There’s no such thing as a “free” app, so get over it and pony up!

In this article, I’m, not just on a proverbial hobby-horse but whipping it frantically as I gallop wildly into the Valley of Death. I may even end up offending some readers but hopefully make some new friends along the way. So saddle up and join the posse!

One boy and his horse

Imagine getting the following e-mail from someone who wants you to provide therapy services for their child.

Dear Therapist

I am the parent of a child who cannot speak and really needs help. I saw that you offer therapy services to people like my child and I’d love to have access to them. However, I am really surprised that your therapy services are so expensive and think that you should provide them free of charge. Other people provide free therapy services and there are also many people who are not therapists who provide free therapy services in their spare time.

I’d be happy to provide a recommendation of your therapy services to other people if you were to provide them to me for free. Otherwise, I am afraid I will just have to blog about how expensive your therapy services are and go somewhere else. It seems so sad that children in desperate need of help are denied access to therapy services because of people wanting to make a profit from their disability.

Now I’m guessing that your response is likely to be along the lines of “no,” based on the notion that at the end of the day, you’d like to be able to eat, stay warm, and maybe feed your family. You might also be wanting to pay off the huge loan  you took out to train for years to become a therapist in the first place – because those greedy folks at the college expected you to pay for your education! And if you were to give free therapy to this client, the “recommendation” would result in everyone else wanting free help, and that’s not usually a sustainable business model.

OK, so why not copy the email into a document and do a search-and-replace that changes every instance of “therapy services” to “apps.” Hell, why don’t I make it even easier and do that for you below:

I am the parent of a child who cannot speak and really needs help. I saw that you offer apps to people like my child and I’d love to have access to them. However, I am really surprised that your apps are so expensive and think that you should provide them free of charge. Other people provide free apps and there are also many people who are not therapists who provide free apps in their spare time.

I’d be happy to provide a recommendation of your apps to other people if you were to provide them to me for free. Otherwise, I am afraid I will just have to blog about how expensive your apps are and go somewhere else. It seems so sad that children in desperate need of help are denied access to apps because of people wanting to make a profit from their disability.

Sounds familiar?

So how about another stark contrast just to hammer home a little more how ridiculous we all are – and we’re all guilty – when it comes to value and pricing with apps.

Hands up anyone who buys at least one coffee per week from a local coffee store.

Hands down.

The nice people at Statistic Brain estimate that the average price on an espresso-based coffee in 2012 was $2.45, and a brewed one was $1.34. So if you drink an espresso-based coffee each week for a year, you are out-of-pocket by $127.40. More sobering is that there’s a good chance you drink more than one a week, and just having two takes you up to $255 and tax.

So remind me again; why do we whine about paying 99 cents for an app? Why do we jump through hoops to badger, harass, cajole, and even blackmail app developers into giving us freebies? If I’m happy to spend $250 per year on something as trivial as a cup of non-essential coffee, why will I not spend $1 on an app that is apparently “essential” for a child’s education? Is coffee more valuable than education?

Our sense of “value” and “worth” has gone totally to pot when it comes to apps. It defies belief that consumers somehow believe that either it costs nothing to create an app or that app creators are making money out of the wazoo from their yachts just off of Miami Beach. We are, in fact, victims of Crapponomics, the naive misunderstanding of how apps work from an economic standpoint.

Why did this happen? Why is it that when an app developer asks $1.99 for something that took weeks of work we are shocked at the effrontery to ask such an outrageous price and invent some form of “special case” as to why we deserve a freebie?  Let’s take a look at Crapponomics 101.

Crapponomics graphic

1. The apps “anchor” was originally free.
In Economics, there’s a concept known as the “Anchor Point.” As the name suggests, it’s the selling price at which you drop your anchor when you bring a new product or service to market. Once an anchor is set, new folks tend to cluster around your safe harbor and drop similar anchors. And when people start purchasing products, this anchor becomes the standard against all other similar products are measured. The average price of an app in 2012 was $1.58, which is 87 cents cheaper than a cup of espresso-based coffee.

The best anchor point for a consumer is usually free. If I want stuff, and the stuff costs me nothing, how bad can that be? Well, the obvious thing is that there’s a little thing called quality that gets factored into the equation, but you’d be surprised (or not) how much quality will be sacrificed on the altar of Free.  And in the early days of iPhones and iPads, the majority of apps were free – which became, and remains, the anchor.

2. Most apps are for marketing, not profit.
In his seminal work, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins argued that human beings are basically the gene’s way of making new genes. We are, in fact, merely hosts for DNA, and the name of the game of Life is for DNA to exist. In a similar fashion, apps are just the tablet device’s way of creating more tablet devices. Apple, Samsung, and even Microsoft, don’t need to write apps because what they want is to sell tablets [1]. The purpose of the free Angry Birds games is to sell angrier and more expensive birds; the purpose of the free United Airlines app is to get you to buy tickets on United Airlines; the purpose of the free Pandora app is to get you to subscribe to the full Pandora service. Folks will pay for more birds, better airline seats, and more music but still begrudge the 99 cents for an app designed by a professional clinician and software engineer to help a client improve. And that’s because we mix up the free app with the for-profit app, and forget the value of expertise and quality.

