In Response to When Selling Out is, In Fact, A Dirty Choice

July 23rd, 2012

Faruk Ates responds to Matt Gemmell’s Entitlement and Acquisition:

There is an implicit promise in the act of doing business. It is a promise of respect and mutual trust, where the business offers the customer something of value, for which the customer pays money. The free-but-paid-with-advertising model has made this promise blurry, but not absent. When a company sells itself to a bigger company as a talent acquisition, leaving the product—and, consequently, its customers—out in the cold as a result of this acquisition, it is a reneging on that implicit promise.

It is disrespectful towards customers to say “I am going to charge you for this product” only to then revoke the product later on; that is what is called a loan, a temporary use of a product or service.

The general thrust of Faruk’s piece is absolutely dead-on, but I don’t think a one-time purchase of an application—much less an App Store app at App Store prices—entitles the customer to future upgrades. It certainly entitles them to updates—fixes to the application they purchased, which means it better fulfills its original promise—but not future upgrades, or new functionality. Why should it? That was never the norm on the desktop; customers purchased a version of an application and paid for new versions in the future.

The App Store changed this a bit, of course, because all new versions, whether bug fixes or major new versions, are free. But why, then, is Sparrow’s acquisition—which effectively means the application will not be developed further as-is—a violation of the “promise of respect and mutual trust” between them and their customers? The application customers purchased is still on their iPhones and Macs. The application still works as it did when they purchased it. The only thing that’s changed is they will not receive future major upgrades.

Customers are disappointed because their expectations will not be met. When they purchased Sparrow, they expected to receive future upgrades, too. They expected this because that’s the norm for the App Store. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that, because that expectation was reasonable based on unofficial and unstated norms, the Sparrow team violated their trust by stopping development. If that were the case, how many major upgrades should be expected? One? Two? Three?

There’s no way to answer that question, because that was never a part of the promise made when customers purchased Sparrow. All they promised was what they advertised—a well-designed email client, which is precisely what customers received. Customers have a right to be disappointed. I’m disappointed. But I don’t think it’s fair to say the Sparrow team violated their customers’ trust.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s a good situation. It isn’t at all. It sucks for customers that an application they like and have come to rely on will, at some indefinite point in the future, stop working for them and will not improve. This problem, though, has to do with the App Store’s structure. The fact is when charging for upgrades isn’t possible and isn’t expected, it’s difficult to make an application like Sparrow and succeed. Very difficult. We should spend our time trying to solve that problem, so more small developers can make a living building well-made, useful, focused applications on these new devices.