We want apps for free

It’s the dilemma facing app developers worldwide – make their products available for free, or charge a fee to download them. Free means widespread usage, a fee means a more reliable revenue stream.

The problem that many app developers, whether for Android or Apple devices, are discovering is that consumers have built up a resistance to paying for new apps. Many are even prepared to put up with annoying ads and limited functions for free software, rather than pay a nominal fee for the full, ad-free version.

One developer, Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, describes his experiences at his blog on marco.org. "It’s a very common user mindset," he writes. "They tolerate a lot of limitations, ads and nags to avoid paying. It’s not that they’re cheap, per se: they just really don’t believe that apps are worth paying for, and they feel cheated or defeated if they end up needing to pay for one."

It’s an example of a wider internet concept: that "freedom" mostly means not having to pay. The music and movie industries have experienced this already; now games and software inventors and developers are facing the same struggle.

Arment’s experience was that, once a free version of an app was available, however limited, then the vast majority of users would be unwilling to pay. His solution was to make his product only available to users who paid the $4.99 fee. He found this a far more profitable avenue than relying on the scant income from ads.

Internet commerce is still wading through the trial-and-error process, but if more app developers have the courage to charge for their work, they might begin to change consumer attitudes.

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