My Turn

A Shareware Web?

Andrew W. Hill - 2001.07.16

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

There have been many suggestions of ways to boost the intake of Web sites to counteract the drop in banner income. Some people have suggested subscription sites. Some have suggested crippled sites with pay-only pages. One that has been, for the most part, ignored is the idea of a shareware site. People say it's unworkable. Is it?

Remember back to the golden age of the BBS? I don't. I barely caught the tail end of it. Some readers may remember when you would pay a BBS by the minute to be connected to it. These were fairly common. Many of them gave you a free hour to check it out. The larger ones of these became AOL, Compu$erve, and Prodigy. Of course, now they're giving away 700+ hours at a fixed rate.

What I remember most about BBSes happened in the twilight years (1995-ish). This was when I discovered Shareware BBSes with a friend. As soon as you logged in ("at&f1dt3850455") it would say "Please support DyR3z [read "Dyre's"] BBS by sending me $20." Being 13, we dutifully ignored this message. I happen to know that many people did not ignore this message, and the administrator managed to subsidize almost all of his costs.

Shareware is try-before-you-buy software that is distributed free of charge. The user is then asked - or sometimes "legally obliged" - to pay a certain fee if they use it beyond a specified trial period. Some, which I term demoware, expires after a certain time period unless you pay. Others, known as crippleware, have limited features unless you pay. Nagware has a full set of features, but it will occasionally nag you to pay - sometimes by pausing the computer when the program is launched (or even randomly during use) for up to a minute with a message asking you to pay.

The shareware Web would be completely full featured, uncrippled, and without such nagging.

I'd like to reintroduce this system and ask for a shareware fee from regular readers of this site. It won't unlock any secret members areas, and it won't get you Web space and an email address. It will give you peace of mind knowing that you are helping to support a service you and others use and enjoy.

If you are a regular reader of Low End Mac, please send in what you think its worth. The amount you contribute would vary with your income and the frequency of your visits. I am an unemployed college student; I visit Low End Mac on average maybe twice a day. With that in mind, I feel I should donate about $30. If you can only find $5 in your budget, that is still greatly appreciated. If you can spare more, even better!

I settled on $30 because that's about what a subscription to Macworld would cost me. It's also about the same amount as a single license for a shareware application. Think about how often you read Low End Mac, how it helps you know what to buy (when, where, how), and how it gives you a laugh or makes you go "hmm."

I don't expect even 10% of the regular readers of a given site to send in the fee - maybe only 2-3%. As such, this would not replace banner ads, but it's a way of getting extra cash when times are tough. If a site suddenly finds itself strapped for cash, they can throw out a "have you paid your shareware fee?" message. This would be reserved for emergencies only, not general nags.

The other positive effect from this would be the glow-factor. While its nice to know how many people visited your site a day and how much money you made from banner ads, there is a real feeling of accomplishment when somebody sends you money voluntarily with no expectation of getting anything extra for it.

With that in mind, I'd like to encourage Low End Mac to publicly announce themselves as a shareware site. Frequent readers are asked to make what they consider a fair donation to Low End Mac. Small contributions are appreciated, and nobody's going to object to a larger one, either. Funds can be PayPaled to webmaster (at) lowendmac (dot) com. For other options, click here.

I'll start the ball rolling by sending in my US$30 shareware fee. Who's next?

Low End Mac isn't ready to switch to the shareware model yet, although it looks promising. We are always ready to accept donations, but we need to know how advertisers and readers will respond to the concept.
 - Dan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac

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