Where to Upload and Advertise Your Shareware.
I have often been asked, "I've written a new shareware program. Where should I upload it to?"
My answer is always "Everywhere you can."
To be honest, this is not a very good answer. There are some places it won't be worth your time to place your game. However, in general, you should try to spread your program as far as you possibly can. Fortunately, we are provided with a number of good places to place shareware:
Your Own Web Site: This is probably the most important, reliable place to place your own programs. Hopefully, by now you have registered your own domain name and have your own account, web site, and ftp site with a local, high quality ISP (or, if you're very brave, on your own server). Once you have all these pieces in place, you have a reliable place to put your programs which is under your complete control and which you can advertise as a place for users to come to.
You may have to shop around to find a good ISP, one with reasonable enough speed for people to be able to download your programs off your site and with cheap prices for ftp downloads (otherwise, you'll be paying through the nose for every download).
If you can't set up your web site so that people can download programs off your own web site, you have a problem, but not an insurmountable one. There are public ftp sites which hold shareware, and you can have your web site link to your program on one of these. Also, every AOL account comes with 2 MB of storage space, which users can then ftp to (with an address like members.aol.com/~spidweb). However, among other problems, both of these methods will be saddled with very low download speeds. The last thing you want is for your user to spend an hour downloading your 200 KB program. Controlling your own ftp site (either on your own server or through an ISP) is the way to go.
Ftp sites: There are a number of ftp sites dedicated to collecting and holding shareware programs. These are slow to access, unreliable, and take forever to make programs available for download. They can hardly be blamed for this, however, and they're providing a difficult, valuable service, essentially for free. Take advantage of the services these ftp sites offer, but don't rely on them.
For Macintosh users, there is one easy, convenient way to place your program on all or most of the best ftp sites. E-mail a binhexed version of your program to 'email@example.com'.
No such service exists for DOS/Windows authors. Your program will need to be submitted by anonymous ftp to each individual site. Some good sites to try are ftp.cdrom.com, ftp.uwp.edu, ftp.wustl.edu, and uploads.winsite.com.
As time goes on and the population of the Internet grows more web-reliant and less technically savvy, ftp sites are becoming less popular ways of finding software. Use them, but don't rely on them. There's no substitute for having your own web site, which magazines and software-oriented web sites can then refer users to.
Each ftp site has different rules for what sort of files they will accept and what information your should provide with your submission. Be sure to read any submissions guidelines you can find.
Online Services - No starting shareware developer can afford to ignore the online services, like AOL, CompuServe, and MSN. Millions of Internet users rely upon these services, and their file libraries are a key way for you to get downloads.
Definitely join AOL, CompuServe, and, if developing for Windows, MSN. These servies are pretty cheap, and they'll pay for themselves quickly. AOL and MSN, for example, have pricing plans which enable you to be a member for as little as $4.95 a month. Once online, search for every file library that seems appropriate for your software and upload your program there. Be sure to include a detailed, interesting summary of the file. Don't miss out on a single download because of a poorly written file description.
Also look for appropriate descussion forums, and post a description of your program there. As long as you have the time, monitor those forums and assiduously answer people's questions about your program.
BBSes - Once upon a time, paying careful attention to BBSes and placing your software on as many of them as possible was an absolutely necessary step to take if your shareware program was to succeed.
This, however, is the nineties, and the BBS is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by the much more powerful Internet and World Wide Web.
When evaluating where to place your program, you need to make judgements about whether or not the time spent is worth the business you'll drum up. If you spend an hour logging on to a BBS, establishing a presence, uploading your program, and then only get 10 downloads and no sales, that time was a very questionable investment.
If you find out about a BBS on a topic closely related to your program with a large user base, it may be worth the time to upload. However, time is your most valuable resource. Don't waste it.
Once you have uploaded your program to the appropriate areas, you need to draw your customer's attention to it. A common (and fatal) mistake made by shareware developers is to assume that, once the program is available, people will automatically find their way to it. This almost never happens. With the thousands of shareware programs available, jumbled together in haphazard and far-flung collections, it is unlikely that any user will stumble upon and evaluate yours. Unless, of course, you draw their attention to it.
Getting attention is a vital part of a successful shareware business, and it is your job to make sure that people see you. However, very few shareware companies have the budget available for a serious advertising campaign. Fortunately, there are number of places where you can get cheap, easy publicity.
Magazines - Getting your program mentioned in print magazines is one of the best things that can happen to your program. A favorable mention in a large magazine can provide a gratifyingly large jump in sales. Prominent placement on a CD shipped with the magazine can be even more profitable.
Unfortunately, most large magazines only rarely mention shareware. You will probably have to be in business for some time before an editor notices you and blesses you with a few inches of type. Never forget, however, that this is one area where we make our own luck. Upon release of a new program, one of the first things you should do is send press releases to every relevant magazine you can find.
