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John Gruber: The Iniquities of the Selfish

John Gruber just wrote a piece about MacHeist. While it's interesting to hear what his sources have to say about what deals people who take part in this promotion get, and he even calculates the revenue, I don't really get what his point is. From his claims, it seems he's pointing out how dishonest the MacHeist guys are about their motivation, that they say they're doing this for the small software vendors when in fact those get a flat fee and the short end of the stick.

On the other hand, the examples Gruber provides mainly manage to appeal to human jealousy. He calculates how much money everyone makes. That always works. In addition, he resorts to a few straw men:

Consider this: How much worse for one of these developers would it be for you to pirate a copy of their app than to obtain a legitimate license through this bundle? They donít get any extra money either way, because theyíre getting the same flat payment from MacHeist whether you buy the bundle or not. And if you do buy the bundle, theyíre on the hook for providing you with technical support.

Well, it's their decision how much worse it'll be. But the name "Copyright" comes from the fact that the author gets the right to decide when and how his works are copied, or whether they may be copied at all. Dragging out the old piracy horse is completely pointless here, because when you pirate software, it is by definition against the creator's will. But in this case, the author agreed with MacHeist to do this. If the author decides to make a bad deal, that may be stupid, but it's the author's right to do so. Just like if you write a heartfelt poem and decide to only show it to the woman you love, you're entitled to that.

So, as always, John managed to collect some great information. But this time I think he could have spent more time making his point.

Regarding John's argument about bad deals being bad deals no matter how many people agree to them: The bad deal is always in the eye of the beholder: If you're starving, $20 for the last hamburger in existence is a much better deal than when you're happily fed and just looking for a little delight in a holiday resort. Because it's $20 dollars for your life, not just for two buns and a meat patty. The same works on a scale where the two alternatives aren't as extreme:

These developers probably don't just see this as a distribution channel, but rather as a promotions opportunity. Would anyone argue that companies shouldn't give away dozens of free licenses to their apps to the various magazine promotions since they won't be paid for that? For everyone who sees your application in the raffle, you'd usually pay advertising fees. And that's not just the direct advertising in Macworld which John already figures into MacHeist's expenses. It's also the added attention a small vendor's advertisement gets when his app is bundled with a well-known name, and the added goodwill a big vendor gets when he is in a raffle with the small guys. A "halo effect", if you want. "Intangible benefits", as some people call them.

Are there people who will lose in this deal? Possibly. Are the MacHeist guys making a bag of money off of this? Definitely. But I give my fellow developers more credit than John. I don't think they were too stupid to realize that they won't get much money if this takes off. Quite the opposite: I think they were well aware of what they were doing, and considered it a good deal because they'd get what they expected out of it. Maybe they even made a tactical decision to take some damage for future benefits.

Unless one of those who took the deal speaks out otherwise, I really don't see what John's rant is all about that he couldn't have said without doubting the business skills of the involved developers. In particular, if this article really is about distributing profits equitably, as John claims.

But few deals are done with equal shares for everyone (even if some people are allowed to be more equal than others like Delicious Monster and MacroMates), because all deals and agreements are about mutual interests: X wants his web site to do well and wants to earn money, Y wants to make his program more widely known. They obviously agreed on a deal that seemed fair to them at the time. Maybe it's because the Heist guys took a risk, too: They are doing something new here, and if it hadn't worked at all, they would have had to pay the developers anyway, as far as I can deduce. So, by one meaning of equitable, it already is equitable.

Will this still be considered a good deal by people in a few years, when this new distribution scheme is used more frequently (... well, new to software sales)? Probably not, but by then people will have seen such schemes succeed and fail and have the numbers to weigh how much the risk will be, and there'll be more vendors doing the same.

The one who does something first is entitled to a bigger reward for taking the risk of failing. That's how Apple worked for years, with profit margins around 50%. That's how patents were intended to reward people who innovate.

I really don't see the point of John's article, as much as I might like his other work.

Update: John Gruber clarifies:

I certainly wasnít pointing out anything that the participating developers didnít already know. My intention was to dispel the misconception held by others that the lionís share of the MacHeist profits were going to the developers.

Well, then the article has a very roundabout way of saying so, because Gus Mueller made that point much more concisely. And while I'm at it, let me mention that Justin Williams is doing something about it by declaring The Real Week of the Independent Mac Developer. I encourage everyone to take part.1


1) I'm not an independent developer, but thanks for thinking of me.

