Freeware and Shareware Writer The Buzz


A common misconception is that freeware and shareware are types of software. In fact, these terms describe the way the software is marketed. The software itself is no different than the kind you buy in the stores. Sometimes it's even better.

Freeware is what it sounds like. Users are free to use it and distribute it to others. Often, it is used to entice users to check out other non-freeware programs created by the same person or company. It can also be used to entice users to pay for an upgraded version of the program.

Shareware, on the other hand, is available for a free trial period. After that period, users are asked to register and pay a fee. Then they receive a user's manual or upgrade information. Paying for shareware is an honors system. Most people are happy to pay for software that they've tried and liked.

Any type of software can be distributed as freeware or shareware, from games to business applications.

Thomas Warfield started writing shareware as a hobby in 1995. A few years later, his hobby had become a full-time job. This is typical for freeware and shareware writers. They hold on to their day jobs until their hobby starts to bring in the dough. Then many of them make the jump.

"Originally, it was just for fun," Warfield says of his motivation for writing shareware. Now he does it full time as president of his own software company. He says it can be challenging for people in this field to earn a steady paycheck.

"It is difficult," he says. "Very few shareware authors are able to make a living at it. You have to be good at technical things [programming], marketing things [to convince people to buy] and customer service skills. Very few people can do all of these things well."

Tom Guthery started writing shareware as a part-time business to "earn money to support my growing family." He says shareware can be a good source of part-time income.

"If you have a good idea and are developing a product that is not in a field that is already crowded, it is very possible to earn substantial income writing software distributed through shareware channels," Guthery says.

"Full-time income is pretty difficult for most authors. Most authors use shareware income as part of their total income stream."

"I would say most do it part time," agrees Edward Guy, a shareware writer. "In a lot of cases, it's something they've written for their own use and someone has said, 'Gee, you should market that,' which is essentially what got me into it."

Terry Swiers is a shareware writer and president of the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP). "I'd say anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of the shareware authors are attempting to do it as a full-time source of income," Swiers says. "I know for the majority of the shareware authors, that's the goal."

Swiers says it's nearly impossible to say what shareware and freeware writers earn on average. There's a huge range. Some create best-sellers, while others do it as a hobby with no intention of making money.

"I know some are making well into the six digits," Swiers says, "while some are doing $1,000 a year, and they're happy with it. If I had to make a guess, I would say the average part-time shareware author is making between $12,000 and $15,000 a year."

Guy agrees that there is a huge range. "There are some people who are certainly making a half-million a year and up, but they're the minority," he says.

Writing shareware and freeware is something almost anyone can do. Most writers are self-taught. Some are employed in programming or other technical fields, so they have technology and computer science-related degrees. But a formal education isn't necessary.

"It ranges," says Swiers. "I've seen some shareware authors who are very young teenagers who haven't even graduated from high school yet. I know of some people who don't have any formal education in computers."

Programming software can cost anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars. Then you just need a computer and Internet access. The only thing you risk is time. And if you enjoy the process, like many do, then there is no risk.

Kathy Salisbury is someone who enjoyed the process. She began as a hobbyist before starting her own games company.

"I started in shareware because it was an engrossing hobby," Salisbury says.

"As I got further into it, I realized that graphics and animation were very enjoyable for me. Also, I like creating something entertaining that reaches many people. Knowing that it is possible to make very good money doing something I enjoy is also a great incentive!"

Salisbury says there are many qualities that successful software writers have. At the top of the list is determination.

"I think it is pretty much like other businesses," she says. "You get out of it what you put in, and it takes some time to get established. Your first few efforts are likely to fail. But if you keep trying, probably for several years, you have a good chance to make it and possibly even become very successful."

Writers also need the ability to work alone for long periods. They need to enjoy technical work and be self-motivated. If they do it full time, they need to handle the uncertainty of being self-employed.

As mentioned above, a formal education isn't necessary. But Salisbury says that if you don't already have a stable job, go to college.

"Even though I am self-taught in programming, I'd strongly encourage you to get a degree in computer science," Salisbury says.

"You might need to find part-time consulting or programming work to support yourself and your family during the lean years. Many self-employed people rely on multiple income streams. I had a background as a computer technician, and I fell back on these skills to make extra money while starting out."

One main way shareware and freeware is marketed is by getting it onto the search engines. Savvy use of keywords and willingness to pay for placement can draw traffic to your site.

Also, word of mouth is a key factor. If users are happy, they tell lots of people. Of course, word-of-mouth advertising cuts both ways. If your software has too many bugs, your business will suffer.

"It's a combination of writing skillful software and marketing via the search engines," says Mike Raustad. He has been self-employed as a shareware writer for 12 years.

"Definitely, the income you make is dependent on the quality of the software you have, so you'll find there is good quality in shareware."

Links

Association of Shareware Professionals
Tons of resources, including a history of shareware, forums, industry events and much more

Shareware Download Sites
A large list of sites that offer shareware