Do you think if software cost less, people would pirate less?

The BSA says 57% of people use pirated software. A big part of the problem is that software is just too expensive. You can buy a decent computer for $300, and the copy of Windows that comes with it accounts for 1/3 of the cost.

Microsoft Office Home and Business, which includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook, retails for another $280. Office Professional, which includes Publisher and Access, retails for $500.

So even if you opt for the cut-down Home and Business version, you’ve already spent more on software than you spent on the hardware it runs on.

Adobe software makes Microsoft software look downright affordable. The academic discount version, commercial use of which is strictly forbidden, retails for $350. The version you can actually use without fear of legal action retails for $1,299.

I don’t know how a graphic artist doing freelance work in between college graduation and a first job can afford that. Some may buy the $350 version and hope they don’t get caught; some may figure if they’re going to risk getting in trouble anyway, they might as well save the $350.

Software has always been expensive. PC software especially so, and depending on how you look at it, at least PC software is cheaper than it was in the 1980s. Lotus 1-2-3 all alone used to sell for what Microsoft Office sells for now. But Microsoft Office hasn’t decreased in price significantly since the introduction of office suite bundles 20 years ago.

In the 1980s, Commodore users used to complain about the cost of software, even though it was rare for any titles for that machine to sell for more than $99. But if you don’t have $99, that doesn’t matter much. So Commodore owners either did without, or they pirated.

Software actually costs less today than it did in the 1980s, especially when you consider inflation, but look at the cost of hardware. In 1985, you could buy an entry-level Commodore 64 and a single floppy disk drive for around $400 if you shopped carefully. Today, an entry-level PC sells for around $300 if you shop carefully, and if you shop really carefully, sometimes less than $300. Both hardware and software require large amounts of engineering, but software requires far less duplication and distribution costs. Yet only hardware seems beholden to Moore’s Law.

Of course some people can use Linux and open-source software. I use that for some things, but some parts of my job force me to run Windows and commercial software that runs under it.

Now here’s the thing. Because my job requires me to sometimes run certain titles at home, for a time I was able to buy that software at a tremendous discount through the Microsoft Home Use program–along the lines of $10 or $20. If they could sell that software to me at that price and not lose money, why can’t they lower prices for everyone?

4 thoughts on “Do you think if software cost less, people would pirate less?

  • May 24, 2012 at 12:31 am
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    Not to mention Autodesk – an UPGRADE of Civil from 2009 to 2012 was quoted at $4500.00 – unfortunately this program remains my primary reason for staying with Windows and I have been unable to find a satisfactory substitute. My original cost for AutoCAD ca 1993 was $2900.00.

  • May 24, 2012 at 9:53 am
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    I buy more software now than I used to (which isn’t hard; I don’t think I paid for any software throughout the 80s or 90s … or most of the 00s).

    What I’ll pay for are apps that make my life easier and cost less than $50. I recently bought a front end for my MAME cabinet. It was $25 and works great. I’ve bought a few other programs recently too, and donated a few bucks for a few of the free ones.

    What I can’t justify is paying for some of the more expensive programs, especially when I only piddle with them. I can’t justify $600+ for PhotoShop when this is the last thing I made using it:

    http://www.robohara.com/pix/blog/harden.jpg

  • May 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm
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    I wish I could find a substitute for Photoshop. I’ve played with some of the other imaging programs, like Gimp, but non of them work as well for me as Photoshop. UFRaw for Gimp has possibilities of being a great RAW editor, but Photoshop’s support for RAW image formats just currently can’t be beat.

    I have no doubt that if software didn’t cost as much as it does, there would be far less pirating of software. I think that the smart phone application markets are a prime example showing that people are willing to pay money for applications when they don’t require people to refinance their homes to pay for them.

  • May 25, 2012 at 12:12 am
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    Tom, you might take a look at Gimp 2.8 with the ‘single screen’ mode. It has potential. (and/or/but): Lightroom 2.4 flat rocks for the type of tonal work you do with trains.

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