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Ask HN: Does Shareware still work in 2018?
153 points by dgarud on Nov 16, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments
I put a lot of thought into a software which solves a real problem and could be licenced on a per machine basis. (Small company pays less than a bigger one - i.e. pay per use).

To go for a startup selling licenced copies, I would need an investor but I don't really know how much the product will sell. The investors like to see hockey stick graphs which I can't claim.

I know there are companies that created open source projects on github and then have businesses doing custom work around it, but I don't know if this will work for me. I feel the product itself provides value and I would like to make some revenue off it.

Now I am thinking this is a good fit for shareware - i.e distribute freely - let anyone who feels it is worth pay for it. I can distribute with source so if someone wants to modify sections they can do so.

Please let me know your thoughts.

I've built a small tool that I distributed as "free for personal use, contact me for a commercial license", without technical enforcement, not even a nag screen.

I made one (1) sale, despite receiving e-mails from several people thanking me that they're happily using it at work, and that sale was to a company who wanted customization, and only ended up actually paying the invoice when they asked for another round of customization and I pointed out that they haven't paid their last invoice.

Donationware does not work for companies, I think - the bureaucracy required to make money move from the company to you will keep people from doing it even if they think you deserve it. If it is labelled as voluntary instead of a legally required license fee, it will also be hard to make it happen.

If you're targeting companies, and want to do a shareware model, you should:

* Make it easy to buy (with credit card etc.), but also provide a contact for volume licensing. If you're lucky, this allows employees to pay you for your software without having to go through approvals.

* Make it hard to use permanently without buying (beyond just a nag screen, e.g. blocking the save feature once an expiration time is reached)

Your goal isn't to convince someone to pay for the software. Your goal is to convince the person sitting in front of the computer that dealing with the bureaucracy to pay you is easier than not dealing with it, and if given the choice between a nag screen and the bureaucracy, the nag screen is easier to deal with.

Companies have successfully convinced themselves that anything software is some form of black magic that can only be procured by the IT department and through a small army of Business Development Managers. In my job I have fairly broad discretion to purchase things, generally up to $100,000 I need only write a one-paragraph justification of what I'm doing as long as I'm working within an approved budget.

Except 'IT'.

I can't buy a $5 mouse at Best Buy. Or a Lightning cable to charge my company-provided iPhone. That will trigger long chains of accusatory emails from Accounting and Procurement. Software and 'IT equipment' has to be purchased according to the Policy, which to be quite honest I've never successfully figured out how to do.

It's come to the point that I'd rather buy small things (<$50) out of my own pocket than persecute myself by spending days going through some convoluted process and knowing at the end of it that we paid 3x the market price to get it from our 'Preferred Supplier'.

This is where shadow IT comes from and why < $1000 SaaS products work.

Lots of managers have credit cards and will pay the SaaS fee and ignore procurement processes. The the app becomes embedded in the company and the procurement team has to accept the reality of it.

> knowing at the end of it that we paid 3x the market price to get it from our 'Preferred Supplier'

It's not even just the cost of the item itself - I often have to spend hours of time over a period of months to get something purchased, with multiple levels of management also having to spend time on approvals and chasing people up. The cost of all that time can easily exceed the cost of the item.

Sometimes I hate working for a megacorp :(

I worked for a company in the 1990s which had previously had a very bad experience purchasing custom software, and as a consequence had formally restricted the delegation of authority to business unit leaders to specifically exclude ANY software purchases. As a consequence, if one of my team needed a Microsoft Word license, it had to go all the way to the Board of Directors - and it only got there if the CEO believed it was important.

.. and knowing at the end of it that we paid 3x the market price to get it from our 'Preferred Supplier’

Very clear what’s going on there once you get to the end. Somebody’s got themselves a nice cash cow sewn up.

Doesn't need to be a conspiracy, where somebody is getting rich at the company's expense.

At work we have something similar, where every few years the IT department tenders the 'preferred supplier' for general IT stuff. The logic is basically that by promising the vendors exclusivity, they will bid lower. So yes, sometimes that means we'll pay 3x for a keyboard compared to the price we'd pay at the local discount computer store; I think in general the prices for the stuff that is in the 'tendering portfolio' is very competitive, otherwise it's list price.

OTOH, we save money since the billing from the preferred supplier is worn-in standard procedure, and also employees don't waste company time searching the web for the cheapest/best/whatever keyboard.

What's its own level of horrible is Amazon.

If you have a business account, everything gets bundled into that account. Sure, if your org is 110 people big, keeping track is pretty easy. My last job was with a state university. They see thousands of purchases a day, and Amazon bins them onto 1 credit card, and in 1 account. For all 8 campuses and over 50k people.

So the preferred vendor means also integrating with your financial system. So budgeting is easier. But Amazon makes this so damned hard. Even being able to tag purchases would help. But I'm sure ol Besos figured out that makes him lose a dollar.

