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For example, Say I make a business software product. I sell it for $100. The competitors charge thousands for their version. Does that kind of model work? Do company's ever buy software turnkey like that? No support. No nothing. They just spend $100. Sure there are continuing efforts to improve the product but no guarantees, etc.

I do not want it to be open source. I do not want to offer support other than very minor things like support forums. I don't want to make junk. I can't quit my full time job to travel around the country supporting software.

edit: They can even see the code, tweak it, etc. They can't sell it though. Close to some CC licenses I've seen, but you get the drift I hope.

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    You're basically describing most off-the-shelf consumer software, not to mention most mobile apps. Why would you think that model doesnt work? When was the last time someone from Microsoft flew to your house to help you fix a problem in Word? Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 3:30
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    @GrandmasterB - "When was the last time someone from Microsoft.." It happened - after I paid them $10k plus expenses....
    – Vector
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 6:32
  • Joel On Software has written several articles over the year on pricing and support and his strategy for pricing on the low-end. These are fun reads that may or may not apply to your goals. joelonsoftware.com/articles/FogBugzI.html joelonsoftware.com/articles/CamelsandRubberDuckies.html
    – selbie
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 8:27

3 Answers 3

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I'm guessing here, but I think what you are really asking is, can you make money selling software as-is without any support contract or obligation. It's not that you don't want to support your software, fix bugs and release incremental versions. But what you don't want to be is legally responsible for fixing those bugs and releasing fixes in a very timely manner because your customers demand that. If what I just said aligns with your question, then absolutely you can sell your software and make money.

To give you an example, just look at most games. It's a billion dollar industry, but each customer has very little legal power. You spend $50 on a software package, you install it and run it. It could be awesome or it could be total crap but once you bought it, you bought it, manufacturer will release fixes if/when they feel like it and the buyer can only wait and hope.

"I don't want to make junk" -- I wonder how many developers sit down to write some code and say to themselves, today I'm looking forward to writing junk and nothing but junk? The point is that significant pieces of software WILL have bugs, that just a nature of things. And all of us wanted to produce nothing but gold. If you are a small software shop (or just one person), I think it would be absolutely silly not to listen to your customers and provide support. When you are that small, your customers are essentially your QA and if they are willing to pay you up front AND THEN test your software (because there's only so much testing you can do as one person), why would you not release fixes for them?? That's not to say you have to promise solid turn around times in 2 days or less, but still do your best to keep people that give you money happy or they'll stop giving you money.

It also depends on what kind of software you are producing and your target audience. Do the math. I'm a software engineer and we have 9 developers on the team. Let's say our engineering costs for salaries, benefits, equipment are around $1M per year. Would we spend $100 on a critical or even somewhat important piece of software when if something doesn't work, one of our engineers would have to spend 2 days digging through your code? Those 2 days just cost my team $600, and that's only assuming that other developer's jobs were not hindered by the bug. Otherwise, start multiplying all of their time lost by 9. On the other hand paying $1000 increases our teams operating expenses by 0.1%.

So if it's anything important or semi-important, my personal inclination would be to stay away from your product. On the other hand, if you are producing something non-critical and I try your software with 30-day trial license and absolutely love it, of course I'll spend $100 and buy it.

So IMO these are the factors:

  1. Small target audience --> support more important
  2. How critical your product to operations --> support more important
  3. How polished is version 1.0 (i.e. usable right out of the box) --> support less important. In this point I'm talking even about little things. If I launch your app, and it works but it's a bit quirky or glitchy, that gives me overall impressions that there are potentially other much larger issues that I haven't stumbled on yet.

And don't get hung up on #3. As I said above, all software has bugs and all software could use polish and improvements. But if you aim for 0 defect release, you'll just spend years coding your software without ever selling it. Instead, my advice would be to do the opposite:

  1. Find people who are interested in what you have to offer
  2. Release version 0.9 (i.e. Beta) to 2 or 3 of those people with full understanding that it is buggy.
  3. Use their feedback to...
    • add features they want but you don't have yet
    • remove features they don't care about and you don't want to support
    • fix bugs and bring up the quality

By artificially keeping your initial customer base small, you won't get swamped with support calls/requests and you will be able to work and communicate with them to get your product to a shipping quality. By releasing beta, you could give some of your customers a working copy in 10%-30% of the time than what it would take you to finish every single feature and fix every single bug.

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I've been in the software business for about 40 years. Every time I considered the idea of packaging a product I realized the value proposition was continuing support. If customers couldn't get help they couldn't use it at all. Therefore, everything I've ever done has been with the understanding that support comes first, development is what you do to provide support. Over time I've met with other people that took that path, I've heard the same story - they would spend many hours a week on the phone fixing PC issues - often the customers were perfectly happy to pay for the help.

This would have meant creating an organization to provide a set of services - I tried that at one point and found I was babysitting employees, not writing code.

Rather than writing a cheapie to 'replace' expensive products, write 'plugins' that extend them. Some of these, in particular one shot migrations, might get you the money you're expecting without long term obligations.

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  • +1 - plug-ins, add-ons, extensions, etc. The 'cottage industry' concept - good answer.
    – Vector
    Commented Jul 27, 2013 at 23:17
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Depends on what market you are targeting. If you're going for small businesses and marketing a vertical application targeted to their specific needs, you might have some success, provided you do take suggestions from customers and implement improvements.

Still, some support is mandatory, and that's often the show stopper. Also keep in mind that you have to market and sell your product, even if it only costs $100.

Regardless, big businesses will ignore you. No large, serious business is interested in a product without a strong support warranty, a staff with redundancy, etc. There is a reason why they pay the big bucks for software - if they could avoid it, they would. So if you're thinking that your $100 turnkey solution can compete with big time players in the corporate world, my suggestion is to scrap your idea.

However, as @GrandmasterB has pointed out, if you leverage the power of online distribution, support and marketing, then perhaps you can be successful with the right niche product, targeting botique industries and small businesses or software shops, if you are interested in developing software tools. Tools and addon's, plugin's etc - things that make developers lives easier - might be the best idea for such an endeavor. I would have no problem paying $100 for a quality tool that made my coding day easier to get through. See his comments on this answer.

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    I agree. I guess unless you target a very specific niche, a software house that makes the best product of all could afford to sell it for the lowest price since SW can be sold across the whole world. Breaking even is roughly a function of the ratio of devs to customers. It follows that it wouldn't really make sense for a single developer to produce knock offs of existing SW. At least in theory. (Although in practice, perfect economical theories don't always work.)
    – DPM
    Commented Jul 27, 2013 at 23:16
  • @Jubbat - if you look at what's going on in the industry, the 'software only' shop is actually disappearing IMO. Small shops are bought up by larger business that are doing more than just software, and software shops are also getting into entertainment, media, design, business consulting etc - other aspects that are extensions of their core software business. That makes sense: software is simply a tool for getting things done - the endgame is not the tool, but what it produces. 20 or 30 years ago, the industry was in its infancy - still figuring things out. Now we've grown up.
    – Vector
    Commented Jul 27, 2013 at 23:24
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    The commercial model is straight forward. Write the software. Make a web site. Set up a way to process payments (yourself or via a 3rd party or app store). Do some advertising. Answer support via email or on forums. I dont understand what you think is so difficult. Not only do I manage such an application, I've managed multiple product lines that way for two decades - desktop, web, and (now) mobile. There's no guarantee of success of course, and it has to be software people want to buy. With some luck it grows into a multi-person operation. Its how a lot of companies start. Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 5:34

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