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Awhile ago I blogged about making sure you accept Euros in addition to U.S. dollars. I also blogged on Friday that I had [finally] added Australian dollars to the Paint.NET donations page. Several were quick to comment that I did not have British pounds on there, and so I also decided to put that on the donations page.

You see, the pound is worth even more than the Euro. The former is worth $1.9856 while the latter is currently at $1.4366. And, imagine my surprise when a significant percentage of new donations are now in pounds! In fact, over 30% of them are. The numbers seem smaller – 4 pounds here, 8 pounds there – but it is still good for people to be able to donate in whatever currency they are most comfortable with. With the conversion rates the way they are it generally ends up as a little bonus on my side anyway. The U.S. dollar is just not what it used to be.

So please donate to Paint.NET – just make sure you use anything except U.S. dollars :) And if you’re setting up a donations page for your freeware or other project, you’d do good to accept as many types of currencies as your payment processor(s) will allow (for me, that is PayPal). I’m reminded of the comic by Mike Peters where the kid holds out her hand and asks her dad, “Can I have my allowance for this month?” The dad pulls out a wad of cash and she scowls, “…. in Euros.”
http://cartoonistgroup.com/store/add.php?iid=18715
(sorry folks, can’t inline the image due to their copyright/licensing)

Someone made a blog comment the other day about not having a button on the Paint.NET Donate page for Australian currency. I realized they were totally right and there was no reason to not have it, so today I added it.

Also, freeware developers … do not underestimate having a release close to Christmas time. My donations are up 111% this month compared to November (which, in turn, was up 64% over October). Next month will probably show a sharp downward correction, but that’s fine and is to be expected.

A friend and former co-worker of mine, Terrence, has started up a new blog called Double Journey. His goal is to double his money from $20,000 to $40,000 using any legal means at his disposal. So far he’s in the hole by almost $100 because of website hosting and domain costs, although that isn’t really a big deal.

Terrence and I have talked extensively about money-related matters over the past year, usually while eating sushi. It’s no secret that I want to be able to retire* as early as possible (like most people!), and I talk a lot about how I make money with Paint.NET even though I’m giving it away for free. I talk about all the reasons why I don’t want to charge money for it. I talk about traffic levels, click-through rates, audience and user base size, ad placement and flow optimization, statistics, etc. I probably talk about it way too much, in fact – maybe I just like to hear my own voice!

Regardless, there’s a few things that I’ve realized over the last few years that I’ve managed to cram in to his head (or down his throat?) over the last year. Namely, that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Even if you don’t make any money on what you’re doing, I can guarantee you’re at least learning something (heck, universities charge thousands of dollars for that!). It may be that you’re learning what doesn’t work, which has its own value. So Terrence came up with an idea and started up this blog, and has been writing posts every day or two for the last few weeks. He recently put up a donate button of his own, and I am quite sure that’ll he’ll make at least $0 from it. This is something I did with Paint.NET in 2006 and I can assure you I’ve made much more than “at least $0″ from it. It’s even my #1 tip for freeware authors. (sorry, I still don’t feel comfortable sharing my revenue numbers)

I do think his post regarding his donate button could use a little work, mostly for SEO purposes. Maybe he can get his cat featured on I Can Has Cheezburger? or Cute Overload though.

Do you really want this cat to go hungry? Do you realize by not giving money, you are killing this cat? You can help save this cat by clicking the “donate” button in the right column.”

Terrence has also crammed some important ideas into my head. Namely, that saving money is a smart thing to do! I realize this sounds obvious, but for the longest time I really didn’t have any money in savings: I’d pay rent, make my car payment, buy some DVD’s, etc. My checking account was at equilibrium and wasn’t really going anywhere. I was still in “college kid mode”: I lived, I ate, I bought toys. I didn’t think about my financial needs past the next big computer upgrade. Over the last year I’ve moved past this and finally have enough money to necessitate spending some effort in managing it. I have a large spreadsheet in Excel where I track all my major expenses and incomes. I even met with a financial planner today and he had some good advice that I’ve already started implementing (“put more money into the 401k!”).

