The other day Wesner asked: “Shareware Profitable?” He goes on to talk a bit about shareware and how it’s changed over the years. I posted a comment or two on this topic on his site, but it’s been percolating in my head for a little while and after posting a new version of SharpMT last night, I know why it’s been nagging me.
I’ve been a member of Tucows for almost a decade now. I started writing shareware applications in 1995 and used to actively promote them on a number of different websites that were dedicated to tracking new shareware titles. [Remember when Mosaic’s home page had a “What’s New” page to show off new sites? God I feel old now.] When I worked for a shareware company in 1996, we went on a tear and submitted our software to as many sites as possible. Some time in 2002 I had decided that I was losing money just to keep my shareware business structure together, only to sell a handful of titles a year – it just wasn’t making sense anymore, seeing as the taxes I had to pay were double what I was making. And so I converted the applications that I still used, and wanted to offer to other people, into freeware and brought them here; I later dismantled the shareware company and moved on. The shareware stuff was just for fun anyway: I never wanted to run my own company as a “primary” source of income but I thought it would be “nice” to pick up some cash for my bits.
A couple months ago I was bored and realized that I hadn’t downloaded any good applications in a long while. I had noticed that when I had a PowerBook that there seemed to be a good many things to download, but with a PC… not so much anymore. I figured it was me – I start checking out a few shareware sites. For a week I looked and waiting for something neat – not so much anymore. So I stopped checking.
Have people stopped writing shareware? Yes and no. I think shareware has gone more commercial than anyone thinks. Have you tried to submit to any shareware sites these days? Download.com makes you pay for each submission. Tucows lets you send in titles for free, but it can take over two weeks to get an update posted – if you want it faster you have to pay. And that aside, trying to find something on Tucows these days is nearly hopeless, because of all the the ads on the pages. Remember Windows95.com? Gone, along with a dozen or more “regular” sites that I used to rely on… most of them have been bought by bigger players that charge for submissions. In the past, if you wanted to be a shareware author, you needed an idea, a compiler, and a website to host it. Now you’ll need a fist full of cash for marketing to go along with it, which makes it more like commercial software than not.
And then there’s the ongoing trend of freeware and open source… as an end user, which do you think people will chose? Hah! And then, don’t forget the hassles of shareware – and I can attest to this first hand – where you have to track orders, manage a business, and create a dual-software design (trial and unlocked) just for a couple of bucks. It’s easier (and ultimately better for the users) to just offer the application for free and that’s that. Most people just believe that offering shareware isn’t worth it.
Most people – at least in this situation – are right.