An unfortunately-worded tip jar at the Hanoi Airport. Photo: theloneconspirator.

Here’s a different take on soundware business models: offer your stuff for free, then depend on donations. That’s the tack at Togeo Studios, who have an impressive collection of packs. Wave Attack I, for instance, includes single-cycle waveforms with arpeggiated sequences and leads. Their work is available on BitTorrent, too, which could help defray bandwidth costs. (Well, single-cycle waveforms don’t take up much, but perhaps larger packs might.)

I have to admit, I’m skeptical of the donationware model. The issue is, it seems like a lot of folks just aren’t going to donate – not necessarily for any sinister reasons, but simply because they don’t “get around to it.” Heck, just selling soundware is hard enough. And the brilliant, open source Ardour DAW has struggled to cobble together even a few licenses’ worth of income monthly, despite very reasonable subscription fees and powerful features.

I’m skeptical, but I’m also intrigued. Donationware or freemium models once powered the PC shareware industry and launched the now-massive game company Epic Games (of Unreal fame). Challenging as it might be, these models could open new tools to musicians and would be particularly powerful with open source. It’s something that could help us start new projects here on CDM, while paying our rent / electric bills. So what do you think of Togeo’s work? And that specific example aside, would you be willing to “donate” to software, soundware, and learning materials the way that you do American public radio and TV?

Togeo Studios
Wave Attack 1 Live Pack – mininova [Torrent page]

  • I'd be willing to donate to get rid of US TV, does that count as well?

  • Ouch. Excepting the fact that our TV is largely produced in Canada and/or adapted from British TV, surely there's something of value, eh?

  • As the owner of a very popular website that hasn't always made money, I tried the donationware model briefly with a "tip jar" on the site. It did make some money, and I probably could have paid for my server costs with it, but I make 20x that amount with advertising, and since I do make money with advertising, I consider the tip jar slightly inappropriate from a commercial business – it's like Walmart asking for donations to help keep their store clean.

    I suspect Togeo makes more from their Google ads than from donations.

    We're also in a field where at least half the enthusiasts and a disturbing number of professionals aren't even paying for the commercial software they use…

    I'd love to be proved wrong, though, and since I'm going to be burning through their server bandwidth downloading every single pack tonight, I just donated to Togeo myself.

  • mzo

    I think donationware probably follows the same 80/20 paretos law of everything else. 80% of the donations come from 20% of the users. Plan for that and I think you could be ok. Reminds me of that 1000 true fans essay.

  • My site gets some donations every now and then, but not because of donationware. I tried that and it there was so little interest I decided to just give it away after all and then all of a sudden hundreds of people thought it was worth the download after all.
    I think donationware only works when you don't really expect/want any financial compensation.

  • The guy who makes GleetchLab tried the donationware model. He said after 40,000 downloads he had received all of $200. He had to go to a demo-to-paid model (though at a very reasonable 10.86EUR.)

    I was shocked that the downloads we're so high and the donations were so low.

  • mzo: Pareto notwithstanding, I think donations follow more of a 99/1 pattern. If 20% of my users had donated when I experimented with this I'd be a very rich man.

  • Peter; <cite>"Ouch. Excepting the fact that our TV is largely produced in Canada and/or adapted from British TV, surely there’s something of value, eh?"</cite>

    There must be, but Dutch TV is largely adapted from US programs (where it isn't simply broadcasting US content, which is often). It's not that I'm so fond of Dutch culture but I still feel closer to it than to the US, living here and being born here and so on.

    Anyway, as interesting as that may be as a cultural phenomenon; what I suppose I really meant to say is that I don't really see the links between donations and public TV.

    To me, BTW, donations only make sense for things that you'd do anyway out of your own passion, not as a business model.

  • stk

    I can sympathise with the Gleetchlab guy mentioned above.
    Downloads of my plugins are well into the tens of thousands, and I've received approx $70 or so over the last 5ish years.
    To be clear, I give people the "choice" of donating to the World Wildlife Fund, or to me.
    And I do it for my own needs (either specific production needs, or geek-macho "wonder if i could…")

    Maybe those thousands of people just d/load, try em out, and don't like them. Fair enough. But random google->forum searches would say otherwise.