Will Terrence double his money? I hope so, because then he’ll be obligated to buy me lunch at Sushi Land. Be sure to go and read his blog, and maybe even send him a dollar so his cat can eat more gourmet food. And then you can send me a dollar :P (or 10, or 20, etc… although I prefer Euros!)

* “Retire” in this case really means “have enough money to obviate the need for a day job.” For example, if you have $20 million in the bank and are earning an ultra-conservative 5%, then at the end of the year you can take 1% of that as income ($200,000) and let the remaining 4% ($800,000) stay towards keeping up with inflation. At that point you really don’t need to have a day job.

Yes, for goodness sake.

This may seem obvious to anyone who’s been following the financial market in the slightest, but if your bank accounts are in USD$ then it is to your advantage to also find a way to directly accept EUR€ (euros). Case in point: the other day I received a donation for 20 USD$. After PayPal’s cut, this worked out to a net of $19.12 (4.4% in fees). I also received a donation for 20 EUR€ recently, which was 18.87 EUR€ after PayPal’s 5.65% cut , but $26.59 after currency conversion – a 32.95% gain (sort of). PayPal will always convert currencies when necessary, but you’d rather have them do the conversion as part of depositing into your account, instead of as part of withdrawing from someone else’s account.

For the individual who sent this donation, it is psychologically equivalent as it was for the other person who donated in USD$ (I claim no proof here, merely hunch and insight that could be proven wrong). In other words, twenty is twenty.

I currently ask for a donation of 10 USD$ on the Paint.NET donation page, which is a nice round number. If you only set up your PayPal buttons for receiving USD$, then individuals whose PayPal accounts are in EUR€ will still type in “10” and then be pleased that they are, in effect, getting a discount after the currency conversion. They generally will not go to the trouble of looking up the conversion and typing in $14.45 instead.

However, this convenience holds for the converse as well: if they are presented with the opportunity to type a value in EUR€, then they will type in 10 instead of doing the back-conversion from 10 USD$ to 6.92 EUR€. This is a gain of $6+ for you! (well, for me in this case) This isn’t cheating users at all! They know full well that they are donating in EUR€! And people who are donating are people who are already happy with your product or service, and they’re generally more than happy to help you out.

On my Paint.NET donations page I put up buttons for USD$, EUR€ (in 4 separate languages), Yen¥, and CAD$. I don’t receive many donations in Yen¥, and it certainly makes it exciting to open my inbox and read that I have received a donation for 1,000 ….. Yen¥. D’oh :) It works out to be less than 10 USD$, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, so that’s my theory. Nice round numbers are still nice round numbers, even if they get mangled after the currency conversion. If you directly accept EUR€, then you will make more money. Plus it’s just convenient for the users.

Lastly, thanks to everyone who has sent in donations for Paint.NET. They really do make a difference, and I appreciate them all!

One thing that John Chow has given advice on is selling ads directly. I’ve been thinking about this a bit the last few days and I think it may be time for me to try it out. I certainly have the traffic for it! The getpaint.net website gets over 1 million “page impressions” per month as reported by Google Analytics. The index page does around 400,000, and the download page sits at just under 500,000. Right now I’m using Google AdSense and it is doing very well for itself, at least in absolute terms (never say “no” to free money, right?).

John Chow’s advice says to take the amount you’re earning with AdSense and double it for when you try selling ads directly. The hypothesis is that Google is sharing revenue at a rate of about 50%. His other general advice to diversify your income is one that I’ve implemented as well – albeit by implementing Search that is still provided by Google, and by moving the Help content online and adding AdSense to it (together they added enough to my Paint.NET earnings to buy a Bluray player!).

This could help to significantly diversify my income sources and reduce my reliance on AdSense, which in August accounted for 80% of Paint.NET revenue. It’s not that I dislike AdSense, and I bet the feeling is mutual. I also don’t think I will be banned, but it’s still a significant risk factor — just ask Henry and Wilson about the time they lost out on $200,000 (although they seem to have broken some of the AdSense TOS, such as not having more than 1 account).

