Successful Freeware Tip #3: Release Often to Keep People Interested

Prior to Paint.NET v2.6, I was releasing at a pace that covered several months. 2.0 to 2.1 was about 5 months, and forward to 2.5 was another 6 months. V2.6 was done in 3 months, and 3.0 took about 11 months. However, between 2.6 and 3.0 I release 2.61, 2.62, 2.63, 2.64, 2.70, and 2.72 – at a pace of roughly one every 4-6 weeks. Once 3.0 came out, I released 3.01, 3.05, 3.07, and 3.08 at a similarly fast pace, followed by v3.10 just shy of 3 months later.

There were several reasons for all the small “.01” releases from the 2.6 codebase. One was that I needed to put out some important bug fixes to decrease support costs (“costs” meaning “my time” and “user happiness”). If you can just fix common bugs, or work around common user mistakes, then they are no longer bugs or mistakes: it just works! Less e-mails for you, more working software for the masses. It’s a win-win.

The second reason was that I wanted to see what would happen if I released more often. I knew that 3.0 was going to take awhile to develop, and I wanted to keep online attention devoted towards Paint.NET. People forget about things quickly, and I wanted to avoid seeing any comments like, “Whatever happened to Paint.NET?”

So I forked the code and continued to release off the 2.6 tree. My theory was that if I didn’t release every so often, the media and online community would slowly forget about Paint.NET. I don’t really do any marketing or advertising to fill that niche (it wouldn’t be profitable). My theory continued such that if I did release often (4-6 weeks is about right), even with just a +.01 bugfix-only release, that the media and online community would be consistently reminded about Paint.NET. Users would hear more about it, which breeds familiarity, which coaxes more and more people to download and try it out. This means more users sticking with the program, more people donating, more traffic to my website, and generally just more awesomeness all around. Oh, and quick releases means users get bug fixes and features quicker too 😉

Here’s the great thing: this theory is proving itself to be correct. Here are some facts that back it up:

  • Nearly 80% of the 3-year old forum‘s activity is from this calendar year. Part of this I believe can also be attributed to having placed a link to the forum in the application’s Help menu. (Comparing # of posts from December 31st, 2006 to today’s count.)
  • Almost 60% of the all Paint.NET downloads have occurred during this calendar year. (Comparing download counts for December 31st, 2006 versus today at BetaNews, historically the primary download mirror.)
  • Revenue via donations is about 2x what it was before 3.0 was released. (This is comparing February 2007 through August 2007, with August 2006 through December 2006).
  • Revenue via AdSense is about 10x what it used to be. (This is comparing May 2007 through September 2007, with August 2006 through December 2006, but excluding November 2006 because there was some glitch that nuked my earnings for a week or so).

After the v3.0 release things really started picking up in the donations and AdSense departments. This is of course partly due to the fact that v3.0 simply rocked compared to previous versions and reached a critical mass of features and press coverage, and I started getting more traffic.

The 3 months gap between 3.08 and 3.10 confirmed my theory that frequent releases create a positive feedback cycle for earnings and avoids media forgetfulness. Before the 3.10 release, it was quite apparent that donations and AdSense were losing their steam from the 3.07 and 3.08 releases. Check out this graph showing my relative daily AdSense earnings:

The amount of traffic coming to the site is mostly constant, but it appears like AdSense was just, I don’t know, getting bored with the site or something. Now that 3.10 is out the door, AdSense is continuing on a slow upward trend, even a full month after the release. Maybe AdSense has a bias against stale sites? I even saw a very happy spike on Sunday which set an all-time 1-day record. AdSense is definitely a strange, strange beast.

The graph for donations is very different and always shows huge spikes for about 10 days following a release. I do not have a graph prepared because of the difference in how PayPal provides its data: I have to do some crazy Excel programming to get it to work L

The base theory is that every time I release, I get a short-term spike in traffic after which it settles down to a level that is slightly higher than what the average was before.

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6 thoughts on “Successful Freeware Tip #3: Release Often to Keep People Interested

  1. Kamil Kisiel says:

    I’d be interested in learning more about the effectiveness of a forum link an application’s help menu. Paint.Net is one of the few apps where I have seen this feature, and it would be useful to learn if people actually use it as much as you think. Perhaps instead of using just simple conjecture you could make Paint.Net set some kind of cookie in the browser whenever the forum site is launched from the help menu, and then track that cookie on your web server. Then you could determine what percentage of users arrive at the forum from the help menu.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to provide these valuable insights about your development of Paint.Net, they’ve given me lots of ideas for applications that I develop.

  2. Sabry says:

    Thanks for the tips (really helpful) i will try them on my freeware software,

    though i would like to have your opinion about software bundling ? and did you ever though in bundling something like google tool bar with your software ?

    Thanks again 🙂
    Regards,
    Sabry

  3. Ninja says:

    Releasing Often also makes people happy because they know the product will get better, and they will know the project is alive (might make them donate).

    It’s always worked for me.

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