s and 90s. An average song is a bit bigger than the average software program of ten or twenty years ago, so it has taken a while for the distribution pipes to catch up. Today songs travel freely over the Internet, some people are optimistic about people paying -- I am not.
Yes I'll agree that we don't want to pay for software and here are some comments on why and the nature of software.
- Our perspective on paying for software is strongly warped by the ratio between the physical goods that use the software and the price of the software. I mean Microsoft Office for a single user without a corporate license now costs more (when bought new) than the bulk of the computers that run it. That's hard for anyone who isn't deep in the high tech industry to understand -- yes we know that software is where the value is but others don't. And doesn't this bother anyone else than me? I know it bothers Michael Robertson of Lindows -- who wrote an excellent (but offline) article called "The Stunted PC Revolution" for Linux Journal.
- Obscene Profit Margins. Its always easy to rationalize theft when you can say "I'm stealing from the Man and he's rich" (i.e. Microsoft or the record industry). We saw this back in the early 70s with the early phone phreaks and their theft of service from AT&T. We saw it with Napster and we're seeing it with people's operating system licenses and copies of Office.
- If software is becoming more and more important to our economy then the question to me becomes this "Is it food or health care?". Both of which are even more important to our economy than software -- you don't currently die from lack of software but you do die from lack of these.
- Food. Food prices have been falling for years and the diversity of the foods available to us has been rising dramatically. Just in my average local supermarket, I can be sushi, fruit from New Zealand, etc. And while things like highly prepared foods are perhaps more expensive than they used to be, core ingredients remain inexpensive.
- Healthcare. After a basic necessity like food, isn't health care utterly essentional -- I mean everyone gets sick sometime. And yet no one can deny that healthcare costs are rising all over the world. If health care is so important, should it be cheaper and more freely available*?
So is software Food or Healthcare? Should it be cheap or expensive? Freely available or limited to a select few?
Clearly software requires highly skilled technicians like healthcare. And it isn't amenable to the automation found in today's agribusiness -- there aren't "software combines" and "genetically engineered software". But and this is a big but -- its also interesting to me that Dave doesn't ever point out one critical fact:
Software doesn't have a physical reproduction cost.
Software is different from everything else in the world in this aspect. Yes software is expensive to initially produce but the Nth unit costs nothing. Sure a DVD has to be pressed for a movie or a CD for audio but that's disappearing quickly. Look at PayPerView** movies which come purely over the wire or software like Radio UserLand which you buy online over the net.
Now I'm not doing the "software must be free" point here. I'm a capitalist and damn proud to be one. I'm simply pointing out that this debate, the payment for software, is utterly incomplete without raising this point. How do you price something that wants to be free?
*And yes I know that's a hot button for everyone and there is no good answer.
**Which paradoxically are generally more expensive than going to the video store even though there are no physical goods. Why? You're paying for convenience.
7:52:26 AM |
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