Entitlement and Acquisition

July 23rd, 2012

Matt Gemmell responds to complaints over Sparrow’s acquisition that customers “invested” in the app and future updates:

You paid $10 for the Mac version, or $3 for the iOS version. Go ‘invest’ in a magazine and a coffee. They owe you nothing.

The Sparrow acquisition nicely highlights the App Store’s central problems. Presumably, Sparrow wasn’t profitable enough for the makers to continue developing it as an independent business, so they sold it. Customers, having paid less than a good dinner for the Mac and iPhone apps, are angry because they assumed that by purchasing the apps, they would receive all future versions of the apps.

These problems are related. It’s difficult to successfully sell something like Sparrow—a complicated, ambitious application—when customers are willing only to pay relatively small amounts for the application in the first place, and are, on the whole, entirely unwilling to pay for subsequent upgrades.

There’s something important to learn here: since the App Store’s primary customers are mass-market, they don’t yet value apps very much, and are therefore only willing to pay a pittance for apps. For them, apps are simply entertainment, sometimes a bit more, but not much more. Perhaps that will change as these mobile devices increasingly replace the PC, perhaps not. But what’s also clear is that trying to sell a focused, obsessed-with-the-details app for mass-market prices probably isn’t going to work. There are exceptions, but on the whole, it’s not a very good idea.