The recent release by Trivantis of Snap! Empower, a rapid Flash interaction builder, for the princely sum of $99, got me wondering if I have any idea any more of what an authoring tool is worth. Empower looks like it is much more powerful than Articulate Engage, which sells for four times as much, and almost certainly cost Trivantis much more to develop. So why the low price? Presumably Trivantis feels that there is a vast market of enthusiasts on the look out for Flash authoring tools – certainly way beyond the numbers employed in e-learning development – and they’re a price sensitive lot who are only interested at hobbyist prices. They may be right – and the interest which is shown in free and low-cost tools on Jane Hart’s C4LPT site bears this out – but does this really help us to determine what a tool is actually worth?
Time was an authoring tool cost at very least $1K and often much more. Popular tools such as Captivate, Articulate and Trivantis’ own Lectora still do. If you’re a serious graphic designer, you’ll pay $3K for Creative Suite; and audio and video engineers pay similar prices for their software. These tools are expensive because they cost a lot to develop and the target markets of full-time professionals are relatively small.
The same goes for just about any trade or profession you can imagine. Getting yourself kitted out with the right tools and equipment costs many thousands. These investments may seem substantial, but over time represent a very good investment indeed when related to the income that they allow the purchaser to generate.
For the same reason, I have no problem with the idea of spending $1000+ on a tool, assuming it is something I am going to use regularly to help me earn a living. If any employer balks at spending this much to equip their employees to do their jobs properly then they need better accountants – they simply don’t understand what tools are worth.
If, on the other hand, you are talking about toys as opposed to tools of the trade – and I like toys as much as the next person – then $99 seems about right. When I buy a toy I have modest expectations about utility and don’t expect any support. In fact many toys never get used. If Empower proves to be much more than a toy then that’s fine, I’ll enjoy using it. But I wouldn’t choose it over another tool on the basis of the price, because when you invest in the tools of your trade, quality and functionality are what you depend on – price is secondary.