Shareware is Too Expensive
by Chris Seidel


January 4, 1999

      Why should you pay $50 dollars for a product that has virtually no distribution cost, and once it has been made, no production cost? The other day I wanted to make an image map. A year ago I had downloaded an image mapping utility. So I poked around through my disk archives, found the program and fired it up. I was surprised to find that the program refused to load and instead gave me a message that my trial period had expired and that if I wanted to use the program I would have to register it for a $50 dollar fee. In the year I had the program in storage I hadn't used it to make a single image map. At the present time I was simply toying around with the idea of making an image map, and it certainly wasn't worth $50 for me to try to make an image map. Even if I was a commercial web developer, $50 seemed quite high for something as simple as an image mapper. So I wrote my own program. It took 20 minutes, but now I can make image maps at my leisure, and I also made the utility available to others so if they found themselves in my predicament they could make image maps too. It cost me nothing, why should anyone else pay for something I made for myself that has no cost to me?

I noticed about this time that many programs I wanted to use, that previously had been available for free were now charging money, almost as a matter of course. Often the amount charged seemed high in relation to what the program did. Games for a Palm Pilot were $10-$25. A Mac utility to do traceroute and finger, $25. Is it really worth $25 do do traceroute and finger on a Mac? How often would I use it? Rarely, at best. On UNIX all these programs are free. I sent in my $25 dollars so I could do tracroute with a clear conscience, but it wasn't easy for me, and I didn't feel it was worth it.

I like to write programs. Writing programs is fun. It's often challenging but it's a great feeling of accomplishment to write a working program. Programs are very specific. Once a program is written, it doesn't wear out. It doesn't break. It does it's particular job in a particular environment virtually forever as long as that environment is preserved. If the operating system changes, or you want to use the program on a different kind of computer, the program can often be modified with some simple changes which allow it to run in the new environment. It's rewarding in itself to create something, and often writing a program is an intense learning experience. One gets better at it with practice, just like an athlete training for a race. People will pay to take classes but when they teach themselves something, the value is easily overlooked.

It's important that people who write software for a living are paid well. But it seems to me that most programmers I know get paid very highly because everyone around them who doesn't know how to program thinks that programming is a big deal. To me it's like getting paid to solve problems all day. I don't see why an auto mechanic should be paid any less than a programmer. Besides, programmers don't even have to get their hands greasy.

Anyway I don't imagine that most people who write shareware are professional programmers. It used to be that someone needed to write a program to get something done so they wrote it, they had a good time doing it, they learned a lot from doing it, and at the end they had their own little killer ap. Why not share it? Everyone would think you were way cool. As a compensation for the hassles of distributing it and answering email of people who don't read the instructions you could charge a little something as a reward.

The internet is a big place. If programs were more affordable I think people would be more likely to pay a reasonable fee to use them. Many people paying a small price is very efficient, and one person's efforts to write a program can benefit many people in an equitable way.

With current shareware prices, one program costs a lot of people a lot of money. Mostof the shareware programs I see these days would be more aptly named: Gougeware. Fortunately there are still a lot of good programmers who write reasonably priced shareware and many who give their programs away as freeware. We look up to them, and that's priceless.