Content Producers and Developers Devaluing Their Work Through Business Models

This is something that’s been bugging me for a while. It’s something that started with multimedia but has now found its way onto Apple’s app store. I’m talking of the recent trend of charging per device or per medium.

My first experience of this was with BSKYB when I upgraded my satellite system to high definition. To get the same channels I already had, I had to pay £10 a month extra. It’s a curious setup they have that favours no one apart from Sky themselves. If you subscribe to Sky Sports, for example, you can get Sky Sports HD for £10 a month. However, if you don’t already subscribe to Sky Sports you don’t get Sky Sports HD even if you pay the £10 monthly fee. You pay for the content once, and then again for a slightly better version of it.

Sky continue their cash grab by charging for the same content a third time on mobile devices.

This is a practice that’s been working its way into the media industry for some time. If you buy a copy of a song, for example, you don’t have infinite rights to enjoy that song. The media industry lobbying and control groups have been pushing against practices such as backing up and porting for years. If you want to listen to a song in your car, they want you to buy the CD. Want to listen to the same song on your iPod? They want you to download it from iTunes.

So how is this impacting the app store?

Like many stories this month, it’s all about the iPad. The iPad has introduced a new dimension, a new opportunity for developers to exploit. Unfortunately some have chosen the shortest, quickest path to exploiting this opportunity, by lazily porting their apps to the iPad and selling it as a separate app. It’s the Sky HD situation all over again, and developers have fully embraced this analogy by giving their apps a “HD” suffix of prefix.

I’ve come across this already on iPad. Having already paid for apps like Plants Vs Zombies (which I’ve already bought on iPhone and OSX, paying twice), Angry Birds, Flight Control, I find it a bitter pill to swallow that I have to re-buy these games for iPad. Especially since in this specific examples the move to iPad hasn’t really brought anything to the experience, they are fairly lazy ports. Conversely, many apps have simply updated in place to provide iPad support. Air Video, WordPress and others have put time and effort into updating their iPhone apps for iPad and have given it to existing customers for free. This makes you really value the app, and fills you with confidence when considering purchasing an app from the same developer.

The net effect of this approach, and this applies to all three examples above, is that the content (either the apps, or the media) becomes devalued in the eyes of the consumer. If we’re paying for the same content through multiple channels, we will come to value the delivery mechanisms more than the content itself. In the mind of the consumer, we are paying for the delivery mechanism rather than the content being delivered.

This may be the intention of content creators, however, I doubt it. What it does do is align itself with the mindset of pirates, who place very little value on content – it’s not unusual for pirates to invest time and money into the process of illegally downloading content.

To say that this approach is encouraging piracy is perhaps a tad disingenuous. I don’t think it’s something that can be dismissed out of hand either. It leads to an environment where consumers are hesitant to invest in content, particularly content that may be tied to a particular delivery method or medium.

Fortunately, there are some moves to enabling a “content anywhere” approach. Notably some DVDs and Blu Rays now include a downloadable copy of the movie. As it stands, it’s an imperfect solution as the downloadable content is heavily wrapped in DRM and tied to a specific platform (Windows in most cases). This is charging for two delivery methods, on two platforms, and as such comes very close to completely missing the point.

A better example is that of Steam. Steam launched their client on OSX a couple of weeks ago and have been steadily adding to the library of games available on the platform. As part of the launch, Valve announced a feature that meant you could buy a title on one platform and then play it on any other. So if you buy a title on OSX, you can then play it on Windows, and vice versa. Definitely a step in the right direction. The big surprise for me came when Half Life 2 was released for OSX. I bought the retail box version of Half Life 2 on the day it was released for Windows and registered it with Steam. Upon logging in I was given the option to re-download Half Life 2 to play on OSX. A physical game I bought several years earlier for a different platform. it’s a glimpse of how content consumption should work, and means that the content I bought and paid for several years earlier still holds some very real value.

Surely this is how content producers wish their content to be viewed, rather than simply something that accompanies a platform.