I also have advertising space available in the Paint.NET installer. You know when you install the program and it says “Please wait, optimizing…” and there’s a little banner that says “Please donate!” along with one for the download mirror (“This update brought to you by BetaNews”) or for searchpaint.net? I bet I could sell that as advertising space as well. It reaches hundreds of thousands of users per month and is on screen for a good chunk of time.

The only thing I’m wary of is that John Chow also suggests that you create an Advertisers page that list your rates directly instead of saying, “please e-mail us for a quote.” But hey, if I have to disclose revenue to get a huge increase in it, it might just be worth it. John Chow does it every month and when he posts earnings just shy of $18,000 for August, people are stunned and inspired (or, shocked and awed?).

I would probably sweeten the deal by allowing the advertiser (or advertisers, I don’t know how I’ll do things) access to the site’s Google Analytics reports. That way they could see what types of visitors they are reaching, and retarget their ad appropriately if they wanted.

So … comments?

Anyway I’m off to Bumbershoot in the morning*. I’ve never been but it’s supposed to be awesome, and it’s a friend’s birthday too.

* Yeah yeah I posted at 4:30am …

With Paint.NET v3.07, there was a subtle change in the release notes:

  • Changed: The help file / documentation is now hosted online. This has reduced the download size by more than 3 MB, and will also allow us to provide translations without ballooning the size of the download (each language would have added between 2 and 4MB).

This was firstly possible because the Paint.NET help content is just a collection of HTML pages that load in your browser. So I guess my first recommendation is to do the same: write your help content with a copy of your favorite web page editor. I use FrontPage 2003. Yeah, I know, I’m lame J But heck, I also use CVS, which means I’m “stupid and ugly” according to Linus Torvalds! (I’m not defending CVS. I just happen to use it.)

This change was made for many reasons, not all of which were necessarily listed in the change log, but all of which I see as advantageous:

  • Smaller Download Size. It dropped from 4.5 MB down to 1.5 MB. That’s an enormous savings.
  • Easy to Correct. If there is a typo or error, I can fix it and just upload the new version of the page.
  • Easy to Amend. If I want to add a new topic, I can now just write it up and click “upload”.
  • Localization. This ties in to the three previous ones, and I’ll discuss it below.
  • Statistics. I can now get usage data on the help content itself.
  • Search. Since it’s just a web site, it’s now easy to add a little search box on there.
  • Advertising. Now I can place Google AdSense or other things on the pages.

There is only one negative that I could think of:

  • Offline Access. It isn’t easy to access the help content anymore if you aren’t connected to the Internet. But you can mitigate this by offering an optional download for the small number of people who care about this. And also for anyone volunteering to do localization.

Almost all of these can affect your ability to make money from your freeware project.

Smaller Download Size

I’m going to publish a completely separate article on this because what I was typing got really long and I want to keep this post focused. Stay tuned!

Easy to Correct, Easy to Amend

Sometimes I get an e-mail from someone telling me about a typo on the website or in the help content. It used to be I’d have to file a bug in my Bugzilla database to make sure it got fixed before release. Now I just fix it, upload it, and I’m done. Sometimes I also get the itch to update or freshen pages (like I did with the Features page on the main website recently). This has less to do with making money and is more about simply being agile with your product.

Localization

Before, if I had wanted to publish the help file in all of the other 7 languages that Paint.NET is released in, it would have ballooned the download size to about 22 MB (at an estimated 2.5 MB per additional language). Most of this increase comes from screenshots which have text and must be done separately for each language. Most users only care about 1 of those languages so this ends up being an incredible waste of bandwidth. And on that note, most users don’t use the help content at all and so even downloading 1 language’s worth of it is a waste for them.

I can now also publish extra languages on a schedule independent of the main Paint.NET release, which relieves a lot of potential scheduling hassle. This is also directly related to having a smaller download size which, again, I will talk about later. And if you put advertising on your help pages then a user is more likely to see an ad in their preferred languages and thus much more likely to click on it.

Statistics

I now know how many people are reading the help file. I know which pages are popular. I know how many pages are read during each visit. Having good statistics is never a bad thing. Just sign up for Google Analytics and put the code at the bottom of your pages, although make sure it is tracked separately from your main website. Right now the Paint.NET help content is getting about 1,700 visitors per day, which is something I didn’t know before!

