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Re: My Experience Selling Free Software
Re: My Experience Selling Free Software
Wed, 16 Sep 2020 15:14:35 -0400
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Great idea, I second it!
On September 15, 2020 2:40:42 PM EDT, Yuchen Pei <email@example.com>
Have you considered submitting a session on something like "sustainable free sof
tware 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
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,
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
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 trust.
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
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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