Once upon a time I listened to the radio. This was, in essence for a teenager without any money, the only way to listen to new music. The good part is that there was always something new to listen to. The bad part was the commercials, the DJs, the commercials, the constant talking… did I mention the commercials? Later I understood the trade-off. Without the commercials there was no radio and that that was the cost of listening to new music.
But that changed. Years later there were many more ways to listen to new music, most of which didn’t require paying a fee to do so. Even in the car, I now carry iPods and iPhones loaded with music and podcasts that don’t require me to listen to commercials at all. So now music is free. And when things go free there is no going back.
Apps, for all intensive purposes, have tipped. They are now free. And there’s no use trying to treat them as anything but.
I do indeed pay for some software but it is becoming more and more clear that the apps I rely on the most are, in essence, free. Evernote and DropBox, free. For all intensive purposes the operating systems I run are now free. Google apps, free. Email, free. Web browsers, free. Almost everything I use now is either so ridiculously cheap that it is practically free or is really free. If the app isn’t free now, it will be in the next few years. In certain niches this won’t be the case, but in mass market apps, products aimed at the masses of consumers, what we used to call horizontal software products, are or will shortly be free.
This trend is not worth fighting. It is what it is. As a software developer I have a choice: I can either focus on a very targeted niche application so I can continue to generate product sales, or I can come to terms with the fact that software will be free and consider new models to generate income. Check out this list of amazing revenue models, put together by Fred Wilson’s AVC community.