3. We see apps as “things” and not a piece of intellectual property.
Ask yourself why you want an app in the first place. Usually it’s because it offers you something that would take you a long time to develop yourself (if at all) and will in some way help your clients succeed. So why are you reluctant to pay someone for taking the time to do all that work for you? Is 99 cents really too much to ask for the hours and hours a developer has put into it?

The problem is that most folks look at apps the same way they look at cans of beans on a shelf; you find the ones you like, stick ’em in your basket, and pay at the counter. But many apps – particularly those for therapy and education – have taken someone a long time to create. What you are buying is their years of experience in their field of expertise, their time designing the content, their cost to employ a programmer, and any royalties they in turn might be paying “behind the scenes” for things within the app [2].

4. Apple are not a charity and take their cut.
Folks who create apps know that despite the image that St. Stephen of Jobs carefully crafted to portray Apple as a caring, sharing, warm-and-fuzzy group of lovable kooks sticking it to “the Man,” they want 30% of everything that goes out via iTunes. Everything. If you write an app for an Apple device, you cannot sell it other than via iTunes – and that’ll cost you 30% of your selling price. Every 99 cent app that we begrudgingly pay for nets the developer 66 cents. Does anyone think to harass Apple because they get 33 cents for distributing? Nope, the developer gets the blame.

And how about that “freebie” thing? Well, Apple are kind enough to offer developers some free codes that they can use for promotion purposes, but after that, if the developer wants to give one away, they have to pay for their own app – and Apple still gets the 33 cents! That “free” app you are so adamantly demanding costs the developer (a) 66 cents in lost income and (b) 33 cents real money to Apple [3].

5. You have to sell millions of 99 cent apps to buy a boat.
Another basic rule of Economics is that to make a profit you can either sell millions of very cheap things at a small margin, or a few very expensive things at a large one. The Crapponomics assumption by consumers is that app developers make money by following the former route; millions of apps at 99 cents = sun-kissed beaches and mojitos in Hawaii.

But there are two underlying assumptions here that are inaccurate. The first is that the sort of apps being developed for therapy and education do not sell in millions. Not even close. The second is that there are not significant profits to be made from an app; simple math soon whittles down the margins. For a 99 cent app, Apple takes 33 cents, leaving 66 cents. Of that 66 cents, there’s usually at least two people to pay – author and developer – so that takes it to 33 cents each. Take out something for the IRS (like Apple, tax folks want their pound of flesh and you stand no chance of getting a “freebie” from them!), maybe a little for marketing, and that “dollar an app” profit has shrunk down smaller than a guy’s nuts on an Alaskan winter’s morning.

Think of the value, not the anchor
So do you still think paying 99 cents is too expensive? Or $1.99? Maybe even $4.99? Remember, that 99 cent app is supposed to make it easier for you to provide a service – for which you WILL be charging substantially more than 99 cents.

If a “life-changing” app costs $4.99, who in their right mind would quibble with that? Has the value of education and therapy reached the point where folks will pay more for a couple of pints at the bar than they will for their child’s future? I suppose that 60-inch LCD TV from  Best Buy is a “good investment” but the $99.99 for an AAC app isn’t? Where has our sense of value gone? I suppose paying Verizon Wireless $40.00 every  month for a data plan is normal for our wired life but hounding the developer of a $2.99 app  for a free copy balances that out.

We need to realize that when we buy an app we are not paying for the virtual equivalent of a can of beans but the skills, knowledge, and time of an experienced educator or clinician. Only then we will begin to stop the decline in the undervaluing of therapy and education as a whole.

Sometimes, there just isn’t an app for that.

[1] From Apple’s perspective, even the sale of the tablets isn’t where the big money resides; that’s coming from their greatest invention; iTunes. Although most folks would suggest that the iPod, iPhone, and iPad are Apple’s best inventions, it’s their delivery system that was their masterstroke. In order to get anything into your iDevice you need to download from iTunes, and Apple makes money on every download. Every app, book, song, movie, or video earns them cash, and that’s pure genius.

[2] Most app authors are in the true sense “authors” and not “writers.” They don’t actually write programming code for a device, and often have no idea about how code works. In a similar fashion, when Snooki claims to have “authored a book” she is being truthful; someone else actually “wrote” it based on Snooki’s ideas (whatever those may have been.) What this means is that the “99 cents” you pay  is now starting to get split many ways, and the author isn’t getting anything near 99 cents.

The average cost to develop and app has been estimated to be anywhere between $8000 and $200,000.  Here’s a good article called The Cost of Building an iPad App. Ideas for apps are cheap – we all have them – but software engineers are not, neither is your time. You might think that if you are designing an app in your “spare time” then it’s free, but the only reason you have “spare time” is that you’re already being paid for a job! The real test of the cost is to quit your real job and then go to the bank to see how much they will lend you to design an app.

