inessential by Brent Simmons

February 2023

On Not Taking Money for NetNewsWire

From time to time a NetNewsWire user lets me know that they’d be happy to pay for the app or add to a tip jar. The answer is always the same: we don’t take money, but here’s how to support NetNewsWire.

Sometimes, though, they insist! Which is flattering, and I take it to mean that they really like the app.

But I should explain why we won’t take even a dollar in tip money.

NetNewsWire Expenses Are Almost Nonexistent

We use free services like GitHub, and we aren’t asked to pay anything to the various syncing services (Feedbin, Feedly, iCloud, etc.) that the app works with.

My developer membership with Apple is a thing I’d have anyway. The website is hosted on the same account that hosts this blog, and it costs nothing extra.

The blog is hosted on, and Manton Reece very generously provides us a free account. The service that powers the Reader View is provided, also very generously and for free, by Feedbin.

I do pay for the smallest possible Linode instance to run a crash log catcher script; this costs $7.73 per month. If you add in periodic domain name renewals, we’d probably end up somewhere around $10 per month.

In other words: NetNewsWire is a really cheap hobby.

(Side note: you can see, though, how paying $100 a month for Twitter API access would blow this up. Not going to do that.)

Two Problems with Taking Money

NetNewsWire has no bank account and does no accounting. The organization Ranchero Software that hosts the NetNewsWire repo on GitHub does not exist as a legal entity — it’s not even a non-profit. (It’s real, though, in the sense that you can give a group of people a name.)

If we took money, even a little bit, I’d want to change all that. I’d file with the state of Washington, set up a bank account, start keeping track of income and expenses, separate NetNewsWire stuff from my stuff, start paying taxes. This would take up time I could have spent working on NetNewsWire itself. And I’d hate it.

So that’s problem one. Problem two would be — who gets the money? After we take out $10 a month for expenses, where does the excess go? There are a bunch of people who spend lots of hours every month working on the app — how would we divvy up the money we get? I can’t think of a fair way.

The Even Worse Problem with Taking Money

As bad as those first two problems are, problem three is worse. That’s the one where money could affect our decisions — or even just be perceived as possibly affecting our decisions.

Right now the app is made purely for love, and our goal is to make the best app we know how to make. Everybody who uses it — and everybody who volunteers to work on it — knows that nobody is making a single dime from it.

There is 100% trust that we never think about revenue when making decisions. There is quite enough of that in the tech world already, and it’s really, really nice for us to work on a thing where we never have to consider revenue (yes, we’re fortunate: I totally get that).

I think it’s also really nice for users to know that our decisions are always based on what’s best for the app and its users and never on what would make us more money.

That said: of course we think about popularity. It’s a factor. And I don’t mean for ego — I mean that we’re more likely to do a feature we think lots of people will use versus one we expect few people to use. But that’s just one part of the equation and not the driving force it would be if we were taking money.

Before You Think I’m Advocating Something

Just in case it’s not obvious, I’ll spell it out: this model is not the best model for every app. I’m not saying it is. It’s a model that I personally like and can do because I’ve done well enough in the for-profit world.

I especially want to mention indie developers — they do have to think about revenue in order to keep doing what they’re doing. They are all under-charging for their apps and putting in far more time and care than you even imagine. They’re doing the best work on the platforms we love and they take care of their customers better than larger companies. So whenever you think you might want to give us money, go buy something awesome from an indie instead.

Or — do this also! — give money to groups trying to lessen the cruelty of this world. They’re not hard to find. Here’s one.