Logo Successful Shareware

by Rick Holzgrafe of
Semicolon Software

1. Introduction

Hello! I'm Rick Holzgrafe of Semicolon Software, and I'm a shareware author. I've been at it for over fifteen years now, and my friends all know better than to bring the subject up: once started, I won't stop talking about it. How to improve my products, my sales, and my reviews is a topic of absorbing interest to me.

When I meet with other shareware authors, they're just like me. We're all looking for ways to be more successful at shareware, and we trade our ideas and experiences with each other. I'm going to share some of those ideas and experiences in this article. Although this is aimed mainly at shareware authors, you may also find it interesting if you're a shareware customer, a commercial developer, or just curious about the process of making and selling shareware.

I am not the world's greatest shareware success by a long chalk. But I have been at it a long time, and my shareware income now rivals my regular day-job income. I didn't start out that way. In the beginning I was lucky to sell more than two copies of my first product in any given week. Over time my business improved, and each time it did I tried to learn from the experience: what did I do differently this time that made a difference? I've tried to put the things I've learned into this article.

Credit where it's due: Much of the good advice in this article is not mine. It was contributed by other shareware people: most notably Peter N Lewis and Jeremy Nelson of Stairways Shareware, Kee Nethery of Kagi, Tonya Engst of TidBITS, and the authors on the Kagi Authors mailing list. Thanks to you all, and of course any bad advice is all mine.

What is "Success"?

The first question we've got to answer is what we mean by "success." It can mean different things to different people. I considered myself fairly successful several years ago, when I'd sold some 500 copies of my first shareware product (an adventure game named Scarab of Ra). There weren't so many shareware authors back then as there are now, and few had bothered to write anything ambitious. At $10 per copy I made a few thousand dollars over the course of about five years: enough to buy some good software and even a little hardware now and again. I also acquired a small reputation and a few nice reviews.

Right there you have several criteria for success. You can aspire to fame, praise, and/or money. There are other possible benefits as well: by choosing your own projects you can gain experience you wouldn't get in school or on the job. You can make friends, which is good for pleasure and for business. Some of the friends I've met through shareware are among the best I have; some are not only good friends but useful people to know.

I recommend that you take a little time to decide what your own goals are. Some people are more interested in reputation, experience, and friends than anything else: they are the ones giving away good-quality freeware.

Most people will be interested in "all of the above," with a heavy emphasis on making money. (You don't have to be shallow and greedy to want to make money. No one knows better than a developer how much all this hardware and software and time costs. Expensive hobbies are a lot easier to support if they bring in a good income!) The rest of this article is therefore mostly a discussion of how to increase your shareware sales. If you can do that you'll not only make more money, but the rest of the rewards you might want will come along with the dollars.

A Road Map

After some thought, I've decided that there are seven keys to shareware success. But I call them the "Seven P's" instead of the "Seven Keys" because -- well, you'll see. Here they are:

You'll see as we go that there's a lot more to shareware than just writing a good piece of code. In fact, for most of us that's the easy part! I think it's best to take the seven points in the order I've given them, but feel free to use your magic web browser to skip back and forth if you prefer.

The Next Chapter: Product

Introduction Product Patience Polish Pay Up Propagation Promotion Politics Links