Is it a Good Idea to Make Apps We Can’t, or Don’t Want to Support, Free?

In episode 95 of ATP, Casey Liss talks about the motivation (and decision) to pull his app Fast Text from the store[1]. As an alternative solution John Siracusa suggests making the app free; people can continue to get use from a free app that works, and being free should alleviate the developer from feeling obligated to maintain or enhance the app.

Following that, in episode 88 of Release Notes, Charles Perry and Joe Cieplinski also discuss the choice to ‘kill’ old apps. They give consideration to both personal and business factors, including, with reference to the ATP episode, going the free route.

If you’re interested in the topic I’d recommend listening to both of those shows/episodes.

There’s another element to this discussion that I think is worth adding…

App developers want people to pay for their software, whether that be via upfront paid downloads, trial-first, upgrade pricing, in-app purchases, subscriptions, etc.

Part of the challenge is perception: getting some people to think that good software is worth more than a dollar can be difficult.

Making an app free because it is no longer a priority doesn’t help with this problem; it might actually hurt. Putting another free app in the store will only strengthen perceptions that software should be cheap or free[2].

That said, software pricing isn’t about perception only. In his article Open Source Apps, Ben Thompson takes a detailed look at App Store pricing, showing how the marginal cost of software, which is $0, affects the price:

The implication for apps is clear: any undifferentiated software product, such as your garden variety app, will inevitably be free.

So, differentiation is key. And perception is part of that. If we’ve got good apps that we can’t support for some reason, is there a wider, negative impact to making them free?

  1. Casey also wrote about pulling Fast Text on his blog.
  2. Recall some of the reactions in the development community when Apple made their iWork apps free.