[3] My standard disclaimer here is that I have no problem with any company making a profit. Apple developed the iTunes distribution system and have every right to recoup their development efforts by charging people to use the system. Although I may not want to say, “Greed is Good,” I’m OK with saying, “Making a profit is just fine.” My beef is more that for some reason, people seem to see Apple as the good guy and app developers as trying to gouge customers by charging for their apps. Folks seem happy to demand free 99 cent apps but don’t expect apple to give them a $700 iPad. Why is that? And Apple are the ones who force up app prices by asking for 30% of the selling price and only providing a limited number of free codes. So why don’t people rail on Apple about this? It seems that the richest company on the planet gets a “pass” but struggling app developers get the hassle. If Apple doesn’t give free $700 iPads, Verizon doesn’t offer free $40 monthly data plans, and Best Buy doesn’t let you walk off with a free 60-inch TV, why should an app seller give away a free 99 cent piece of software? Stop picking on the little guys!

51 responses to “There’s no such thing as a “free” app, so get over it and pony up!

  1. Right on! Now, I love a good app deal, and I still think finding free apps that are useful is fun, I am more than willing to pay for good professional and educational apps. Maybe this year when I do my taxes, I will actually add up how much I spent on apps this year. It might be close to that $250. Good thing I brew my own coffee!

    Another point I make to parents and therapists is that we are all willing to buy therapy materials, toys, educational books, etc, at a cost. SLPs buy $40 games from Super Duper, $100 sets of picture cards. Parents buy books at $5 each, or buy video games for gaming systems at $30-50 each. We buy all these things with maybe a sigh, but not too much complaint. And yet an app that has hundreds, even thousands more stimulus pictures for $40 is decried as too expensive, or a game with good educational value, at $5, is deemed to be way too much for an app.

    If we want free apps, there are plenty. But most of the time, they are either of lower quality, or more limited in scope (or they have lots of ads.) The apps that I find most useful are all paid, and I am glad that I bought them.

    • There are some very good free apps out there and we’re as likely to use them as anyone else. All we’re trying to remind folks is that all in all, many apps are really quite reasonably priced, some are even fantastic bargains, and that if you compare apps using the “Coffee Index,” we can be unfair to developers who do an awful lot of work for sometimes very little return. The “Crapponomics” graphic in the article was drawn using “Paper53” for the iPad for which I just aid $6.99 for the drawing tools. A bargain for such as wonderful sketching app.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. This is brilliant…and very true. I buy my own apps for therapy and I know first hand how expensive it can get. No one would think about writing any of the companies that provide hard materials for therapy (you know, artic flashcards, bingo boards, chipper chat, etc.) and asking for them to be free – or asking why the people that create those items are charging the price they are charging.

    As an app author helping create apps for speech-language therapy I can say I am definitely NOT getting rich. I do create them on my “spare time” but that spare time comes at a cost – it’s family time that I am choosing to miss out on, or it’s sleep time that I’m choosing to go without, or it’s my Saturday morning…you get the picture. Yes, I’m choosing to create apps – but I’m not doing it to get rich…I’m doing it to create apps I want in my therapy practice and share my knowledge and skills with many other people around the world. Apps take a lot of time to create – my Categories Learning Center app took well over 3 months to come up with the correct items, do the voicing, etc. This latest app I’m working on has been nearly a year in production. Quality apps take a while to create – and during that time people still have to eat and pay bills.

    My final thought is that free apps aren’t “free.” Many include in-app purchases (which I detest because it reminds me of the old “bait and switch”) or advertising. Somebody somewhere is making money.

    • You’re probably right in that “somebody somewhere is making some money,” but my guess is that 99% are just like you – dedicated, enthusiastic professionals who do it for the satisfaction of providing a solution and not with a view to driving the new Porsche to the house in the Hamptons 😉

      But when you do make that first millions, we have this great idea for an app……

  3. I am so in love with your post – that I would love to ask if I could re-post it everywhere 😉
    We often get emails from VERY angry customers complaining about the cost of our apps, and yes they do say how they will blog about how expensive the apps are if we do not give it for free. The other we hear often is ” I LOVE the app – I just wish it did not cost so much” , we even have a review saying ” this is the best app I ever bough, giving it a 4 stars because of the price”.
    Thanks for the nice discussion.

    • Thanks for the comments and feel free to repost – we don’t get any royalties for this 😉 I can understand how hard it must be for you to have to deal with folks who feel that your apps should be free. And of course, everyone “deserves” an app if it meets their needs. But the only way you and your authors can continue is to make a profit because that’s what pays for new stuff, and without that, the “free apps” become “no apps!” YOu SAPT at just under $60 may sound expensive to folks used to the 99 cent app, but compared to something like the DEAP from Pearson, which clocks in at over $200 if you get all the manuals and record sheets, it is a bargain. I guess it will just take time for folks to appreciate that what you pay for is not some “code” but the skill and experience of those people who author the programs.

