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Licensing a desktop application

Back a few months, Harmony, a music player I created, used to be open-source; it was totally free and everyone could access the source code.

I set up a few donations links in the app and on the Github pages.

After a few months, the donations received were inferior to $40. Money has a contentious relationship with open source.

So I decided to switch Harmony to a commercial, license based, model.

I ♥️ open-source, I just couldn't continue putting hours, days and weeks in a project without anything in return.

Here are the options I considered:

  • Letting the app open-source with paid installers
  • Offer it for free as a "trial" (with all features), offer to buy the app (like Sublime Text)
  • Offer a free trial with upgrade after x days
  • Offer a "lite" version of the app for free, and a "pro" version
  • Offer the "core" app for free with non-free plugins through a plugin store

As Harmony is based off themes & plugins I settled on the second option, wanting to maximize the number of users potentially contributing to those.

The first option would have probably resulted in users distributing free forks of Harmony.

The last option, somewhat very interesting meant making money from plugins like Spotify, SoundCloud, etc... Their implementations already being legally blurry, I didn't want to take the risk to expose myself to legal issues.

So to make it easier for people to develop their own plugins & themes and to protect them from being forever removed by the big companies (Spotify, Google & co) I chose to open-source on GitHub.

It is possible than in the future buying a license unlocks features in Harmony, I just haven't found what features deserve to be premium.

The pricing

At first, I wanted to maximize revenue recurrence.

So, inspired by fman's model, went with the following model:

  • $15/year: a lifetime license
  • $15: a license for the current major version  (meaning that if you bought a license when 0.5 was out, it worked with 0.5.1, 0.5.2, etc..)

The issue is that Harmony is adressed to a different public than fman's. Few persons would actually pay anually for a music player. Plus you can't have it paid as an expense by your company.

Approximately 50% of the licenses sold were subscriptions.

Another issue is I wasn't sure I'd still want to carry out with Harmony's development in x years.

So I switched to a simpler model:

  • $40: a lifetime license
  • $15: a license for the current version only

On top of that, users buying a lifetime license get access to a features-request page (on Trello).

Final words

Switching to a commercial model was the right move for Harmony.

Time is saved (maintaining an open-source project takes time) and I get paid for my work.

Also, I can now report that almost all licenses sold are lifetime licenses, resulting in higher revenues.

On a sidenote, I remarked that even tho you don't actually have to buy a license to use Harmony and all its features, a lot of people are buying the app before even trying it.

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