A colleague in the IT startup field went on recently to declare that the shareware market was dead. Now, it’s a claim that can be easily dismissed if only the guy was not in the fields for several years. He managed to develop and sell a couple of relatively successful shareware products, so his opinion is worth listening to. Is he right? I think pretty much so.
First, what is the shareware we are talking about? Let’s define it for the purposes of this post as software products and services developed for consumer market, inexpensive (vast majority of titles are under $50), either with a free trial period or freemium model. What happened to this market recently?
1. Significant shift from downloadable products to web-based services.It has always been a pain in the butt to download and install something. People forget where they downloaded the program, they can’t install it because they need administrative privileges, they download viruses and trojans and eventually stop downloading anything. Developing and marketing a web-based application is very different from developing a Windows application. No wonder old shops are struggling.
2. The market has been saturated. No one thought it was possible, but it happened. There are hundreds of titles in any imaginable consumer software category. Fitness applications, backups, photo editing – you name it. There are too many “me too” apps and as a result, everyone gets a smaller piece of the pie.
2.1 There are too many crapware around. The barriers for entry have been lowered a lot recently. Everybody and his dog decides to get rich quickly. It’s an old news and it’s not exactly about shareware, but I can’t resist inserting the link: Here Comes Another Bubble.
3. There is an all-crushing pressure from the FREE. This thing started like 10 years ago – “we get as many eye-balls as possible by offering our service for free and we decide how to monetize them later”, and the demon was unleashed. More and more companies offer the results of their work for free in a hope to attract users. You may attract users, but they are not paying customers. When you run out of money to continue development of your product, they will all happily jump off your train for the next one, to get another free ride.
4. Old marketing methods are less effective these days.And by “old” methods I don’t mean TV, printed media, conferences and shows. Google AdWords are much more expensive than they used to be several years ago. There are too many good blogs around for you to hope to create something noticable with just a few good posts. You need years to grow your audience. Any marketing vehicle you take is crammed and spammed to the point it doesn’t work effectively anymore.
What does this all mean for shareware developer? The market is not dead, but it has changed and it’s less lucrative than it used to be. There is no financial benefit in creating a “me-too” product not to mention crapware that doesn’t install. You need some genuine ideas, you need to identify quickly if anybody wants what you develop, and if they do you need to move in quickly and develop a solid product. Hey, that’s what every product development book says? Yes, it seems so. Sorry, no silver bullets here.