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The end of free

In all the hullabaloo about Six Apart’s new pricing structure for Movable Type (check out the announcement from Mena — with what has to be a record 373 Trackbacks — for some idea of what people are whining about), the best and most concise comment I’ve seen comes from Dave Winer today:

Yesterday we saw people complain about spending $60 for a big useful piece of software like Movable Type. I paid $60 for a cab ride in Geneva. A good dinner is $100. A hotel room $150. You want the software, find a way to help companies like Six Apart instead of making them miserable. You’ve now got the tools to communicate. Use them well. Use them better.

The bottom line, as Dave suggests, is that MT 3.0 is worth charging money for. Period. The fact that it was free up until now is largely irrelevant…except that for 2 1/2 years Six Apart has provided people with a very powerful, flexible piece of software for free and will continue to do so in the future. Those bastards!

The one thing I do think 6A got wrong is the pricing structure for personal users. Tiered pricing of software based on the number of users was designed to make sure large companies paid more for software than did small companies…so that a company like Wal-Mart pays $3 million for a database application for 20,000 users and a smaller company like Nantucket Nectars pays $30,000 for the same software with 250 users. The same pricing structure doesn’t make sense for personal users. I know they priced it that way so that someone can’t install MT and then host weblogs for 50 of their friends. I can understand that…that seems like an abuse of the “personal” license to me.

But in my case, I have 10 weblogs and 22 authors on my MT install. All of those weblogs are primarily mine except for one group weblog (which is not public at this time). All of the weblogs can be found on one domain (no subdomains), although some are password-protected. Most of the authors in the system are part-time…they aren’t actively posting to weblogs nor will they in the future, but they need to remain in the system to retain authorship of their posts. By my reckoning, I’m one person using MT in a exclusively personal manner to maintain one Web site. But looking at the pricing chart, there’s not even an option on there for me and the highest option they do offer is $190 for 9 users and 10 weblogs. How much would 22 authors (and counting…) cost me? $250? Or would I have to move to a commercial license for $700?

Why not make the personal edition a flat fee of ~$60 for unlimited users and weblogs (in addition to the free version with 1 author/3 weblogs)? Here’s the reasoning. Tiered personal use (per above) doesn’t make much sense. Trust that people using the personal edition will use it in a personal way. The guy offering 50 of his friends MT weblogs on subdomains isn’t going to pay for MT, not what you want him to pay anyway. If people start using it in that way, suggest an upgrade to the non-personal edition might be appropriate. If they refuse, they weren’t going to pay you anyway.

In exchange for lowering the price on the high-end, you get community goodwill and, more importantly, you get people using your software in a freewheeling way. When people, particular the power users that will be attracted to MT, have the freedom to use your software however they wish (and not having to choose, for instance, between paying $50-$90 extra and not having guest authors on their site or not starting that extra weblog to keep track of the books they’ve been reading), you get a picture of what your software is really for. And since MT is ultimately the backend for TypePad (a for-pay service), that knowledge is valuable. My feeling is that susidizing freewheeling personal use of MT is an investment that will pay off handsomely in the future.

In the meantime, I’ve got options. My copy of MT (v2.63, for which I donated $45) isn’t any less flexible or powerful than it was yesterday. It works just fine for my current needs, it will continue to work well into the foreseeable future, and I remain a satified customer of Six Apart.