With Amazon in Europe it's especially bad because if you accidentally buy something from an FBA vendor, you won't get a proper VAT invoice. And this makes accounting a pain in the ass.

Every other online store sends you a proper invoice. But FBA vendors will send you sketchy invoices that make it clear they aren't paying their taxes. Which is bad, because that means as a business customer you're on the hook....

I wouldn't say it's a conspiracy so much as "how business is done"

Considering that software will be running on the internal network of your company, they probably at least want someone they can hold responsible when it interferes with operations / deletes intranet files / opens holes in the firewall / exfiltrates their secrets / etc.

(And yes I know that's because of terrible design decisions in the intranet itself, but has anyone seriously worked at a large company where that wasn't the case?)

> Donationware does not work for companies, I think - the bureaucracy required to make money move from the company to you will keep people from doing it even if they think you deserve it.

This is a really important point. Small companies I've worked at generally have had sensible and manageable procurement processes, but big companies have sometimes had mind bogglingly labyrinthine processes even for small purchases. There was once I had to raise an "Approval To Spend" and "on-board" a new vendor, and as far as I could tell the process changed 3 times while I was going through the "process", although I'm not completely sure because while everyone was telling me I had to go through "the process" no-one seemed completely sure what the process was, including those responsible for "the process". All very Kafkaesque. Anyway, it all comes down to your target market - if it is individuals you won't face this problem, but if it is businesses you will face the problem on a scale according to the size of business.

* Make sure your payment processes automatically provides a business tax invoice / receipt with full details. It's surprising how much of a pain this can be for even business oriented services.

One thing developers of products like this can do is offer an accessibly priced license for individual users in a corporation. If it's an indispensable tool for me that I use at work, and the bureaucracy for obtaining even $0.01 USD from the company is not going to happen, the individual license can be a nice middle ground. I can write it off at tax season too.

Is using a crack easier than dealing with bureaucracy?

Using a crack has both legal and security implications for the company and therefore at least in my place of work can result in serious consequences for the employee including termination of employment.

So I'd imagine most people wouldn't risk it.

Most of nag screens implying that you should buy or uninstall software in 30 days or something like that. It's written in license. They just don't enforce it. So violating license is acceptable while cracking is not?

IIRC win10 allows installing without entering product key and keeps somewhat working after the 30day period that it gives to enter that key.

Sure, but you have to multiply that with the (perceived) probability of it being an issue with the expected benefit. That is probably a calculation that often comes out as "get it, dammit".

The problem is that the tool is being used in a business setting, but the phrase "free for personal use, contact me for a commercial license" does not obligate the users to obtain a different license. They are likely not selling the tool or distributing it, but merely using it.

If you really want a legal way to get companies to pay, phrase it as "free for non-commercial use" and include that in the public documentation as well as somewhere in the tool itself. Non-commercial includes the indirect commercial cases that would apply to the tool.

> Non-commercial includes the indirect commercial cases that would apply to the tool. //

AIUI that is wrong in USA and UK (don't know about other countries). At least if using the "non-commercial" definition used in IP law.

For example, you create an advert for free for an event that charges money, that's commercial. You give stuff away that impacts someone else's ability to sell, that's commercial. You do a free event, charge for snacks, it's a commercial event.

Use an app privately the results of which you use to benefit your employer, that's a commercial use.

It's pretty hard to answer the general question for "an app" rather than a specific app and associated action.

WTH is AIUI pls?

Not parent, but "As I Understand It"

I've been developing a cross-platform file manager [1] for the past 2.5 years. It is shareware with a nag screen. It currently makes ~$500 per month. Generally, I would say yes, shareware still works. But it is hard a) to write desktop software [2] and b) to convince people to pay for it. I would not give people the sources. It would make them feel even more like "I don't need to pay for this". What works for me is to be very transparent and tell people [3] "I'm one guy working on this, and am making $500 per month. This is not sustainable. If you like the project and want it to continue, buy a license".

Feel free to hit me up on twitter @m_herrmann if you have further questions. :-)

1: https://fman.io

2: https://blog.qt.io/blog/2018/11/15/python-qt-3000-hours-deve...

3: https://fman.io/buy

I don't want to be overly negative, but I have launched quite a few indie 6 figure apps over the last five years, and something generating $500 a month isn't really working (in my book).

Have you even tried to just sell licenses for it? If your software delivers value then that should convert better than a nag screen. Worth giving users a 30 day trial and seeing how that converts.

Would be interested to know more about this. I see you posted an article last year, but it's since been deleted.

As in, interested in how I did it? I've been considering putting something together in the not so distant future -- throw me an e-mail with your contact details and I'll add you to the (currently very small) mailing list.

The layout of your top-bar somewhat breaks[0] if I zoom in beyond 130%


[0]: https://imgur.com/a/f9CATyj

Thanks for letting me know :-)

This is not sustainable. If you like the project and want it to continue, buy a license

Do you just nag or actually disable the product after a period? I was always surprised by the Sublime model, my experience indicates that if people can avoid paying then they will, even business customers.

