You just have to look at how many lines of code there are in a typical piece of music software to realise that somebody has had to put in an awful lot of time and effort to produce even the most basic plug-in or app (yes, even if using something like Max/MSP). That explains why some music software can be quite costly, but how exactly does the manufacturer go about setting a price that will bring the greatest return?
In part it comes down to identifying the target market, not only in terms of number but also by how much the customer actually needs what you are selling. A professional user who is making a good income from using a piece of software is clearly more likely to pay out a substantial sum of money than the amateur musician working on a tight budget. For example, if a pro user is looking at serious audio restoration software, a hefty price tag is more than justified, but from a personal perspective, running a home studio that's somewhat further down the food chain, I really can't see myself being tempted by yet another EQ plug-in that costs two or three hundred pounds, as the ones I have already do a perfectly good job. I always ask myself the question 'Will it affect sales of the end product?' and the answer is usually no.
Some manufacturers now promote limited‑time offers where end users can buy a specific item of software for a fraction of its usual price, but only for a day or two, and this seems to work for getting the more casual user to buy something they might otherwise never consider. Then there are those companies that set an extremely low price for what is still a very good product in the hope that more people will buy it. Companies such as Gramotech and Sub51 sell extremely worthwhile plug-ins and instrument-ready sample sets, yet what they offer costs typically less than a couple of beers. That certainly puts what they sell into impulse buy territory, but then how can they predict whether or not they will sell 10 times as many as they would if the price was 10 times higher? That's what they need to do for their business model to make sense.
So, spare a thought for the software designers out there, without whose efforts we'd all still be using expensive tape recorders and hardware outboard gear. Decide what you really need, budget for it and don't fill up your computer with pirated software, as that does the industry no good and it gives viruses a back door into your system.
Paul White Editor In Chief