“Let them eat cake.” — The Shitty Take by David Heinemeier Hansson on the Reduced App Store Cut

November 18, 2020 • 07:22 PM

David Heinemeier Hansson — CTO at Basecamp, famously known as a public critic of Apple’s control and monopoly — made a strongly opinionated thread on Twitter regarding Apple’s announcement today: developers who earn less than $1M will qualify for 15% cut starting January 1st, 2021.

I followed the entire episode of Basecamp vs. Apple and I agree with DHH on many fronts. But this time, his comments are condescending and downright shitty:

If you’re a developer making $1m, Apple is STILL asking to be paid $150,000, just to process payments on the monopoly computing platform in the US. That’s obscene! You could hire two people at that take, still have money for CC processing.

Sure. I can just hire two people. I can definitely spend just a few days looking out for a contracting job board, interview a few dozen people, draft a contract, set up payment, and do the tax to hire two people. How easy is that.

To put it in context, I sold $5,500 worth of apps last year (before cut) from the App Store, and I paid Apple $1,650 for the 30% cut. But I didn’t need to worry about payment processing, fraud, refunds, and most of the customer support back-and-forth. The customers trust Apple’s payment system. (All the support I receive were technical or feedbacks on the app.) I didn’t have to find a CDN to host my apps and monitor its reliability. I did not have to create a multi-language app page to introduce my apps. Apple gave me a single URL for any iPhone or iPad user to go download my apps. Users can also just search for app name or keywords and find them. I paid $1,650 a year for all of this.

To put it in comparison, $1,650 is about a week’s before-tax salaries from my day job employer. If I had to take over everything above, I’d be looking at much more than 5 days of work.

So yeah, I’m gladly paying the 30% cut. And I love it that Apple is reducing it to 15% for me for the coming years.

What DHH disgusted me was that he — when trying to advocate for all the developers big and small — assumed everyone can afford to “hire two people at that take.” It’s rude and condescending. Basecamp is the gigantic whale to me, much like Apple is the whale to Basecamp. I have no idea how DHH lost sight of this. It’s like the queen that said “Let them eat cake,” or the Chinese emperor that asked, 何不食肉糜? Or like more recently, when Trump touted that everyone can just get Regeneron and be on track for a speedy COVID-19 recovery.

To quote a tweet by Jack Nicas — a tweet that DHH quoted himself on his thread:

Put another way: Apple is keeping its 30% commission on the roughly 2% of companies that generate 95% of its App Store revenues.

How about we put it the way it originally was — 98% App Store developers get a 15% discount from Apple for years to come. To quote Michael Tsai: “Apple can help a large number of developers at a small cost to itself.”1

I’ve always agreed with DHH (and many other developers, business owners, bloggers, etc.) on the fundamental arguments: to lower App Store control, and to provide options for payment on the App Store. But this time DHH jumped at the wrong opportunity to make his case. Or maybe it’s just that he jumped at it today in the worst way possible.

  1. Albeit I admit this quote is taken a bit out of context. But Tsai really has it well put — simple and straightforward takeaway, not misconstrued in any way. 

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