I just nag. I want the larger user base so people develop plugins [1].

1: https://fman.io/docs/plugins

I like your open source promise. So I guess you have some private GH repo which needs switch to public to fullful the promise, right? I just wonder how you implemented the family eventual part.

It's called Patreon. You've got to be established, though: can't come out of nowhere with a thing and expect to see much traction.

I literally went from using Kagi for ten years, to using Patreon. At first it's a decimating change because you're going from 'sale of a product' to 'literally giving product away free and telling people they can support you if they like'.

However, if your cashflow isn't too tough, one benefit is that Patreon is a LOT more stable and predictable than shareware ever was. You stop having boom and bust product releases and instead have months where you grow kinda briskly and months where you grow not so briskly.

You're not making revenue off the product, you're making revenue off 'I am the one who makes products such as this'. I've got suggestions for what people should pledge if they would've bought my stuff commercially, but it's entirely voluntary and I'm also MIT-licensing it all. I'm airwindows on github, and as a website.

There's one big catch there - once you reach a "fair" income level, many people will think that you are already getting enough and won't bother to sponsor you.

Look at the statistics [0]: unless you are in the top 100 creators, you'll get far less than your regular FAANG pay.

[0]: https://graphtreon.com/patreon-creators

Huh. I didn't know Patreon published info on what creators are earning. Wouldn't that be a design flaw? What's the benefit to anybody? It seems to only deter potential sponsors.

I don't think Patreon does. As you can see you cannot see that information for every creator.

Publishers/creators can choose to show or hide the number of subscribers and their monthly earnings. This site simply is scraping that freely available information.

Note that this wasn't the case in the beginning. It was only at some point that Patreon gave creators that choice - and I believe the default was to hide the earnings (but no the number of patrons).

Design flaw? No, I think it's called "transparency"

The good old battle between privacy and transparency! Nothing better to start a heated conversation: Finland publishes all personal taxes https://taxjustice.blogspot.com/2011/11/finland-publishes-al...

"Transparency" is a pretty word, and I like transparency in a lot of things, but not in everything, and I don't think it's good here. I've given my reasons in another comment close to this one:


The way Patreon works is that you can set "achievements" levels and people coming on the page can see how far you are from the next goal. You have to publish the earnings for that feature. It entice people to contribute towards the goal so it's not a design flaw.

So people can avoid sponsoring creators that already have a fair income level.

Like john_moscow has pointed out, though, that deters people from becoming Patreon creators. It's very normal for people to underestimate the difficulty of what others do or the real worth of their work. Besides that, supporting someone economically in a capitalist environment is giving them your vote for them to continue doing what they're doing. Not voting for them, when you otherwise would, solely because you can see they have some quantity of votes already, disrupts that.

I would like this type of economy to flourish, as it seems like a very viable way to get good economic support for open-source. However, if this is a common occurrence, it seems developers will continue to be better off working on closed-source.

What deters people from becoming Patreon creators is not being supported. I certainly would never voluntarily support someone if I for all I know they could already be grossly overpaid for what they do.

If supporting someone with X€ is any kind of "vote", it's a vote that they should get X€ more than they currently get for their work. It may be hard to make an educated decision about that, but it's impossible without knowing a creator's current income level to begin with.

> If supporting someone with X€ is any kind of "vote", it's a vote that they should get X€ more than they currently get for their work.

No, think of each unit of currency as equaling 1 vote.

It's a vote that, between the various things that they could be doing, they should continue doing what they're currently doing.

For example, in a programmer's case, he could be employed by a company which will give $X votes. He could also be working freelancing gigs and earn $Y votes. He could start his own SaaS business and earn $Z votes. He could do open source work and earn through Patreon $W votes.

Only he will know where he stands in each of those markets, and, on average, you can bet that he will do what gives the most votes (i.e. money).

Not voting because you think he's got enough votes, is like not voting for a presidential candidate because you think he's got enough votes, despite otherwise wanting to vote for him/her. Imagine presidential voting was done such that you can see, in real-time, the votes of your preferred presidential candidate (without needing to vote for him/her) but not being able to see the votes of other candidates. That's pretty messed up, right? You see 10,000 people have voted for your candidate and think, "that's enough for him; he doesn't need my vote", and it turns out that other candidates have 100,000's of votes. It could be that the majority of the voting population would prefer your candidate, but because many of the people that preferred him didn't express themselves through their vote, someone else ended up being picked as president. That means the voting system failed, and that's why such transparency here is disruptive.

Votes and currency work completely differently. In an election, you have one vote. You can use it to support someone or not. If you don't vote, you don't get to keep your vote and use it for a different election. Equating votes and money just does not work.


