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Leader: The Price Of Plug-ins

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published May 2023

Sam Inglis, new Leader photo landscape black t-shirtThe economics of hardware goods are familiar. The retail price needs to cover the costs of manufacturing and selling the product: raw materials, labour, factory overheads, shipping, future warranty repairs, retailer margins and so on. Ideally, it should also generate profit, as well as funds that can be reinvested into R&D, whilst being low enough to keep the product competitive.

The economics of plug‑ins, by contrast, can be obscure. Some of the costs, such as labour, support and office overheads are similar, but there’s no marginal cost associated with each sale. The investment involved in coding a plug‑in is similar whether you sell one copy of that plug‑in, or a million. There are no parts to be ordered, no factory staff who need paying to assemble them, and no boxes to ship. Developers have adopted many different pricing models over the years, and a company with a huge back catalogue will perforce do things differently from a newer developer whose business is based around one or two innovative algorithms. Even so, plug‑in pricing can be hard to make sense of.

The familiar link between how much something costs to make and how much it sells for seems to have been severed.

To give just one example, the list price of Brainworx’s bx_console SSL 4000 E is $349 — but at the time of writing, it’s on sale for $39.99. That’s great for anyone who wants a very nice console emulation, but it leaves me wondering whether a plug‑in can ever be said to have an intrinsic value. The familiar link between how much something costs to make and how much it sells for seems to have been severed. It’s confusing and counter‑intuitive, and anyone who did pay the full price might not be best pleased to see it on sale for 10 percent of that sum a few months later.

It’s reasonable to assume that manufacturers know what they’re doing, though, so I wonder if this is the new dividing line between ‘pro’ and ‘semi‑pro’. Hobbyists buy things they want, whereas pros buy things they need. Hobbyists can afford to wait, or get things on impulse because they’re cheap. But if you’re a pro mixer and that new Beyoncé track comes in with bx_console 4000 E all over the vocals, you’re not going to be putting the gig off until the next sale comes around.

The up side is that those of us who are not mixing A‑list albums no longer have to make do with cut‑down, less functional versions of the tools the pros use. All the rest of us need in order to own the real deal is patience. So when that email from Beyoncé’s manager does arrive, we’ll be ready...

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief