A few weeks ago, the local Franklin-Covey store was giving away a voucher for air-travel if you bought a PDA worth $200 or more. Seeing as I’ll be honeymooning soon, it sounded like a good deal and bought a Palm Zire 71. I later discovered that the flight voucher was odd and didn’t seem to work for my needs, so I returned the Zire but not before I started getting sucked into the F-C spin-cycle.
Franklin-Covey is like a cult, to some degree. But it’s a positive cult. It’s a cult of personal enrichment and organization. They promote ideas and products that are intended to help you attain your goals in business and in life. Lord knows I could use all the help I can get. My only problem with them is the cost of everything. With my Pocket PC, I have no need for a paper-based day planner, which I always found too bulky and unwieldy anyway. So the solution they propose for me is to purchase their Plan Plus, which integrates with Microsoft Outlook and, as a result, also syncs with my PDA. It’s really just a way to rehash all of my information into one easy to view page, which would save a lot of time and frustration on my part. It looks quite nifty. However, it costs $80*. This is about $30 more than I’m willing to pay for most software, particularly something that more or less leverages off of an existing piece of software. It’s essentially and add-on, and I find it hard to justify that cost for an add-on.
Ultimately, Plan Plus works to solve a problem that plagues everyone – information overload. I run through five to 10 websites a day to keep on top of everything I find important. RSS feeds help me organize some of it, but not in a central location. Plus, not every site I read has an RSS feed. In addition, I need to track my goals, tasks, emails, due dates, appointments, etc. and I have a pretty hard time of keeping track of all the conflicts and weirdness. The delivered Outlook interface is not very good at showing me the whole picture, and I rely heavily on alerts to let me know when I’m about to be late for something. As a backup, my PDA beeps like mad when I’m about to have a meeting or something. I could really use something the helps me keep my proverbial shit together.
Thank God for the fine folks at MIT, who keep coming up with cooler and cooler things. The latest to leave their hallowed halls is a little program called Haystack. I am just beyond impressed with their analysis of UI needs on this one. Everything is right-clickable, you can save actions in the middle of performing them (i.e. they treat components like objects, which is exactly what they’re supposed to be!) and everything is customizable. It pulls everything together – email, RSS feeds, web surfing, your calendar, tasks, favorites (for everything, not just web pages) and loads of other cools things. And, the best part? OPEN SOURCE, BABY!
There are quite a few negatives at this point, though: it’s written entirely in Java, so it’s slow and a gigantic memory hog. It’s not 100 percent compatible with Linux yet (blame dicey Java porting on Linux). And, well, it just isn’t done yet. They admit all of this right up front – you’re looking at a work in progress, so don’t expect perfection. Regardless of all this, they’re on the right track. Hopefully the developer community at large can help to expand and improve this thing, making it sleeker and faster while building on its already robust feature set.
And maybe having some competent open source competition will force F-C to rethink their pricing on their product to get it in the hands of more people. Of course, if Haystack does get sleeker and faster, I’ll probably just abandon my desire for Plan Plus altogether. It’s a win-win no matter what.
If you check out the link for Plan Plus (one more time), you’ll see that they offer two ways to obtain the product – either via CD with all the manuals and packaging, or through a 52 MB download. This is very convenient. In the end, however, there is absolutely no benefit to downloading the product as they charge the same price for both.
I find more and more software companies doing this, and it pisses me off. A lot of the cost built into software is the packaging, marketing and burning of the software as well as the printing of the manuals, though we’re seeing more manuals shipped on the CD as a PDF. It also costs money to ship and distribute the products to various stores and outlets as well as warehouse the physical media not already shipped.
Online distribution should be *much* cheaper. The companies still need to pay for the marketing costs, but the costs of shipping, warehousing, printing, burning on media and wheeling and dealing with software retailers should be taken out of the equation. Granted, they’re replaced with the costs of hosting the software on publicly accessible servers and the bandwidth associated with the download, but those costs should be minimal in comparison.
The bottom line is that I shouldn’t have to pay the same price to download the software that I would for actually receiving the software in the mail. Considering that I actually get less for money (no printed manual, no fancy box to make me feel good about my purchase, no physical media to store my software), there’s practically no benefit from downloading the software other than receiving it immediately rather than having to wait for it to be shipped. But that’s only a benefit if I don’t have a Franklin-Covey store near me. Living in the Bay Area, I’m never more than 15 minutes away from an F-C store front, and they sometimes have sales that aren’t advertised online. If I really need the immediate satisfaction of having the software now, it’s more beneficial to me to just take a trip down to the local store and pick up a copy, complete with all the trimmings, even though downloading it through my cable modem would only take a few minutes.
There is absolutely no value-add to making the software downloadable if you don’t plan on discounting it even a little bit. Hell, just a 10 percent discount would make me seriously consider it, while 20 percent would probably get me to go for it immediately. Software houses need to offer some incentive to people downloading online. It saves the software companies money in the long run and builds a positive relationship with those savvy enough to know that not all good software has to come in pretty, tarted-up packaging.