- I believe that someone's work is worth 50,000€

- They currently get 50,000€ from Patreon

- Because their earnings are secret I give them another 1000€

- Because of my support, they refuse an offer for 50,500€

then the resource allocation system failed. The creator is now doing work worth 50,000€ even though they could be doing work worth 50,500€.

(For the sake of argument, I'm making some assumptions that are clearly wrong but required for markets to make sense as allocation mechanisms in the first place)

> Votes and currency work completely differently. In an election, you have one vote.

Not all voting systems are created equal. There are voting systems that permit using more than 1 vote, like this one:


(If you go to the bottom of the article, you can see a blue box that says "Electoral Systems" with "[show]" on the right. You can click that to have the box display a variety of voting systems and related articles.)

> If you don't vote, you don't get to keep your vote and use it for a different election.

I agree that it's different in that there is no formal, delimited election time, like in other voting systems. Here it's like the election is always ongoing in various dimensions. Despite that, I believe the way capitalism works remains very similar to voting systems.

> If:

> - I believe that someone's work is worth 50,000€

> - They currently get 50,000€ from Patreon

> - Because their earnings are secret I give them another 1000€

> - Because of my support, they refuse an offer for 50,500€

> then the resource allocation system failed. The creator is now doing work worth 50,000€ even though they could be doing work worth 50,500€.

I feel that logic is weird. When you go to a service provider (like a freelancer), do you wish you could see what they earned monthly so you can decide whether to offer to pay them to do your job request or to just request of them to do it for free because otherwise you'd feel they'd be earning too much? I would think not. Why do you insist on deciding what to pay based on what their earnings are?

I think what you decide to pay them should only be based on the benefit you receive. What is "fair" is naturally decided by the economic system, not the individuals.

"Fair" is relative.

It is and for most of the world the bar is around $3K/month.

What do you mean?

FAANG: An acronym for the market's five most popular and best-performing tech stocks, namely Facebook, Apple , Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet's Google.

Maybe people should not get FAANG pay… I started this sub-thread and to me, my life is a big experiment in what a life is even meant to be. I can't imagine seeing the Patreon blow up to the point that it's like FAANG pay (I had to look it up to even know what that was) and am not at all sure that it should: I live in Vermont and I'm gonna die at some point anyway, what's the use of having vast piles of cash left over?

Looking at that list it seems to be all podcasts and porn, no developers.

https://www.patreon.com/seriallos (number 17) is software. So is https://www.patreon.com/RaiderIO (number 99).

Interesting site. Now I see how AvE can pay the note on that new Haas CNC machine.

You need to clearly understand the difference between making money from selling software licenses to your customers vs. having the investors as your primary customers.

In the current market you will hardly find a private player looking for a return on their investment through profits/dividends; they will be more likely trying to cash out when you create enough buzz to get acquired or IPOed. That's a completely different game from the naive "sell licenses - make profit" option, but that's the game private equity plays in 2018. And no, desktop applications are not buzzwordy enough for that game, sorry.

That said, there's plenty of money to be made selling desktop products to businesses. You just need to approach it differently, get the actual product/market fit, grow your presence organically, listen to your customers, learn from your mistakes and so on. Don't get discouraged by bootstrapping - you don't need a fully functional product to see if there is a market for the problem you are solving. Create a minimal prototype, write a few articles showing it off and tune in on the feedback. Once you start hearing from real people trying to solve real problems with your prototype, it will be very easy to find which next features will make your product more usable and will inevitably bring more revenue.

This, so much. The assumption that startup == investors is faulty, and in fact dangerous - investors don't share your priorities.

Build the thing, and sell it (not necessarily for shareware, either). There are new channels for software now (like Setapp[0]) that you can look at, too, depending on who the customer and platform is.

Then you can make decisions based on actual sales, demand, market size, etc, and if investors are needed at that stage, then you have a waaaaay better proposition for them.

[0]: https://setapp.com/

If you want to make any meaningful money, you need to give people a good reason to pay. Asking for donations is not going to result in a lot of money. I've never heard from anyone making more than 500$ a year from donations for an app.

So you will need to add some kind of restriction to make people pay for your app.

The restriction depends on the usage type of your app.

- If it is something that lots of people use everyday (like a text editor), you might get away with a nag dialog. Annoy a large number of people just a bit every day, and some of them will buy a license.

- If it is something that people use just once (eg. a file conversion app) you absolutely have to require payment before people can do what they want, or they will never come back.

- If is something that companies will want to customise, and you want to distribute source code, you probably need to charge a lot of money for it. Only few companies can afford to hire someone to write custom software, so you need to make sure you charge them enough that it is sustainable.

You're not really describing Shareware (though in practice it may not have been a whole lot different). Shareware was software distributed under a try-before-you-buy license but the license actually required you to pay if you continued to use the software beyond a certain time period.

Did this make a difference for most users? No. But, when I wrote shareware, I usually got one or two 4 figure site licenses per year from companies for my product. It was just a sideline but the difference between pure donationware and "you're really legally required to pay for this" did make a difference.