  4. Oh, I could comment here all day 🙂

    First, yup, you’re right: free apps aren’t free, and it’s absolutely the wrong anchor for therapy apps.

    The same can be said for learning materials: “I can just use Google Images” is our anchor!

    I get at least one letter a week saying, “Can you please give me a free LessonPix account? I am an assistant who makes very little money and can’t afford it.” Well, we’re BY FAR the least expensive option for creating high quality SLP materials, so NO! And really? You can’t afford $3/month? You must place a very low value on your time!

    We regularly get the question, “When is LessonPix going to have an iPad app?” We’ve got a great library of symbols, and people (understandably) think that there’s great potential for using those in the iPad space. But the price point is ridiculously low: would you choose to compete against: Boardmaker at $400/CD or apps at $1/device? We chose instead to make sure our site works well on the iPad and cut out the iTunes commission.

    In reality, we will probably release an iPad app that is a free “Companion” app: you’ll have to have a LessonPix account to get full benefit of it. For example, it will have Bingo Drawing tools to help kids play on their own for practice and Spinners to match the board games you make… It’s free, but the goal is to sell more subscriptions.

    My advice to SLP folks looking to push out an App (and wanting to make money)? Either find a separate money-making opportunity to pair it with (our Companion option) or consciously use value marketing and refuse to compete on price. To do that:

    1) Sell Benefits, not Features – sell what patients and parents can expect in terms of therapy support, progress, etc. I’m not the expert in what these are and where you have to draw the line ethically, but you can’t sell based on # of images/words/sounds – you have to sell outcomes & expectations.

    2) Sell Expertise – Names and strategies people have heard of, university partnerships, research that backs what you’re doing. Make them see more than a slick UI – make them see the brains behind the effort: they’re more likely to pay for it.

    3) Let them try it – In our case, this means our ridiculous Refund Policy. That won’t work in an app since iTunes won’t pay you back their cut (I don’t think). So, you’ll have to give them a trial period or a limited Free version.

    If you’re really providing a valuable product, one that can be used to really influence the progress of a patient or student, then you should be able to sell this way, and you should be able to price your work accordingly.

    And if enough therapy apps do this, it will in effect set a new anchor: one that can support the producer side of the market. I hope it does.


    • Thanks for adding those thoughts, Bill. The ready availability for “free” of “stuff on the Internet” has certainly had an effect on everyone’s perception of “value.” Newspapers and magazines are going through a terrible time as people stop buying print but refuse to pay from digital. I was once happy (or at least OK with) spending 25p (UK money!) daily for my copy of the “Times” but somehow can’t bring myself to pay the 100 GBP per year for the online version (which is 30p – only 5 more than I paid when I was living in the UK 25 years ago!)

      The value of knowledge, information, and the ability to synthesize this into action, is hard for folks to grasp, especially when the “model” is the average $1.35 app. As you say, in the long run, the answer is to keep providing quality and value. It’s just that in the short- to medium-term, this is a hard slog for you guys trying to sell “creative solutions.”

  5. New friend here! 🙂 You had me with your creative opening paragraph and clip art! Gave me a chuckle, and your point of view is spot on! Funny, but I’ve actually encountered the “therapy version” of your scenario recently. Great blog!

    • It’s scary that you came across the “therapy” version! As with mythical “App Millionaires,” the “SLP Millionaire” is a similarly chimeric creature and although I can appreciate folks not wanting to over pay for a service, you’d like to think they’d be OK with at least the principle of paying for the service. Apparently not 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

  6. You just made my day! Now I am off to share this with my develops group- thank you!

  7. I have no problem paying for apps, and I also spend an obscene amount of money on books, games, cards, professional dues, gloves, tongue depressors and craft supplies every year. My problem is logic of comparing this purchase with MY weekly cup of coffee. I work to pay for that coffee and other luxury items… I am purchasing the app in order to DO my job – at my expense and without being compensated. So, perhaps, we should not complain about the cost of apps, but instead lobby our employers to actually cover the cost of technological therapy materials.

    • Absolutely! It’s not unrealistic to expect an employer to foot the bill for expenses incurred in the legitimate execution of one’s job. That’s simply the cost of doing business. If they’ll pay for the coffee, too, that’s a bonus!

  8. my issue with paying for apps is the resale or return value if they dont end up being useful for what I need… If I spend $50 on a book/resource that ends up not being what I wanted, I can return it or sell it on and make back some of my money.
    With an app, if I spend any money on them, there’s no way to get that back when it ends up not being what I wanted. And yes there are free trial versions, but not for everything, and they dont always let you test the bit you need to test.
    I have several apps that cost me $70+ (on special too), which now aren’t even installed on my ipad because they turned out to not be what I needed, or I moved into another area of practice (I’m a Speech Pathologist).
    So I’m wary of actually spending money on apps, I tend to only buy when they are on special for free, because I cant afford to have a whole lot of digital resources, worth hundreds of dollars, that are never used.