Reader Comments: (RSS Feed)
delete when corrected writes:
weigh: "have the numbers to weight how much the risk will be"
Flaubert P. Rogers writes:
Well said! I am usually one who enthusiatically agrees with most things that Gruber writes. But in this case, I think he missed the mark. He wrote a little rebuttal to your article: "I certainly wasnít pointing out anything that the participating developers didnít already know. My intention was to dispel the misconception held by others that the lionís share of the MacHeist profits were going to the developers." - John Gruber I have to call BS on that one. He certainly was saying a lot more than that. Otherwise, why did he devote so many pixel-inches to discussing Macheist? He has also written extensively about "devaluing" software, although not specifically about Macheist. He also mentions the costs of providing customer support.. Even if he was just "dispelling misconceptions," I'm not sure what the point is. Macheist makes more money from the deal. So what? I'm not even sure whose misconceptions he is dispelling, as I haven't seen anybody say that they believe there were royalties involved, or that developers would get most of the money. It's not like we are talking about huge sums of profit here, anyway - a few hundred thousand dollars at the very most. Even his figures are wild assumptions. What about the costs of advertising and administering the project? Those cannot be insignificant, what with all the banner ads I am seeing for Macheist on places like Macworld.com. I'd like to see Gruber's logic applied to his own income. He participates in "the deck," and advertising scheme. Is it fair that he makes all that money just from accepting ads, even if the products advertised don't sell? After all, the advertiser is doing all the work of creating a product, and Gruber is just putting up a few hundred pixels on his website. Think of the poor advertisers! Having said all that, can you please change the font used on your site? My eyes! The goggles do nothing! Thank you.
Josh Monroe writes:
Uli, Well put. I agree with you, these developers knew what they were doing. And, as we found out yesterday DL2 is just around the corner so, I think I know why Mr. Shipley took part in MH. As for me, I don't know yet if I will buy the bundle just because I have all the apps that I really want already, and the talking moose is free! Hope to see you at the hostel at WWDC '07.
slant isle writes:
John Gruber is just making a big stink about it simply because he was not involved with them (you don't see him making a stink about MyDreamApp because he was part of it, as a celebrity judge.) I totally don't get Gruber's appeal - he writes long-ass articles, mostly to make mountains out of molehills. Like they say, "no publicity is bad publicity." Gruber and company have unwittingly contributed to the even greater success of this much hated marketing effort. John Gruber jumped on the MacHeist bashing bandwagon as soon as he saw the possibility for higher site traffic but it didn't exactly go well for him as well as Gus. Any intelligent writer would want to remain as unbiased as possible, talk with both sides to understand their story/numbers, get accurate information then write instead of posting knee-jerk article to people he disliked greatly for breaking the status quo in mac community. I highly doubt Gruber took the time to talk to any of MacHeist staff to get some information but I may be wrong. I may just be his anonymous site visitor #30007 but he completely lost my respect for him. Jackass of the Week goes to John Gruber without a question.
Uli Kusterer replies:
@delete: Thanks, I fixed the typo. @Flaubert: I'm actually more in disagreement with Gruber's article structure. He spends too much time ... err ... pissing about ... with other completely unrelated topics and too little on making his point. It all has a slight feel of smoke and mirrors or at least is horribly distracting from his actual point. As to the font: I have to admit I'm 100% relying on my visitors using Safari on a Mac to view this page. I'm using some text-weight settings that only that combination gets right. Firefox on Mac is close, but looks somehow "skinnier". I'll keep it in mind for the next time I work on the CSS. @Josh: Hi Josh! Great to "see" you again! I'm hoping to make it to WWDC, too. @slant: Well, it's John's job to write articles now, so I appreciate he takes the time to write long and well-researched articles (which this one definitely is). But I also thought that he's doing a nice job of educating people about the heist. As for talking to them... it's a lot of work and takes a good deal of time to elicit statements from others. You can't compensate them for it, or you'd be seen as manipulating them, after all. But yeah, I think John had a bad day when he came across Gus' post and that caused this floundering article. Then again, what do I know? I'm a programmer, not a wordsmith...
Uli Kusterer replies:
Oh, a note to those on the comment RSS feed: I've added a small update to the article.
GaryP writes:
I came here from Daring Fireball (John Gruber's site), so I'd like to mention that he's giving opportunities for disagreement with him, and going out of his way to show other views. That's a Good Thing (tm). Whether he's right or wrong, debate/conversation is good. I actually like Gruber's writing style - it's not direct but it gets the point across and gives a solid background that those unfamiliar with the topics might not know. If it's a few paragraphs extra, well... this is the Internet after all - we have tools to summarise stuff if we care to use them.
Flaubert P. Rogers writes:
