Living in a state of accord.

Clients Decide Worth, Not You

As part of a very good series on sustainable software, Gianugo Rabellino writes:

The market couldn’t care less about your developers’ kids in need of new sneakers or your VC craving about his next Lambo: the argument that someone has to pay for software development is one of the biggest straw man of Open Source – the market pays for value, and if you build very little, guess what, you won’t get more than peanuts.

This isn’t just limited to Open Source software or even software in general. Far too often people make the mistake of thinking that company expenses justify the price of goods and it’s simply not the case. Value to the consumer decides what something is worth and if that happens to be below the cost of manufacture that’s the company’s problem, not the consumer’s. If that means the company stops making the product, consumer’s won’t care because they’ve already decided to go without.

The base of this problem is the idea that everyone has the same point of view as yours, or that they can be made to care about your point of view. The reality is that they’re so busy dealing with their own point of view and the challenges that brings that they don’t have time or energy to care about yours too. This leads to a long line of misconceptions based on the same idea:

It costs nothing to reproduce software/music/digital goods so all companies should provide them for free. This is effectively the opposite point of view from Gianugo – the idea that it didn’t cost the company much to produce doesn’t inherently make it less valuable to consumers. Maybe you individually don’t value it that much, but if enough other people do, you’d better be willing to go without. Cost of production simply has no relationship to value for consumers.

The company had a bad year so employees get reduced or no bonuses. This might be important for the business to survive, but it doesn’t mean employees will be at all happy about it. If they did their best, met their goals etc, why shouldn’t they get rewarded for it, if they’d wanted to bear the risks of business they would have started their own. The key to understanding this is not to think that business should pay bonuses even if it sends them broke or that you can’t have compensation tied to overall company performance (e.g. stock options) but that employees view this from a very different perspective to your own and you need to make it worthwhile and justified from your employee’s perspective, not your own.

DRM restricts user’s rights. Not really, DRM reduces the value to clients but if they’re happy to pay it so be it. Consumers not only get to decide value, they get to decide what rights they want for their money too. Sometimes these rights get coded into law without the possibility of waving them, but not often. Many companies use the rights they offer as a key point of differentiation – car manufacturers offering longer warranties, stationary companies offer unconditional return policies, airlines providing more flexible tickets.

The key to successfully arguing for or against something is to understand who it is you’re trying to convince and arguing from their point of view. Arguing from your own point of view is just whinging.

Category: Rants