Hunter-Gatherer Societies and the App Store Economy

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Watching the launch of the Mac App Store(s aapl), I am struck by the magnitude of the change in the way people buy software. Much like primitive societies evolved from the hunter-gatherer model of resource collection to an agrarian civilization of cultivated farming, so has shopping for software changed.

Stalking the Wild Web

It used to be that computer users had to go and search for software for their machines. The computer was something arcane and impossible, but we were hunters, tracking our elusive prey, stalking it through computer magazines, specialized stores, and word of mouth. We didn’t always know what was out there to be found, but we followed the tracks in the ground, looked for bent blades of grass, anything to help hunt down the solutions we wanted.

We used tools that were dangerous and sharp and could hurt you if you didn’t know how to use them — FTP, SSH, VPN, DMGs, Applescript, installers, uninstallers, braving the mysterious depths of the Application Support folder, and even delving into the darkest regions of the registry. High prices were accepted as the cost of reaching your goal, and there were prizes waiting for the patient and skilled hunters, like Photoshop (s adbe) and Filemaker Pro.

Eventually, the gatherers in the tribe could venture out on the open web and pick up tasty software morsels at their leisure. It didn’t require the same tools and training, but you still had to know what you were doing — which berries were ripe and which mushrooms were poisonous, if you will.

Pick-Your-Own From Neatly Ordered Rows

The App Store model changed that. The iPhone itself is simple, accessible, easy to use. Hunting wasn’t necessary, or possible, and even browsing the open web yielded fewer results than simply visiting Apple’s storefront. Apple had localized and cultivated all the software the average user could ever need, much like a farmer might tend to their fields. The Mac App Store represents the arrival of that agrarian model of software distribution on the desktop platform.

Just as civilization sprang up because agriculture produced a surplus of food that allowed people to specialize in important developments like pottery, construction, and writing, the App Store economy will allow people to spend less time messing about with finding, installing, and managing desktop applications so they can be more productive in their actual work. Or free up more time to waste, if that’s their inclination.

Who Benefits?

Now the question is, will the Mac App Store appeal to both hunter-gatherers and to those consumers content to enjoy the fruits of farmed labor? And if so, how?

Hunters-gatherers are looking for specific solutions to specific problems. They don’t want to stroll around the Top Sellers list in each category. I would guess that the search capabilities in the Mac App Store, much like the iPhone App Store, will not work well for this group. They’re still going to rely on outside review sites, word of mouth, detailed shootouts in magazines and other familiar sources of information. Marketing to this group will look very similar to the way software is marketed today. I don’t think the Mac App Store by itself will convince anyone that they need to spend $80 on Aperture 3, but once convinced, they’ll be able to get it that much more easily.

Our “agrarian” consumers are looking at the Top 10 lists, maybe the Top 100. They are looking for ready-made solutions that help them have fun or get some stuff done with no muss, no fuss. The Apple safeguards found in the App Store approval process are enough to ensure that this software meal is not going to kill you. Marketing to this group consists of explaining your product well enough and pricing for impulse shopping. Chopper 2 at 99¢ seems designed to appeal to this group, and by all accounts this approach is working quite well.

Both groups will benefit enormously from the streamlined sales process available in the App Store. Apple already has our accounts, credit cards on file, and offers fast downloads (and re-downloads should we need them), and quick installation. There are limitations, to be sure, but the overall experience is simplicity itself. As soon as a Hunter finds the app that they need, they can buy it — no waiting to drive to the store or (horrors!) waiting days to have a box shipped and no tedious checkout process at some random web store with license keys lost in your email spam filter either. And the others? Well, they’re going to buy a lot of software this way and a few people are going to become fabulously rich, AAPL stockholders likely included.

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Clever analogy. It’s too bad it will only apply to Mac users for now. It would be nice to see the whole computer industry evolving to the agrarian age.

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