Thursday, 8 January 2015

So does anybody out there know how to sell software?

The events of Wednesday distracted me but I'm now trying to get my brain back to my current project. It means I have to face a big problem I've run up against. I'm really unsure what to do next. I might, in fact, be stuck.

The situation is like this. I've spent the last twelve months retraining myself in skills I haven't used in too long. I've always found programming easy but I've never got as much satisfaction in the finished product as I do from my writing or my cartoons. However, I wanted to widen my skill set and I think I've done just that. I wrote a few things for Android, taught myself to code in Unity, resulting in a couple of games. All that gave me a fairly good understanding of C#. I hit November not thinking I'd write anything else for a while but, one day, I found myself wanting some software I just didn't have. It didn't take me long to figure I should just write it myself. So I did.

The program runs under Windows and it has turned out, in my humble opinion, surprisingly well. I've looked around the web for other pieces of software and there are examples out there that do the same thing but, again IMHO, not as well. My software can do things that that other software can't.

So, I'm now thinking of putting it online for people to download and I hope a few will find it useful.

Except I'm also wondering if I can charge something for it.

And this is where I have a problem. I'm no businessman. I can do everything else on my own but I have absolutely no skills as a businessman. I can write books but I just can't sell them. I can draw cartoons but I'm useless when it comes to promotion. I can produce these apps but my limitations soon become apparent. I do not have a mercantile bone in my body. I want to give my work away for nothing but it's making me a pauper.

I figure if other people can make a little money from their software, I don't see why I can't do the same. However, I just don't know what to do next. I wasn't thinking of asking £100s  for the software. Perhaps £10 - £20 a time seems quite reasonable and cheaper than its competitors. I know I could build a website. I could install a shop and link it all up. A person could buy the software, download it, use it, and I'd get money in my account. That's easy.

The big problem I face is figuring out a way of making the software available without making it easy to pirate. And that is a problem. I know software piracy can't be defeated but I really don't want it to be easier to grab my software from a torrent site than it is to buy it. I could write a basic registration key into the software but I'd need a method of automating the creation of those keys in a website. I don't want customers waiting 24 hours until I've created the key for them. I want the keys already uploaded to the server, to be issued with each sale.

There are free website 'shopfronts' out there but none, as far as I can see, that provide a free means of licensing software. 'Software keys' and 'software licenses' become one of those 'premium' features for which I'm supposed to spend £100. And one thing I do know is that I'm not throwing any money at one of these software solutions when I also know I'd be lucky to get a dozen sales from a new website inside the first few months.

In other words: I've developed a unique piece of software which might attract a niche audience but I can't figure out a way of distributing it to that niche without giving it away. And I really don't see why I should give it away. I'm really tired of giving everything I do away for free.

So, that's my problem and I'm hoping there might be somebody out there with a solution I've not thought about.


  1. How large is the niche do you think....?

    The problem is that nobody pays for software now do they...?

    Apart from Windows 7 on my PC the rest is free... I use Open Office now... A free graphics package (Photoscape) and lots of niche products for the hexacopter which are also free...

    Even my two tablets have free versions of Android that replaced the stock firmware...

    In fact, thinking about it, the only software I have actually purchased recently is malwarebytes....

    My thoughts are that if your software has a potential market of million then give it away with a 'donate' button...

    If the market is tiny because it is very specialised and unique then set up a website and shop on the basis that people will pay for it if they need it.

  2. I have no idea how big the niche might be. Depends on how you figure it. Could be very big, could be very small. No idea until I try to sell it.

    You're probably right about people not buying software, though I like to think that people do pay if the price is low and they actually want to support the maker. I know I've bought stuff myself and, if I had the funds, I'd buy a lot more than I do. I know I would have bought this software I've written.

    Do donate buttons even work? A friend has often suggested I put one on this blog but I doubt if I'd earn a penny and it seems like begging. That might be an idea but, I don't know... I bet I'd pretty much earn nothing.

    Yes, tempted to just stick it up here or on a separate website but I'd ideally like some method of registration, otherwise the first person to buy it could potentially share it with the world and I'd make nothing.

    Hmm... Problems... Problems...

  3. I have a donate button on my site and nobody ever clicks it unless I 'rattle the tin'.... The Amazon link generates enough funds to pay for the site...

    But, I've seen (and downloaded) amazing software for free (Photoscape for instance) so I can only assume that people really do donate money for the software or the authors wouldn't continue to develop it... I've given money in the past but (to be honest) quite rarely....

    I guess if you give it away and hope for donations you don't have to worry about people sharing it... If you charge for it then yes, you have to have it tied up tight to prevent copying...

    When I ran my business in the UK I used to sell a software product for £695. I sold thousands of copies but it was protected by a 'dongle'. No dongle and the software wouldn't work.

    The dongle was a nightmare because they failed (I don't know why) or the customer had a problem with their PC and the parallel port wouldn't recognise the dongle.

    Eventually the (American) company that produced the software dumped the dongle and just issued a licence number for each copy.... I'm sure that some customers copied the software but perhaps that was to our advantage - colleagues got to try it out without spending £695 - Overall our sales (and those of the American supplier) didn't fall after removing software protection.

  4. If your software can do things that that other software can’t, and there is genuine demand for that feature, people will pay. I also seldom pay for software because there is so much great software for free, but if there is something I want or need that I can't get for free I will pay for it. Lots of people pay for software they don't even need to pay for because they don't know better. The bigger challenge is targeting the people who influence others. E.g if you get the person who looks after his family and friends computers you've targeted far more than one person. If your software is that good (even if a bit niche) target people like contributors to onthingwell and other influential websites. If nothing else you've made me curious

  5. Hmm... I'm convinced. I'm going to ignore registration but come up with other methods and hope that people are more honest than I previous thought. I guess if anybody wants what I'm building, they'll pay if I don't ask unfair amounts. That bit about the dongle convinces me as well as reminding me that I've heard similar tales before about copy protection. I just have to have more faith in people, I guess...

