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FME Freemium Edition – To Free or Not to Free?

One of the ideas that we have been throwing around at Safe these days is the concept of releasing a “free” version of FME. As you can imagine this idea...

One of the ideas that we have been throwing around at Safe these days is the concept of releasing a “free” version of FME. As you can imagine this idea creates a very passionate discussion from both those for and those against such a product offering and I invite you to take part in this discussion by posting your comments below.

What got us talking about this concept at Safe is the book called “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” by Chris Anderson. This book is an interesting and thought provoking read and I highly recommend it. What is also brilliant about this book is that Anderson illustrates the very point that he made in the book by allowing people to read it online for a period of time (the MP3 version is still available for free from If you had wanted the “value added” ability to download it or to have your own copy of the book (physical or for the Kindle) you must pay for it. Ingenious!

Throughout his book, Anderson talks about the freemium model which is attributed to venture capitalist Fred Wilson with the name “freemium” being coined by Jarid Lukin. Looking around the landscape we see examples of freemium all around us. Many of the most popular sites and tools that people use everyday are based on the freemium model. Examples include Gmail, AVG, Hotmail, flickr, Skype, and one of my recent favorites Dropbox.

Available products using the freemium model are also more and more common. QuickTime is one that immediately comes to mind for me as you can upgrade from QuickTime Player to QuickTime Pro. In the GIS space the most recognizable would be Google Earth. One look at AppStores for the iPhone/iPod and other devices and you will see that there are literally thousands of examples of the freemium business model in action.

Another interesting thing about the freemium model is that it cuts across both open source and traditional software business models. The idea with freemium is that you are giving something away in order to sell value added services or enhanced products or services. If you just build things and give them away with no goal of selling future services or products then that is not the freemium model, that is just giving stuff away for free.

Freemium is largely a digital phenomenon as the unit cost of software and services is very close to zero making it possible to give stuff away in the hopes of getting revenue from users wanting more (check out the Economics of Abundance video on the freemium blog for a good explanation).

As we explore the possibility of an FME Freemium Edition we of course need to be careful. How much do we give away? If too much is given away, then users will not see the value of enhanced versions and we hurt our ability to fund further product development. If too little is given away, then there is no value in the freemium model since few people will use it. Hitting it just right means your product usage spreads quickly and the number of users “upgrading” to the purchased version outnumbers those that no longer need to buy the existing versions.

I think Lakhvir who is our Director of Marketing said it best when she said “This is interesting but we better make sure we do our homework and get our ducks in a row if we do this!”

My question for you is, should we or should we not have an FME Freemium Edition? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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