Search

There are a few ways to add search to your help content if it’s offline. One way is to use the CHM format, but the tools and utilities I had for managing this were excruciatingly difficult and painful to use. I absolutely hated it, so for version 2.5 I switched to normal HTML. Also, for cross-platform enthusiasts/purists, CHM either restricts you to Windows or forces you to find a different solution for your other target platforms. It just adds to the amount of time you have to spend managing your help content, and reduces time available for other things like drinking beer. Bleh to that.

Another way to get search is to write your own help system complete with original UI, indexing, and searching code (and that’s in addition to writing the content itself!). It’s definitely a challenging and fun direction to go in and you’ll learn a lot, but it’s also a liability in traditional software development terms. More code means more churn means more bugs, and which means less time to focus on the core of your project. Are you in the business of developing indexing and search algorithms? I doubt it. I prefer to let the
big
guns handle that stuff, and focus on what I do and enjoy best.

It’s easy to use something like Google Custom Search to add a search box if your help content is just a collection of HTML files that are hosted online. I only recently added this to the Paint.NET help file and now I really wish I had done it sooner. It isn’t a big earner in absolute numbers, but it’s always good to have another passive income stream – and those nickels and dimes really add up. (Small tip: Don’t look at your daily revenue numbers for inspiration. Multiply them by 365 and consider how they have affected your yearly income! J)

Advertising

Since putting the help content online, I have placed Google AdSense on the pages. I’m also considering using something like Kontera for in-text advertising links. You might think that the added advertising makes the help file ugly or less attractive, and you’d be right. But you need to ask yourself what the best release model is for yourself and your users:

  • Freeware. In this choice you give the software away for free. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is how Paint.NET was for its first 2 years. You won’t make any money at all doing it this way. I sure didn’t. All hosting costs come out of your pocket.
  • Bundling / Spyware / Adware. There’s also a lot of money in bundling stuff that isn’t related to your program. Irfanview, an otherwise highly rated program, optionally installs the Google Toolbar. Lots of other free programs try to install toolbars or set your browser’s homepage. I personally feel that is a dishonest way for the “bundlers” to get their software on people’s machines. This is actually a lot I could talk about on this subject in the areas of business, morals, ethics, etc. and I am planning on dedicating a blog post to it.
  • Shareware. Publishing your software this way is good and legitimate business, and might even be the right thing for your software project (it works for Patrick’s
    Bingo Card Software). You can make a lot of money with this strategy if your download and conversion numbers are high enough. But, of course people have to pay for the software which means you’ll have fewer users. Going in this direction also means you have to manage a business. You’ll have to worry about things like customer service (“I want a refund!”), buying advertising with AdWords or AdCenter, maybe hiring employees, etc. You also lose some potential for ubuiqity, which is important for some types of software (web browsers and image editors, for sure). I currently estimate that Paint.NET has 1 million active users. I regularly have people that work down the hall from me say things like, “Oh, you wrote Paint.NET? I had no idea, cool!” Do you think it would have such ubiquity if it were paid software? Not with my budget (time or money), that’s for sure.
  • Freeware, but with advertising outside of the program (website, online help file). NOW we’re talking! I personally believe that this is the absolute best user experience possible. Users get software for free and you get money so you can afford to manage its continued development. You don’t have to manage a business. If you want, you can take a vacation from the project but still be making money on it. People are used to seeing ads on the Internet. You won’t get any hate mail — I sure haven’t. You should also include a few smartly placed “Please Donate” buttons in the software itself.

I’ll even tell you how successful AdSense has been on the help file, even though I earlier said I wouldn’t publish any comprehensive data. Since Paint.NET v3.07 was released, I’ve made over $1,000 just from the help file. It’s been almost three months since I made this move, and I trust that you can do the math on that.

Conclusion

Putting the help content for your freeware project has almost no negatives. It’s a no brainer. Your download size will decrease, your download counts will go up, and you’ll have extra money in your pocket. Almost every software project is going to be different, so please don’t take this information as canon. This is what works for me, taking into account the direction I want to take Paint.NET and the way I want to spend both my personal and professional time.

