Shareware – setting the world straight. An open letter to software developers – August 1st 2003.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Shareware is a marketing method. It’s based on the principle of “try before you buy”. When I go to buy a car, I try before I buy. When I go shopping for clothes, I try before I buy. The radio lets me listen to music before I buy it, and any decent bookstore offers some form of seating, so that I can flit through a book before purchasing. So when I buy software, I prefer to try before I buy.

Let’s be honest. At some point we’ve all fallen for it. The box on the shelf in the store looks so slick, and the product description makes it mouth-wateringly apparent that this is the solution we’re looking for. We buy it, and rush the shrink-wrapped box to our PCs.

Once we get over the shock that the gigantic box often contains little more than a CD, some padding and an awful lot of empty space, we install the software. It often doesn’t take long to realise that the best part of the whole deal was the packaging. Unfortunately, your chance of getting a refund on your purchase is close to zero.

Which brings us neatly back to Shareware.

At this point I ask that you take a deep breath, adjust your glasses, turn off the radio, and read the next few paragraphs carefully.

Shareware is not a type of software. It’s a marketing method.

Shareware is no more a type of software than blue is a type of car.

Our company, SoftwarePromotions Ltd, regularly receive emails from companies explaining that they are not “Shareware Companies”. They sometimes explain that they have no desire to have anything to do with Shareware, and in fact will actively distance themselves from the word, concept or anything associated with it.

I would respectfully urge that such companies open their eyes, and perhaps see what is happening around them.

Shareware is not a dirty word. Companies “give away” try-before-you-buy versions of their product in order to sell their software.

Shareware is not old fashioned, a quaint concept, amateur or basic. It is the keenest, sharpest part of the cutting edge of software distribution, and if you can’t get your head around that fact, you are fast heading towards extinction.

Shareware is only one of a number of terms that businesses and developers choose to use. Companies such as Microsoft, Symantec, WinZIP, Ulead and countless others are offering free trial versions of the software. They may choose to call it a demo, trial version, free trial, free download or any other term they wish. But if the user can try before they buy, this is Shareware.

Most of our clients do not use the word Shareware on their websites, and why should they? The people buying their software have as much interest in their chosen marketing terminology as I have in knowing the brand and type of drill my dentist chooses to use.

Shareware is not the past, it is the present and the future. The fact that you’re reading this text means that you use the web. So do the buyers of your software. High-speed web access is becoming a daily reality for an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and has moved from the corporate world to the small businesses and now to people’s homes.

Contrary to what many companies oblivious to the benefits of shareware believe, “retail” does not mean high quality. Nor does it mean success. I use a superb dictionary application that defines retail as follows:

The selling of goods to consumers; usually in small quantities and not for resale.

For the software company, retail means high entry cost, expensive packaging, printing, and high distribution costs, usually with the added expense of having to purchase shelf space in many of the outlets. For the consumer, retail means having to buy software before you know how good it is, not knowing whether it does what you’re after, and not even being sure if it will work on your system. Oh and who do you think pays for all the above-mentioned costs?

The same product defines Shareware as follows:

Software that makes use of the try before you buy marketing method.

Draw your own conclusions.

An astute online software store, SWREG.ORG, used to use the slogan “One day all software will be sold this way”. This company handles sales in the region of $30m a year.

Retail software is about searching a limited number of products, many of which may be out of date by the time you actually buy them. It’s about high costs, limited choice, no form of money back guarantee, and to some extent a gamble. If this is what you’re after, then enjoy it.

Me, I prefer choosing from a wide variety of products, downloading from the comfort of my home or office, and then seeing if it’s as good as I hoped for. Only then do I decide whether or not to purchase. Shareware is the way of the future.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.