Over the past few weeks, lacking anything of real interest to munch on, the Mac world has become ablaze with developer compensation. It started with TextMate, continued with Disco and reached an all-time height on Tuesday with MacHeist. A lot of people who all can claim to develop some piece of code or other publish lengthy articles detailing how, in their opinion, some individual company or person is ripping them or their friends off. There are, indeed, a great many interesting points surrounding the issue of developer compensation. What is an application worth? Is it fair that one guy who merely distributes a few lines of code in a zipped bundle gets more than someone who sweat blood writing the actual thing?
The answer is yes. Sad, but true. Looking at most companies around us, we are forced to see a dichotomy between those who have their hands in the product and those who make the actual money. No Mac developer in their right mind would expect Steve Jobs to write Mail or iMovie at night, after having kissed the kids good night. No, there are dozens of “Apple Engineers”, laboring in dull, gray-carpeted, neon-lit, glamour-deprived offices around the world, sworn to secrecy and organic snacks. These people do admirable work. I have met quite a few of them and, while not all of them have become close friends, I have yet to meet someone I would not describe as bright in a way or another. Yet, only a few executives get the real money derived from their work. The others make a good salary, where “good” is being defined by a binder somewhere in an office, taking into account the numbers of kids they have, whether they require dental insurance and whether they were around when Blue Box was announced.
Of course, one might say, Apple is a large corporation. Apple is part of the software industry, the maddest business there is. Things are quite different for independent developers. Are they? How many designers do you know toil in the wee hours of the morning making some B-grade shoe brand “cool” for a mere couple thousand while they will ring in millions in sales? Worse, how many designers do you know who actually dream of this? How many cosmetics counselors labor in department stores, doing all the actual work of selling petroleum goo twelve hours a day for practically nothing while a few dull-skinned executives laugh it off around a spot of caviar miles away?
Life is not fair and it is a tragedy. It is not however by accusing people who are making money that one will change anything. If Mac developers, or some Mac developers, find themselves under-paid and under-appreciated, maybe they should start a cooperative or a company of their own. If support costs are so grueling, which I am all ready to believe, maybe they should pool their money and hire a few extras to help them.
These “huge” amounts of money bundle developers are putting in their pockets do not represent their actual work - money never does. They represent what they can bring to developers, what developers cannot bring to themselves: advertising, marketing, design. It may be the worst advertising, the clumsiest marketing and the ugliest design you have ever seen, that matters not: what matters is the impossibility for individuals to obtain them, giving them tremendous worth.
Am I saying we should see more bundles and that bundling software is a good idea? No. If you ask me, buying a software bundle is like buying mixed cereals packs at the supermarket: you don’t have enough of what you like and way too much of what you will never eat. I dislike the idea of bundles or, for that matter, deeply discounted software because I do agree that independent developers need all the help they can get. Hey, I buy Mailsmith and BBEdit, and I am happy to buy them at their current price. But I dislike hearing about how unfair the situation is even more.
If people think your application is worth $4, then it is worth $4. The market fixes the price. If you cannot develop it for $4 or deem this so unfair as to cause your blood to boil, then maybe you should not be developing it in the first place. The market is ignorant, by default. When you don’t have the luxuries big companies have (influencing it, educating it to their advantage), you have to find the sweet spot, bow gracefully and find something better to do or find an inner motivation to go on regardless of the conditions surrounding you.
Want an example? I am writing this entry for free, while O’Reilly will get ad money. Site readers repeatedly tell us (”us” Mac writers in general, not just “us” O’Reilly) that pointless rants such as mine should be published for free. My writing is, according to the market, worth nothing but the distribution of that nothing is not since some nice company I have never heard of will have paid good money to get their logo next to my rather unfortunate face. Yet, I’m happy, since I get to talk to you and I get to work for who I believe to be the best publisher there is.
So happy in fact that I may treat myself to a spot of software and a good book - shall we say a C++ GUI Programming Guide?