Oh, and to keep the bandwidth use in check for your online help content, I recommend using PNGOUT. I’ve seen PNG’s drop anywhere from 5% to 50% in size using this thing! You can purchase a good front-end for it, PNGOUTWin, from Ardfry Imaging (they own PNGOUT). I personally use PNGGauntlet because it’s free, but it doesn’t run jobs in parallel so it runs a lot slower on my Core 2 Quad. Alternately you can use JPEG, but then all your screenshots look like crap.

I don’t really have an outline for this series so I’m really hoping that the “#1″ up there in the topic doesn’t stand by itself for too long. Anyway, like I said earlier when I decided against disclosing revenue figures for now (either because I’m humble or because I’m a chicken, take your pick!), I will instead offer up bits of information that I believe have helped Paint.NET to become strongly profitable.

The first tip is simple, and is a play on statistics that is very easy to understand:

Have a Donate Button.

Studies have confirmed* that a website with a PayPal button on it makes as much or more as the same site that does not have the PayPal button.

But really, think about it. If you don’t have a way for your audience to send you money then they probably won’t send you any. You will make $0. However, if you give them an easy way to send you money then you will make $0 … or you will make more than $0. I know, I know, it’s a silly logic pun from a nerdy Computer Science graduate, but it’s also strongly motivational. Hidden in that little phrase is a corollary: “the worst that could happen is that you make money.”

John Chow made $219 last month just by having a silly link at the end of every blog post that says, “buy me a beer!” If he didn’t have that link there then I promise you he would have $219 less in his pocket right now. It would not be made up for from any of his other income streams.

While I was in college I wrote a little freeware app called ListXP and it had a donate link in it too. I maybe made a grand total of $200 or $300 over the course of 2 years. But guess what? Without that PayPal button I would have made a grand total of zero dollars. Yup, that’s right: $0.

I look at these things from a purely statistical standpoint, which is really how (many?) businesses operate. Just like free-trial-to-paid conversion rates, freeware with a PayPal button can have a quantifiable download-to-donation conversion rate. I will say that the conversion rate for Paint.NET is at least an order of magnitude lower than what Patrick has for his Bingo card software (his is about 2.5%) (Edit 2:11pm PST: Sorry, had the wrong URL for that link!). But guess what? My audience is many, many orders of magnitude larger. I don’t any advertising, and I don’t have to ship CD’s or worry about refunds, so my profit margin is also higher.

Patrick’s software was downloaded about 1,000 times last month, which is pretty phenomenal for niche software. By my best estimates, Paint.NET was downloaded about 400,000 times last month. And every time I push out an update, the user is reminded about their ability to donate: in the installer, for about 30 seconds while it does the little “Optimizing for your system” dance, it shows a little banner that invites them to donate. I get a big spike in donations for the 2 weeks following an update … coincidence? So here’s the second part of my tip:

Remind your audience about donating.

Just don’t be in their face about it or be annoying. Because, well, that’s just annoying. Paint.NET has Donate buttons on the website, in the Help menu, in the installer, and in the Save Configuration dialog down in the bottom left corner. These are the areas that I believe bring the least amount of annoyance balanced by the highest amount of conversion. I’m not sure if I’m right yet though because I have yet to do a thorough analysis and comparison of how many clicks they are all getting (each one goes to a different redirect page, which I can then track with standard web stats).

Anyway, it’s important to remind people about donating to your freeware because donations are something that don’t come immediately, unlike a purchase of shareware. A person probably won’t donate unless they’ve already exercised good value from what you’ve given them (as opposed to buying a candy bar where I pay for something I’m about to get value from). In the case of Paint.NET, the donation reminder during upgrade serves as a good place to politely prod the user towards thinking, “Hmm yes, I have received good value from this free software. I like it. I think I’ll go ahead and donate!”