That said, today I'd probably just do it as open source donationware though the money wasn't completely trivial for me at the time.

> You're not really describing Shareware

These days, yeah, but the term shareware started out as OP described. It later became synonymous with trialware.


Eventually it became a rather derogatory term, I remember endless debates in the ASP about abandoning it, which I think they did in the end.

A lot of it was on the covers of magazines or you could order a set of disks from people like Atlantic Coast:


The ASP at least for a long time took a hard line against crippling whether by feature or time limiting. After I moved on (and retail software started offering demos, open source became widespread, etc.) shareware evolved into the sort of crippleware, adware, etc. that you still see in some corners of the software world today.

Go with a trial model with online license activation. This works really well.

More specifically - allow to use the program without a license for X days and the cripple it in some annoying way until the installation is licensed. Activation should pass some machine details to the licensing server, which will then pass back them hashed and signed. The program should have the public part of the licensing key embedded, so on launch it would read the license, verify the sig and check that the license still matches the machine.

Also, for this to work well you will want to have some basic protection against reversing in place. It should not be possible to NOP the IF in the license check, replace the signing pub key or to side-load DLLs. This is a large subject of its own, but there are off-the-shelf solutions for this (called exe protectors)... though the con here is the perpetual hassle with false positive detection from anti-viruses and such.


I should add that "pay what you want" model doesn't work at all. It absolutely doesn't work for enterprise software and it doesn't even work with home users. It basically makes the software look not valued enough even by its own creator.

Ditto for the donation model unless the active audience size is in 100s of thousands. Donation model is not really a model to begin with, it lacks predictability.

Differntiating pricing tiers just by the user type - personal/home vs. business/commercial - works very poorly as well. People cheat. The only thing that really works as a price differentiator are the features. Pay more - get more. Also, charging for Windows Server installs 10x the normal price is a perfectly acceptable practice that works well.

If you have any questions - ask, I'd be happy to answer what I can.

Donation ware is a thing, but it rarely works well. Besides, hockey stick growth on a product that is free to obtain and use isn't a surefire means of proving future profitability. The easiest way to make money is the old fashioned way: charge for it.

Or charge for support

Any examples of successful companies that charge for support for their own free product?

Well, RedHat, sorta kinda, but not exactly what was meant here.

But who wants to work in support?

Look at sites/software/etc that is offered for free that you believe offer very high value. There's a recurring trend. In spite of the value offered, the developers invariably end up short of revenue. This tends to result in ever more visible requests for donations or alternatives (such as swag) to try to spur revenue. And even with these appeals, the revenue tends to rarely correspond in any meaningful way to the value of what's offered.

As an example Lichess (www.lichess.org) is an amazing service for playing chess. It supplanted services like ICC (internet chess club) and now competes against services such as chess.com and really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the sites. Now let's consider compensation. ICC had on the order of tens of thousands of users and charged around $50/year for what would have required extremely little overhead. They were undoubtedly making millions. Chess.com today is heavily ad-driven and works hard to push their users into a premium access model. No idea about their revenue, but they happily spend 5 figures a year in contracts just to get various players/streamers to exclusively play/stream on their site, and have an extensive paid staff. In contrast to these two sites, the founder of Lichess is able to gives himself a salary of $22,218, about $2k above the French minimum wage. It's not like he's then getting loads in options each year - that's it, that's what he gets for building software that beats out other sites making countless millions offering arguably inferior services.

It sucks, because I wish this model worked, but I think it simply does not. There are exceptions, but they are definitely the exception.

I don't think just distributing it for free will net you revenue. Usually people need a reason to pay. I personally will pay for something if really want it, and I'm incredibly annoyed by the free alternative. Likewise, someone in a small team in a big company will use your software for free, but until they get annoyed enough by it, they won't convince their boss to pay for it to avoid the annoyance (or gain the premium feature, etc). In this sense, the value driving the purchase is the pain factor, not how useful the software is by itself.

You should also tailor your business model to the product's market. If you have a broad market - home users, small business, large businesses, etc - some can use it for free, but some will still pay. If it's a smaller market - only small businesses - maybe only a few will pay if it's available for free.

You can also change the business model to be free software that drives paying for something else - like a cool cli tool, but a much more useful premium GUI. Or a free tool that's easier to set up and use as a SaaS.

I would look at selling licensed copies yourself or create it as a SaaS. You can do both of those without investors.

Put it out there for sale and test it out.

Why would you need investors to distribute a licensed product? I've used a number of programs at work that seem like they're developed by a very small shop or possibly a single person. They perform a small but important function that companies are often willing to pay a reasonable price to figure out.

To be specific, it's importing tables from Excel to AutoCAD and Revit. It seems like this is something that AutoCAD and Revit should be able to do, but they handle it very poorly.



