Dan Wood is co-owner of Karelia Software, creating programs for the Macintosh computer. He is the father of two kids, lives in the Bay Area of California USA, and prefers bicycles to cars. This site is his older weblog, which mostly covers geeky topics like Macs and Mac Programming. Go visit the current blog here.
Useful Tidbits and Egotistical Musings from Dan Wood
In the past, I assumed that the best way to launch a product was to be as secretive as possible about the product until the big announcement. After all, that's how Apple does it! But, face it, we are not Apple. Apple is able to build up a fever-pitch frenzy by being secretive and letting the rumors fly. Indies, on the other hand, need to make their own buzz. You can build up to your product launch with gradual hints put up on your website, sent to your email list, mentioned on forums, "leaked" to rumors sites as Wil Shipley suggests, and so forth. Make sure to collect an interest email list so that people will be able to buy your program the moment it's out. Perhaps you can partner up others to help you get the word out about your upcoming launch, especially if you have an incentive for the readers of your partner's messages and/or the partner promoting your launch.
Hopefully your launch will not conflict with some other big event in the Mac community. If you start making noises about Launch Day, other developers will probably work their launches around you so as not to saturate the news cycle. Fortunately Apple is pretty good about warning us in advance when they are going to launch something big, so it's easy to work around their schedule as well.
(Today's MacUpdate promo bundle is an example of how not to do this. They could have built up a frenzy for weeks, the way that Panic did for their sale. Instead, they just issued a press release today. No anticipation!)
Be sure that you always update your listings for your software on the main software tracker websites. The main listing sites are currently MacUpdate and IUseThis; you should get an account and list your software with each version update. You should strive to get your software listed with the Apple Downloads site: if your product is picked as a featured download, you will get a lot of downloads (and hopefully sales) during that time. Make sure to keep your software updated frequently so its listing doesn't expire! While VersionTracker used to be the king of these sites — we'd get huge spikes in Watson sales directly from VersionTracker back in the day — it's now hardly worth the hassle of registering now that it's been bought out by CNET.
There are a lot of other models besides a person buying a license for themselves on your website. Try to consider other ways people might buy your software. A simple change in your licensing setup might allow somebody to buy a license as a gift for another, for example. But how about people who want a piece of the action? While individual Mac users are likely to recommend your product to their friends as a courtesy, there are many consultants whose livelihood depends on setting up people's Macs and getting a cut of the sale. So ideally you would set up your selling system so that you could have affiliates (codes that allow you to track how somebody heard about your product so you can compensate the referrer with some percent of the sale). Another approach would be to have an online storefront that allows somebody to perform the transaction themselves to purchase your software on behalf of somebody else, while taking a commission.
Of course the biggest step of all, one which most indies are not willing to take, is to go into boxed product retail stores. You may wish to listen to the audio of the panel discussion that I put together back in 2004 for the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference, "How to Run Your Own Software Business." Wil Shipley (Sorry to keep mentioning him here!) ranted eloquently about why this wasn't a good idea, especially in the United States, and I don't see any indications that things have changed at all since this conference. Unless you know something I don't know, I'd suggest ix-nay on the ox-bay.
Look, there are something like 20 million people running Tiger or Leopard currently. Of course you'll never reach all of them, but if you can sell your software to a few thousand per year — just a tiny fraction — you are making a living.
So again inspired by Shipley, think of how you can give away licenses of your software to some of the others (the other 19,990,000 people) and use that as leverage. If they write a blog review of your software, you may sell a few more copies to somebody else.
Another place to give away your software is to Apple employees. (Sure, some of them might have paid for your software, but if you can ignite a passionate response in somebody who works for Apple as a sales engineer or a genius at the Apple store, you will sell more copies. We know of many cases where people come into Apple stores and get sold on Sandvox for cases where iWeb won't do the job, for instance.) Contact the Third Party Promo manager for this. Give your software to consultants like members of the Apple Consultants Network. Offer discounts and free door-prize licenses to members of Mac User Groups. You get the picture.
BTW, I'll be at WWDC (and the pre-WWDC sfMacIndie Party) in a couple of weeks — look for me sometimes wearing a Karelia T-shirt - no wolves, sorry! (See simulation picture here; the shirts haven't actually arrived yet!) If you'd like to chat about some of these ideas over coffee/beer/Jamba, I'd be more than happy to continue the conversation!