Mac Musings

The Questionable Value of .mac

2002.09.30 - Daniel Knight -

The few. The proud. The .mac users.

Cash Cow

I'm sure it looked like a no brainer to the powers at Apple. Take 2.5 million email addresses and websites, turn them into a pay-to-play service, and watch the money roll in.

I'm guessing Apple figured iTools users would be thrilled to pay Apple $49 to convert their existing accounts and gain important features like a virus checker. (When was the last Mac virus released to the wild?)

Apple managed to team up with Kodak, which is desperately trying to educate digital camera users that although you can make your own prints on your color inkjet printer, Kodak can do it better - and sometimes much cheaper. (For other thoughts Kodak's picture service, see On .mac User Friendliness on Applelust.)

Out to Pasture

I don't think Apple did its homework on this one. Of approximately 2.5 million iTools users, just over 100,000 have signed up for .mac so far. Conversion rate: 4%. That's $5 million or so in Apple's coffers - not really a big number on Apple's ledger.

I'm sure Apple was hoping to get a 20% conversion rate and assumed at least 10% would make the switch. I don't think iCEOs who fly $10 million jets are in touch with our finances or know how to sell us on something that used to be free.

Nor are they in touch with issues such as the good will of their user base. If 95% of iTools users are not willing to ante up $49 for a year of .mac service, the logical conclusion is that they find it overpriced.

Either it's overpriced or we've somehow missed the value.

Think about it. To use iTools/.mac, you must already have a Internet access. Almost every form of Internet access provides users with an email address and some personal Web space. Most of us already have Internet access, a mailbox, and Web space.

What does Apple have to offer?

But let's not forget that Apple is also adding some new services to the mix:

Where does that leave us? With an email address and homepage space that is nice but not essential, iDisk space that's useful (albeit underutilized), peace of mind due to backups and virus checking, and a stack of digital prints. Maximum retail value for those who would pay for every service: $135.

Suddenly $49 sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

Or does it? Again, the fact that 95% of us haven't already signed up for .mac says it's not reasonable. We don't take the virus threat seriously, so deduct $45, leaving a $90 value.

The average digital photographer prints 17 images a year (96% of them at home or work), and Walmart can make those prints for 29¢, so the real value is closer to $5. Deduct another $20, leaving a value of $70 - and $65 for those who won't have a digicam within the next year.

Apple's price: $49 this year and $99 next year. And you probably won't get another 100 digital prints next year.

Is it worth $49 today to keep your email address? Probably not. Your website? Probably not. Get backup software? Probably.

When the Cows Come Home

If you're not backing up your data, you're asking for trouble. It is the most important and most overlooked part of computing. Murphy - the guy behind Murphy's Law, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong" - was a freakin' genius. You need to backup religiously.

If you're not already backing up your data, start. For $49 you can keep your mailbox and website and get the backup software you need. (Look for an overview of backup options tomorrow.)

Kodak digital prints and Virex aside, at $49 the first year, .mac is a good value for anyone who uses a email address and doesn't already do backups. It's also valuable for those who travel and don't have backup in field.

Yes, you heard right, Low End Mac is endorsing .mac as a good value for most Mac users. If .mac starts you backing up regularly, it's worth $49 to use the service for a year.

Just our luck, Apple has seen such a low conversion rate on iTools accounts that they've decided to extend the $49 price for current users through October 15, 2002.

Long Term Value?

We're up in the air over the value next year. If a real virus threat emerges, the service might be worth $99/year. If you become dependent on iCal, that will increase the value of .mac to you. Ditto for iSync, which will only synchronize your Macs using .mac. (Why not sync over a local network? That's the million dollar question.)

I think $99/year is too high a price for what Apple is currently offering. The $49 upgrade price is fair, but in a year we're all going to be comparing .mac service to $99 in our pocket.

I wish Apple would offer à la carte options: mailboxes at $10/year, homepage space at $20/year, and so forth. Freemail accounts and free Web hosting services are okay, but they also have their price and limitations. (Okay, so does .mac, according to .mac Outage; Reliability Issues Persist on MacNN.) The service Apple provides has been pretty good and doesn't involve popup ads on your Web pages or ads at the bottom of your outgoing email. It even scans for and eliminates spam.

Much as I've moaned over the combined cost of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar plus .mac services, I may have just talked myself into keeping my email address for another year. At $49, the value's there.

And when finances allow, we'll probably buy a family pack of Jaguar, too.