Logo Successful Shareware

by Rick Holzgrafe of
Semicolon Software

5. Pay Up

Sad but true: most people don't pay their shareware fees without some kind of incentive. I truly believe that most people are honest -- but I also believe that most people are lazy and forgetful. Nothing's easier to forget about than an unpleasant task, and bill-paying is way up there on everybody's Top Ten List of Unpleasant Tasks.

Crooks, Solid Citizens, and Mouse Potatoes

In my mind there are three kinds of users. Crooks are those who won't pay if they can possibly avoid it, and believe me, they can avoid it. I don't waste much thought on them: they are thieves and ought to be prevented or punished, but the fact is it's awfully difficult to do either. (More about this below.) Solid Citizens are those who will faithfully pay every shareware fee promptly, or else throw out the product -- no reminders or incentives needed. I don't waste much thought on them either, except for an occasional thankful thought towards heaven that such people exist. They take care of themselves, bless 'em, and I don't need to worry about them.

The ones in the middle I call "Mouse Potatoes." These are basically honest folks who just need a little help in order to be as good as a Solid Citizen. Their problem is that at bill-paying time their minds are on the mortgage, the kids' tuition, and the high price of auto insurance, and not on that delightful game they'll get to play only when they're done with the bills. These are the people you should think about. They're the ones you can influence, the ones who will pay if only you can make it easy and attractive enough. Here are some techniques:


"Nagware" is software that keeps reminding you to pay up. 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 is given some way to stop the nagging.

Nagware can be effective. A number of successful products have used it: Peter N Lewis's Anarchie and NetPresenz, older versions of my Solitaire Till Dawn, and others. In fact Anarchie and Solitaire Till Dawn used to rely completely on the user's honesty: anyone could turn off their nagging by clicking a box in the Preferences window labeled "I Paid," whether they had paid or not. This works because so many people really are honest but forgetful. It may take them months or years to get around to paying their fee, but they won't commit the basically dishonest act of clicking the "I Paid" button until they've actually paid. Sooner or later, when they're tired enough of being nagged, they'll pay.


Another technique is to offer the user something valuable that he can't get except by paying. Usually this takes the form of "demoware": the program runs in semi-functional demo mode until the user pays up. He is then given a password of some kind that unlocks the product's full functionality. Or he may be sent a fully-functional version on disk or by email, or be given access to an ftp site where the fully-functional version can be downloaded -- but the basic idea is that the product is crippled until the user pays.

Another incentive is to offer an add-on or bonus of some kind: a printed manual, a disk of goodies, another program, to be sent to the user after payment is received.

If you sell demoware, be prepared for some battles. If your product is popular, some criminal will immediately figure out how to hack your product so that its full functionality is available for free. If not, someone will simply post one of your passwords. Any goodies you send to paying users will eventually show up for free download from pirate bulletin boards. There are ways to wage these battles, and if you relish combat then go for it and good luck to you. My belief is that criminals won't pay no matter what you do; it is a waste of time to try to battle them. Spend your efforts on improving your product and on convincing the mouse potatoes to pay instead.

This easy-going philosophy doesn't mean that the demoware approach is bad. It works well on mouse potatoes because demoware is harder to ignore than nagware. Most of the top-selling shareware products I know of are demoware, and both Interarchy (Anarchie's modern incarnation) and my Solitaire Till Dawn are now demoware.

Just remember that even demoware won't work against determined pirates, and don't spend all your effort and anguish in trying to make your protection schemes bullet-proof. Find a middle road, a way that will influence the mouse potatoes without annoying the users who have actually paid. (Hell hath no fury like a paid-up user who is suddenly denied service because both he and the product have forgotten his password.) Remember that you will have to write the protection code, send passwords promptly to every paying customer, and deal with the calls and mail from users who have forgotten their password. Design a system that will minimize your effort and grief as well as your customers'.

For an excellent discussion of the various kinds of incentives, their effectiveness, and their cost to the developer, see Kee Nethery's discussion of Hookware.

Make it easy

This is another biggie, a valuable tip: Make it easy for customers to pay! The easier it is, the more will pay, and the difference can add up to a bundle of bucks.

In my first few years, I required my customers to pay me in either US cash or a check in US dollars drawn on a US bank. It was (and still is) way too expensive for me to convert foreign currency. And I've have liked to take credit cards, but if you're a hobbyist working out of your bedroom it's awfully hard to talk a bank into treating you the same as they would 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 a lot of effort, but it's a stopper for a lot of folks. It's something they won't do on the spur of the moment, and by the time bill-paying night rolls around, they've forgotten again. Foreign customers were worse off: it's no easier or cheaper for them to get American currency than it is for me to cash foreign currency.

Then one day Kagi came to my rescue. Kagi is a company that handles payments for shareware authors (among others). They provide me with a Web site where users can purchase my products. My customers send their payments to Kagi, and Kagi sends me a lump-sum check at the end of each month, minus a few percent for themselves and for bank fees. Kagi accepts major credit cards, US checks, and cash of many nations.

When I started using Kagi, my sales immediately increased by 50%. (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. Even those who must still send a paper payment have an easier time: they print down the filled-out form while they're thinking about it, and drop it into their bills-basket, where they'll find it again on bill-paying night. No more forgetting!

Another great benefit of a service like Kagi is that you don't have to handle the payments yourself. This is a tremendous time-saver, and the more popular your product becomes, the more time it saves you.

Kagi is not the only firm offering such services, and I encourage you to explore your options. But you should sign up with Kagi or a similar service if you haven't already. I do recommend Kagi highly -- and no, I'm not paid a cent for bringing new clients their way!

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