    They really need a way of returning an app if you’ve only opened it a couple of times, or selling it on.

    • This is one of the issues I didn’t talk about in the article so thanks for bringing it up! With “things” such as cars, books, shoes, toe-nail clippers etc., there is always the potential for either returning it or selling it on. With software, it depends on the vendor as to how whether you can get a refund. And even if you get a “refund,” there’s no guarantee you won’t continue to use it. For Android users, Google Play offer a 24-hour refund so you can test a software and, if you don’t like it, get your money back. Apple will sometimes refund but I can only speak for one specific example of where I downloaded a movie by mistake (the wrong movie) and they refunded the $9.99 but I got to keep the movie. There is also the issue that selling software on after purchase cannot be policed in relation to the common rules of buying software – namely that it is ONE copy of the software on ONE device at ONE time. Apple have a different policy of allowing up to five devices (which, incidentally, is in THEIR favor, not the developer, who only gets paid ONCE but Apple get paid for each device you buy!) but in general when you install software you agree not to have multiple copies across many machines. If you do that, it’s called “stealing” although people won’t admit to that.

      I don’t know the answer to this and I suspect there are arguments both ways. If software is “intellectual property,” then one argument is that you buy it the same way you buy legal or professional advice – you’re paying for the time and information, not the outcome. An IP attorney can charge $300 per hour yet if I don’t “like” the advice, I can’t get my money back – I pay for the time, not the content. I could sue if there were damages due to bad advice, but that’s fraught with problems, too. If I buy an app that is supposed to teach someone how to use the sounds /b/, /d/, and /g/ but my client fails, can I get my money back? Or is there more to it?

      Fascinating observation, Cat, and we’d love to hear what folks think!

      • An app is a tool – just like a set of flashcards. There’s no guarantee that set of flashcards will work with every client.

        One of the great ways that I’ve found around that “what if I don’t like it” problem – and it is a problem – is to watch the videos of the apps. Most of the app developers will include a tutorial of how to use the app on their website. Between that and reviews, I’ve been able to reduce the number of apps that I’m unhappy with. Do I still have some in my iTunes account – absolutely…and I periodically brush them off and try them again. Just like I do other therapy materials. I have lots of therapy materials (non-app) that I’ve bought and don’t use – apps are no different.

    • That’s a really good point, and especially pertinent to the more costly apps. I know that sometimes different user styles affect this, too. Some SLPs really love apps that just don’t “click” with me. I’ve purchased some before, and I find I never choose to use them, because they just don’t match my style as a therapist. So, even if I read various reviews of apps, I still might not actually like an app, or find it useful. I’m sure the same is true–apps that I recommend might not be everyone else’s favorite.

      It doesn’t bother me so much if the app costs less, and I normally can find a way to make it work anyway. but it would be nice if you could gift an app from your account to someone else, and that deleted it from your account. However, I can’t see that ever happening. I guess developers might consider offering a refund to the user, but I don’t think there’s a way for them to verify that a particular customer actually did purchase an app, is there? And they’d have to take a loss for the part Apple keeps. It gets pretty complicated.

  9. Spot on! I have long thought it was weird that my colleagues will pay $20 for a travel version of Hungry Hungry Hippos but would not buy the (similar game) app because it cost them a dollar. Seriously?? That’s always seemed like bizarre thinking to me, and my iTunes account will back me up (no kidding, $140 in one month once (or twice… or so). That’s when we decided to set better ground rules cuz Apple’s other genius move was to make it INCREDIBLY easy to buy from them). So when you get a full therapy app authored by a SLP, it should cost more than a dollar! Not to say that finding free adaptable apps isn’t also nice, but I HIGHLY doubt they come with the kinds of targets and flexibility we sometimes need for therapy.

    And I also like your comment about assessment apps – we DO pay a ton of money to buy ‘hard copy’ tests and THEN we have to buy the forms to go with them, which add up to a lot of money over time. At least in apps it’s a one time purchase without paying every time we give the test. Sure, only a few of them are normed so far but I suspect that will change in time, and norms are somewhat overrated, speaking as someone who tests about 180 kids a year.

    Thanks, great post.

  10. I forgot to mention – every time you get an update for your app, someone had to code that (or pay a programmer to code that) and most times Apple updates their iOS, the apps need to be updated too or they crash. So that’s another cost incurred by the developer that no one ever thinks about!!

  11. Interesting discussion. I am quite willing to pay for specific apps for speech language therapy. However as a consumer I track sales and look for fun and education apps. I make recommendations to my SLP and OT colleagues as we are all moving to many mobile resources. Parents need a break and ideas of how to complete home practice that is motivating and applies the child’s goals. Adult clients are so willing. I anticipate that with more smart phones and mobile devices we will see more of our families purchasing directly with support from their clinicians.

