Lets say I’ve written some downloadable software and I want to make some money from it (‘monetize it’ in the ghastly common parlance). Should I charge people for using the software or should I give them the software for free and make my money from ads?
Lets look at some numbers.
The typical conversion rate for downloadable software is around 1%. That means that about 1% of the people that visit your site will typically buy your software. So, for each $1 of your sale price you will make around $0.01 per unique visit. Downloadable software is often priced around $30, so lets say $0.30 per unique visitor. Some software sells for less than $30, and some for a lot more. Also I haven’t taken account of the lifetime value of a customer (e.g. upgrades) – which will increase the value per customer; or payment processing and advertising costs – which will reduce the value per customer. It is just a ball park figure.
How much money could I make from advertising if I give the software away instead? I have been doing some research for a while on this. Based on various data I have gleaned from the BOS forum and blogs, advertisers typically pay per $1-$2 per 1000 impressions (CPM). Some data points:
- A well known ad network offered me a $2 CPM (-19% commission) to put ads on this blog.
- Dating site plentyoffish.com reported making $10k/day from Adsense off 200 million pages per month in 2006, which is a CPM of $1.5
- A sample of 8 Facebook app developers were averaging less than $1 CPM.
- “If a site like Stack Overflow, which does almost a million pageviews a day, can’t make enough to cover even one person at half time using Google AdSense, how does anyone make a living with AdSense? Does it even work?” (Stackoverflow blog)
- “Charging your end user isn’t the only way of pricing software. You can choose to give it away for free and then make money by, for example, charging for consulting, installation and training; or selling advertising. The latter, although a common model for web sites, is extremely hard to make work. CPM – the cost per thousand impressions – can be as low as a dollar. In other words, to generate one thousand dollars of revenue you might need to serve up as many as a million pages. To generate enough revenue to support a team of three or four people, that means having ten million page views per month. Most web applications simply aren’t going to attract that sort of traffic.” (p57 of “Don’t just roll the dice”)
So, taking a ballpark CPM of $1.5, I would be making $0.0015 per page impression.
Obviously I am comparing apples (unique visitors) and pears (impressions) here. How many impressions does 1 unique visitors equal? My own table planning software averages around 2 impressions per unique visitor (many visitors bounce out after reading 1 page, even those that buy might only visit the home, download and purchase pages). So, assuming this is typical, the product based site described above should be making around $0.15 per page impression. Based on these (admittedly rough) numbers an ad driven site needs approximately 100 times as many page impressions per day to make the same money as a product driven site. To make around $100k per year the product site would need about 900 visitors/1,800 impressions per day. To make the same amount the ad driven site would need around 90,000 visitors/180,000 impressions per day. But it is worse than that because the ad driven site is going to have significant hosting fees and potentially many more users to provide support for. I know which business model I prefer.
So why not get the best of both worlds – sell the software AND put ads on the site? Because then you are sending out all sorts of bad vibes (“this software isn’t good enough that they can make a living off it”) for a measly 1% extra income from the ads. I’m confident the presence of ads will lose you >1% in product sales.
An ad supported model is only viable when you have lots of traffic. Most downloadable software (or web apps) won’t be able to generate that sort of traffic, even if it is good and you give it away for free. If you really want to run an ad supported business, you are probably better off basing it around forums and user generated content than free software.
In the final analysis if you are creating software I think it makes more sense to create something of value, grow some balls and charge for it. Rather than giving it away and selling eyeballs in the hope that someone else will take their money and throw you some scraps. Think balls, not eyeballs.