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Re: My Experience Selling Free Software
Re: My Experience Selling Free Software
Tue, 15 Sep 2020 20:40:42 +0200
Have you considered submitting a session on something like "sustainable
free software development" to libreplanet 2021?
I think it would be a great session to have.
On Sat, Sep 12, 2020, at 6:59 PM, Davis Remmel wrote:
In my experience very few free software developers sell their work. I
want to share my experience with selling free software, and why I think
it's important for developers to realize why it's beneficial, and
explain the psychological processes that compound to support the
software _more_ than gratis-ware.
As background, I've now exclusively developed free software for about 4
years, and have just began selling it myself. Previously, I developed
an industrial IoT platform built entirely with free software (real-time
display of industrial processes, sidestepping proprietary vendors like
Rockwell). This was not a consumer market, priced very high, and done
contractually so the users were not casual consumers.
This week, I released a piece of consumer-level free software, and in
one week has generated over $500 in sales (45 paying users) from a
single post on Reddit. As long as sales continue at the current pace
(they have tapered off, but still making above the poverty limit) I am
able to pursue writing all the free software I want, independently.
For some background on why people buy my tool, it's because this
tablet's manufacturer has crappy software, and there is only one other
software vendor that also has crappy software. Usually, documents are
transferred to this tablet via the manufacturer's cloud, but my tool
transfers documents locally. Also, the manufacturer's software allows
exporting of a user's documents, but they look like bad photocopies
(they wanted to keep their pencil shading code proprietary)--my
software has its own renderer, and produces images that actually look
like what the tablet's screen shows. Coincidentally, my software
exports these documents locally (secure), faster (rendered on-PC), with
higher quality, and lower file sizes. Ergo, my software is plain
better, and so it fills many consumer needs--this is a huge factor in
why it sells (not just because its free). With a $12 purchase, I give
customers 1 year of email support and updates. And, I have written a
high-quality user manual that I showcase to let users know exactly what
the software does before buying. My sales pitch is blunt,
straight-forward, with no bullshit.
The _bonus_ for customers is that my software is not restrictive. The
other available clients are incredibly restrictive: one client uses the
manufacturer's cloud (Google), and the other has typical proprietary
ToS and charges 3x the price. The GPL lets the users share mine freely
and spread it around. I don't care if they share copies because I have
an advertisement for the 1-yr-support+updates in the About pane, and
who wouldn't want updates and support for $1/month, especially when it
fills a need in their daily workflow?
So, with this background of my software and strategy, let me explain
some psychological effects that happen with the customers. In
gratis-ware, such as the common type of free software project, users
will just stop using the software if it doesn't work for them. They
didn't invest any money into it, and so they don't invest any of their
own time to ensure they get their money's worth ($0). So, if the
software doesn't work precisely right for them, they'll just stop using
it. Or, if another software does something similar but also something
else, they'll switch without a second thought.
Two-fold, without charging money, if there is a bug in the gratis-ware
the user will typically not submit a bug report, or if they try to it
is locked behind some restrictive interface (a software forge with user
accounts). The developer is left with no money, and no bug reports. My
first release contained some blocker bugs (some users couldn't start
the program) but they paid for it and wanted to get their money's
worth. I offered support, and virtually all problems were fixed the
next day with release #2, and my inbox has been pretty quiet since
(except for payment notifications ;) ).
To make it easy, I give my customers priority email. This doesn't
require any account registrations, nothing blocking them from talking
to me. I've developed a relationship with some of my more-enthusiastic
customers, and some have offered to be testers; many have given me
feature requests. In-exchange for testing, I give them perpetual gratis
updates and support. This one-on-one communication comforts them,
knowing that there's someone there to help immediately, and that
_someone_ is the author himself. This personal relationship solidifies
So, if you want to be able to fund development, you have to charge.
And, if you want to get bug reports, you have to charge---and give
customers an easy way to do that (direct email to the author is
convenient). With these bug reports, I make my software better, which
lets it sell better, which continues the cycle of self-perpetuating
Although I choose not to do this (to give a no-cost bonus), I think
it's entirely possible to charge _more_ for free software. If one
company sells 'seats' of their software for some $$, why wouldn't a
customer want to pay a little more for an unlimited number of seats
in-perpetuity (freedom)? As long as the software is good, fills a real
need, and comes with support then people will buy it.
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