  12. Thanks! Thanks and Thanks again!
    Now I will sit back on my yacht just off Miami Beach and have a cool drink …. no , in reality I will call my programmer as we had an bug because Apple changed something without notice, customers are angry, write emails trying to explain, pay the bill for the new sound for a new app, talk to the graphic artist, try to make her charge not as much…. , talk to people organising a fair, try to get some attention there…. crapponomics will be my favorite word!
    Kristin from

    • The popularity of the catchphrase, “There’s an app for that!” has had, I suggest, the unintended consequences of making people believe that creating an app is simple when it rarely is. And the appearance of simplicity in a god app belies the underlying complexity that a software engineer has to handle in order to make it look simple! And you make the great point that when Apple (or any company that owns the operating system of a device) makes a change to their software, that can have significant knock-on effects for current applications.

  13. It’s amazing how so many people don’t decry the price if the rising cost of java over the years and yet whine and complain for a mere $0.99. It so amuses me how illogical all of it is. The wonderment of all of this is that once you purchase an app, it’s yours and it doesn’t get wet, lost, stolen or broken. Yet, when I things get broken, (i.e. 60″ TV) it immediately has to be replaced without a thought to the cost and no one thinks to question the TV manufacturers about the quality of their products. The amount of money I have spent on therapy materials over the years has not been pretty and it it out of my very own pocket. Fortunately, I use the money that I would spend at the java shop instead on apps and brew my coffee at home!

    • It all boils down to our notions about “value” and what things are “worth.” Many things in a consumer society such as ours can command high prices because of the value we put on it (such as computer technology) but in other societies they have no value whatsoever. A loaf of bread is worth more than a bar of gold when you’re hungry. Thanks for the contribution 😉

  14. Thanks for this great article. My husband and I work on apps in our “spare time” (meaning we have to keep our day jobs) and can echo all of the points you made about the costs of making apps – and the crazy amount of time involved in designing, developing and marketing them. It takes us months to create an app, and marketing never ends. Even though we design and code ourselves, there are many expenses involved including business license, annual developer fees to Apple and other platforms, software subscriptions (Adobe, dropbox, etc.) computers, test devices and marketing. The money we do make on apps helps supplement our income, which coincidentally we happily spend on speech and occupational therapy for two of our kids. We would never think to question the cost or value our children receive from therapy and are very grateful to the professionals who provide it.

  15. Well I have to say I’m not as impressed with this article as it seems everyone else is, your arguement is based on therapy as if it were an app but I pay over $100 a month to have my iPhone and then I have to pay for ANY app I buy after that. I’ll put it a way all you can understand, it’s like paying a therapist and telling him all your problems but then you have to pay him extra to hear what he has to say. Your making everyone out to be unreasonable in thinking that there should actually be some free apps and in my mind there absolutely should. Android and other phones that aren’t iPhones have 100% free apps for whatever you want, like a music player that can download songs, games that you don’t have to pay to unlock the other 90% and tons of other apps, ALL COMPLETELY FREE. Apple is just really greedy and won’t let people who would make an absolutely free app, sell it in the iPhone app store, it’s plain greed so stop making everyone but people like yourself sound completely unreasonable because they don’t want to fork over $1 or $3 or $7 for an app when they already pay $100 dollars a month just to have the phone ( Besides the initial cost of buying the phone to start with )

    • Thanks for you perspective. I’m not sure I quite follow your argument but I don’t think I am suggesting there is anything wrong with free apps. The point of this discussion is simply that when somebody creates an app, they should be allowed to choose whether they give it away for free or get paid. It is no different from anyone who does any job – they expect to get paid for their time and effort. I don’t know what line of work you are in but I assume you get a paycheck and would stop doing the job if your employer decided you should do it for free. It’s the same with app developers – that’s their job.

      The argument that you already pay $100 per month for you iPhone is not relevant. That is payment to your phone network provider for using their service. You could choose not to pay that and your iPhone would become an iPod Touch. The money you paid for your iPhone in the first place goes to Apple, not the people who write apps. Without the apps, your iPhone becomes nothing more than a stylish brick. So you are saying that paying your phone company $1200 per year, and Apple $199 for the phone is OK, but $1 for an app (that neither your network provider or Apple wrote) is unacceptable? If so, that is precisely the point of the whole article; that people don’t always realize the value of an app, and totally ignore the fact that someone, somewhere, wrote it and deserves to be paid for that effort. Or not, should you choose not to buy it.

      On my socialist days, I might have said “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” Actually, I’d say the same on my capitalist days 😉

    • I wonder if you use your iPhone/iPad differently than most of us included in this discussion? Most of us are talking about using these as assessment and therapy tools – it’d be akin to saying a doctor already paid to rent office space and hire an admin assistant, so s/he shouldn’t have to pay more to buy any medical instruments. That logic is absurd.

