I like “this article on Mobile Orchard about the relationship between price and ratings”:http://www.mobileorchard.com/app-store-heresies-higher-price-better-ratings-dont-discount-your-app-at-launch/:
“Customers with some skin in the game carry a psychological pressure to feel that they’ve been wise in their purchases; they’ll tend to over emphasize their positive feelings.”
This makes sense to me, and the other side of pricing that’s so important is the message you send. The perceived value of a product is connected to the published price. This is especially true in the App Store, where there’s no way to try the software before purchasing it. The price sets expectations.
So to take the Mobile Orchard analysis a little further: no one feels guilty judging a free app harshly with a 1-star rating because even the developer thinks the app is literally worthless.
Sure, there are good reasons to have a free app. To complement another paid service or desktop app, as a demo for a game or full version, or to “make $125,000/month in ad revenue”:http://fingergaming.com/2009/12/02/paper-toss-developer-earns-125000-in-monthly-ad-revenue/. In fact half the ideas I had for iPhone apps would have been free. But I don’t think any of that changes the truth of what Mobile Orchard said, that free stuff isn’t respected as much as something the customer is personally invested in.