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Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
I came across this blog post yesterday about one software author's experience moving his works from closed source to open source:
Not only did his revenue all but disappear, but his downloads dropped off as well. You could look at it as a cautionary tale for anyone considering open sourcing their software. You could also look at it as an uplifting tale for anyone going into markets with open source alternatives. But mainly I thought it was interesting to look at it from a user's perspective when deciding what software to download, especially considering his downloads from Linux users took the biggest hit.
NB: This is about consumer software, not OSS enterprise tools. There's a link at the bottom of the blog post to a G+ conversation where someone commented: "A) Write open source software. B) Write non-enterprise, consumer software. C) Pay your bills. Pick two."
My intent to comment on this sort of thing was completely waylaid when I saw how insanely cool and technical, but bizarre and obscure, his applications are.
This guy is a really cool dude doing weird stuff.
Here is an adventure game he wrote in the style of Oregon Trail, where you are an administrator overseeing the development of a Linux build, managing developers, donations, etc:
Here is a cross platform rapid development environment for making games featuring a graphical programming language of his own invention:
He has five rapid development environments for different tasks, including designing comic strips.
This one here:
Runs on Linux, Mac and PC, and allows you to write a single application that can be distributed and run on Android, iOS, PyGTK, Maemo, Flash, or HTML5, with backend compilers that generate code targeting the frameworks and languages of each.
This dude is extremely hard core.
Example of what I am talking about before - there are many ultra genius programmers out there doing this sort of stuff that are available for these various "where are the good programmers" companies that are constantly whining. But the companies are too precious to be able to identify even a single person who obviously knows what he is doing, like this guy.
"Sorry mate, we need 10 years experience with the latest VB release."
> Not only did his revenue all but disappear, but his downloads dropped off as well.
Well, duh! (Comment not for you, Nicholas, but to the blog author).
Doesn't surprise me in the least. Life is about making money, not making love and hugging trees. To me, open source is just another hippie fad that will eventually disappear, exactly for the reasons the blog author proved.
Nobody pays for software if they don't have to. I learned that 20 years ago and stopped releasing freeware and asking for donations as a result.
>Life is about making money, not making love and hugging trees
Speak for yourself. ;0)
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
>> Not only did his revenue all but disappear, but his downloads dropped off as well.
> Well, duh!
Really? I found that surprising. The drop in revenues isn't surprising, but the drop in downloads wasn't something that i would have guessed. I thought it was an interesting insight into the mind of a software consumer.
BTW, I definitely didn't mean for this thread to be sidetracked into some attack on open source. I couldn't run my business in it's current state without many of the FOSS tools I use on both the desktop and server.
> the drop in downloads wasn't something that i would have guessed. I thought it was an interesting insight into the mind of a software consumer.
Completely agree. Unless there's something we don't know (new releases driving most downloads?) it seems like a stunning if unscientific validation of the 'price dictates perceived value' logic.
Thursday, September 05, 2013
The bit I find fascinating here is that this guy has gone from nearly $9k a month in revenues (I guess almost all profit), and making a pretty decent living off what is obviously his passion - to making effectively nothing.
I mean - why did he even try this? And why won't he move back to closed source? Fascinating.
@Krzysztof: These forums are about the *business* of software, no? How much money has SumatraPDF made you lately? Oh, and you have 3 "ripoff" apps to contend with, because Sumatra is open source? Sorry, I just don't see the successful business side of things there. ;)
"The bit I find fascinating here is that this guy has gone from nearly $9k a month in revenues (I guess almost all profit), and making a pretty decent living off what is obviously his passion - to making effectively nothing."
Mathew Fender, I didn't even notice the actual number on the bar graph until you pointed this out. Wow. That's impressive (at least to me).
What's even odder to me is that he also said, "The plus side for me is that I am not reliant on software sales (and/or donations) to make my living at this point in my life (writing fills that need nowadays)."
What is he writing that is making a loss of $108,000/yr feel like no big deal? 50 Shades of Gray II?
If you're competent and business minded enough to be independent, you also are in demand and worth a lot more than $10k a month working for a big company. Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others are routinely doing acquihires where they pay in excess of $1 million per developer for people who know what they are doing. Acquihires trash their IP and just want the developers who can build things!
OK, so that established, if your hobby business is taking up all your time to maintain and service a stable of products, but it is making less than $10,000 a month, you have to ask what you are doing. You are paying the cost of running a business, you are paying self employment tax, you are paying your own office expenses, your own health insurance, etc, etc. Overhead can be twice that of salary. So you are a top guy working at Facebook or some place making $250k, they are also paying $100k or more in benefits and costs, so you need $350k income to meet that. $108k is less than that.
This guy says hey people like my software but it's is taking up time and only bringing in chump change. I am going to stop maintaining it.
