Subject: Economics of software distribution
From: ghost@ALADDIN.COM (L. Peter Deutsch)
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 93 15:45:23 PDT

In the course of composing an e-mail message on another topic, I asked
myself the question: Why isn't there copylefted software that serves the
needs of users outside what I perceive as the GNU community
(Internet-based, Unix-oriented, technically knowledgeable) -- the PC users
who want software that has polished documentation, support, warranty, and
end-user orientation?

My tentative conclusion is that the free software business depends on
secondary sources (support, consulting, contracts, ...) for its revenue,
and the economics of mass market software distribution make all of these
things unavailable.  Nearly all of the selling price goes into marketing
and production.  Good hard-copy documentation is expensive, and only
Microsoft can get away with not providing it.  Similarly, you can't not
provide free support and be competitive.  Individual end-users aren't in
the market for additional services.  So for someone to create mass market
free software, they have to do a lot more work (writing good documentation
is very hard, and writing good end-user-oriented software is extremely
hard), there is no "cost-free" distribution mechanism for it like the
Internet, and there won't be any secondary source of revenue for them.
Especially if the documentation is also copylefted (and I don't see why
documentation should be treated differently from the software it
describes), the only reason for someone to order a copy from the publisher
is convenience and paper / printing quality.  And the amount of money left
after the publisher's cut is so small that I don't see how any motivation
other than idealism would lead people to do things this way.

Certainly the conclusion is accurate: There is no copylefted mass-market
software.  What do other people think about the hypotheses?

L. Peter Deutsch :: Aladdin Enterprises :: P.O. box 60264, Palo Alto, CA 94306, ...decwrl!aladdin!ghost ; voice 415-322-0103 ; fax 322-1734
	    "Implementation is the sincerest form of flattery."