  6. Thanks Kit. I think you're right. I have to learn to trust in people. Plus my two little applications might be so niche as to not be worth pirating.

    I'm not sure either of the two things I've written will earn me much or if there's much of an audience for them. However, they're both things that I wanted and, in that respect, I'm hoping that I'm not alone in being interested in the kinds of things that interest me. Like you say, the big challenge is marketing this stuff and I'm probably going to have to think long and hard about that. ;)

  7. Selling software online is incredibly competitive; customers demand more, research more and expect to find a solution which truly fits their needs. If they need it they'll most likely be willing to pay for it.

    Unfortunately the "needs" of the niche few, that might appreciate your said specialist solution software application, are outweighed by the "wants" of the mainstream many who have no intentions to buy what they find for their software solutions. They search for free downloads!

    You have stated you don't have the knowledge to protect the intellectual property rights of your said ready for market software. Further, you have told us you lack the necessary skills to research for size numbers of your target niche consumers and also that you are not business savvy about over all marketing of your specialist software. And, of course, you are anxious about potential loss of time and/or money if your product does not sell.

    Your solution is simple, my friend; and it's dependent on the size of your wallet.

    If you can afford it go high risk and pay somebody else to licence, market and sell it for you. There are dozens safe and reputable marketing companies out there online that will take your custom.

    If you can only afford low risk go down the royalties route and sell your software idea to the highest bidder. Start by contacting the big guns such as Microsoft and Google. They are experts in the business of marketing software. Remember, their market place is truly global. If they like and buy your product it will be tweaked and sold in ALL languages. (Think of the potential royalties from the world wide non English speaking artists that use PC and software to create!).

    A telephone call or email to the correct department of these companies is all it takes to get started...

    ...good luck!

  8. Thanks for the helpful reply John. In fact, it's so helpful that it's probably too helpful for me. My two programs are really too niche and basic to sell for either big money or to big business. I've simply written a couple of things that I genuinely use myself (and find *really* useful) and I wondered if there might be money in my sharing them with the half a dozen other people who might want them. It's not even a matter of my not being able to do the things I'm missing. I could write a registration process, log keys on a server, and all those things. I could pay for marketing. I could pay for expensive website stores. I've just realised that it's just not worth it. As others have said: most people will buy what they want if they want it. If they don't, they either pirate it or don't buy it.

    What I've done is set up a website, written the blurb, set up a shopping cart, and I'll record some videos showing how I use them. Beyond that, I'll do as much promotion as I reasonably can and hope Google's gods are generous to me. Like so much to do with the web, so much of it is down down to luck. ;)

  9. Thank you for your reply, David.
    According to my own experience I was generalising the hurdles to consider selling an original created piece of software online. An answered reply to your blog: "So does anybody out there know how to sell software?", if you will.

    I seem to have misunderstood what you are seeking. In reality you just want to share your "niche" software with unknown like minded cartoonists for return of honest reward. In that, you don't know how many "honest" buyers are out there, but you do know there are many "dishonest" free loaders that will high jack (steal) your just rewards if it turns out your software is appealing to more than just a niche few.

    I can only add that the website you have set up is the generosity of your *really* useful programs; and any reasonable promotion of your websites products is hoping Google's consumer gods don't undermine that generosity.

  10. I'm so glad that it isn't just me who's struggling with this problem.

    I spent a couple of months last year writing a Windows desktop application which I'm sure could have wider utility, but I can't figure out how to bring it to market as it's not a Apple or Android app.

    In order to incentivise people to buy it I arrived at the idea of offering three versions:
    Free - works on a time limit of 30 days and provides the Lite features.
    Lite - contains enough functionality to appeal to a single user, and priced to that it's not worth copying (maybe £2 to £5)
    Pro - a bunch of extra features to enable multi user interaction. (maybe £25).

    Would such a stepped solution be applicable to your software I wonder.

    On this basis I simply need a company to provide a licensing solution that I can embed in the software, host the download, charge for the appropriate licence and then take a percentage and send me what's left. Simples!

    So far after hours of trawling I've found one company who appear to offer this, and they're in California! Surely someone in UK does it?

  11. Thanks Richard. Talk about great minds thinking alike. Last night I decided to change my pricing to offer three versions (or four if you include the trial). My 'Basic' is just the software. My 'Plus' is the software plus a bit of my data. 'Pro' is the software with all of my data.

    As for the licensing: I've done lots of reading up on it and I honestly think it's not worth bothering too much. There's all kinds of asymmetric encryption you can use but, basically, any hacker will find it relatively easy to bypass that, especially if (like me) you used the .NET framework which is supposedly easy to reverse engineer. Other than using some server-side system that requires the software to 'phone' home, there's not much you can do to stop people stealing your software. And is it even worth paying people to host a 'phone home' service which can still be hacked? If Adobe and Autodesk can't protect their hugely expensive software, what chances those of us asking for less than £30? Personally, I'd generate some serials using a simple system and then trust people to either buy it or not buy it. You'd be better served saving your money and using it to sue any bugger who tries to distribute your product.

    I'm taking the advice I got here that good people will buy it if they want it and wish to support the developer. Others won't. That's why I'm also going to offer a free copy to anybody who writes to me and pleads poverty. There's no shame in being broke and I'd rather people ask than steal, especially if those people are poor miserable cartoonists like myself.

    BTW: if you want to know how I went about implementing my serial numbers, feel free to email me. Using the right Wordpress plugins, it's been quite easy automating the whole process.