Thoughts on Entitlement and Pricing
Yesterday, JetBrains announced new pricing for their line of developer tooling. Previously, you could buy their products for anything from $50 (for WebStorm) to $675 (for ReSharper Ultimate), with lower prices in most cases for yearly upgrades. Yesterday, JetBrains changed that and announced JetBrains Toolbox. For $12/month, you can get access to one of their products, or for less than double that, $20/month (discounted to $150/year for current customers), you can get access to all of their developer tools.
The reaction from developers has been consistent: viscerally negative. The pricing is too high and unfair, they complain. The tools will stop working if you stop paying for them, which is obviously insane, because what if you need to edit things later on? Quite a few even are whining about how any self-respecting developer should be using open-source tools, which in this context seems more about implying that any cost for tooling is too high rather than having a stance on libre software. As of this writing, one of the top stories on several news aggregators is even titled “How JetBrains lost years of customer loyalty in just a few hours.”
These people are overreacting to the point of being ridiculous.
I want to you to stop and think for a second. The average developer in the US, according to Google, makes $85,000 per year. For the cost of literally less than one dollar per work day, or 0.3% of the average developer income—less than one full day’s work—you can have access to every single developer desktop tool JetBrains makes. These tools cover Ruby, Python, Node, Java, C#, C++, and more. They include several full-blown IDEs, plus a couple plugins for Visual Studio. And yet this somehow far too expensive—so egregious that it permanently destroys people’s loyalty for JetBrains products.
Apparently because that “loyalty” was coming exclusively from entitled users.
The reason why JetBrains had so much loyalty to lose in the first place is that their tools are freaking amazing. They are fast, reliable, run on everything, have a bazillion plugins, are easy-to-use, and have feature polish that is utterly lacking in almost every other peer in the market. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that IntelliJ and its derivatives save me at least several hours of time every single year—and it’s very possible that “a week” is an even better estimate. They make it much, much easier for me to earn as an individual a salary that is over 50% higher than the average US household income. Yet developers have become so addicted to free-as-in-beer software that even this cost, even in this context, strikes them as ridiculous.
The thing is, developers are not alone in having that addiction. It’s why so many companies are forced to give their software away for free, while making sure that the user experience is so awful that most normal people have to pay for support. It’s why the app stores are increasingly struggling to charge meaningful amounts for software, and therefore why freemium is a thing in the first place. It’s why ads are becoming so awful and so pervasive, and why services like Amazon Underground are making such a big splash in the news. All of us, developers and normal users alike, have been conditioned to expect that software is now cheap or free.
When it comes to their own products, developers do recognize this as a problem, and they have a pretty consistent solution: switch to software-as-a-service. If you’re getting an ongoing benefit from the product (so the logic goes), then I’d like a cut of that ongoing benefit. It’s better for me (I have steady revenue) and it’s better for you (I have a strong incentive now to respond to your requests, and to focus on long-term quality instead of useless headline-grabbing features). And that’s exactly why JetBrains is making this change too, I’m sure: they want to make amazing products; they want to do so even if the best path forward isn’t amazingly weird features, but rather steady and determined improvements; and they want a more stable revenue stream. Software as a service is one of the few sane options left.
There is only one argument I’ve seen against this plan that has any real coherency other than “but I don’t wanna spend money!”, but I think it’s specious when examined. Specifically, some people are pointing out that IntelliJ-as-a-service shuts off if you quit paying, which is a step back from the existing permanent licenses.
You know what? That’s true. But of all the software to worry about going offline, JetBrains’ IDEs are probably the least of my concerns, vastly better than almost every other software-as-a-service I can think of. If I quit paying Amazon, my DNS goes down. If I quit paying Vultr, my blog goes offline. If I quit paying Dropbox, I suddenly lose the ability to keep working with my files. On the desktop side, If I quit paying Adobe, I may literally not even be able to meaningfully view some of my old
.psds, and don’t even get me started on what happens if I quit paying for Office365.
But if I quit paying JetBrains, I don’t suddenly lose the ability to change and build my software.
mvn still work just fine. I can still build my projects with
cmake. Neovim doesn’t suddenly lose the ability to edit my Python. Visual Studio can still do its built-in refactorings. And if I suddenly do find myself in a position where that productivity boost I’d get from, say, WebStorm would actually save me a lot of time, I can pay $20 for one month of PyCharm to speed up that nasty refactoring or debugging session.
I see developers whine all the time about how freemium products and ad-supported software are destroying the industry, and claim that they would be more than happy to pay for software if only offered the chance. Well, here’s your chance: great products at a very reasonable price that you’ll make up for in boosted productivity, almost guaranteed. But instead of putting your money where your mouth is, you’re all whining about how it’s just too damn expensive and unreasonable.
If you don’t want to pay for software anymore, fine. Just don’t be surprised when no one else does, either.
The people saying this apparently being unaware that large chunks of IntelliJ are, in fact, open source (pretty much everything except web components and SQL integration, in fact). That’s how Android Studio can exist in the first place. ↩︎
By the relatively low standards of IDEs, anyway. ↩︎
I mean, how else do you explain MongoDB? ↩︎
Thirty minutes of income if we’re going off that earlier $85,000/year figure. ↩︎
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