Mac users pay more than Windows users for the same things, given a choice

But Linux users will pay even more, a US website is finding

When online travel agent Orbitz admitted in June that it was steering Mac users on its site toward higher-priced hotel rooms, many were angry. But another company is finding that Mac users will pay more than Windows users for an identical product -- even when allowed to choose how much they pay.

Orbitz wasn't showing Mac users higher prices than it showed others for the same room: It found they would choose different, more expensive, products, spending up to US$30 more per night than PC users.

But it's not just Mac users that outspend Windows users: Linux users do too, according to Humble Bundle, a company that organizes time-limited sales of bundles of games, music and ebooks and splits the proceeds with their creators and with charities.

The current bundle is a collection of DRM-free ebooks by cult geek authors including Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi, on sale through Oct. 23. The basic bundle contains six novels, but anyone paying more than the average price (at time of purchase) will get seven other books, including Scalzi's and Gaiman's, thrown in too.

At the time of writing, the average price paid for the ebook bundle was $13.69, with at least 10 of the 68,002 purchasers to date choosing to pay $200 or more. Windows users paid an average of $12.83, Mac users an average of $14.99 and Linux users $15.76. This imbalance is not unique to the ebook bundle: Linux users have consistently paid the most for all of Humble Bundle's previous deals, with Windows users paying least on average.

So why do Linux users (and Mac users) value this bundle of books more than Windows users?

Some might argue that it has nothing to do with the product offered, it's simply that Mac users have more money to spend. One widely quoted set of figures, attributed to Forrester Research, claims that adult Mac owners have an average household income of $98,560, compared to just $74,452 for PC owners. (A breakdown of income by PC operating system was not immediately available.)

But in the case of Humble Bundle's bundle of ebooks, the product and its promotion may play a role too.

While the graphic novels and cartoon strips in the bundle are available only as PDFs, the novels and short stories are all available in PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats, so they're readable on almost any computer, phone, tablet or e-reader out there, even the ones linked to proprietary online stores such as Amazon.com's Kindle or Apple's iPhone and iPad. The choice of formats also, for Linux users, avoids the hassle of getting a closed-source, Windows-only reader or file transfer application to run under Wine.

The books are also free of DRM (Digital Rights Management), a big deal for Doctorow who, in addition to contributing one of his own novels, also selected the other elements of the bundle. Doctorow is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns against DRM (among many other activities). He has published eight novels and a handful of short story collections and other texts, all available in print or as slickly formatted DRM-free ebooks. You can also read them without paying a cent, too, as Doctorow somehow persuaded his U.S. publisher, Tor Books, to let him distribute the books as unformatted text files for free under a Creative Commons license.

Humble Bundle attracts a disproportionate number of Mac and Linux users: It identifies about one in seven buyers of the ebook bundle as Linux users, and two in seven as Mac users.

That may be down to who's promoting the bundle. Doctorow, who switched from Macs to Ubuntu Linux in 2006, has written about it several times on his mailing list, while Wil Wheaton, a former Linux user who switched to Macs, mentioned it to his 2.1 million Twitter followers and to his circle of 1.4 million Google+ users. (It's possible those millions don't follow Wheaton solely for his computing advice or literary recommendations.)

Wheaton offered $242 for the collection, but Jacobo Tarrio went a few cents better.

"I chose $242.42 because of the number 42 in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Tarrio said via email. He's used Linux almost exclusively since 1997 and, although he now runs Windows on a PC at home, he paid from a Linux machine.

He'd noticed, to his surprise and delight, that Linux users were paying more, as they had for previous bundles.

"I guess now we have a reputation to live up to," he joked.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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