Under The Microscope

"Twenty Four Whole Dollars For This Little Island?"

In the past six months, we’ve had three different magazines contact us and ask if we would be interested in including a full version of our software on their CD. To be clear, they weren’t asking about including the demo, something we’re always happy to have spread around. These editors were interested in including a fully licensed, unrestricted version of one of our applications, free of charge.

Who does this? Certainly not companies like Adobe or Microsoft. They wouldn’t allow their programs to be handed out in this way. What is the motivation for a smaller company such as ours? According to the editors who’ve contacted us, the benefit is in the editorial coverage they’ll provide. To put it bluntly, these editors, who shall remain understandably nameless, are asking for a bribe. They’re asking for free software for their readers, in exchange for writing about the software. This is a bribe that benefits their readers, not the editors directly, but it’s a bribe nonetheless.

Asking us to provide free copies of the application in exchange for covering the products just doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair to us, and more importantly, it’s dishonest to the readers. Was this content included because it deserved to be, or because the editors were able to get free copies of the software for the readers? Readers shouldn’t need to consider these questions.

One argument here is that this exposure provides positive word of mouth. Word of mouth is great, it’s our bread and butter. The problem here is that anyone the editorial coverage reaches already gets a free copy of our software. Further, I’d speculate that when Alice recommends our product to her friend Bob, she might also just slip a copy of the application to him from her CD. At best, Alice would recommend that Bob pick up a copy of the magazine. Neither of those puts a dime in our pocket, but it does increase our costs, particularly our support costs.

In relation to this, at least one of these magazines suggested that we simply provide the application, and not provide support for it. Put simply, this is absolutely unacceptable to us. Rogue Amoeba provides support after the sale, and before it as well. We want people using our products to be happy and satisfied. Failing to answer the questions these users have isn’t going to gain us any popularity at all.

A last suggestion to make this more palatable to us was to include an old version of the software, and then make money off upgrades. Leaving aside the license-based technical hurdles inherent in this plan, this feeds off customers in an unsavory way. In three years, we’ve charged for just one upgrade (from Audio Hijack Pro 1 to Audio Hijack Pro 2), and we’ve never planned to make any large portion of our revenue from upgrades, making this idea impractical for us.

Further, we work to make each version better than the last. Conversely, that means the previous version likely isn’t as good as the current version, and we’d therefore be providing an inferior product. Some users might email us with a problem (assuming we provided support) and we’d be able to tell them to upgrade. But many others would simply move on, and forever have a negative opinion of our work.

Finally, one major concern with putting out a complete copy of the application that I haven’t mentioned yet is just how easy it makes piracy. Obviously, that’s certainly not something we want to enable, and little debate is needed here. Handing out a copy of our application with no protection to tens of thousands of readers is going to lead inevitably to increased piracy.

So there it is, a shady practice being perpetuated by multiple different magazines (all of them British, oddly). Is it benefitting readers? They may be getting a bit of free software for now, but what’s happening to editorial standards? Time will tell. As I see it, if a magazine’s readers would be interested in our products, the editors should include it in the magazine. Otherwise, don’t. It really should be as simple as that.

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