And back to the statistics angle, with regard to conversion rates. Patrick and I both intuitively know that if our download numbers go up that our conversion rate will stay about the same. This means that all we have to do to earn more money from this is to find ways to ramp up the download count, and our revenue will increase linearly. Patrick has experimented with various advertising and fulfillment channels, and is getting a grasp on what works for his product and audience. For Paint.NET, I need to make sure that I quickly say “yes” whenever someone e-mails me asking permission to include Paint.NET on a magazine CD. I also experiment with the website content to see what brings in the most search engine traffic. Et cetera. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve used this basic strategy in a few other places, and it works great. It’s also fun. One time when I was still in college I was getting coffee and I asked the barista girl if I could have it for free. She said “Sure.” So I saved $4 or something. Yesterday the guy who is 4 ranks above me in management (he’s my manager’s manager’s manager’s manager?) gave me a $4 “coffee-or-snack” cafeteria coupon because I said, “You know what you could do with that? You could give it to me.” I was half joking and mostly just in a good/confident mood, but he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ok.” And then I thanked him, because that’s what you do when people give you things for free.

You won’t get something for free if you don’t ask for it, and the worst that can happen is that you won’t get it. When you buy a car, make sure that you don’t pay the sticker price without a fight. And when you put up a website, the absolute worst thing you can do is to not monetize it.

* Not really. I just made that up.

In my previous blog post about the profitability of Paint.NET, I had a few votes for disclosure, one neutral vote, and one strong non-disclosure vote. The non-disclosure vote was from BoltBait who’s one of two moderators on the Paint.NET Forums. I’d say his vote carries some pretty good weight. And, upon further reflection, I’ve decided this is the way to go anyway. I think I’d feel weird if my coworkers knew how much supplementary income I was making. I would prefer to stay relatively modest about it. Plus, I don’t know, I guess I don’t want to jinx it? I have been treating it as “bonus money” so far; it isn’t something that I want to feel reliant on, because like they say … live by the Google, die by the Google. In fact, a huge part of the reason I don’t quit my day job and go gung-ho on Paint.NET is that I simply don’t trust the AdSense income. I’m sure that in 6 months of full-time work on Paint.NET I could crank out version 4.0 and release it to huge fanfare: a few days or even a week with a huge spike in traffic, followed by an average amount of traffic that was 10-20% higher than it was pre-release.

So for now I will just quietly build up my savings and investments, pay down my debt (and mortgage), and tip better when I eat out or buy coffee. It’s funny to see how much better a tipper I’ve become now that I make money through tips (donations) myself.

There has been interest expressed in having me blog more about the business side of Paint.NET. To that end, I think I will start publishing things I have done that have successfully increased my AdSense or PayPal income. Some standard AdSense optimization in December netted me an immediate 2.5x increase in revenue. Less than 2 months ago I made an insight-based (“lightbulb-over-head”) optimization that increased my revenue by 50%. The only problem with these types of optimizations is looking at your statistics for the months before you had the optimization in place and realizing, “Dang! If only I’d applied this months ago! Argh!” There are also some other tips and tricks I’ve found over the last year.

Oh, and regarding the Coding Horror vote, it turns out that Paint.NET is ineligible because it does not use a publicly accessible source code repository. That’s okay though. Who knows, maybe I will start integrating 3rd-party plugins (with permission of course)? That wouldn’t make Paint.NET eligible, but I think it’s a good direction to go in anyway.

One blog I really like is called MicroISV on a Shoestring. It details Patrick’s entrepreneurial adventure with some software he wrote in Java to make Bingo cards. His blog talks less about the software itself and more about the business side of things: advertising, payment processing, and even his profit statistics. It’s articulate and interesting – for June he made a profit of $750. That’s pretty good supplementary income which can then be used to pay down debt, increase retirements savings, or for the monthly payment on a very nice BMW. C’mon Patrick. Go for the BMW.

My original passion is writing software, but recently I’ve become quite interested with making money online. No, I don’t mean sending out phishing e-mails and stealing bank accounts. I’m talking about all the new products, services, and blogs that are run by small groups or individuals that are making enough money to quit their day jobs. I find it extremely fascinating, and a stark contrast to the old way of making money with computers: selling logo-covered boxes with CD’s in them (i.o.w., shrinkwrapped software J).

