Over the last few years, several groups, most notably MacHeist and MacUpdate, have taken to offering bundles of Mac software for what seem like insanely low prices. But while these bundles have proven popular with Mac users, they've also generated controversy among the developer community. In an attempt to address these concerns, shareware developer Steve Becker, working with long-time ecommerce site Kagi, has launched an alternative site - TheMacBundles.com.
The MacHeist and MacUpdate bundles have been undeniably popular with Mac users, who see them as a way to buy a couple of great applications at a discount, with the rest of the programs thrown in as a possible bonus. (The bundles usually contain a few marquee applications, a number of pieces of software that you might have heard of before, and several apps that are entirely unknown.) On the downside, the licenses that users receive aren't always eligible for discounted upgrades. Since the developers don't earn much on each bundle sale, it makes sense to charge full price for upgrades (and to have an upgrade come out not long after the bundle promotion ends).
Among the Macintosh developer community, the bundles were initially controversial, since with the first MacHeist bundle, the participating developers reportedly earned only a flat fee. Subsequent MacHeist and the MacUpdate bundles involved small percentages to developers, so although the earnings per sale were still very low, developers could share in the success of the promotion. That said, even with percentage deals, at least some developers had to agree to caps that limited their earnings, with much of the profit going to the middleman.
Other criticisms included the concern that the practice of "unlocking" key applications only when enough copies of the bundle had been sold felt shady (because early buyers were purchasing on the assumption they would receive everything in the bundle), that some of the marketing practices were troubling (like MacHeist encouraging users to post advertising messages on Twitter), and that discounting the prices of items in the bundle by so much devalued software in general.
Despite these criticisms, plenty of developers have been interested in participating, because the bundles provide significant exposure to new customers, generating some income and making it easier to market updates and new products to those people in the future.
With TheMacBundles.com, Steve Becker has attempted to address the various concerns surrounding previous bundle promotions in a number of ways, most notably:
- All the products included are the latest versions of well-known, high-quality applications. The programs included in the first bundle meet these criteria: GraphicConverter, DragThing, Default Folder X, Spell Catcher X, HoudahSpot, Mariner Write, Cover Stream, and Becker's own iPrint (all for $49.95).
- Apart from small order processing and administrative costs (transaction fees, bandwidth, and so on), all the proceeds from bundle sales are split among the developers, so the developers earn a lot more per bundle and there's no middleman earning a profit.
- Bundle customers are entitled to reduced price upgrades and the same level of support as those buying the software for full price.
- There are no games with unlocking desirable applications after a certain sales volume has been reached; the closest that TheMacBundles.com gets to generating hype is offering Baseline as a bonus only to the first 2,000 customers and running the promotion only for a limited time (two weeks, in this case).
The only criticism that still applies to TheMacBundles.com is that such inexpensive bundles devalue Macintosh software in general, which could in turn lead to sufficiently reduced profits that developers would abandon the platform. I don't agree with that concern - there are few enough bundles and so much Mac software that I can't see anyone delaying the purchase of a desired application on the off chance that it might appear in a bundle in the future. I worry more about marketplaces like Apple's App Store, where head-to-head competition among relatively similar apps has caused prices to drop to unprecedented levels - a bundle of 10 popular iPhone apps wouldn't even approach the price of a single Mac program.
While Steve Becker is attempting to set TheMacBundles.com apart from the other bundle promotions available, the reality is that the competition is only for the dollar of the Macintosh consumer, since the bundled software varies widely.
For instance, the current MacUpdate Promo Spring Bundle includes 11 applications for $49.99, including Circus Ponies NoteBook, TechTool Pro, and Parallels Desktop. If you want those applications, great, but there's nothing stopping you from buying the TheMacBundles.com bundle for GraphicConverter, DragThing, Default Folder X, and Spell Catcher X as well.