In the past few weeks, Marco Arment, co-founder of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, released version 2 of his podcast application for iOS, Overcast, for free. There’s only one in-app purchase, which doesn’t unlock any additional functionality, but just sends some money Arment’s way. Call it patronage, if you will. Coinciding with the release, he published a blog post in which he states that any indie developer can just give away their full work for free, so his ‘new’ model should work for everyone.
Obviously, this caused a bit of a ruckus, since it’s easy for a multimillionaire like Arment to give away his work for free. His situation is clearly unique, and most independent application developers barely get by as it is. Or, as Samantha Bielefeld puts it:
The issue isn’t that Marco is successful, there are many app developers who would love to be in the same position. He has earned his time in the spotlight, and it’s only natural for him to take advantage of it. Though to state that anyone can simply do the same thing and be successful, is just plain wrong. He has accelerated the race to the bottom for the podcast app category, and he comes bearing a huge following of people who will give him money for nothing in return except for the possibility of further development of Overcast. The average developer isn’t being called out by name by Phil Schiller for something negative they have written about Apple. The only thing “indie” about Marco is that he works by himself. He is far removed from the typical experience of app creators, and even if it’s deserved, it wouldn’t hurt for him to be a little more humble, and realistic.
And she’s completely and utterly right, of course.
This doesn’t surprise me, though. Over three years ago, when the first Retina MacBook Pro came out, Arment and I had a Twitter exchange about something he said: he said that any web developer should immediately run out and buy this â‚¬2300 laptop because retina would be the future, and if they didn’t, they weren’t taking their work seriously.
I pointed out to him that for the majority of people working on the web, â‚¬2300 is a lot of money, and most of us don’t have that kind of money just lying around. It might be pocket change to a millionaire, but it’s almost a full month’s salary for me (now – not so much in 2012, when I earned much less than I do now), and in many places in the world with active web developers, it’s probably several months’ worth of salary.
This exchange with Arment has always stuck with me, because I wanted to make sure that I would never turn out this way. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination (i.e., Dutch standards!), but despite my income being decidedly middle-class, I still belong in the, uh, I don’t know, top 5% or so of the world – just by virtue of being Dutch. I’m ‘rich’ enough to buy several new phones, tablets, and computers a year to make sure I remain familiar with as many platforms as possible for OSNews, but I realise damn well that I’m incredibly lucky I can do so, and would never just assume that everyone else can as well.
So no, this kind of attitude doesn’t surprise me at all. I call this the Donald Trump reasoning: everybody can be rich, if only they were Donald Trump.