Josh Lehman: Stop Using The Cup of Coffee vs. $0.99 App Analogy

Lehman’s premise is faulty, which deflates his entire stance. There was a time when you—and everyone—had no idea what you were getting for your $4 at Starbucks. Or Dunkin’ Donuts. Or Caribou Coffee. Or McDonalds. Or Intelligentsia.

Even if you frequent Starbucks on a regular basis, you have no idea what you’re getting each time you pay $4 for your Caramel Macchiato or $2 for plain ol’ coffee. It could be a different day, a different Starbucks, a different roast, or a different barista who’s having a dreadful morning and, for now, just doesn’t have their head in the game.

Now, one could argue that the App Store experience is less like a coffee shop, and much more akin to shopping at a purveyor of brands like Macy’s, where multiple companies make the same type of product and vie for your dollar by competing in myriad ways. But much is still the same: the typical customer has no idea what kind of craftmanship went into a pair of jeans, an iPhone game, a gourmet coffee drink, a perfume, an iPad task manager, or a piece of luggage. Typically, our only chance at truly finding out whether the product is a good fit is simply to take the plunge and buy it.

You may have no idea what you’re getting for your 99¢, $2.99, $9.99, or more. Or perhaps you do—maybe you recognize the developer because you’ve already bought from them, much like you may recognize the name of the coffee shop you just walked into. Or perhaps you’re an informed consumer who read a glowing review from one of your favorite, trusted authors. But even then, the developer you’re familiar with may have slipped on this new app, or your favorite reviewer could have missed some important shortcomings because they don’t have the same needs or workflow as you.

The analogy still stands, and well: it’s ludicrous that some people have no problem taking a chance on a $4 cup of coffee that may or may not be enjoyable, yet balk at spending what is really a pittance on an app that may offer longstanding value or possibly even change their life.

5 thoughts on “Josh Lehman: Stop Using The Cup of Coffee vs. $0.99 App Analogy

  1. I always buy the same kind of coffee at Starbucks and never experienced a different taste. They’re all the same. In every city on this planet…


  2. I have to side with Lehman on this one. He’s right that, in most of the country, Starbucks was the first place you could be virtually guaranteed a decent, consistent cup of coffee. I have bought more coffee from Starbucks than I care to compute, and I have never had a terrible cup. A few mediocre, but never terrible. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of apps I’ve downloaded, paid or otherwise, get deleted within the first few days. And these are almost always apps that I’ve read good, positive reviews about, and have good reason to believe they will help me out in some way. So the irritation is not only in regards to the 99 cents (or whatever), but the difficulty in finding what one wants. This "finding what one wants" is made more difficult in the app world, because the target is much narrower. Microsoft Word may not do exactly what I want, but it does so much that there’s significant value there for many different folks. Apps typically handle a much smaller set of features and/or functions, and thus when they don’t quite do what one wants — well, I’ll try another.


    1. Since I work at home, I frequent a couple neighborhood coffee shops quite a bit, including a Starbucks. But every time I walk in, the "guaranteed decent cup of coffee" you refer to could be anything but, and I’ve experienced that plenty of times myself. Granted, the ratio may be nothing like the average experience of getting crummy apps in the App Store, but it happens. My caramel macchiato has been mixed wrong, a couple times they’ve been out of non-fat milk so they tried to slide soy paste me (ick), the espresso has tasted especially burned, and they’ve completely over- or under-done it with the caramel.
      But my larger point is that there was still a period when you had no idea whether that cup of coffee would be decent, let alone guaranteed. There was a period when you, and every other Starbucks customer, had never heard of Starbucks and didn’t know whether you could trust the quality of its coffee from a puddle of mud. It’s still a risk, just like buying apps. But a cup of (gourmet) coffee costs $4 and lasts you a few hours, apps (usually, and unfortunately) can cost far less, yet do so much more.


      1. Back when no one had heard of Starbucks, I’ll bet the make up of their customers was very different to what it is now. I expect back then there was a much higher proportion of people willing to take a risk on whether the coffee was any good.
        Now it is mostly made up of people who are going to Starbucks precisely because they don’t want to take a risk.


  3. […] of Coffee vs. $0.99 App Analogy” made a number of points. Some of them have been well rebutted by David Chartier and Joe Cieplinski, but the one I really liked, especially for gaming, was “Free Apps Are Often A […]


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