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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Free but pay for a pro features?

Just wondering if it's worthwhile making my app free, but the user has to pay for a "pro" feature?

As an example, let's say my app does bulk file renaming in a folder.  The app would be free, but it doesn't parse subfolders.  The user would pay a fee to enable that "pro" option.

Is that sort of concept okay?  It would allow me to mention my product in web forums without being blatant spam, since it's got a totally free option.  That's my thinking, anyway.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Or will everyone just be content with the free version, like people who don't pay for Winzip because it never forces them to pay?
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Hi PSB136,

My experience is that unless your users would kill for the pro version features, most people will stick to the free version.

If your product does not have the killer pro version feature, only a very small percentage of your free version users will upgrade.

So, this is a numbers game. If you user base is large, a small percentage would render good money, but if your user base is "normal", do not expect a lot of pro version sales.

Just a final thought. A few pro version sales are better than nothing. As long as the freeware limitations don't bother your users, offering the extra features in the pro version is not a bad idea.

MSD Soft Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Experiment.  You're hopefully in this for the long haul, so try something in one version.  Six months or a year later, try something else.  Every niche has a different mix of customers, so you have to figure out what works for your situation.
Doug Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
A free version that does most of what everybody wants is an OK tactic to get market share if you can afford to do so and you have an established competitor with a superior product, but your product is pretty damn good too. It's also used in the reverse case, where an established competitor dumps a slightly feature reduced program for zero or low cost in order to kill off up and coming competition. For example here Adobe dumps Photoshop Elements by bundling it for free with all sorts of cheap cameras, scanners and other programs that indicate the person might like Photoshop. One can also buy it for $50 or so on sale, but it also intentionally has no meaningful copy protection because they want customers to steal it rather than buy a competitor's product, because it is important to starve the competitors.

I consider it anti-competitive product dumping, but it's never been ruled as such in court, so you're very unlikely to get into trouble with it and you'd be the first person if you did.

You probably aren't in the situation where this makes business sense. Maybe you are, and go for it.

If not I recommend a slight change. Have the free version be labelled as the "free trial" version. Disable all the pro features, or make it not be able to save or such, or make it watermark, or whatever, when no license is present. Then when they want those features they buy the whole program.

Functionally this is the same as what you propose but psychologically it is totally different. Free Normal and Pay Pro means they consider the price paid to cover only that rare feature they never use, and they think that's a rip off and you're cheating them. Free Trial and Pay Normal means the price is for ALL the features,  they are just temporarily using them for free, as a special favor YOU are giving THEM and so they OWE you for this favor.

Also you should say it's a 15 day trial but then not enforce it. Have a screen pop up each run that says "You are now on day 198 of your 15 day trial." with 198 having turned red when it hit 16. And some "Buy" and such buttons on that splash screen.

The decision to do something like this really depends on the market conditions. You definitely can get more market share passing out free copies, but it is much better if you establish that freeness as a very permissive trial rather than a outright gift.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
My app currently is a working full-version trial.  It ends after X uses.  But I can't really (ethically) mention it on web forums where people ask how to do what it does, because it comes across as spam.  That's why I think a free version would serve me better, to get the word out without being accused of spamming.

As for the "day 198 of your 15 day trial", you know I did actually consider at one point to have a *non-displayed* day count in my app and suddenly say "Your free trial is due to end at any time; click here to buy now" after 14 days, but just show that message indefinitely without ever ending the trial.  It puts the psychological fear on the user to buy soon or "risk" losing the functionality out of the blue.  It would probably work.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
And because there's no actual trial end code in the exe, the crackers would be debugging the app for ages looking for nothing.  :)
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Yeah, I've seen products over the years that use this sort of method and they seem to stay alive and keep being updated. Often it's a small or one person team in charge of it, and they stay in business by being the go-to recommendation because users will talk about the unlimited trial on forums, which isn't really unlimited, but is in practice. And enough people decide to buy it after deciding they can't live without it and want to support the developer.

Where a problem arises is when the developer calls the product free or asks for optional donations or tips. In those cases voluntary donations tend to be very close to nothing, and are not enough to sustain a business. The unlimited trial is the same functional thing, but it is presented to the user as a different game rule, and most people will try to honor arbitrary game rules presented if they seem reasonable.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Some people will accuse you of spamming even if your product is totally free and open source. For some reason, there is an unusually high proportion of such people among forum moderators and respected contributors. Been there, done that. I've seen a trial user banned on a popular resource for praising our product and the entire thread deleted. Needless to say, we did not solicit that post.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Speaking only for myself, I've never spammed my products on any forums, and I don't even passively spam with links or signatures containing urls. If there's a profile page and it's a community I contribute to more than a few times, or it's associated with a conference I've attended or spoken at, I might put a link there.

I do have lots of loyal customers that pimp my products on forums though. They aren't spamming because they aren't by employees and aren't compensated in any way for their recommendations. I don't suggest or encourage it.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, March 27, 2014
I currently have Google Alerts set up to watch for my app's key phrases.  I get a few alerts every week.  Some are due to forum discussions, so I'd like to jump in and say something like "My own free app, X, can do it for you and there's no charge at all for unlimited use."  But I fear of the repercussions if I do, even though it's free.  At the same time, I know I'm missing out on a marketing opportunity by NOT mentioning it...
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, March 28, 2014
Personally I think if you have a free app that solves a problem it's ok to identify yourself and recommend it.

However, it probably is true that if you do that 10 seconds after first registering for a forum, and then disappear, even that might be seen as spam since you're not a regular member there.
Scott Send private email
Friday, March 28, 2014
What you are describing is essentially a freemium business model. When going freemium, there are additional monetization sources besides the pro (paid) version. Industry data shows that 95% of freemium users stick with the free version forever and only 5% actually buy the upgrade.

Before you jump into this model, you should consider the following aspects:

- Virality - The extent to which new users are acquired by referrals from existing users
Retention - The extent to which users return to the product and show long usage sessions
- Monetization - The extent to which users spend money for in-app items
- Organic growth - The extent to which new users are acquired free of charge without referrals or prior connection to the product

check my recent blog post on the topic:

Valeriu Braghis Send private email
Saturday, March 29, 2014

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