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Becoming A Shareware Author Part I


About This Document

The essential content of this document was written by Peter N Lewis. It has been edited by Jeremy Nelson, one of Peter's employees. Peter is a successful shareware author best known for Anarchie and NetPresenz. Peter works full time on his shareware under the name Stairways Software.

Can I make a living off Shareware?

The short answer is: Yes. But if you want to be successful at writing shareware, you should expect to put in more or less full time hours for several years - this is pretty much the same with starting up any business.

It is important to figure out what your goal is and work towards it. There are lots of different goals - fame; fortune; independence; a good job; etc. Figure out what you want and move in that direction.

I wanted to make a living writing shareware, and so I made decisions based on that - I didn't agree to lucrative exclusive deals that would have made me money at the expense of reaching that goal. But your goals may be different. You may just be after fame, in which case freeware may be a better route (although I have come to the conclusion that freeware is problematic since it is not self supporting, you eventually run out of time to work on it).

If you're after a good job, then a free or shareware program can be an excellent resume. If you're after making money, then write a program that competes with a Symantec program and maybe they'll buy you out.

On the positive side a shareware business is very low capital and hence very low risk - all you have to be able to do is figure out how to earn enough money to survive while you try to write your programs initially. And like any business, it takes a fair while to build up a client base (it took me four years of work before I earned enough to leave my day job).

How do I make money out of Shareware?

How much money you receive depends on lots of factors:

  • Quality - if your program isn't "commercial" quality then it probably wont sell well in the shareware market either. Shareware can get away with less in the way of frills like manuals, but that is mainly because people don't read manuals anyway.
  • Time spent using the program - No one is going to pay the shareware fee for a program they use once a year. Unless they spend a significant amount of time using the program you probably wont make much money out of it.
  • Uniqueness - If there is a dozen other programs that are as good as yours, then your income is obviously going to be correspondingly low.

Ok, so assuming you have a program that is high quality, that is addictive or useful enough that people will use it a lot, and that has little or no competition (or blows the competition out of the water). What can you do to improve sales?

  • Make it easy to pay. Contact Kee Nethery for information about his registration system (BTW, I get a fraction of a percent from this so I am not entirely unbiased, but I would recommend it anyway and it will almost certainly double your income). <http://www.kagi.com/>
  • Offer site licenses if appropriate. For utilities, site licenses can be very profitable, and they also give the enthusiastic users an option to pay more for your product (something they often like to do - especially if it is their university/company that is paying the money).
  • Keep track of usage and display it to the user in the about box - "You have used this program for 53 hours" or whatever.
  • Don't time out your program. In my opinion timing out your program is a bad idea since you are better off if the user keeps using it without paying anyway - they may eventually pay (I've had people pay after using the program for years), or they may give it to other people who may pay.
  • Use serial numbers/locked features/etc. Well, use them if you like, but remember to subtract the time you have to spend implementing the code and dealing with the serial numbers from your earnings.
  • Listen to your users, but not too much. If lots of users ask for a feature than you should consider it, but if one or two do, remember that you only have a finite amount of time and there are probably better things to spend it on. The advantage of not having a marketing manager is that you don't have to implement every possible feature just to look good in magazine reviews - concentrate on simplicity and elegance instead of featuritus.
  • Always provide as good Email support as possible - goodwill and badwill flow very quickly across the Internet. An enthusiastic supporter (for instance if you send a bug fix version to them via Email) can gain you a lot of good publicity; An enthusiastic antagonist can lose a lot of sales just as quickly.
  • Don't be impatient. It takes a long time for sales to build up. It took me around four years before I could make a living writing shareware - it now pays several times my previous salary, so it can happen, but it is a lot of work and it doesn't happen quickly. As the saying goes, "Overnight success usually takes about 25 years".

Unless you have a program that will appeal to hundreds of thousands of people, you probably wont make any money. My suspicion is that only about 4% (or less) of people actually pay their shareware fees. I'm sure other authors could get a better rate by employing serial numbers and crippling/extra features and timeouts.


Carefully consider what price you charge. I generally recommend you charge $15 or $20. Kagi pretty much ensures you have a price for site licenses. Try to pick a program that will encourage companies to buy site licenses.

[Ed:Charging too small amounts is probably worse than charging too much. When the price is very low it becomes easier to justify away not paying; the bank will take most of it, I'm paying twice the cost of the software just in charges, I'm not depriving the author of that much money etc... Also companies often don't seem to have much faith in a product which is very inexpensive.]

To cripple or not to cripple?

Carefully consider what inducements you will include to "force" people to pay. I have very limited inducements, but I recommend authors have some form, such as serial numbers unlocking non-essential features, or better yet removing the shareware warning, mailing lists for updates, printed manuals, etc.

Do not disable the program or any significant portion of it's functionality. Time bombing the program forces the user to make a choice of paying now or never, and they will often choose never when they would have chosen later if you'd left that as an option. Remember that unlike commercial software (or perhaps just like commercial software), piracy generates sales.

[Ed: One very worthwhile web page to look at is < http://www.scrawlsoft.com/products/common/hardnose.html >, entitled "Why Do People Register, Does Crippling Work, Does Anybody Really Know?". The author of the article, Colin Messitt, actually tested whether crippling shareware works by putting out a program which, half the time, was crippled and the other of the time just had nag screens. Crippling the software caused a much higher registration rate.

Copyright 2006, http://www.peter.com.au all rights reserved.


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