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I've been developing for Android for about 2 years (and ~1 year for iOS), releasing freeware and open source applications (mostly because my AdSense account was disabled in 2010), but recently I had an idea for a great app that I wanted to get some money, since it would take some effort to develop and also I would like to test this "commercial" model to know if this could make me invest more time improving and making my apps better.

Since my AdSense account was disabled and then I'll not be about to sell it on the Google Play Store, I thought about making it a donationware so I would distribute it for free (and probably open source too) and users that really liked the app and wanted to give me a thanks and a incentive to continue developing it could donate any amount of money.

So, what's your experience with donationware? Is it worth compared to paid apps?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, GlenH7, user61852, jwenting, Dan Pichelman Aug 7 '14 at 18:52

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

So you want to develop and make money. Donations are one way, but they don't strike me as the best way. –  jakev Sep 17 '12 at 20:42
@SixSlayer: I develop as a hobby so I just want to make a little bit of money (something like $5/month) so I can have something to incentivize me to continue investing my free-time into improving (since I usually just release 1.0 and stop working on it and go to another project) and developing better software. –  Nathan Campos Sep 17 '12 at 20:50
Is there a reason you dont want to just sell it? –  GrandmasterB Sep 17 '12 at 20:55
@GrandmasterB: Sadly "my AdSense account was disabled in 2010" –  Nathan Campos Sep 17 '12 at 21:10
Are Play Store and Adsense accounts linked like this now? I didn't think they were such that being disabled in one would prevent using the other. If they are, you can still create a LLC (or use another legal entity) to have an account. You can find info on how to do this on various Internet Marketing forums and blogs. –  jfrankcarr Sep 17 '12 at 21:32

3 Answers 3

I've heard horror stories from donationware type systems. There was a developer of a help documentation system who had "donationware" which was very successful (well, it was used a lot). A friend (who told the story) used the system at his company and said they were very pleased with it and they donated something like $500 to the guy, and he sent a personal thank you email in appreciation (very nice!).

One day they noticed the guy had taken his site down, so the company reached out and contacted him, when he finally got back to them he said that he took his site down because he had a day job and wasnt able to support it to the level which was being expected. He said he had recieved around 10 donations over the course of all the years (~5) and had received around $1000 in total donations and had over 1 million downloads. Worst of all, he said he had received death threats about updating the software and providing enhancements which were needed. People actually expected that he'd keep his software current and supported as if it was an "enterprise" application.

So the moral of the story is if you want money for you software, charge people and be clear about what their getting (support, enhancements, bug fixes, etc..). otherwise the webernauts who have high unrealistic expectations will appreciate the freebie, and then hunt you down if you dont add a feature they've requested..

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Always keep in mind that if you want to make money of a product, it have to be polished. In other words, you will have to the painfully final 10% of your project (that takes 90% of the time).

People don't buy software (as cliche as it sounds), people buy solutions. (They may buy problems if you're selling games, but that's another whole story).

The good part of donationware is that you can do only the sexy and fun part, that's cool. In general, what I've collected about this issue, particularly in game development is: You don't want to release your game for free and hope for donations, it doesn't work.

That's not my experience, but I got to this answer by reading many stories in the web and talking with many people.

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In my experience, you have more chance to earn money in casino than is donationware business.

There are 2 kinds of people contributing to that factor:

  1. People that don't care. They will use your app, solve their problems, and as it's free, they won't ever think about paying.
  2. People that forget. They will use your app, solve their problems, and even they have incentive to pay, they will forget to do it in the mess of real life. (happens more than you think)

Remember that we are living in an era of software piracy. Lots of commercial products ends up being pirated somehow anyway.

In your case, since you are not depending on the money you will earn from your app to make your living, you can surely give it a try. Release it free for some time (don't open source yet), gauge interest, and see if you can sell it if there is interest. There are various solutions mentioned above to sell your app in the android app store.

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