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Shareware: efficient way of marketing software

The idea behind shareware distribution is letting clients try the software before buying the full version, by downloading a trial version from your website. There are several types of shareware programs:

  • The complete program. The client can try it and then keep using it forever. However, the shareware author requires that the client registers the program and pays a fee, which is usually lower than the price of software bought in high street stores.
  • The trial period. The program has all its functions, but it only lasts for a determined period of time, usually 30 days. After that period, a pop-up window appears, reminding the user to pay. In most cases, these screens become too annoying, making the client either pay for the software or stop using it.
  • The trial period without warning. The shareware program is fully functional for a determined period of time and it automatically stops working when that period is over.
Like any other software marketing technique, shareware distribution has its ups and downs.

The benefits include:
  • It allows consumers to evaluate an application before purchasing it, with no risks involved. If the client likes the program he can buy it, but if not, he knows he will not be asked to pay for it. This increases customers' satisfaction, as they can better understand the software and they know the full program will be what they need.
  • Since products are distributed online, shareware authors don't have to worry about physical packaging, normally associated with traditional sales. Thus, the toal cost of software cost is often much lower than when it's bought from a store.
    Also, smaller companies that cannot afford high-priced promotional campaigns may find it much easier to enter the market or increase their software sales by using shareware distribution.
  • Customers can communicate directly with developers requesting different enhancements or providing feedback which results in better software programs and bigger sales.

  • It gives instant gratification to clients. Since they download the program from the Internet, they can install it right away and don't have to wait for delivery.

Besides the obvious aspects shareware authors should take care of to ensure healthy sales, like putting time and functionality limits, there are several other tips they should keep in mind:
  • Make sure the program presents all its features, so customers know exactly what it does.
  • Don't ask for too much information from clients for the initial download. It's usually okay to ask for full name and e-mail address, but asking for phone or office/home address may put them off.
  • Follow up with "thank you" e-mails or with small questionnaires. It's also a good idea to present a questionnaire when the user accesses uninstall.
  • Include "buy now" buttons in the program and on your website.

All it's not rosy though. Shareware sales have their disadvantages too. Sometimes customers may find it hard to determine which products are good, wasting their time instead of saving it. Another feature, or rather lack of it, may irritate customers: the absence of uninstall programs. Clients may find themselves stuck with a program they can no longer use. For shareware authors, danger lies in the fact that some users may keep "forgetting" to register and pay, preferring to keep deactivating reminder screens.

About the Author: This article was written by Cristian Badea, CIO for Avangate BV / GECAD ePayment. With 4 years experience in the RAV AntiVirus team until 2003, Cristian now leads the development and operational side of Avangate / ePayment systems.
Avangate is an eCommerce platform for electronic software distribution incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional marketing and sales tools.

Copyright 2006, all rights reserved. Read more software marketing articles and learn how to sell software online.

This article may be reproduced in a website, e-zine, CD-ROM, book, magazine, etc. as long as the bio information is included in full, including the link back to this website.

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