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Scorched earth

NewsGator, owners of Brent Simmons’ NetNewsWire (NNW) today announced that they would no longer be charging for the RSS reader. The full app which would have cost you $30 yesterday now costs you nothing. Of course NewsGator would like you to sign up for their subscription service, but that doesn’t appear to be a mandatory condition of using the application. This decision effectively sounds the death knell for the commercial Mac RSS market. NNW has had an insurmountable lead in the market for as long as I’ve been developing RSS products for the Mac (since 2002 no less), but at least before it was possible to compete on some terms with this juggernaut by providing specialized features, a simplified interface or different metaphor. However between the free basic RSS readers such as Vienna and the full fledged NNW there really is no oxygen left in this already ridiculously crowded market.

Honestly I am a little bitter about this, what NewsGator has done is effectively anti-competitive, NNW has somewhere between 10 to 17% of the entire RSS market (that’s across all platforms) and probably 70% or more of the Mac share (I’ve not been able to dig up any conclusive figures on this however). To suddenly make that product free is obviously going to decimate the competition. It’s hard to compete with a product that’s as well known and frankly as good as NNW, it’s damn near impossible to compete with it when it’s free. I’d love to be proven wrong, but as we’ve seen before, when a product in a near monopoly position and gets an unfair advantage over its competitors it tends to lay waste to all around it.

You might say Safari RSS is free, or Vienna is free, those products haven’t killed the Mac RSS market. It’s true they haven’t, though of course they’ve taken their share of customers away from the commercial RSS developers’. Still neither of those products is even remotely as mature, polished or comprehensive as NNW. To give you an example in a more widely understood market, making Nisus Writer or Pages free tomorrow wouldn’t do much to dent Microsoft’s dominance of the word processor market. Microsoft making Word free on the other hand would have a very big impact on all the developers producing 3rd-party word processors.

How this impacts NewsLife

I’m not discontinuing NewsLife, I’ll say that right off the bat – I designed NewsLife to be my ideal news reader and obviously that isn’t NNW or I’d have given up long ago and switched to that. From a business perspective I would like it to pay for its development however, so I’ll be watching sales closely to see what happens. The market NewsLife is aimed at differs from NNW’s, but even so I’m expecting a negative impact. I hope you’ll continue to support independent Mac developers and look at all the alternatives available and not let ‘free’ be the deciding factor in your software choices, as hard as that can be.

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