      However, even if we put that professional discussion aside, your logic dictates that if you paid to buy a 3D BluRay player, widescreen LED TV, and a surround sound system, then you shouldn’t have to pay to buy (3D or not) the movies to play in it. o_0 ?? I suppose you should also not have to pay for the games to play in an XBox or Playstation console either. It is the EXACT same thing. And I’ll wager you’ve never suggested that you should be able to get those movies/games for free. And if you do get them for ‘free’, it’s usually called Piracy, and it’s illegal for a reason.

      I agree that finding free apps is nice and it’s worthwhile to look for them. I just don’t agree that you shouldn’t ever have to pay for apps – ESPECIALLY for specialized apps.

      • I’ve bought apps before and probably will again, what I was saying is Apple never has free phone apps like other smart phones from small developers who might get enjoyment or use out of people using the app. I wasn’t trying to say EVERY app should be free, I was trying to say it should be an option that people are allowed to put apps on the app store for free if they want. The only apps I usually see that are free have “Lite” beside them and in order to use 90% of the actual app you have to pay. I’m bashing on Apple not all paid apps in general. As far as therapy and education apps to me it seems kind of silly to be using an app for anything important.

    • –“As far as therapy and education apps to me it seems kind of silly to
      be using an app for anything important.”
      I wasn’t going to respond to that, but then this crossed my path today: Pros (12) and Cons (2) to using apps for therapy and education:

  16. What a great thread – as new app developers, we’re facing the decision of what to charge for our app. We’re aiming for quality content and lots of it – rather than a quicker/more basic product that we could perhaps justify giving away for free.

    I guess the thing is, good content has to cost (just a little bit). I thought I’d share these interesting numbers from a post on by Bright Start Apps about the amount of time they have put into one of their apps…

    Pre-K Letters and Numbers – By Numbers (in first 4 weeks)

    5 – Team size
    7 – Sleepless nights
    11 – Beta testers (thank you)
    12 – Expected time to recover investment (months)
    70 – Research & marketing effort (hours)
    300 – Development time spent on app (hours)

    • Thanks for sharing those numbers! The “Development time” is a piece that is pretty much unknown to app purchasers – after all, it isn’t a criteria people use for deciding whether or not an app “works.” But I hope folks who read this who were previously unaware of the time it takes to create an app will not feel to bad in the future at being asked to pay a relatively small amount of cash to support the developers.

  17. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Seseme Workshop’s iLearn II 2012 report on the state of educational apps is a great resource, especially page 18 about sustainability.

  18. Excellent piece! Thanks for writing it. Of course you have a lot of support form app developers, and I’m no different, although I would like to say that I’m happy to give 30% to Apple to provide the 24/7 worldwide distribution and sales that they do, along with technical support for software delivery and minimal risk of piracy. We never would have our apps on devices in Kazakstan without Apple! I wrote a blog post of my own after reading the comments here, discussing why apps are not always as sure an investment as traditional therapy materials and cited your post here:

    • You are quite right to point out that what you are paying for with your 30% is access to the iTunes distribution system. Of course, it is somewhat monopolistic because there is no other option, and you can’t haggle on price because there is no competitor for developers to use as a negotiating stick. It is a near-perfect natural monopoly shored up by the simple fact that if you want your app on an Apple device, Apple is the one and only gatekeeper. Still, it is only a monopoly as long as we, the consumers, accept it as such – and in the short term, I don’t see any competitor able to force down that distribution cost so long as the glamor of the iDevice continues. And, hey, if that’s what people want to spend their money on, that’s their business. Just like complaining about jobs going to China and the decline of the American economy is pointless until we stop buying stuff at WalMart and other big distributors of non-domestic products, effectively voting with out wallets!

  19. Bruce Helmbold

    MPiStutter is an audio-visual feedback app designed to treat stuttering. Cost? $999.99 [1]

    That puts it at one of the most expensive apps in the iTunes store. Other apps that cost $1000 include apps for combining molten metals to form metallurgic alloys and complex laser imaging for 3D graphics.

    This particular company also puts out an app for speech app for Parkinson’s also at $999.99. Their app for Kabalistic numerology is much more modestly priced at about $1.99.

    So there certainly is a need for judiciously selecting and recommending apps for specific therapy and assistive technology needs. And it’s become somewhat complicated. Clients are trying to decide if a particular therapy or assistive technology app is right for them. And clinicians are more commonly faced with questions and requests for recommending particular apps.

    To give this app developer credit, customers can receive a $700 refund on this app within 60 days. (Apple, presumably, retains their 30% cut of the original purchase.) But the refund is only for customers who were trained by a speech-language pathologist. Unhappy consumers who buy the app on their own without the guidance of a clinician are apparently out of luck.

    Implicit in this company’s refund policy is an acknowledgement that there is emerging two distinct models for selecting mobile technology solutions: Traditional Clinical– following AT assessment best practices, and Technology Consumer– autonomous AT selection.

    [1] Canadian iTunes Store,

    • From stuttering to Parkinson’s and then Numerology – now there’s a company with a broad product range! And yes, there are now two models of assistive technology selection. As I have said, when the guy at BestBuy is recommended AAC solutions, you have to think there’s been a shift in the field!

