Who will pay, part 2
Tuesday, May 27, 2003 by Dave Winer.
You pay one way or the other
There's been a bit of discussion about my last DaveNet piece, mostly users talking about what they're willing to pay, as if they have all the power. They don't.
The power of the software developer not to develop is largely silent, so people often don't consider it. Sure the original author may toil at a money-losing labor-of-love long past the point where it has been proven not to be viable, but what about the people he or she is not hiring, the manual writers, testers, more programmers, a sales person, a marketing person perhaps, to work on ease of use and to keep the website current. How about a couple of tech support people (so they can take a vacation once in a while, it's a tough job). It goes without saying, I hope, that these people don't work for free. So if you don't want to pay, you can't have any of it.
A professional software organization for a well-supported product has 10-20 people, maybe as many as 30 to 40. So when you hear yourself complaining about software quality, think about how much money the developer of the product has to fully support it. Could you run a car in the Indy 500 with no money? You could try, and that's what a lot of software developers do, to no avail. Sooner or later you have to pay the bills. It costs money to live. That's as true of software as it is of people.
When I say there's no money for software, that's not a literal statement, of course. Sure there is some money. When you buy a new computer you probably pay a hundred dollars for software, most of it going to Microsoft. So they've figured out how to get money to flow. And if you pay $10 or $20 to use a piece of software, the software isn't paid-for if the software isn't generating enough money to be fully supported or developed. You can certainly feel good about giving the money, but you're probably not going to get what you want or think you deserve in the way of support or upgrades for that kind of money.
Let's say you spend 100 hours a year using a piece of software and assume your time is worth $50 per hour. So that's $5000 of your time flowing through the software. How much self-respect is there in paying nothing for software that leverages so much of your time?
It gets worse. If you're like most people you're paying bills and buying stuff using software. So even if you don't want to pay for the time-leverage software delivers, would you pay money to keep your money safe? Mark my words, as a software engineer, there's a security meltdown coming. Our money-handling system is not secure. Look into identity theft, esp if you're a software engineer. What happens when someone else spends your money? Do you think you're liable for that? Check it out. (In most cases you are.)
It just seems silly. I pay $1 to ride the subway downtown. It costs $300 to fly to NY and back (two hours in the air). A cab ride to the airport -- $40. My monthly rent is in the thousands. Medical insurance about $10,000 per year. Everything costs money. So does software. Don't fool yourself.
If you don't pay, the bottom-line is that you lose. It may look like you're not losing, but you are. If you paid nothing for health care, you'd likely die sooner. If you pay nothing for software, you probably won't die from it, but you may lose data, you're virtually certain to waste time, and at some point, money.
PS: A correction to Saturday's column. "Financiers invested, and gave back to the university so the next generation of technology entrepreneurs could be educated, nutured and launched." It wasn't clear that financiers invested in the companies started by the students, not in the work done at the universities. The bug was caught by Marvin Minsky of MIT. (!)