In a fantastic blog post, designer Josh Lehman begs us all to stop using the metaphor that many of us, press and developer alike, continue to spout when we hear a complaint about the price of a $0.99 app. “Look,” we say, again and again, “you’ll spend $4 on a cup of coffee at (insert your favorite coffe brand here, usually Starbucks), why won’t you spend a paltry $1 on my app?”
Lehman sees through the falsity of this argument, and then shows us why this attitude isn’t selling apps, either, regardless of its accuracy.
The main argument Lehman presents is this: Starbucks is a known quantity with a trustworthy historical relationship with its customers. When you walk into Starbucks, you know what you’re getting. A $4 cup of coffee will be pretty much the same from visit to visit, and the more times you get that very same cup of coffee, the one that meets your $4 coffee expectations, your trust in the Starbucks experience rises.
Contrast that with a trip to the App Store. Your $1 app purchase will be wildly divergent, each and every time you purchase it. The $1 you spend in no way guarantees you the app or the experience you crave. As Lehman puts it, there’s no way customers can know what, exactly, that $1 purchase will garner.
“I already have 30 games on my phone, some of them very good. Do I need another one? I don’t play the 30 I have. The experience I’m going to get from adding one more game is not trustable. I’m assured of nothing. Last week I bought a game for 99 cents and it was terrible. I played it once, for 15 seconds. I could be shoving $1 straight down the toilet again for all I know.”
Secondly, argues Lehman, there is no such thing as a free cup of coffee at Starbucks. If there were, he says, the lines would be out the door. People would most likely stop paying for that very tasty $4 coffee fairly quickly and pick up the free coffee habit.
Instead of complaining about the essential cheapness of the average human being, says Lehman, developers (and us naysaying press folks, I’d wager), need to look at the reality of the situation. Some free apps are very good. Some are released by developers with nothing to gain but a good time making an app.
Developers that need to make a living from app development, he argues, need to understand this App Store reality, stop complaining, and learn how to make great apps work, whether they’re paid or free. There are ways to make money from both. Lehman names five specific ways to make paid apps work, including building an app that is unique, that doesn’t feel “easily replicated.” Give users something they find valuable to their daily lives, and find a way to show off the “craftsmanship” of your app, much in the same way as Starbucks has the tools of its trade on display.
Once developers do that, Lehman says, they’ll stop whining about money wasted on cups of coffee.