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Fairware: an interesting experiment in getting paid for Open Source

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OK DC coders! Paul started the ball rolling...  :Thmbsup:

Hm, why I am making freeware and what I expect? My goals and reasons differ:

The smaller tools: I make them available for free, because I do not think seeking compensation for few days of my time is worth the effort. I usually place a donate button somewhere and it is a rare but pleasant surprise when someone uses it.

The I have 2 bigger free tools, a general purpose image editor and a cursor editor. They already consumed many months of my time.

Cursor editor: Despite consuming a lot of resources, I made my cursor editor free, because I did not think there was a market for it. I get 100-150 USD per year in donations (= nothing). I think it is the best cursor editor on the planet and I intend to keep it that way even if it means working for free. I just want it this way, I like people using my software, the more the better. I also like to believe it brings indirect benefits.

Image editor: Me developing this was probably a bad idea, but now it is too late. I just have to continue working on it. I keep it free, because there are so many similar programs, many of them free. (I do not remember when I got the last donation, it was many months ago.) If it were paid, it would have much less users and I would get less feedback. I need that. I think I have competitive features under the hood, but I know, the user interface is too "ordinary". If I ever manage to figure out the user interface and convince myself it is worth paying for, I may start charging for commercial use or implement a nag screen. Until then, it stays free and I do not expect the donations to cover even 1% of my time spent on it.

mouser hit on something that occurred to me when I was just finishing the 1st page of this thread: I think that for some, perhaps many, who develop free/donation/open source software, there is a distinct disinterest in what it takes to run a normal business, perhaps most particularly with marketing and sales efforts. I can totally understand it, these are some of my least favorite activities. Now you could argue that free software without marketing is potentially as unlikely to succeed as commercial software without marketing.

What is potentially interesting to consider is the possibility that free is in itself a marketing factor. How you license your software affects how people think of, relate to, and talk about it. Free and open source have huge, independently motivated communities behind them that can become your evangelists without a lot of difficulty, provided you're offering an interesting product (and that may be almost the most fundamental requirement, interesting product). hsoft alludes to this affect on his products and I've seen it many times before. So in a sense people who choose free/open source as a model may be opting for "free" (in multiple senses) marketing as well, whether consciously or unconsciously, and may be doing so partly or largely out of a desire to avoid having to do explicit marketing. Given the actual potential impact of "free" on people's mindsets, this is actually a legitimate option (see the many large businesses today that base their profitable business models on "free", e.g. Google).

I also really like 40hz's idea of small devs banding together. It reminds me of the old GoD game publisher ("Gathering of Developers"), though that is not exactly a success story. ;) I'm also fairly certain I've seen some examples of things like that, though I can't recall specific links or product names unfortunately. I think the important point though is that it's vital to remove as many barriers and inconveniences as possible from the act of transferring money from user to developer. The idea of allowing SMS/mobile phone payments is very interesting for example.

Regarding users guiding software development/features, this has been discussed elsewhere on DC before, and it has its pluses and minuses. I would think many devs would be wary of having their dev priorities fully - or perhaps even largely - driven by user demand (although at the same time many would probably agree that their work is already partly or largely driven by a "filtered" personal sense of user need). As hsoft mentions, sometimes unglamorous stuff needs to be worked on. However I do think something as simple as allowing donating users to vote on features (and not allowing non-donating users to do so) could be a good approach. Just because something is voted on does not mean it's going to happen, and not attaching money directly to the vote means it carries less load and expectation.

I'm also glad to see 40hz brought up the "most people don't care" point and that this prompted mouser's previously mentioned idea of a fixed price up-front with a "show me other ways to pay for this" option. I had forgotten about this idea but I remain very curious about it and I'd really like to see someone try it on an already successful app (so we have a basis for comparison). I agree with 40hz, it's a chance to do some real experimentation and put actual numbers to our speculations and feelings on these issues. mouser, how about it? Screenshotcaptor maybe?

40hz also brings up the oft-discussed "manifesto" idea. I like the idea in concept, and there are various pieces of philosophy already scattered around the site, but I wonder if trying to distill and clarify would necessarily leave some of the things people love here behind. How do you reconcile a site that offers specific software for download and "sale" (donation), as well as support on that software, with a site that is a more general software-and-tech-advice community that is so much broader than the software the site provides itself? Well, DonationCoder, that's how! But is it really working as best it could? Would a "manifesto" focus and improve things? Are there parts of the site and its activities that really are unnecessary or just not successful enough to bother maintaining? Sad to say, that might be the review stuff actually, but I hold a special place in my heart for that. ;)

Re: "humble indie bundle", after the success of the 1st one - if not even before that - I viewed it as somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Granted the circles I run in are much more aware of and into things like that, but I never heard any single game in those bundles described in anything but glowing terms. Many people I heard from who bought it already owned one or more games in the collection and had perhaps purchased them for even more than the average donation price of the HIB, but they bought again just to support it. One could say that was the exception to the rule but the success of the HIBs might indicate otherwise. Still I think the point that their success may simply be due to novelty and an unsaturated market is likely correct so it's not necessarily something to try to emulate, or if you do, try to get in early. It won't work forever I reckon.

- Oshyan

Paul Keith:
I think one thing that should also be cleared up is how marketing does not need to be marketing in the sense of how modern business should do it.

For example: When a developer, who has their own site, posts their applications here to "share" - that's marketing.

I don't know how obvious the above example is but the beauty of marketing is that it does not need to be linked to sales efforts or to the intent of marketing.

Marketing is like graphical user interface design with extra-consideration for the end user. It's a way of communicating and better emphasizing how the tools can help an audience with less effort on the person's side to understand the manuals, the functionality...even the intent to buy.

In this sense, it's very possible to be a marketer without realizing that you're being a marketer.

All these is mute though if the developers have to guess for themselves how to communicate. Example, if no one tells me that I need to add a screenshot or fix some other thing in my post I might not have realized the problem.

This is really where the inherent system/group is supposed to alleviate many of the problems with intent.

Not to beat kickstarter into a dead horse but look at the interface:

You can separate the comments/complaints from the backers from the updates. Video is not only at the fore front but it's designed in such a way that the paused video can double serve as a screenshot. Not only that, the sidebar social proofs itself with little help from the submitters.

This doesn't mean Kickstarter should be the standards for donationware. If anything the site overall is mediocre. There have been multiple problems with not only getting people to fund a project but getting the distribution right and it's still a site that gives biases to those who are somewhat below the radar as opposed to totally unknown submitters. You can't even just totally jump into the site and submit something. (without reducing your chances of being funded)

...however it's a step towards eliminating some of the exposure problems without requiring random exposure from popular blogs...and I think this type of delivery system is the fundamental requirement.

Clarity...interesting product... how many examples have we seen in our lifetime of totally boring examples that make no sense to us, gain massive interest? Why recently a scarf brought down Target's site.

Paul Keith:
So Mozilla is releasing something called open badges:

Think this may affect both Donationware and Fairware?


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