I have a free open-source project with around 800K downloads to date. I've been contacted by some monetization companies from time to time and turned them down, since I didn't want toolbar malware associated with my software. I was wondering however, is there a non-evil way to monetize software ?

Here are the options as I know them:

  • Add a donation button.
    • I don't feel comfortable with that as I really don't need "donations" - I'm paid quite well.
    • Donating users may feel entitled to support etc. (see the second to last bullet)
  • Add ads inside your application.
    • In the web that may be acceptable, but in a desktop program it looks incredibly lame.
  • Charge a small amount for each download.
    • This model works well in the mobile world, but I suspect no one will go for it on the desktop.
    • It doesn't mix well with open source, though I suppose I could charge only for the binaries (most users won't go to the hassle of compiling the sources).
    • People may expect support etc. after having explicitly paid (see next bullet).
  • Make money off a service / community / support associated with the program.
    • This is one route I definitely don't want to take, I don't want any sort of hassle beyond coding. I assure you, the program is top notch (albeit simple) and I'm not aware of any bugs as of yet (there are support forums and blog comments where users may report them). It is also very simple, documented, and discoverable so I do think I have a case for supplying it "as is".
  • Add affiliate suggestions to your installer.
    • If you use a monetization company, you lose control over what they propose. Unless you can establish some sort of strong trust with the company to supply quality suggestions (I sincerely doubt it), I can't have that.
    • Choosing your own affiliate (e.g. directly suggesting Google Toolbar) is possibly the only viable solution to my mind. Problem is, where do I find a solid affiliate that could actually give value to the user rather than infect his computer with crapware? I thought maybe Babylon (not the toolbar of course, I hate toolbars)?

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Bart van Ingen Schenau, user40980, GrandmasterB, jwenting Jun 7 '14 at 5:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    As a user I'd be fine with any of these, as long as you don't install toolbars or change my home page without me explicitly checking an unchecked checkbox. – Rotem Jun 6 '14 at 9:17
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is tour monetization and evil – gnat Jun 6 '14 at 9:59
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    It is difficult to find a single answer to this question, as it is formulated now. If you wish to have more alternatives, then you should ask in a forum, not a Q&A site. If you wish to select one of the alternatives you list, then you should clarify which criteria do you find important. Keep in mind you should be able to accept one answer that "solves your problem". – logc Jun 6 '14 at 10:08
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    You can monetize your software non-evil by not selling your soul to the devil. But seriously, a term like "evil" doesn't have a place in a question like this. There are real (non-evil) people feeding real (non-evil) families making this (non-evil) toolbars. – Pieter B Jun 6 '14 at 12:41
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    @PieterB there are also assasins and robbers that feed their families, that's not an argument. Where the money ends up has nothing to do with how it is gained. And a program that either tricks people into installing it by hiding in an installer on an opt-out basis or cannot be easily uninstalled is evil. Toolbars usually do both (even "respectable" ones like Ask.com). – t0x1n Jun 6 '14 at 13:41

Donationware for charity

If users feel that your software provided them real value, they'll donate some amount. It is hard to know how much value your (free) software may bring to someone until they have the mechanism to show you. I've seen web forum and podcast fans donate hundreds of dollars because the information/community helped them where other methods/sources failed. Use disclaimers or clear messaging that donations != support or upgrades.

If you choose to give the donations to charity, no evil is done. In fact, quite the opposite IMO. You could post up the feedback from the beneficiaries as part of updating your site, which may drive adoption. Win-win.

Of course, if your code is open source, other people could go ahead and do this - does your licence prohibit them? Paint.net had this kind of issue sometime ago.


As you don't seem to like any of the options you've listed, there are a couple of other options:

  • You could offer to customise the software for users for a fee.

For example, they might want a change which you don't want to have in your main branch, but possibly could do for them for a fee. As you don't want to do paid support, you could give them the source for this, although you probably would not make it publically available if it didn't fit in with your main goals for the project.

  • You could also allow people to pay to prioritise a change.

You might have your own plan for doing work, publish a roadmap, and then allow people to contact you with a payment to prioritise things which you aren't currently going to do in the near future.

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    Good idea, but it seems to involve commitment. I'd rather make less money without it. – t0x1n Jun 10 '14 at 20:44

You could always follow sublime text and do what I call the npr model of funding. Basically every couple of saves remind people that they could buy a license if they feel the software is worth it and remind them that this software requires some of your time to make.

This has the advantage of still leaving your software free for use and you can set up a reasonable license fee that those who feel they use your stuff enough can pay.

  • Man, I hate those :) A good idea, but I probably won't go for it. I don't want to hassle users that are not interested, only supply the means for users that are (either directly by donating or indirectly by ads / affiliates). – t0x1n Jun 7 '14 at 9:03

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