Opinion: Shiver me timbers

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Opinion: Shiver me timbers

Back in the days when real pirates roamed the seas it never occurred to anyone to make the treasure cheaper so they’d stop bothering to steal it.

Fast-forward to modern times and Microsoft has trashed the price of its Office suite – in China – to make it not worthwhile plundering.

Back in the old days you couldn’t make treasure cheaper – it was worth what it was worth. Which is why the whole analogy of software counterfeiters as pirates falls into a gaping credibility hole. What they’re stealing is only worth what the market will pay for it – unlike real gold and real jewels.

Microsoft already slashed the price mid-year and apparently they shifted semi-trailer loads more copies of Office, so now they’ve slashed harder, down to US$29 a copy for the “home and student” edition.

Is anyone actually buying any other edition, even in markets where “pirates” are less active? The problem of course, is even at US$29 that’s still a month’s wages for most people.

So there will still be plenty of customers for the counterfeiters. And there will be many non-China residents hankering after a legit copy at that price.

So, perhaps the price of all software ­– not just the stuff sold by Microsoft – needs to fall to this level globally, before we can expect the demise of the so-called pirates.

At less than $30 we’re pretty much at the cost of the disk and the box it comes in allowing something for the reseller to keep the lights on in the shop – just.

There are plenty of open source offerings, which are marketed as “free” which cost that much and more to distribute in any form other than as a download. Let’s not get involved in calculating the cost of the download. Too murky by half and way too dependent on any particular ISP.

Although it’s hard to see how resellers can make a decent margin out of software as a service it’s easy to see the appeal for the software vendors.

You can afford to give the client side software away if it costs users real money to consume the upstream essentials.

It looks like the future for software resellers will look a lot less like any shop on high street and a lot more like an iTunes store.

No wonder Steve Jobs is smiling.

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