Licenses are ~$30-50 each and every company I've worked at has happily paid it rather than let employees waste time fiddling with the terrible native functionality.

I don't know how much the creators are actually making, but it seems to be enough to keep them going for the past 10 years or so.

“Still work”? Was there a time that shareware worked? Serious question.. citations appreciated.

Also it sounds like you are doing enterprise software. Shareware was more of a consumer pricing model. With enterprise you want to make it totally free for small scale grassroots adoption by champions and then monetize large scale adoption.

Both Carmacks had themselves each a Ferrari before they put out Doom. “Commander Keen” bought those Ferraris.

Though I'm sure it was always a game of chance like everywhere in business.

You mean both Johns? (Carmack & Romero)

Well, I had Adrian Carmack and John Carmack in mind, but frankly I don't really recall who it was, just that there were two of them.

Wikipedia mentions that “by mid-1994 John Carmack had purchased two Ferrari Testarossas,” so it's possible he was both of the guys. But I'm sure others did well too.

He probably meant John and Adrian... both Carmacks and founders if ID

And intriguingly, those two Carmacks are not related!

Doom and Quake where sold as Shareware. Also, Ambrosia Software was flush with cash for a while there in the late 90s and early 00s.

Shareware certainly did work for some, pre-WWW.

Distribution was not a solved problem back then, and required significant capital. Shareware use a viral engine of growth (though this did mean that there were far more products for which shareware didn't work versus the handle for which it did).

If it's possible for your application, you might consider offering a 'feature-limited' aka 'crippleware' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crippleware) product to help you determine its potential usefullness to a wider audience.

There are a number of approaches to doing that. After getting burned a few times paying $(100s) full-price for products just to find out that a feature I expected/needed was missing, I stopped doing that. I've since found some feature-limited stuff that lets me 'create-but-not-output' that I liked.

If it turns out to be a hit, you can change strategy. If the audience is limited, you can move back to shareware.

I use QCAD occasionally which falls into this category

The author provides downloadable versions for Windows, Mac and Linux and the source is available on Github if you want to build it yourself or provide bugfixes or extra features. He provides some features as extensions in a trial mode which ends after 15mins or so or you can disable them. Its pretty neat and to be honest the price for the full version does not seem to be that much though the community edition has always been sufficient for my needs and has enabled me to contribute with bugs/fixes/features.

I’ve been attached to the “shareware” industry since the 90’s, providing platforms to software developers to sell their products. It’s given me an angle of the industry that few get, namely, I’ve seem the sales number for literally thousands of different companies in the industry.

The first thing I would say is that shareware (in the classic definition) is not really a thing anymore, but “try before you buy” software (which is really the evolution of shareware) is very much alive and well.

The second thing I would say is that most people would be surprised by how much some of these companies sell. Certainly not everyone does well, but we see small companies selling tens or hundreds of thousands (USD equivalent) per month. Some reach seven figures a month.

I can’t think of a single company that I’ve worked with that had VC-style funding. Most are bootstrapped with a small minority getting small “friends and family” investments.

It is still possible to make a lot of money with try-before-you-buy software. A few tips:

Don’t underprice. If you can provide enough value that they’ll pay something you’ve got more room in your price than you might think.

Feature limitations work better than time limitations.

75% of you sales come within one day of the trial download, and of those, 75% come within the first two hours. It’s important that the product conveys why and how to buy.

Don’t forget about other markets. In the early days most sales came from the US. These days, the US represents about half. When you get traction, consider translating your product and don’t forget to offer your product for sale using multiple currencies and payment methods. Third-party e-commerce platforms make this easy. They’ll also take care of a lot of the regulatory burden for you (taxes, export controls, fraud & chargebacks, etc.).

If your product is targeted at large companies, offer premium support for a fee. Something as simple as a “response by email within one business day” SLA can be enough.

SEO matters a lot in helping people find your product. High quality content about the problem your product solves helps a lot. In the early days find where people who need your solution are talking about their problem. Be transparent, offer genuine, non-spammy help as a solution expert and people will allow you to talk about your product. This can help a lot as you get established.

If someone will donate, they’ll buy. You’ll feel more benevolent asking for donations but you’ll make a lot more money if you sell the product. We’ve seen both models. It’s not even close.

If your product is not targeted to a highly-technical audience, open source might sound cool but means nothing to them. They won’t buy more because it’s open source.

I could go on and on. I’ve said enough but there is still plenty of opportunity here. It takes time - be patient. Most of the successful companies I know started as a side gig.

Great comment. Absolutely packed full of gold nuggets.

Overall, I think you're putting the cart before the horse. You think you have a valuable product, but it doesn't sound like you've even validated that thought yet. I would do that first before getting caught up in these next steps.

> let anyone who feels it is worth pay for it

You should only do that if you want this to be a side project forever. If you want growth, charge people money. Most people aren't just going to donate money to you if they don't have to. Don't be shy about charging. People who find value in your software will pay you for a license to use it, especially businesses. If they don't find enough value to want to pay, then you don't have a good product yet and should talk to your users to determine value adds.