    Maybe they're all donating to the WWF, which would be fantastic. Who knows? (actively suppressing jaundiced view of human nature).

    To summarise, I wholeheartedly agree with Kassen's closing statement above.


  • Untied

    The 1000 True Fans model is BS. You are very lucky if you can make Donationware work for you.

  • Tried it many times myself in the past, same result as the commenters above. Made about $50 in 2 years.

  • festival

    just donated 5EUR.

    Donationware must workout!

  • It seems to me the only successful way to "monetize" your fan base is to offer up products they would like that simply cannot be downloaded: t-shirts, vinyl albums, bumper stickers, thongs, what have you. Now, the other things to consider is it costs basically nothing to have a virtual "tip jar" on your site, and you may as well put it there, just in case.

    I don't know if things like this could work for samples and sound design, just because to be a fan of such things means something very different than to be a fan of a band or of someone's music or comic or films.

  • Gabriel

    If i can donate… lets say 20 cent with a single clik with out credits cards or similar, im sure that the donationware will work better. Almost for me, What about to have only "virtual money" that just work for download stuff from internet. When you sing with a internet service you recibe some virtual money that can you use for download music, software, movies, etc.. or change for "real money"

  • Downpressor

    Busking by another name is still busking

  • Peter Kirn

    To clarify the public TV / radio comment: American public broadcasting is not government-run as in most countries. NPR, PRI, and PBS/CPB are independent not-for-profit corporations (radio, radio, TV). They receive a small minority of their funding from the government but the majority share comes from donors — quite a lot of it individual listeners / viewers. It is without question a successful donationware model. It may also be a rare case, and it's telling that it is so different than a button on a website. But it is an interesting case study, if even as an illustration of why such a model might not apply elsewhere.
    oh, and public tv in the US ironically runs a lot of BBC content. Go figure.

  • Wired recently did a article on "Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business". I think they might be right. Nevertheless, nice work.

  • Thanks for the article Peter and we are not sure if it will work either. But we felt that it was worthwhile to at least try. Your article gave us a bump in traffic (thanks), which I traced back here. I do believe that there is and will be a shift in music marketing and marketing in general that has a large part to do with free products as the basis.

  • Thanks, Togeo. Yep, Wired's story on free and Chris Anderson's writing have, at least, raised the visibility of the issue. But I think some of the challenges of working out the actual practicalities get lost in that story — which is fine; it's a first step. But the actual future of business is a matter of sorting out those details. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out.

  • I think if developers step it up one level from 'donationware', by making it so that people are obligated (though not forced by any technological means) to pay, makes it several orders of magnitude more effective.

    We've been doing just that with REAPER, and are pretty happy with the results.

  • I was going to mention the GleetchLab example too. His software is worth the new €10 model.

    Instead of donationware, try charging $1. If there can be a system which is perhaps quicker than Paypal, then surely at least 1% of these tens of thousands of previous downloaders will be happy to pay.

    I think of the iPhone AppStore. Because it's an instant 'BUY NOW' button, it's very easy to do it, whereas even the quick Paypal takes a screen or two too long for me to bother sometimes. Maybe an idea for you web developers out there, make the internet have a faster 'buy now' system.

    Also, if it's so cheap ($1-3) then people wouldn't be arsed to crack and torrent it.

  • @Tom Davenport: so-called "micro-payment" schemes have been the dream of the commercial internet for at least 10 years. Nobody has figured out a workable system for such payments, and some people now contend that the system would not work for non-technical reasons. It appears unlikely that this is going to emerge in the near future – there are many powerful and different forces stacked against it.

    Apple's AppStore works because you already have an account with them. Without that key step, it would be just as cumbersome as most other online payment schemes.

  • Micro-payments would be the best answer, but I do understand the problems with such a system.

    Google Bank? lol…like they need more money.

  • i tried most of the togeo packs out. for me, i found most of the presets to be too numerous and too similar for me to get much use out of them.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Quoth Tom Davenport: "if it's so cheap… people woudln't be arsed to crack and torrent it".

    And yet there's a crack out there for Reaper – which proves nothing so much as that the whole w4r3z industry is the product of severe testosterone poisoning; one must presume that the whole thing will go away when a cure is found for male adolescence.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    (er, make that "wouldn't" and read quotes around 'industry')