Part one of this article (see TidBITS-395) focused on two items from my list of seven "Ps" that shareware authors need to consider: Product and Patience. The second installment covered the third P, Polish (see TidBITS-398). This week, I’m continuing with the P that is often the most difficult aspect of shareware publishing: Pay Up. Next time, I’ll finish with Propagation, Promotion, and Politics.
The Fourth P: Pay Up — Sad but true: most people don’t pay shareware fees without incentive. I believe most people are honest – but I also believe most people are lazy and forgetful. Nothing’s easier to forget than an unpleasant task, and bill-paying is high on everyone’s List of Unpleasant Tasks.
Pay Up: Crooks, Solid Citizens, and Mouse Potatoes — In my mind users fall into three groups. Crooks won’t pay if they can avoid it. I don’t waste much thought on them: thieves should be stopped or punished, but it’s difficult to do either with regard to shareware. Solid Citizens pay every shareware fee promptly, or else throw out the product – no incentives needed. I don’t waste much thought on them either, except for an occasional thankful thought that such people exist.
Those in the middle I call "Mouse Potatoes." These are basically honest folks who need a little help in order to be as good as Solid Citizens. At bill-paying time their minds are on the mortgage, the kids’ tuition, and the auto insurance – not on the delightful game they’ll play after they finish the bills. These are the people you can influence, and who will pay if you make it easy and attractive. Here are some techniques:
Pay Up: Reminders — "Nagware" is software that reminds you to pay. Typically all it does is nag. It doesn’t deny any functionality to unpaid users – it just tries to annoy them into paying. After paying, the user receives a way to stop the nagging.
Nagware can be effective. A number of successful products use it, such as Peter Lewis’s Anarchie and NetPresenz, as well as my Solitaire Till Dawn. In fact Anarchie and Solitaire Till Dawn rely completely on the user’s honesty: anyone can turn off nagging by clicking a checkbox in the Preferences window labeled "I Paid," whether they paid or not. This works because so many people are honest but forgetful. It may take them months or years to pay their fees, but they won’t commit the dishonest act of clicking the "I Paid" button until they’ve sent their payments.
Pay Up: Incentives — Another technique is to offer the user something valuable for paying. Usually this takes the form of "crippleware," a program that runs in a semi-functional demo mode until the user pays. Once registered, the user gets access to the full product, perhaps via a password, a special FTP site, or even by receiving the fully functional version via floppy disk or email.
Another incentive is to offer an add-on or bonus – a printed manual, a disk of goodies, another program – after payment is received.
If you sell crippleware, be prepared for some battles. If your product is popular, some criminal will immediately hack it so its full functionality is available for free. Or, someone may post one of your passwords. Any goodies you send to paying users will eventually show up on pirate bulletin boards. There are ways to wage these battles; if you relish combat, then good luck to you. My belief is that criminals won’t pay no matter what you do; battling them wastes time. Put your effort into improving your product and convincing mouse potatoes to pay.
This philosophy doesn’t mean the crippleware approach is bad. It works well on mouse potatoes because crippleware is even more annoying and inconvenient than nagware. Most top-selling shareware products I know of are crippleware. Just remember it won’t thwart determined pirates, so don’t spend all your effort trying to bullet-proof your protection schemes. Find a middle road that will influence mouse potatoes without annoying users who have paid. (Hell hath no fury like a paid user who is denied service because both he and the product have forgotten his password.) Remember that you have to send passwords to every paying customer, and deal with calls and mail from users who have forgotten their passwords. Design a system that will minimize effort and grief for both you and your customers.
For an excellent discussion of various incentives, their effectiveness, and their cost to the developer, see Kee Nethery’s discussion of "hookware."
Pay Up: Make It Easy — In my first few years, I required customers to pay in either U.S. cash or a check in U.S. dollars drawn on a U.S. bank. It was (and is) too expensive for me to convert foreign currency. I would have liked to take credit cards, but if you’re a hobbyist it’s hard to talk a bank into treating you the same way they treat a merchant with a storefront. This meant that to pay me, people had to write a letter and usually a check. That doesn’t sound like much effort, but it’s a stopper for a lot of folks. Foreign customers were worse off – it’s no simpler for them to get American currency than for me to cash foreign currency.
Then Kagi came to my rescue. Kagi is a company that handles payments for shareware authors (among others). My customers send payments to Kagi, and Kagi sends me a lump-sum check each month, minus a few percent for themselves and for bank fees.
This is great for my customers. Kagi provides a small program to include with my product, giving users an order form. They can pay with a U.S. check, currency from over a dozen major nations, by credit card, or other options. If they pay with paper, they just print the form and send it to Kagi with their payment. If they choose credit card or an electronic form of payment, they can fax or email their information.
When I started using Kagi, my sales increased by 50 percent. (Kagi doesn’t promise this benefit and some Kagi clients haven’t seen it, but many have.) Kagi makes it possible for customers to pay on the spur of the moment without messing with money or stamps. Kagi isn’t the only firm offering such services, and I encourage you to explore options. I recommend Kagi highly – and no, I’m not paid for bringing them clients!
[In our next installment, Rick will discuss more keys to shareware success.]
[Rick Holzgrafe has programmed for a number of well-known Silicon Valley firms when he’s not crafting shareware products.]