  20. Great blog guys. As a teacher at an International School in China who has just started a small company to develop and launch a couple of Apps I am very familiar with what you are saying. We created the apps because there was nothing out there that could do what we wanted. We love the finished products and they’re doing exactly what we hoped but we have made a substantial investment along the way and hope to at least make our money back. We have given the Apps to our school but there are still naysayers. I guess it comes down to professional jealousy in many instances, and not about the potential to make money, more that we have gone and done something. I love your analogy re the cup of coffee, I’m going to start using it!

  21. Thank you so much for a well written argument. As an app developer I get that all the time. People have gotten so used to the .99 apps, that they are even enraged at times when something costs more. Therapists hate spending money for apps, but they’ll go to a big publishing house and buy therapy materials for the same price. Thanks, again

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  24. Sick of Apples Monopoly

    You make some very good points. I have to say that as “a consumer” I would much rather just pay for an app and then be left alone. No more in-app purchases, incessant ads, massive privacy invasions or being hounded to ask every Tom, DICk, and Harry that I know to sign up for “extra perks” in that so-called “free” app. Data mining pays VERY well eh?

    The reality with these apps compared to actual tangible property is this… We “the consumers” own nothing real when we get an app for free or if we pay for any app. If we were getting actual software with a game or educational material it would be one thing, but we get no real tangible goods regardless of what we pay for an app.

    What we have here is a paradise of profits once the app has been developed because There are no employees needed to sell that item, no production lines needed to make that item, no warehouses needed for inventory and no shipping crates or shipping cost because there is not one tangible good being sold. therefore, There is nothing but pure profits after an app is developed because they are selling no real material items. If a future update happens to make that app unusable then all is lost for the app buyer because there never was a real piece of software in the hands of the app buyer.

    Indeed, there are two sides to every story. I’m all for paying for apps but lets get real on what consumers are not getting for their money.
    Can they turn around and sell an app they paid for when they are done with it like a used CD or Comouter game? No, they didn’t buy a real tangible good. So all that money spent on apps is an expense with no return for the buyer later on for those investments. And unlike selling used software the buyer cannot even transfer. These apps to a new owner of a used Apple device. Sounds like a great deal for Appke and developers but a raw deal for Joe Q. Public who paid real hard earned cash for no real owned property in return.

    I also agree that the lions share of blame for the cost goes straight on the shoulders of Apple who most definitely has the largest monopoly out there right now because of their worthless controlling invention otherwise known as iTunes. I seem to remember Microsoft was deservingly raked over the coals for nonstop monopoly attempts. However, consumers always had alternative chouces lije linux thus microsoft never mamaged to get their monopoly like Apple has created for themselves. IE: Where IS the ITunes alternative for Apple product owners? No where, which is exactly why they do have a hardcore monopoly that is not only crushing new developers but they are also denying the public to have a right to see ALL their choices. Why? because Apple controls whose app gets accepted and whose doesn’t so the public is never allowed the full freedom to choose for THEMSELVES and promising new developers never get the chance they deserved to let the PUBLIC decide which apps make it and which ones don’t.

    The last time I checked this was how the FREE market was supposed to work. Until Apple is forced to let go of the death grip they have on apps for their products prices will never go down and we will never see all our choices in apps.

  25. It’s a win/win for Apple as they charge the developer annual fees that usually cost more that the returns that the developer will see that year. Most developers will never get ROI. I understand the thinking that people aren’t getting tangible goods but they don’t complain about that when buying music on iTunes. The new family sharing plan on Apple should help people to get more bang for their buck.
    In reply to the “paradise of profits once the app has been developed” comment, of course there are employees which are paid prior to the app release, as well as for creating app updates made every time Apple/Android releases a system update. Apps aren’t a 1 man show. As a writer/developer of children’s interactive book apps, I pay thousands of $’s on illustrations, narrations, music composition, animation, programming & marketing.

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  28. This is a great, honest, well written/funny (and not so funny) post about all aspects of apps from purchasing to developing. Three years ago I would have read it from an app consumer perspective, now a developer. I never realized what it would take, how long to get an app up and running, and how much it would cost when I started the process…should have read your bog! Your analogies about buying books, are priceless! I think as time goes by, consumers, hopefully, are understanding that quality apps cost money; there are no freebies in life…just a sample with an in-app purchase before committing to the app.

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  30. I agree that the price of apps is not unreasonable in most cases. On a slightly different line, I take exception to exorbitant prices of software (not apps), assessments and treatment materials produced by universities or their staff.
    I understand there are developer costs, but many charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the software. A lot of them have clinician and patient editions which are sold separately. It’s clear to me that there is an attempt at money-making going on, yet university staff are paid for by public funds.
    Similar to the way that their research is now required to be open access in most countries, surely their software should be too.
    Besides which, surely having free software would raise their profile? Most programs are named after the university or have the logo all over it.

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