Josh Lehman recently pointed out that buying apps is nothing like buying coffee and thinks that we should all put that analogy to rest. Aside from having seen many a co-worker skip over perfectly good free coffee for the nearest Starbucks, I tend to agree. Coffee is about a very consistent and tangible experience. For a few hard-earned dollars, a repeat Starbucks customer can expect the exact same burnt flavor they come to expect from hard-earned dollars passed. Apps on the other hand are diverse pieces of software without any tangible experience.
So if apps aren’t coffee, what are they? Having no analogy whatsoever is tempting—apps are apps. Most other things-to-buy don’t have an analogy, so what makes apps so special? The difference is practice. People are used to the idea of walking into a store or going on online, putting up some cash, and getting something tangible in return. They don’t have a lot of experience buying something that doesn’t exist in the physical world. One exception is music. The iTunes Music Store has shown that people are willing to pay good money for something purely digital. Like apps, music is hugely diverse and buying is always a bit of a gamble. Everyone has songs where nearly every play has a corresponding skip.
This is why I nominate “music” to replace “coffee” in the buying apps analogy moving forward. Buying apps is like buying music.