There are very few differences between Free and Pro. This is intentional, for one simple reason: I don’t want the free version to suck. I don’t impose any arbitrary limits on it, and I don’t mind if you use it forever.
I want you to pay for Instapaper Pro if you think Instapaper, in general, is worth the money. This won’t be the case for all users, and I respect that. I’d rather have you using my product than not, even if you don’t pay for it.
There’s plenty of commercial software that isn’t worth its price to me because I don’t have enough of a use for it, so if it doesn’t have a free version, I just go without it (Microsoft Office). And there’s some that I use so much, and get so much value from, that I’ve bought multiple licenses because I got the originals in promotional bundles and want to give the authors more money (TextMate, Soulver, NewsFire).
For some people, Instapaper is in the former category. If there was no free version, or if the free version sucked, they just wouldn’t use it. But if they have enough of an interest to look for it or try it, those are potential future paying customers. If a copycat comes along, those are a few more people who will stick with my product. And if I add advertising to the Free app, which I’ve been considering, all of those users help support me even if they can’t or won’t pay for Pro.
That said, many people absolutely love Instapaper and use it every day. For many, it’s their most-used app. I get emails from happy customers every day telling me how useful Instapaper is to them and thanking me for making it. They didn’t think twice before paying just $10 for an application they use every day. I even got emails from people promising to buy Pro and begging for its release before I even told them what features would be added.
Instapaper Pro does have some great exclusive features that Free doesn’t (most significantly, position-remembering and tilt-scrolling). But many customers buy it primarily to support me and Instapaper’s development, regardless of the extra features.
And that’s the kind of customer base I want. I don’t want people to feel railroaded into buying Pro by imposing frustrating limits, nor do I want Free to be an overly annoying promo for the paid upgrade. I want Instapaper Free to be a great standalone product, and I’d love for its users to become paying customers and upgrade to Pro only if they want to pay.
That probably makes me a terrible salesman, but it lets me sleep at night. I’m incredibly lucky to be in an industry where this sort of relationship is even an option. There aren’t a lot of people happily handing Best Buy $40 for a USB cable and emailing their CEO to say how much it has improved their lives.
If you find that Instapaper improves your life enough to be worth $10, I’d love it if you bought Instapaper Pro. If the Instapaper web service and the application aren’t worth that to you, I’d love to have you using Instapaper Free anyway.