But so the software will "live on", he listens to the advice "just make it open source and it will be magically adopted and maintained by kindhearted fans". That didn't happen though, no one took it up. Also, surprisingly, downloads fell dramatically. That's what he's blogging about.
People are focusing on the loss of income. That is not a surprise. He already knew that, and he says he knew that would happen. It's absolutely amazing that he's receiving $200 a month in donations, that is incredible, and far more than most single maintainer open source projects receive. Talking about the loss of income is pointless since there is no controversy about that at all, and he expected it to happen. Obviously this dude now has time to do other things that pay a lot more than the pocket change this was bringing in previously.
The interesting parts are that no one stepped up to adopt the project and work on for it for free, and downloads collapsed.
The download collapse is interesting. Did it stop working in Windows 8 or something?
This guy open sourced stuff that was taking a lot of time and not bringing in much income so that he could focus his time on things that brought in more money and effectuated more change.
Good for him.
So a bunch of guys in the third world, or austistics living in mom's basement say, hey, I'd be thrilled to make even $100,000 a year selling software, this guy doesn't know what he's missing out on!
Ok, whatever. So?
Like Joel wrote in one of his posts about complementary products: Open Source is a complementary product to hardware. Open Source is mainly founded by large companies who sell other products that need free (as in beer) software.
So I'm not particularly surprised by the drop in revenues.
What surprises me though is that the downloads went to effectively nothing. If anything I would have assumed that download numbers would have risen after making the software free ... but I guess the normal user has made some very bad experiences with Open Source in the past or just doesn't care about a stallmanian utopia and thinks: what is free is crap.
> If you're competent and business minded enough to be independent, you also are in demand and worth a lot more than $10k a month working for a big company.
Yes, maybe. But there might be people who'd rather run their own small software company than to work for someone else. And the last time I checked this wasn't a forum for employed programmers (for that we have /r/programming).
True but not relevant to this case we are discussing, which is the point.
This guy's business was successful enough to bring in an OK income, but took a lot of time and didn't make as much as he could make working fewer hours doing other stuff.
It's not about he could have made $9k a month before taxes, expenses, etc. He is not surprised it went down and makes that clear. He is not writing "OMG, I open sourced and lost money! WTF! I was lied to!" He writes that he open sourced and income went way down just as he expected, but he was surprised that downloads went down, and surprised that no one was actually interested in maintaining it for free, which is a common assertion by many open source advocates who want to receive free software, but are not actually interested in maintaining other people's software for free as it turns out in nearly every case.
You guys want to talk about the $9k over and over. OMG! He was making $9k! OMG! OMG! He knew he would lose that. He is competent and is obviously making more now doing other stuff. The $9k loss is irrelevant. It is of no importance. No one claimed that income wouldn't go down to near 0. That it did is simply not an issue of interest or importance because it is not the least bit surprising to anyone.
Correction - I got suckered into using the term open source. That aspect of it is irrelevant. The issue of finding maintainers is relevant to open source and licensing. But the issue of income has nothing whatsoever to do with open source.
If you take a product that you are selling and making some OK income doing so, and you switch to giving it away for free and asking for kindly souls to paypal you donations if they remember to, then your income from those sales is going to take a huge hit. That is to be expected, is normal, and has nothing whatsoever to do with open source.
Scott, it seems like you're turning this into some kind of religious debate because someone wrote something negative about open source.
Let's get back on topic - which is: Why the hell went the download numbers significantly down after the software was made free?
"Scott, it seems like you're turning this into some kind of religious debate because someone wrote something negative about open source."
WTF dude, I am agnostic, it's the religious debate I'm trying to avoid here by pointing out that the money and opensourceness are irrelevant issues.
The dude does not provide enough information to determine why downloads went down.
It seems unlikely because it is hosted somewhere else, if that was the case we'd be able to find that someplace else as easily as potential customers. And even so why wouldn't they prefer to get it from the original source given that it is free and non-canonical sources are likely riddled with stealth malware that has been injected.
Not addressed is how often there were releases and how many downloads previously were existing customers getting the latest release.
Let's say he has 50,000 customers he has built up over 10 years and now has 10,000 new customers a year. He releases a new version, a free update, and 25,000 of existing customers live on the edge and update to that right away. And then he issues another release a week later. In fact he has 52 releases a year and half the customers have enabled automatic update! So that's 1,300,000 downloads from paying customers getting the newest update automatically, and only 10,000 from new customers.
Now he stops issuing updates at all, the current situation. So no more autoupdates from existing customers. Now he has only the new customers.
In this case there would be massive drop off of downloads from switching to open source and stopping development, where the key was stopping development and hence auto updates.
Is that the case here? Don't know since he hasn't published those numbers. He instead just talks about drop off in general.
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