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freeware->shareware->commercial


I have this app that I want to release as freeware to get some feedback and also to create a customer base. I have no experience in marketing nor do I have a customer base from a previous product.

Ultimately I want to keep developing this app and turn it into a commercial product in a later version. When the commercial version becomes available, I will probably get rid of the freeware, and make it available as shareware.

It looks like it might work. Similar methods are being used by other products (ZoneAlarm comes to mind), but I don't know how successfully.

Do you guys have experience with this?
Any comments?

Thank you!

Programmer
Thursday, April 22, 2004

QUESTIONS are more helpful than answers, IMHO:

1. What do you hope to gain from releasing V1.0 as Freeware?

2. Same question for the Shareware version.


MY answer to the above is that the they give you valuable marketing FEEDBACK from users and help to spread awareness of your product IF one user is liable to tell another user about the product.

3.  How will you convince a Freeware user to upgrade to Shareware or Commercial version?
E.g., more features, faster, better, stronger, more bionic <g>.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Oh, and my products started out as shareware but our market is very non-technical users. Demand is narrow but deep.

So, in MY case, I really needed to have a "commercial-like" product with catalog, offline advertising etc.

But every market segment is diffferent.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 22, 2004

One of the things the freeware version would do is basically test to see if there is even enough interest in the application to justify further development.

The second thing it aims to do is get user feedback, and close the loop between the coder (me), the result of coding (the app), and the end user who is the normal one. I'd like to see if I am achieving what I set out to achieve.

If all goes well, the commercial version will have bug fixes, improvements, more features, etc.. while the shareware version will get the bug fixes but will not move forward. It is just so that potential users can get a taste of what they will get with the full product.

I am planning to also provide flash animations and screenshots of the commercial version so that the potential customers could get a glimpse of what they would be paying for.

Programmer
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Some discussions on this topic just appeared here:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=134020&ixReplies=24

Or you can scroll down the topic list.

rick

Rick Chapman
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Rick,

I wasn't aware of that thread.

Thank you for pointing it out to me.

Programmer
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Rick,

How come your book isn't available on Amazon.com? 

Programmer
Thursday, April 22, 2004

+++Rick,

How come your book isn't available on Amazon.com?  +++

See THIS thread (or just scroll down):

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=134653&ixReplies=5

rick

Rick Chapman
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"One of the things the freeware version would do is basically test to see if there is even enough interest in the application to justify further development."

I am not sure that is a good approach. Would success or failiure of a partial but free app indicate any willingness to pay for a further developed product?

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, April 22, 2004

> I am not sure that is a good approach. Would success or
> failiure of a partial but free app indicate any willingness
> to pay for a further developed product?

You are right, and the answer is I am not sure. The thought was that if people like what the app does, then perhaps they would at least want to keep it around. And then maybe reach a point where they'd like all the other extra bells and whistles that come with the full product.

It might be better to do "try before you buy", however, given the fact that I am not the most experienced programmer, I wouldn't feel too comfortable charging for a sub-par product. Therefore, I am planning to lean towards freeware initially.

I could be very wrong thinking this way, hence the thread asking for comments.  :)

One thing I left out of the original post was that I will give the app to a few friends and family and let them try it even before I release it to the planet and see if anyone cares for it.

Programmer
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Mr Analogy wrote :

"3.  How will you convince a Freeware user to upgrade to Shareware or Commercial version?"

Release your Shareware as a Beta version with an expiration date.

PseudoCode :

If SysDate = 01 Jan 2006 Then
begin

  FlagRegistry;
  SelfModificationOfExe;
  ErrorMessage('This beta version has expired, get the latest version of UltraXML at www.toolsforcodez.biz)

Snacky
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"I am not sure that is a good approach. Would success or failiure of a partial but free app indicate any willingness to pay for a further developed product? "


Good point. Popularity of the freeware version would be NECESSARY but not sufficient to indicate people might pay for the product.

I.e., if they won't even use it if it's free, then they'll NEVER pay for it.

However, you might have a very small but loyal following, so even a small # of freeware users might translate into a business.

Also, some companies might avoid freeware but use commercial software, if it's mission critical software. (Don't want to start a flameware here, but some companies might want to know the product will be supported/expanded in the future). e.g., I'd rather pay $1,000 for Delphi than use RealBasic. One reason is that I don't see ow the RB people can support any significant improvements at $100/license.  (And the state of the product bears that out. Very simple controls, etc.). Not to knock RB. I think it's a neat product. Delphi just seems better for my needs (today).

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 22, 2004

I too second, third, and fourth the "Do not freeware approach".

It is difficult to wean the Free As in Beer crown onto a pay for software model.

Like someone already mentioned, you are probably better off sticking huge Beta Beta Beta signs all over your software, and telliing people to send feature requests, bugs etc, while you finish the final version.

A lot of authors do the same thing, sticking draft copies of their books online for comments etc, but as soon as the DeadTrees version hits the shelves, they axe the online one.

Tapiwa
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Tapiwa makes a good point.

You could release it with a LONG trial period (6 months or longer).

That way they know up front that it is not intended to be FREE.  Then the folks who only use free stuff won't be attracted to it. And you can ignore suggestions from that group of people (who may not represent the views of your paying cutomers).

And remember... your most vocal supporters of the free version may not have views/opinions which represent those of your paying customers.

I never implement a feature for ONE customer (no matter how enthusiastic they are) BUT if I think many other customers will pay for the feature, I add it.

Our most popular program is a result of such a suggestion. (The suggestor, of course, never bought it :-)

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"3.  How will you convince a Freeware user to upgrade to Shareware or Commercial version?"

Um, add features? HomeSite was originally freeware and shareware (really! see http://www.brianashe.com/software.html ) and look at it now. Back then, you could only have 1 document open at a time. Now that I'm older, I'm happy to spend my money (OK, my employer's money) on the $500 suite. Seriously, I have used HomeSite since 1996, recommended it to countless people, and my company has bought about a dozen copies of it (alone and as part of the suite) at my recommendation.

Of course, there's a bit of a difference between "make a good app and become successful selling it forever" and "make a good app and get bought by Macromedia or Microsoft." :-)

null fame
Thursday, April 22, 2004

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