False Analogies

Saturday, 2007-12-01; 10:25:00

Guy in the Hat fires back at my indictment of MacHeist from yesterday. (I love back-and-forth weblog debates.) According to him:

Oil is a false analogy (as is rape). Mac developers aren’t like gas customers at all. The oil companies are an oligopoly. You must buy gas from them. Mac developers have a wealth of choices in selling their products.

Well, if my analogies are going to be picked apart, then I can certainly nitpick as well. We're talking about the sellers here, not the buyers. So the "choice" that we're talking about is on the part of the oil companies, not the consumers buying them. Mac consumers certainly do not have "choice" in where they buy their apps — in most cases, they always have to go directly to the developer.

Besides, the oil companies may be an oligopoly in their market, but that certainly doesn't mean that there aren't other choices. You can use public transportation, or you find other means of getting to where you need to go. I've survived many years with just my bike, and it's saved me money and kept me in better shape. And I know many people who do the same. There's still choice in a market controlled by an oligopoly.

Actually, the movie studios are breaking their deal, in which the writers agreed to take less money from those sales only to be paid back later (which the studios are refusing to do). This is another false analogy because MacHeist did not break their contract with the developers and they aren’t making money off of the developer’s work in any way that the developer did not agree to (which the studios are doing to the writers with broadcasting on the web without paying them).

Interesting tidbit regarding the Writers Strike. I didn't know that the movie studios are actively not paying the writers their earned money.

It's also irrelevant. The point to take away from my analogies is not that MacHeist broke the law or that developers were forced into selling their products through MacHeist, but that MacHeist made all the money. That's the thing that I don't understand. That's what I don't like about MacHeist. Calling MacHeist "sleazy" as I did, or a "scam" as Rixstep did is not the same thing as saying that MacHeist is "illegal". Yes, the traditional definition of "scam" implies running afoul of the law, but I would probably use the same word in casual conversation about MacHeist.

What we're dealing with here is middlemen offering precious little above what the developers of the apps already created. But they talk up the Mac community as if they're doing a great service for the developers or even a great service to charity, and they run away with the vast majority of the money, rather than the developers or charity getting most of it. That's where the analogy with oil companies or movie studios comes in.

The focus of the whole MacHeist ordeal was on the apps, right? MacHeist offered a bundle of apps at a sharply discounted price, and that's why all the Mac users lapped it up: because they were getting some pretty cool apps. If you actually participated in the "missions" of the "heist", in the end you got even steeper discounts on the bundle. Without the apps, MacHeist would have been nothing.

The apps were the only make-or-break part of the equation. If MacHeist didn't create the missions, nobody would care as long as they still offered the bundle. If the developers themselves offered up the bundle, no one would care because it's just stripping out the middleman.

So if it's the apps that were the only essential part of MacHeist, why did MacHeist make all the money?

That's my problem with MacHeist.

Saying that MacHeist is exploitation is like saying that downloading creative commons music is piracy. It really doesn’t matter if you think it’s fair or not. It isn’t your decision to make because it isn’t your intellectual property, end of story.

Now that's a false analogy if I've ever heard one. I'm not disputing the fact that the developers chose to participate in MacHeist. That it's not my intellectual property to control is not in dispute, either. I've never disputed either of those facts or even insinuated that those facts are false. Guy in the Hat is taking down a straw man.

Again, what I have a problem with is MacHeist making all the money. I don't think that they shouldn't get any of the money, but it's ludicrous to say that it's fair that they got 85% of the profit. (Let me beat a dead horse once again: not being "fair" does not mean that the developers didn't agree to participate in MacHeist. They did. It also does not mean that MacHeist did something illegal. They didn't.)

MacHeist taking 85% of the profit seems strikingly similar to the music industry or the movie studios. They're all middlemen siphoning off money that should go directly from the consumer to the content creator. And they add little value to the apps in the bundle.

In fact, MacHeist may actually be subtracting value from the apps in the bundle. Rixstep claims that the builds offered in the MacHeist bundle were "special" builds that couldn't be updated to later versions. In other words, if the MacHeist bundle offered MyGreatApp 1.0.5, once MyGreatApp 1.0.6 came out, you would need to buy the app again from the developer in order to get the bug fixes and improvements in version 1.0.6. This certainly was the case for participating in My Dream App, but I can't confirm Rixstep's claim that it was the case in MacHeist. If Rixstep is accurate, though, that's pretty crappy for the people who purchased the bundle. [UPDATE: Ted in the comments claims that the apps offered through the MacHeist bundle were full versions.]

As with the music industry and the movie industry, I think the middleman should be cut out of the equation. The MacHeist organizers are completely superfluous. Why don't the developers of the apps get together in an IRC chatroom, decide on a price for the bundle, and then agree to donate half to charity and distribute the rest equitably amongst themselves? The developers would get much more money from the bundle (since they would be getting a percentage of the revenue, not a flat fee), and the charity would also get more money because they'd get 50% of the total revenue, not 25%.

If developers did that, I'd be happy to buy the bundle directly from them. But not from MacHeist, which claimed to support indie Mac developers and claimed to support charity, but instead took most of the money and ran.

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