Subject: Re: Economics of software distribution
From: "Russell Nelson" <nelson@CRYNWR.COM>
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1993 10:16:48 EST

On Tue, 16 Mar 93 21:59:37 PDT, "L. Peter Deutsch" <> wrote:

> That's right, and they want it to work without having to call anyone --
> ever.  If you distribute 100,000 copies of your software in six months,
> and 1% of the users call you with a question that takes 10 minutes to
> answer, that's approximately one full working month out of those six that
> you've just spent answering those questions, and those users won't be
> willing to pay extra for it.

Okay, so it seems like support can either be included in the price of
the distribution or not.  Obviously if it is, then that's a selling
point.  And, for the people who haven't pre-purchased support, you
have a 900 number.  That's not such a problem for individuals as it
is with companies.  Many companies have 900 numbers blocked, so
they're useless for support.  In that case, you have an 800 number
and either accept credit cards or establish an account.

> > "it"?  You mean mass-market free software?  Ahhh, but shareware
> > houses and BBSes are very happy to distribute free software.  For a
> > fee, there's even a company that will upload your software to dozens
> > of BBSes and shareware manufacturers.
> True, if you're willing to accept a distribution system that is guaranteed
> to be distributing obsolete and/or incomplete filesets.  This has been a
> constant problem with Ghostscript.

I agree.  Propogation time in the BBS/shareware community can be
measured in months.  However, you can short-circuit some of that
time by using a service such as Megapost:

Andrew M. Saucci, Jr.
641 Koelbel Ct.
Baldwin NY 11510-3915

> Ah, but that's shareware, not "free" software.  Or are the two compatible?

They're compatible as far as the shareware distributors (BBS and/or
floppy) are concerned.  They're just shipping bits; they don't care
what the bits represent.

> Certainly no GNU software that I've seen includes a requirement, or even a
> request, to send money to the author.  In fact, FSF has just come up
> against harsh economic reality in this respect, and is broadcasting what
> amount to appeals to do something that to me seems at odds with the free
> software ethic (namely, buy from them, when you can get the software for
> little or no charge elsewhere).

They're running to the ``commons'' aspect of free software.  People
will only buy from the FSF if the private gain is worth the private
cost.  That is, the FSF is selling both the media, and the
satisfaction that you are helping develop free software.

> To be honest, the closer I look at the economic model for free software,
> the less I believe it.

It seems that both Cygnus's and Crynwr's successes have been driven
by hardware.  Cygnus's because they sell software for embedded
systems and compilers for new cpus, and Crynwr's because we sell
drivers for Ethernet hardware.

> I'm distributing a piece of commercial-grade software that
> represents several thousand hours of very high-grade engineering
> work free because I like the idea of having it in lots of people's
> hands, and because so many people are willing to contribute *their*
> efforts to it only because they know those contributions (and those
> of others) will come back to them, and because it's great
> word-of-mouth advertising for my commercial business.  But if I
> didn't have the commercial business (and I'm not referring to
> labor-intensive activities where I don't see how I could ever get
> ahead of the game),

Well, the way my family is getting ahead of the game is by spending
less than I earn, getting out of debt, and building an endowment.
Once I'm fully endowed, I have no more need for paid employment.  I
can't imagine that I'd do much different than I'm doing now, I just
wouldn't need to worry about getting paid for it.

If anyone would like more information on the basic plan, see the book
_Your Money or Your Life_, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.  It *is*
possible for a working stiff to accumulate enough capital to "get
ahead of the game".

> the only reason you can make a living doing "free" things is that
> you're doing "unfree" things to subsidize them.

In part, that's true for me.  I'm probably getting more $$$ per hour
that I spend doing unfree things, but that's probably more a
reflection on my skills at selling my time than on free software in

-russ <> What canst *thou* say?
Crynwr Software           Crynwr Software sells packet driver support.
11 Grant St.              315-268-1925 Voice  |  LPF member - ask me about
Potsdam, NY 13676         315-268-9201 FAX    |  the harm software patents do.