Free Software Isn’t Free

I was a big booster of Mailbox app. I was on their waiting list almost immediately and Mailbox didn’t disappoint. The ideas of snoozing email and Inbox Zero always matched my mental model for how email should work. When they came out with their Mac app I was elated, though annoyed by the ‘beta’ label.

Then Dropbox purchased them.  Dropbox is itself a great company, so users like me didn’t worry. However, the product languished.  Trouble wasn’t far behind. 

In the wake of the Mailbox app shutdown announced 2 weeks ago, I’m reminded that software that makes our lives easier really should be purchased

We’ve seen this before.  Google Reader’s shutdown left many of us scrambling for alternatives.  Many of those RSS alternatives were long since dead, as it’s hard to compete with free and even harder to compete with a company that can spend you out of business with the money in their couch cushions. 

This has even happened in email clients before. Remember Sparrow?

When you play the free game, your revenue opportunities are limited to advertising or acquisition. Both have high probabilities of bad outcomes for consumers.

When you charge for your app/service, you have every incentive to improve it and make it better. You also have a disincentive to sell your property to someone that may not be interested in maintaining it. 

Want more revenue?  Get more customers. 

Want more customers?  Build a better product. 

It’s really that easy.  Simple In/Out is a great product and we charge for it. Our wonderful customers provide us all the incentive in the world to wake up every day and make Simple In/Out better. They don’t have to fear us turning out the lights to keep ourselves fed. 

Perhaps if we paid for email clients like Mailbox, things would have gone differently. Sure, they’d have had less users.  But, the users they did have would have been better, more passionate users that would have paid them for the service they provided. I know I sure would have.