Why Don’t We Pay for Free Software?
A post at downloadsquad.com asks:
This is a post for the crack ‘torrenters, the chronic non-donators and the I’ll-stick-with-the- free – alternative’ers in the crowd: we want to hear your thoughts on why you don’t pay for software. … We’re talking to those of you who download that great piece of donationware that beats the pants off the $40 alternative, but still don’t even drop so much as $1 in the PayPal tip jar. We wanted to pop this question because we’re seeing better and better software coming from open source, donationware and shareware developers, and yet many of them are still having a hard time making a living doing something they love, which is creating the products we obviously appreciate.
Here’s my answer.
The idea that end-users must pay for software is an idea inherited from the Microsoft model, where a developer’s profit is directly linked up with the end-user’s inability to make copies of it.
But the real cost of making software is paying for someone to develop it, not making and distributing copies. Who should cover that cost? The people who need that new software to be developed. Usually, development is paid for by a business (at least, that’s how things work out today; we won’t see programmers hired for personal customizations of software until Free Software is much more widely adopted). Once it’s been developed, the “value has been added”: the business that paid for the development has the new tool they needed, and the programmers have been paid for their efforts. There’s no reason, then, not to let the public have it for free (gratis).
There are additional costs associated with copying and distributing the software, of course — server maintenance, disk space, Internet access — but these costs are widely distributed, and they are often paid for by entities that would pay for them anyway, whether or not their servers host a particular piece of software for users to download. So users don’t typically have to bear these costs either, at least not via direct donations.
Additionally, it’s widely known that most Free Software developers don’t write programs because they’re seeking profit. See this study if you’re wondering what their other motivations are.
In short, then: my answer is that we (public end-users) don’t pay for Free Software because, by the time it gets to us, it’s already been paid for. If those FS developers that want to make a living writing free programs are still having a hard time doing so, it’s because the entities that pay for software development — medium-to-large businesses, in today’s economy — are (unwisely, in my mind) choosing to invest in proprietary software, instead of in free (libre) alternatives.