The Shareware Dilemma

Shareware trial strategies are tricky. Do you give the punters 30 days to try out the product? Sixty days, like Buzz’s ActiveWords (another gratuitous plug; you’re going to have to start paying me, Buzz)? Or do you cripple (I hate the word; hobble is better) the software in some way so the user isn’t going to get full benefit until they cough up? Or nagware, where you just keep firing popups at the user until they give in?

I think the time-limited, full-featured approach is best. First off, a lot of software is downloaded for a specific task: removing duplicate entries in a PDA, say. While this may mean the punter is going to only use it once, since the task is specific and the software may not be needed again, I think it’s a mistake to limit the functionality of the software (in the case of removing duplicates, to a number of duplicates found, as does UnDupe). This merely leaves the user frustrated, since their immediate goal is not satisfied, and requires them to take a leap of faith to buy the software in the hope it will do the job it promises, namely removing all the duplicate entries.

Time-limited, full-featured is best because it lets the user get used to the product, see it in all its shining glory, and then decide. ActiveWords uses 60 days, Buzz says, because he realises that getting into the product may take longer than normal software. But there’s another element here: a lot of people download software, play around with it and then forget about it. Then they are reminded of it for some reason, perhaps finding a shortcut to it sitting on their desktop, and then fire it up in the hope of remembering what it was. I just tried that with ConnectedText, a program I cannot recall installing. Certainly I cannot recall what it did. (Looking at the website I remember now: A pretty cool personal Wiki.)

Trouble is, ConnectedText works only for 30 days. Thereafter you can’t run the program, and instead get a link to the product’s homepage. As I only played with it once, there’s no way I’m going to shell out the $30 for the full version, and yet without a lot of pleading with the developer or scratching around in the Registry there’s no way I’m going to get a chance to play with it some more. ConnectedText is now uninstalled and I guess I’m never going to know now whether it was worth the moolah.

I think a wiser approach for ConnectedText, and any other time-limited shareware trial, is to be flexible when the time limit expires. I bet that a lot more users would cough up if they were allowed more time. Perhaps a popup could say, “do you need more time? We can give you another month, if you tell us why you need it.” Or “We can give you another month, but please fill out this form first so we know you’re not just a cheapskate” or somesuch. I have seen a few examples of this, or something like this, approach. It’s good. It’s flexible, and it builds bridges with users.

The problem is not that a month is not long enough to try something out, it’s that most of us are too busy and too easily distracted to remember to test out the software in the time allotted. We want to support shareware, but not all of us have the luxury or attention span to do the legwork according to the developer’s timeframe.

4 thoughts on “The Shareware Dilemma”

  1. What I do is provide the basic functionality of the program as freeware (no time limit) and then unlock the advanced features when you pay. That way people get the program they were looking for, can build a relationship with it, and after looking at those greyed out menu options for however long they need they will at least select Help -> Register and see how much it is. From there I rely on the software being very cheap ($10/machine). They know it’s reliable and useful before they decide to pay, and they know exactly what they get for their money.

  2. I always liked the use it for X number of times (30 times) before it stops. Use it 25 times then forget it for a year you still have 5 times to figure out what it did,

  3. Eduardo Mauro from ConnectedText has written to me to say, inter alia, that “We know we give a small period to try our product but every user that asked more time to try we granted. In the next release we will add a message stating about it as you suggested in your post.”

    Eduardo also raises an important point I omitted to consider in my post: “We had problems at the beginning since some Chinese guys hacked our product.” There are also people that perhaps abuse the trial period thing in other ways: “Now we have users that asked for more than 3 trial periods.” In general, Eduardo says, people buy early or not at all: “Our experience shows that users that buy ConnectedText do not wait for the end of the trial period.”

    Thanks, Eduardo.

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