@Uri: The "pissing about" annoyed me too. Especially as he had the gall to later come back and say "oh no, I was just making a simple point." When he was obviously saying so much more. As you say, he should have stuck to his point. If he had meant to say something simpler, and more direct, he failed in his presentation of it. I actually like Gruber's long-form writing style and his tangents into obscurity. But it works best on the topics he knows well, and topics which are non-political. Such as when he talks about software, and the evolution of some interface convention - or his essays on Apple's business model and history. I think that too often when an issue is controversial, he links to blogs he finds that agree with him, with a tone of "See? Someone else in the Mac blogosphere is saying the same thing, I must be right." he is also rather quick to call people Jackasses when they disagree. I think most of the Jackass awards have been well deserved - but lately have been slipping, so that anybody who is merely annoying or uninformed gets the award - rather than it being reserved for John Dvorak or George Ou levels of jackassery. Anyway, enough of the bitching. I still love his site. Just think he really missed the target by miles this time. After finding Macheist and later joining their forums, I think they are breathing new life into the Mac universe - and getting lots of new converts to Mac shareware. I'm especially impressed with the number of new Mac converts from Windows - who are saying they never trusted independent or downloaded software on Windows, because most of it was full of spyware and adware. Macheist educated them that things are different on a Mac. Yes! Having used shareware all my life, it's easy to forget how much Mac users take great shareware for granted. It's one of those things I can never explain when somebody asks why they should buy a Mac. It's partly the OS, partly the hardware, and partly the mainstream apps - but the Mac shareware thing is a huge part of it, but difficult to explain. Now I know that one reason why it has been difficult to get across, is that cultural difference of Windows users. They just don't understand how inexpensive little programs made by companies they have never heard of, can be so good. They aren't used to such a personal commitment to excellence. They just see software developers, big and small, around every corner trying to rip them off. So they get their Microsoft Office, and maybe an Adobe suite - and that's it. Anyway, sorry for that tangent. I hope Macheist can sustain interest, and cast the net wider. I have the feeling the Mac online media has stagnated into two basic camps - you have the MacWorld side, where they get lots of advertising income, and the majority of newbie users - and they basically steer them into whatever application/product is popular or trendy. They wield immense power in that regard. But they are also inflexible and conservative, and worst: really defensive about any criticism of Macworld, and worried about spirited discussion taking place. Then you have your blogs, who like controversy, and largely come from died-in-the-wool independent developers who are opinionated. They like the idea of community, but also fear change. They have a bit of a "You whippersnappers get off my lawn" vibe about them. They seem to think that everybody just has dollars lying around to donate to blogs, or buy lots of independent software - all out of principle, of course. That consumers should basically sacrifice themselves to the noble Independent Developer, so that they might continue the tradition of days gone by. Most of all, they seem really old, and don't seem to realize how many Mac users today are teenagers with a little bit of allowance money to spend, and totally different expectations of "community." Macheist seems much fresher. Certainly a younger userbase. But it straddles the two worlds. It has the slick presentation, and unashamed commercialism of Macworld - without the stifling conformity. Yet at the same time, it appeals to the "good cause" of charity and the Independent Developer. It's not scared of criticism or lively debate like Macworld. It's not afraid of new marketing ideas, or channeling natural human greed/economics for good purposes, unlike GrandpaMacBlogger. Phew! ---- Uri - I am using Safari on a Mac to view this. Is that font Futura Medium? It does look kind of skinny, but the main issue is it's too heavy. I don't know how others feel - but to me, this is a headline/display font - not a body text font. Each to their own, I guess.
slantyyz writes:
WTF! "Slant Isle" plagiarized my post from Digg and even used a similar handle? (Scroll down this page and see my original post: http://digg.com/apple/Why_MacHeist_is_good_for_the_developers_taking_part) Doesn't anyone have an original thought any more?
david Kerns writes:
I think an important point that Gruber got wrong was making an analogy between the Mac Heist guys and a promoter...like, say Don King. Considering that they have almost single handedly invented a new distribution model, built the website around a well thought out concept, and then executed and advertised for it - to follow the boxing analogy, that makes you more than just a promoter. It would be like actually inventing the sport of boxing, building a superdome in which to hold fights in, and then being responsible for ticket sales and yes, promotion. Maybe in that sense, just calling them "promoters" takes some credit away from them. I don't know what Gruber considers generous but 30,000 USD seems conservative, and consider that it has to be split among several parties - I think if they can bank a good year's salary on top of that more power to them. At the end of the day I think one has to be a little less cynical and a little more careful than Mr. Gruber has been in the piece he wrote. I have to ask myself when was the last time I raised 100 dollars for charity...1000 dollars....100,000 dollars? :-) It's hard to criticize these guys, and I am not sure why Gruber felt like he needed to stake his credibility on the "outing" of this "bad deal". P.S. regarding the font, I am on a Mac and using Safari and it's still killing my eyes, a testament to the value of your writing that I actually stuck around to read it. Ouch.
Mister Snitch writes:
"Jackass of the Week goes to John Gruber without a question." You are vastly underestimating Gruber. He has it in him to be the Jackass of the Century.
Mister Snitch writes:
" I totally don't get Gruber's appeal" He writes about Apple. Apple has LOTS of appeal (hence their fat bank account). Gruber himself, of course, has NO appeal.
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Created: 2006-12-14 @936 Last change: 2014-11-25 @094 | Home | Admin | Edit
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