The philosophy is perfectly summed up in Don’t Be A Free User, a great post on the Pinboard blog… I believe we should pay people for the things they make, so that they can make it even more awesome. But with Sparrow’s acquisition the cracks in the philosophy starts to appear.
I paid full price for every version of the Sparrow app I could find. I told everyone who would listen to buy it. I couldn’t have given them more money even if I wanted to. So, as a customer, what more could I have done to keep them running independently? This is the core of the disappointment that many of us feel with the Sparrow acquisition. It’s not about the $15 or less we spent on the apps. It’s not about the team’s well-deserved payout. It’s about the loss of faith in a philosophy that we thought was a sustainable way to ensure a healthy future for independent software development, where most innovation happens.
This is hinting at what I was getting at, except that I don’t just blame the “philosophy”. It can work1. Look no further than 1Password, BusyCal, MarsEdit, and Tapbots. The difference between these guys and Sparrow is that they’re running a responsible business by making sure they charge enough to stay in business. Maybe it’s unfair of me to lay all of the blame on Sparrow. Apple certainly should share the blame for creating an ecosystem of race-to-the-bottom pricing and buy-once-and-update-forever apps. However, part of running a business is recognizing when something isn’t working and fixing it so that it does.2
Why am I so adamant about this? Am I jealous? Shouldn’t I be happy that the Sparrow guys “made it”? No.3 I’m adamant because I don’t want people to take away the wrong lessons from this whole scenario. I want software developers to stop creating businesses that are doomed to fail from the start. I want them to thrive. And I don’t want them to learn that “it’s ok if I make terrible business decisions because in the end, as long as I’m popular fast enough, I’ll get bought out.” That’s how bubbles start.
And by “work” I mean they take in more than they spend: that’s what I deem to be a successful business, not if they’re making money hand-over-fist. I’m not sure when we all collectively decided that the dollar amount should be how we measure success, but I don’t like it. ↩
Of course, it can be argued that Sparrow did just that. Except that their “fix” was being bought out by Google and having their business shut down instead of raising prices and keeping their business running independently. ↩
Well actually, I am happy for them. They’re incredibly talented people who will continue doing incredibly awesome things and should be handsomely rewarded for it. I just wanted them to be rewarded for succeeding with a healthy business. ↩