Paying for software

By Charalambos Paschalides

and why I’ve been hesitant to pay for software, contrary to music.

I have been using software for the last 25 years. From MS-DOS games like Jill of the Jungle to the latest bleeding edge version of you-name-it, and everything in between. Up until very recently - with very few exceptions, all prior to the internet era - I never paid for software.

I remember buying Grand Prix 2 when I first mounted a CD-ROM on my computer, then Encarta 97 a few months later. But that was it, literally. Then the internet happened. It was slow back then, but intriguing, exciting and full of information. Pirated movies, music and software were all over the place. Piracy became the norm.

Granted, I never really was a movie fan. I was and still am more of a music person. I downloaded loads of music but kept buying it in physical form as well. CDs back then, vinyl for the last years. I own a reasonable music collection and always encouraged people to support good music.

But software? Always using, never buying. I was more than happy using free software and occasionally downloading crackware. Never paying a dime. This is interestingly paradoxical given that I, myself, am a software engineer. I write software to make a living.

Software, unlike music, is intangible. Contrary to music, it’s only available for download or for use right there and then as a service. There is no software available in any physical form. Desktop and mobile applications, web applications and services are all just a click away. Younger generations have never seen software in any physical form, and for those of us who have, it’s a distant memory.

The internet has made everything easy to consume. At the same time, effortless consumption turns everything irrelevant very quickly. When was the last time you remember yourself taking the time to focus on a full music album, listen to it as the artist intended when making it, pay attention to the melodies and try to make some sense of the lyrics?

We live in an era of mass production and mass consumption. Our attention span has reduced dramatically to keep up. We try to consume more at the expense of understanding and feeling. Our brains have optimized themselves for maximum consumption and minimum comprehension. As a collateral damage, we are reluctant to pay. Why pay for something that’s out there anyway? Why pay for something so ephemeral that will maintain my interest for only so much?

Music, movies and pretty much all that’s available out there, consist intellectual property. Someone has put effort into coming up with and creating them. The decision is to either support the creators or not. Software is no different. Admittedly it invokes less emotions and perhaps the absence of any physical form makes it less personal, less charming and difficult to bond with. It is always nonetheless the result of tremendous talent and effort.

Photo by Sam Truong Dan on Unsplash

Now I’m keen to buy software. It’s been an unconscious decision that simply came to be. I pay to support free software. Last week alone I must have paid more than $100 for software that makes my life easier and more enjoyable. I pay for software while totally aware that I can easily find some pirated version or free alternative somewhere on the interwebs.

I acknowledge the hard work people have put for tools that I use and enjoy. I contribute to good software and support the creators. It’s often so cheap that it feels like a tip anyway.