Here's a comment I received from a concerned developer, let's call him 'Eric', in relation to his plan for releasing a small tool.
Considering how much Microsoft is delivering through open source, people expect all these things to be free, so charging for them seems like a failed route to start with.
It doesn't matter that some people expect these things to be free. People who think that way are not potential customers. (They might be your peers, but they're not your customers.)
I'll give an example of an application you might write: a tool that helps you generate audit tables in SQL Server. (In the actual email I used his tool as an example. It did something different.)
Your potential customer thinks like this: "I have to get these damn audit tables created and I'm in a damn hurry." If spending money will save them time, then it's a great trade-off to make. A free solution is less enticing to them, because "free" solutions invariably take more care and feeding.
People who are creating audit tables are not doing it for sheer love; they are doing it for money. They're either getting paid to do it, or they are doing it because it will make them money. The audit table could be managing thousands, millions or even billions of dollars. And they need a rock solid solution. The creating tables part is just a small roadblock to be overcome, before they get to the work they actually care about. Anything that moves that roadblock out of the way is worth money. It's a no-brainer to them.
So yes, I think you can put a price tag on this sort of tool.
You could charge $20, but you could also charge $50 or $100.
If it makes you wince to even consider it, then that's okay. That guy that's wincing, that little person inside of you that recoils in disbelief at the thought of charging $100 for a simple tool: let's extract him out of you (zoooop!) . We'll put him to one side and have a friendly chat to him.
Hello miniature Eric who winces at the idea of a $100 price ticket on a utility for creating audit tables. How are you?
Mini Eric: I'm very concerned!
I bet you are, little fella. I know you find it strange. But you have to remember how much care and attention you'll be putting into this tool. And you have to acknowledge that your career has shown you how incredibly valuable these things can be.
People would much rather you do the fiddly work of getting these things right, than have to do it themselves. In your professional career you must have seen this again and again. People want goods and services that remove roadblocks for them, and they are willing to trade cash for the convenience.
In the western world, $100 is far less money than is spent to employ the very worst salaried developer even on their very worst day.
But instead this $100 will include the best work, distilled from years of experience, from one of the best developers in your category, a published author and recognised by Microsoft for his wisdom and diligence. It will be hardened by the fire of many support requests.
It's not simply a good deal: it's the best deal.
Mini Eric: Good point, Maxi Leon. You're right!
Now that we're finished with Eric -- let's talk about you.
What concerns and worries are stopping you from putting a price on your wonderful output? What blockers have arisen that you just can't seem to get around? If you're willing to share your questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email me:
leonignore this@ignore this tooyourfirstproduct.com
I'll be sure to respond with a personal and thoughtful reply.