Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
When I first started out in web design everyone was a jack-of-all-trades. I learned through experimentation, viewing source, building things and then breaking them. When I decided I wanted to start a blog I bought a book about PHP & MySQL and built my own. Sure there were plenty of blogging solutions around but it was scratching that itch which got me my first job in web design.
However it was only after stubbornly building a bilingual Content Management System in that first job (“English and Welsh? Sure, no problem!”) I realised that there were far better uses of my time than building my own CMS. Not that I was particularly bad at it (by some weird quirk of fate that bilingual site is still running) but because 1) there are other people who are far better than me at building CMSs, and 2) my time is a valuable commodity.
Since this epiphany I moved first from mostly rolling my own CMS to using open source solutions like Textpattern and MODx. However in the last few years I have moved almost exclusively to using paid-for systems like ExpressionEngine and Perch and since making this change I’ve often been struck by how unwilling people seem to be at using paid-for solutions. To offer one example, I was recently gauging interest in Statamic and Kirby and got the following reply: “Yeah, I was looking at these and think it might be fun to play around for a little while. But $29 and $39 — um, no.”
How much is your time worth? How much of your time does $29 or $39 buy? How much does $29 or $39 save you from building or hacking something yourself? I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quote when people quickly dismiss paying for something without first considering the value of something.
Personally I’m happy with the idea of paying for something I use. It gives me a degree of comfort that what I am using is well-supported and also gives something back to the developers who are building and contributing to it. But above all I like paying for something because I believe that paying for the tools I use says something about the value I place on my time.