> To go for a startup selling licenced copies, I would need an investor

I don't see how you came to this conclusion. You can very easily license your software without investors, and charge customers per machine like you mentioned. I even built a business around that fact, which may also be able to help you start licensing your software quickly [0].

[0]: https://keygen.sh

Sublime Text 2 comes to my mind.

I worked on an application that transitioned from shareware to licensed way back in 1998. The revenue jumped between 2x and 10x with that transition. I can't imagine it's gotten any better in the intervening years.

Talk to ten potential customers who you know would like to use the product. Ask them about various ways of paying for it, how much they'd be wiling to pay, and then turn them into your first customers.

In the line of business that AWS, Azure, GCP, etc. are in (IAAS/PAAS/SAAS) there is a related software concept called the "free tier". It's very popular.

My color scheme https://www.monokai.pro is downloadable for free for Sublime and VSCode. It has a nag screen a la Sublime Text that tells you it's free for evaluation, but needs a license for continued usage. A small percentage of people purchases a license, but for sure not all 200K of them.

To put it bluntly and I mean no offense whatsoever - you come across as completely nuts trying to charge 10 EUR for a damn color scheme. That's basically what 200K people think when dismissing your nag.

The fact that 200k people have downloaded it means it has value.

I'm actually more surprised 200k people have downloaded a custom colour scheme. But since they have, I don't think 10 EUR is excessive to charge for something like that.

They downloaded it because it was free.

Its value is in the fact that it's free.

It's a color scheme, user interface theme and icon set in one. Why do you think it's nuts to charge €10 for that? Do you think it should be free?

Rationally it makes some sense, but irrationally - charging money for such triviality as a choice of colors is ridiculous.

I can see buying _icons_ being a bit more justified, because it implies at least some amount of non-trivial work on your end, but I don't really know anyone willing to pay for better code editor icons.

Also the fact that you offering to buy a "license" is off-putting, again considering the context of selling a set of RGB values. It's too grandiose, which too contributes to this looking nuts. Just say "buy" the scheme and it'll already be much better.

I've spent a lot of time picking colors for my app, and there's nothing "trivial" about it. It's a lot of work.

I totally understand that someone would charge money for it.

I understand charging for a code editor theme is not common practice. However, I don't see much difference between the work that goes into designing and developing a simple (Wordpress) web theme and a code editor theme. In the end a web theme is also a set of RGB values and other styling settings. And charging for that is acceptable.

I think it depends on what you think is trivial and what is not. I think designing a coherent theme is not trivial.

Off-putting? You should check PANTONE and their licensing business. Anyway it's all about mixing electromagnetic waves.

At my company, they want to pay for software so that they can ask support or blame someone if something wrong happen. I think, the best license is: expensive commercial license (to be taken seriously), free license for personnal use (to be appreciated by developpes), free time limited commercial license for software evaluation.

>let anyone who feels it is worth pay for it.

Don't rely on altruism to be a good indication of real demand. People like to get good deals. When you get for free something that is of good value -- it's a good deal and most people will go for it.

The freemium model would work better to estimate demand.

>let anyone who feels it is worth pay for it

Just make a time limited trial, if they feel it is worth paying for then they will buy, if they don't then you don't owe them anything.

How about an evaluation period. People still do that.

Is SublimeText an example of successful shareware?

Can you make this a SaaS? That might be easier.

shareware...even better with SALTO (selling digital secured locks): you can "try" their web based control software for 90 days...but you have to pay $150 for it.

Define work

Honestly- just use UWP and sell on windows store. Hacker news is believe it or not, a very niche space with very few employees of big enterprises except the popular ones. You wont get to hear from the regular it worker here

Why UWP? Who buys from Windows Store?

Not my parents. They started computers with buying software in boxes, but in the modern age almost all of their digital purchases are done on smartphones. Neither of them have any idea what Windows Store is. One of them uses Steam for games.

Not most power users I know, most of which bawk at UWP apps and the concept of a walled garden store on their desktop computer. Many power users are more likely to use Steam to buy apps despite it being gaming focused.

Anecdotally I see basically no group that would prefer Windows Store except out of ignorance or necessity. Buying on Windows Store means you don't get the Mac version if one exists. Admittedly, the same caveat applies in reverse to the more successful Mac App Store, but it's still something people have to consider.

Microsoft has been pushing Windows Store pretty hard for a long time. They came to my University back when I was in college, a bit after the Windows 8 launch. They talked numbers but only in terms of the whole Windows install base and not even Windows 8 adoption. Definitely no numbers on Windows Store.

To this day, I don't know if we've seen good stats on how much apps that were built and sold exclusively on Windows Store have fared. No doubt games have sold well - Microsoft can use its Xbox brand to deliver exclusives to Windows Store and not Steam - but I sincerely and absolutely doubt that success will translate to app developers.

