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Handango bans raffle winner

Use your prize quickly, or get thrown off the system

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Omnisoft, a small development company run by one John Cody, found itself chucked off the Handango web site for, apparently, trying to use advertising credit won in a raffle.

John Cody is one of a dwindling number of small-scale developers, he works alone to create and maintain five packages for Windows Mobile devices and sels them largely through the application aggregation service run by Handango.

In 2005, Cody won a raffle run by the service entitling him to $5K of free advertising on the site, a welcome boost for such a small company, and he immediately scheduled a couple of adverts, one of which appeared. Not wanting to blow his budget in one go, he waited until he was considering new releases before trying to schedule some more advertising. At this point everything started to go wrong.

You can read the painful exchange here, but basically, Handango imposed a series of new restrictions on the way in which Cody could use his prize, including a one-year time limit, which had already largely expired. Cody worked around the new limitations, bringing new versions out early and tried to promote them in a sensible fashion - all the while politely complaining about his treatment. But then he was gets kicked off the system.

"After talking with our Developer Relations Team, we have decided not to distribute your content on our network of channels from this point forward. This decision was made for a number of reasons and is supported by section 1c of your Software Distribution Agreement ... The Handango Partners Team&"

Cody pointed out that he could no longer see section 1c of the agreement as his logon had been disabled, but the relevant section indicates that Handango can de-list any product at any time at their discretion, though throwing an entire company off the system would seem to be beyond the spirit of the agreement.

It has often been suggested that the application distributors, Handango and Motricity, have an effective duopoly on hand-held application distribution. Both run their own sites, but also manage content for phone network's own portals, giving software listed on their sites a much wider reach than would be possible otherwise. For this privilege they charge around 40 per cent of the sale price, after deducting payment handing costs, though large brands can often negotiate a smaller fee.

We contacted Handango for comment on Cody: this is what it sent us.

"Handango would never terminate an agreement without good reason, in this case there is a specific reason but we cannot say what that is, to protect our business relationship with that partner."

Where credit's due

In a message board posting a representative of Handango stated this morning:

"In the case of Omnisoft, we stand by our decision to not distribute the company's content at this time, and we have issued a payment to John Cody at Omnisoft in the amount of the remaining marketing credit."

This leaves us to wonder exactly what Handango against Omnisoft, and why it won't tell us about it - given that the relationship is hardly worth protecting at this point. At least Cody can take his advertising budget elsewhere, but with Motricity being very much the junior partner in this duopoly his sales will suffer, and for a small-scale developer like Omnisoft that can be fatal. Unfortunately, we've not managed to make contact with Omnisoft yet, so we've no idea how bad the damage is.

The idea of the lone developer creating great applications hunched in their bedroom is a legacy of a simpler time when Spectrums and Electrons roamed the earth, the reality is that most applications are created by teams working for large publishing companies and based on established brands. Mobile phone utilities have enabled some small developers to survive, but the lack of reliable distribution mechanism has allowed an expensive duopoly to exist and further drive out the small-scale developer.

Handango is the largest and most powerful distributor of mobile software, and their treatment of Omnisoft indicates their confidence in the unassailability of that position. Several application developers have decided to withdraw their content from Handango in protest, though if it will be enough to lead to any leveling of the distribution market remains to be seen. ®

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