A comment appeared on my Script Debugger 20th Anniversary post asking a question that has arisen many times over the years:
I don’t know how many times I’ve downloaded demos of SD over the years, but I’ve never actually jumped the hurdle of that $199 price tag to purchase it. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay $50 or so, and even with AppleScript getting less attention these days, I can’t believe I’m alone. I’m not (just) complaining here, I’m really interested in your thinking in setting such a high price point. It’s hard to believe you wouldn’t have made more money over time if you were willing to target more casual scripters. Did you make a deliberate choice to cater only to the most hardcore and/or professional users, or was it really a profit-maximizing decision based on real market analysis? Or am I missing something? (Of course I understand that you put a lot of work into it and that the scripter universe is a relatively small market overall.)
I have resisted answering this type of question publicly because it seems like a no-win for me. Yes, Script Debugger is expensive. Yes, I could have lowered the price but I have not. Am I missing an opportunity – maybe – we’ll never know. I thought I would turn my response to this question into a post so it won’t be overlooked.
I see Script Debugger as a tool that makes professional developers money by saving them a lot of time. Those that really need Script Debugger know it and would pay much more because of this simple equation. In fact, if I had more courage I would raise the price even further.
The problem with the make-it-up-on-volume model is that the market for AppleScript tools (development tools in general) is very small and fragmented. I don’t believe that simply lowering the price by 3/4 on its own would generate 4x+ sales volume because I don’t think 4x+ customers ready to buy at $50 exist. I would have to market more to reach those customers that do exist and that costs. I would have to become involved in justifying and marketing AppleScript (as I once was) to create new customers which costs. Then there are the added costs of supporting a 4x+ user community. And finally, it lowers the perceived value of my software. I have developed many spreadsheets trying to model this over the years.
There is presently a rant raging on the AppleScript User’s mailing list regarding AppleScript’s future. It is clear that for those that have discovered AppleScript and tamed it, it is powerful weapon. However, the days of AppleScript being the only game in town (as it was before Mac OS X) are long gone. Many alternatives exist that better AppleScript in lots of ways. AppleScript remains the best tool for controlling scriptable Mac applications, but its a bear to master — hence the need for Script Debugger. Apple’s moves to improve AppleScrpt in Mavericks and Yosemite are somewhat encouraging. However, any marketing effort I might mount is never going to move the needle on AppleScript’s presence in the automation market place and Apple’s view of it. Apple’s priorities lie elsewhere so I’m not likely to get any cover from them.
As for maximizing profit, no. I’ve made a living over the years from Script Debugger, but its a base-hit at best. It makes enough money to keep me working on it, but not enough for me to retire or even hire any help. I could have earned more money from consulting but I enjoy being an indie developer and accept the financial consequences.
Back in the 1.0 days, we aggressively pursued sales volume. We had a lower price then, and signed up as many sales channels as we could. We purchased ads in MacTech and MacWorld. Our sales volume steadily rose, but our net revenue started to fall.