To get samples of good press releases, look at books on small businesses in the business section of your local bookstore. Work hard on your press release to make sure that it's clear, concise, interesting, and printed on nice paper. Call each magazine on your list to find the name and address of the editor (or editors) to submit your program to. Send the full, registered program with the press release, color screenshots of your program, manual, and nice cover letter. In your letter, offer permission to place your demo on a CD-ROM and provide a URL where the latest version of the demo can be found (also offer to send it on disk).
Expect to be ignored. Editors are deluged with free software, and your first package will probably not get a moment's notice. Then, when you release your next program, send another press release. And another. Eventually, you might cross into your editor's threshhold of attention and get a positive mention in the magazine. Your goal has been achieved!
An editor can find out about your program in other ways, of course. If your program is mentioned frequently in other places on the Internet, he or she might learn of it there. That is why magazines should only be the first step in your quest for attention.
USENET - USENET is a discussion area on the Internet, predating the World Wide Web by over a decade. A user on USENET visits discussion areas (or "newsgroups"), with names like rec.arts.tv, alt.comp.shareware.authors, or comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.adventures, and reads articles people have written on relevant subjects. A user can then add his or her own articles, maybe asking a question, offering an opinion, or flaming another user.
If you are unfamiliar with USENET, you should try to become familiar with it as soon as possible. USENET is a very easy and cheap way to get free publicity, get the attention of users, and answer questions about your software.
Once you've obtained access to USENET, look for the newsgroups relevant to your program. For example, when I have an announcement about a Mac game, I post announcements to comp.sys.mac.games.adventure and comp.sys.mac.games.announce. Write up a good, clear, interesting press release and post it.
It's important, when doing this, to be a good net citizen. USENET is only as good as its users make it. People generally like to see an announcement about a new program. If you post the same advertisement several times, however, you're crossing the line into spam and run the risk of alienating your potential customers. One post per release and major upgrade should suffice. Beyond that, however, use courtesy.
If someone posts asking about your program, however, hasten to provide a clear answer. This not only helps a user and spreads information about your program, but increases your visibility and helps build a reputation for good tech support.
Also, when posting to USENET, be sure to write a good .signature (a piece of text automatically appended to each of your posts). Include a brief description of your business and your URL. Don't make it more than 4 lines ... long signatures are annoying.
Message Boards - Online services also have areas where people can discuss programs and games. Once you're on AOL, CompuServe, etc. look for relevant discussion areas and make your presence known. Post ads for your new programs and answer people's questions. People enjoy reading posts from the developers of games. Seeing messages from you will make them more interested in trying your program.
Your Web Site - Your business web site is the most important place for you to put up-to-date information about your company and products. When doing marketing anywhere else, you want to have a URL to refer readers to.
Even though this task will eventually become aggravating, be sure to keep your web site up to date. Include links to other pages mentioning your products and reviews of your products.
Other Web Sites - When you release a program, E-mail press releases (with an offer of free copies of your programs) to other web sites which review software or which have something to do with the topic of your program. You can get a list of such sites by doing searches on the better search engines (such as www.yahoo.com or www.webcrawler.com). Go to those sites, find their E-mail links, and send press releases. You can often get news of your products in front of the eyes of the best sorts of customers: the ones already on the Web.
Local Media - Local newspapers and radio stations are often looking for unusual local businesses who've made good. Sending press releases and contacting them in other ways might get you an article or interview. Most of the people seeing your article won't have Internet access, but the ones who do may well decide to look you up. It's unreliable, but all the publicity you can get helps.
Buying Advertising - When larger software companies release a product, buying pages of ad space in prominent computer magazines is generally a given. For a small-scale shareware developer with a limited budget, however, it's a much trickier decision. Ad space is expensive. Calling a magazine and asking for a press kit is a way to find out just how expensive it is. It is generally said that, for a decent effect, an ad needs to be in place for several months. Several months worth of a reasonably sized ad in a magazine with a reasonable distribution will cost a pretty penny.
The benefits of advertising for shareware developers, on the other hand, are dubious. The extra publicity will help and many more people will know of your web site, but, unless it's a very good ad and luck is on your side, it probably won't pay for itself. After all, your ad will be competing with a lot of others, in what will probably be a thick magazine. While some people will be drawn to considering downloading your product, they will then have to actually go do it, and then like it enough to download it. Since a shareware program (especially a shareware game) will look a lot less flashy than the mainstream commercial products whose ads will be next to yours, it will be an uphill battle to drag the eyes of the readers from their ads to yours.
If you decide to buy advertising, be sure to let the magazine know that you are a small developer and try to negotiate a better rate for yourself. Advertising rates are almost never set in stone. A little haggling might save you a lot of money.
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