Another blog that I like to read is John Chow’s where he talks about how me makes money by blogging. Like Patrick, he posts how much money he makes on occasion. Since he’s making $12K a month he is also able to afford a very nice BMW, but unfortunately he bought an Acura TL. I’m going to throw my hat in for his linkback program and do a quick review of his site: I like how he talks in-depth about all the ways he’s making money via the Internet, even if it is mostly through advertising (although that’s no surprise: really the only other way is to host an MMORPG). Since I’m supposed to say something I don’t like about his site, I’ll go ahead and state that I don’t like how he always has the same graphic at the top of the page. Yay, two blue sports cars. Granted, many people read his blog via RSS and thus won’t even see that, but I think a little variety could help spice up the blog a bit. Maybe he could have 10 pictures that are cycled through randomly with JavaScript.

Markus, the guy behind the dating site Plentyoffish.com, has become many people’s hero (including mine!) because he is the sole proprietor and lone engineer of an online dating website that has not only made him a millionaire (even if it is Canadian dollars J), but that is also probably scaring the “big fish” like Match.com and True. That’s something I’d love to do with Paint.NET: even though I don’t plan to or want to overtake Photoshop, I’d love to scare them a little and see them copy some of my features J For instance, maybe they could upgrade their gradient tool so that “Undo” can graduate away from the #1 most used keyboard shortcut. Just a thought.

Anyway, let’s get back to talking about Paint.NET and the title of this blog post. In the last year, my opinion about advertising has turned a full 180 degrees. No longer are commercials just those things that cause me to press the fast forward button (especially since I cancelled my cable TV and now get my TV shows on iTunes). Advertising is now the key ingredient that is fueling a huge wave of innovation on the Internet. Step 1: Build a website and put Google AdSense on it. Step 2: Get lots of traffic. Step 3: Profit!

From the business side, three things are apparent about Paint.NET. First, it’s freeware. It doesn’t cost a dime for anyone to install and use it. Second, I accept PayPal donations. Third, I have Google AdSense on the website. And yes, Paint.NET is profitable. I’m hesitant to publish any numbers, however. I’ve always felt that that telling others your income is like bragging, especially at my age bracket where many of my friends are still finishing school and eating lots of ramen (although, I like ramen too!).

Me: “I make $X a year.”

Girl: “You’re loaded! I hate you! L Buy me a beer! Marry me! J
J

I e-mailed briefly with Patrick about this, and he thinks that I should publish my numbers and that it would be received as an online success story. Also, I noticed that Paint.NET has been nominated numerous times by readers on Coding Horror where Jeff Atwood is going to have a vote on what to do with $10,000 worth of advertising revenue. If Paint.NET were to win, then I would get $2,500 (woot!). However, if I were to publish my revenue statistics afterwards then I might really feel like I was bragging. Or, would that be fueling the “success story” angle? In any event, I would not feel comfortable accepting and pocketing that $2,500. You see, the numbers I make on Paint.NET are in addition to my day job salary as an engineer at Microsoft. I already drive a nice BMW and own a condo in downtown Kirkland. I would have to delegate the money to something else, such as a plugin contest of my own (“write a sweet plugin and get $500!” maybe?).

This stuff is very exciting to talk about, but since it concerns money there is a very fine line to toe. Where does it stop being exciting, and start coming across as bragging? Should I publish my numbers? Should I blog more about the “business” side of Paint.NET? Will it galvanize my PayPal donations if people know how much I’m making? Will I be placed under an uncomfortable spotlight? I can just imagine the horrible Slashdot titles now …

Well, I’ll at least venture forth 3 things I’ve used my Paint.NET revenue for this calendar year. First, I bought a copy of Photoshop CS3 for competitive analysis. For the record, I was quite underwhelmed with the smart filters feature. Second, I’m finally forming an LLC for Paint.NET, something that’s costing me a fair amount of cash because I’m relying on MyCorporation.com for the grunt work. Third, I built my sister a brand new computer after she called me up and said, “What does disk failure boot mean?” (second hard drive failure in 2 years = let’s just replace it). I also pay $38.95 per 3 months of 1 TB/month hosting at HostMySite.com (by the way, they rule and I highly recommend them —and no, I am not receiving any compensation from them for this endorsement).

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