Windows Store apps are (relatively) sandboxed, and go through an approval process. For the average user, it is generally safe to let them know they can install anything they want off of it. This isn't true of most other places on the Internet, including some more poorly managed walled gardens. I've done a lot of support for senior citizens, and when they're looking for say, a card game, the Windows Store is fantastic.

I use probably about a dozen Windows Store apps with some regularity, though being in IT and dev, I obviously use a lot of apps outside of it as well. But while I rarely will install a traditional app from a no-name developer for fear it might do bad things to my system, I am pretty willing to try new UWP apps.

That's the key perk for someone just starting out/trying to make a living off small software offerings. The sandboxing offers a stand-in for trustworthiness. And of course, you don't have to stand up your own licensing servers, pay for bandwidth from downloads, etc.

Sandboxing is a useful property, but do Desktop Bridge apps even get sandboxing? If not it calls the whole thing into question. Android has an app store with mandatory sandboxing and you can't always trust it, even Apple with probably the most strict rules and review process have had some incidents.

I would like sandboxing in general, but as a feature of Windows Store it's definitely not enough to win me personally over.

I still remain unconvinced of the prominence of Windows Store and if I were to sell an app today I would guess mobile is the way to go followed by probably Steam or Mac App Store.

Sidenote: it feels like you're more likely to get annoying ad supported software from app stores too. Even the built-in solitaire is ad-ridden!

Desktop bridge apps can request "full access" permission, which effectively evades sandboxing, but those apps are heavily scrutinized on review. In comparison, the Play Store has no manual approval process and an automated malware scanner that's industry-worst according to independent review. ;) Apple does a pretty good job though, and would be my general recommendation for mobile security.

Note that while Android and iOS both have numerous examples of malicious apps in their store, AFAIK, Windows Store does not (though there are definitely ad-ridden nightmares in there). I found their reviews annoyingly onerous for a literally 50-line UWP app with a single function when I tried to submit something.

The biggest benefit of their sandboxing though is not actually the security limitations of what they can access, but how it's installed, and more importantly, uninstalled. UWP apps are one-click remove, and do not leave any lingering garbage in the registry, as they have kind of like a "registry diff" inside their own folder.

Apps like iTunes which are notoriously messy for install and removal I prefer over UWP because it's much easier to purge them safely.

I still find it a shame that Microsoft didn't get to succeed with Windows Mobile. Now instead of "everyone having one phone" we have "everyone having two types of phones" essentially. I love what Apple does because it makes them profitable, even down to their app store. Any competitor that arises needs to mimic that to remain profitable, I would prefer something where the main things are proprietary but as long as the company's only focus is making a phone OS and not an advertisement platform.

I also find it a shame that Canonical instead of redoing the Desktop Environment for Ubuntu didn't invest that effort into just Ubuntu Mobile (or whatever it was called) and lastly, Mozilla almost had a reasonable thing, they really should of produced a Chromebook competitor first though. I yearn for a sane ChromeOS alternative that's fully open source and runs Firefox by default.

In a parallel universe Microsoft and Canonical team up to make a sane Android competitor that overtakes the market, and build the first Linux distro to be able to run Windows applications in a sane sandboxed environment.

The Netflix app is fantastic you can download stuff for offline viewing on any laptop with Windows 10. Now I can take all my shows with me on a laptop anywhere!

Buying from Windows Store requires me to have a Microsoft account, so I won't do it. I'm happy to pay for software, and I regularly do so, but directly from the vendor.

Nobody in a big enterprise can buy from the Windows Store. Better sell license keys from a website.

I work at a very big enterprise and our W10 images have UWP apps bought by IT.

Same applies to some of our customers that have done the migration to W10.

If you are targeting the enterprise I wouldn't recommend the Windows store as its blocked by IT department policy in most large companies.

what kind of apps would you suggest developing?

Pay what you want is the best model.

Do you have any examples of this working successfully and sustainably for software?

Have a trial for a period you think is enough for the company to know they'll get value out of using your product and post that ask for a licence fee.

To start with I suggest you give the MVP product for free. The users will be paying you with their feedback.

Feedback from people who don't pay anything is useless if you want to build a business.

Having built products from scratch I know for a fact that selling to the first 10 users is really hard but if you give it to them for free and get the feedback on what didn't work and improved on it - it makes selling to the next 100 people that much easier.

Right now OP is making an assumption that his product is useful. It's a guess. Doing the beta for free for a small set of users validates it with small effort.

In fact the first release should be as minimal as possible. Op can charge those users in the subsequent releases.

Even if the feedback may result in improvements that would result in a product they _want_ to pay for?

I used to believe that but eventually I became worn down by it all. You get so many "opportunities" presented to you that don't turn into anything that you have to take most of it with a pinch of salt.

On the other hand someone who has put their hand in their pocket is going to get a lot of my attention.

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