ITHCWY: Robert Ellison's Blog

The startup costs are too damned high

Startup Legal and Technology Costs

The Startup Genome people have launched a complicated tool to benchmark your Startup against others.

I’ve developed a simpler model. It used to be you spent too much money on Sun and Oracle. Now it’s fighting off patent trolls.

Download.com goes nuclear

CNET download.com Download Manager

CNET stopped being a useful source of downloads for me ages ago. Over the lifetime of my account I’ve had nearly 100,000 downloads through CNET, but these days it’s one or two a week. I left my products up there anyway, but I’ve just asked them to remove everything they have listed for Catfood Software.

The reason is that CNET has rolled out a download manager that wraps every single download. Instead of the customer getting the product they thought they were downloading they are dumped into a CNET experience that tries to install a toolbar and push Bing / MSN into your browser defaults. Yuck.

It’s one thing for a vendor to partner this way. It’s quite another to roll it out site wide with little notification and no opt out, let alone a revenue share. CNET sell this as being about analytics. Of course it’s all about referral dollars. This isn’t the experience I want for my customers and so I’m pulling the plug on download.com.

Is PAD dead?

I’ve been a member of the Association of Software Professionals (née Shareware Professionals) for nearly ten years and I publish PAD files for most Catfood products. The idea is that PAD provides a standardized XML format for syndicating product information out to download sites. I used the ASPs PAD directory back in 2009 to analyze product information available in this format.

It used to be that download sites were a significant source of traffic and downloads, especially cnet’s Download.com. This just isn’t the case for me any more. I need to really massage Google Analytics to find any referral traffic from download sites. While I have PAD files available I no longer make any effort to promote them. Given a spare minute or two it’s far more effective to write a blog post.

Historically Download.com did a great job surfacing new products. They’ve shifted to emphasizing paid placements and the most popular so unless you’re a category killer (in a pre-defined category) it’s much harder to get traction. Lower tier download sites used to offer some SEO benefit but I really don’t see this any more as the sites have got wise to preserving their limited link juice.

Other than inbound marketing efforts my best source of traffic is creating Google Gadget versions of my products where appropriate. These provide independent value and link to the downloadable version for people who want more (a fusion of freemium and shareware).

Having got to the point of giving up on PAD I’m excited to see Ryan Smyth’s rallying cry in the introduction to a series on this topic on cynic.me:

“I’m going to once and for all shut up the many nay-sayers that are constantly poo-pooing on PAD, Robosoft, and download sites.”

Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I hope so and I’ll be happy to learn something if this is the case.

State of the Micro-ISV-osphere

I was a micro-ISV (µISV) for years before I heard of the term. It was coined by Eric Sink to describe a one man software shop, and is now generally used for any small software company.

There isn't much market data available this far down the long tail so I've spent some time analyzing PAD files to see if I could answer a few questions.

PAD is the Portable Application Description specification from the Association of Shareware Professionals. It's used to describe software for submission to download sites. How useful these sites are is another question - read Scott Kane on this if you haven't already.

I spidered all the PAD files listed in the ASP directory, downloading data on 76,066 products from 39,861 µISVs (companies / people / publishers). It's not a perfect data set as there are PADs that aren't software and µISVs that don't use PAD. I've also heard that some people are developing web apps these days. But here goes...

Where are the µISVs?

Countries with the most micro-ISVs

Overwhelmingly in the US. Other countries with more than a thousand listed are the UK, Russia, China, India, Canada, Germany and Australia (in descending order). Most countries have at least one µISV but the numbers fall off pretty quickly.

How much do µISVs charge for their products?

Micro-ISV product cost distribution

$29.95.

About a third of products are free and a third fall into 9 price points (all ending in 5). I found over a thousand different US Dollar price points overall.

The most expensive product was a $150,000 Green Living site license from South Beach Software (an order of magnitude more expensive than the runner up).

How large are µISVs products?

Micro-ISV product sizes

There's not much action past 20 MB. Most downloads are between 1-2 MB. There's an interesting little spike around 14 MB. I guess this is a popular framework, possibly Java? The largest download was almost 1.5 GB.

Are µISVs still releasing downloadable software?

Most recent micro-ISV product release by month

This is a tough one to get at because PAD files just tell you about the most recent version, not the release history. The chart really shows a last update distribution for the products in the PAD catalog.

There's a large number of products last updated in mid-2008 with nothing comparable in 2009. Could this be a drop-off in PAD usage? A shift to web apps? Maybe final releases before the recession hit leading to less spare cycles for side projects (my µISV certainly pays for beers rather than mortgages).

How many products do µISVs publish?

Micro-ISV products per company

This final chart shows that most µISVs have just one product. Of course in some cases there might be a brand per product and still a single entity - it's impossible to separate this out from the PAD data. The largest number of products from a single µISV is 616.