Bundles, Promos, and Discounts, Oh My!

kits(Apologies for the title of this post.  My kids are working on a production of The Wizard of Oz so we're hearing a lot of songs about the Yellow Brick Road in our house these days! Since today is Friday, traditionally cat-blogging day, I thought I would feature a picture of a bundle of little cowardly lions.)

Photo by abcrumley


In yesterday's post, Jacob Gorban raved about software bundles. Anybody reading this post is probably well aware of bundles and the controversy surrounding them. Let me see if I can sum up both sides of the issue:

First, the bad impressions of bundles:

  • Bundles cheapen the value of your software — and Mac software in general. People expect to get it for 10 cents on the dollar so they won't buy it at full price.
  • It's making the bundle-makers filthy rich, even though the developers do all the work.
  • The developers are exploited, making peanuts per license.
  • Having to support thousands of new customers with so little income makes bad financial sense.

On the other hand,

  • Bundles do a great job in exposing your software to an audience that may not have found out about your app.
  • The bundle companies often give a lot of money away to charity.
  • The developers that participate are going into the deals willingly and with their eyes open.
  • Many people only use a few of the applications, yet the developer still gets paid for each bundle sold.
  • It gives the developers a chance to offer their upgrades and other products to their new customer base.

I've been on both sides of the fence, so although I may have missed some of the positives and negatives, I think that covers the basics.  Really, I think the answer to the question "Is a bundle right for me?" depends on a lot of factors.

Where I think a bundle has huge advantages is the last point in my list of positives. If you have more than one product, and you can get people exposed to your company by selling bundles for product A, then you can now help these new customers know via your email list about product B and product C. This is key. It's way easier to sell your products to people who have already bought a product from you.  They know you and trust you. So if you have more than one product, it could be a real win for you to participate in a bundle, as long as you are able to apply some leverage to the bundle sale.

Or if you are somewhat near a major, paid version upgrade, you have the potential to get a lot of your users to upgrade to the new version.  (Just be cautious to not release your paid upgrade too close to the bundle; your new customers aren't going to want to feel exploited.) However I don't think that this is something you can really count on, because odds are that only a fraction of the bundle buyers are actually using your software, so they may not be excited about getting all the new features in your next version. Still, they are more likely to buy from you than people who have never had any contact with you.

Right now, it's hard to know what to make of all the bundles out there.  MacHeist is of course the granddaddy of all bundles, and boy oh boy do they know how to market.  They have a lot of fans, but unfortunately still a lot of detractors with lingering hard feelings. As they have improved their public relations, emphasized their big donations to charity, and wooed some of their biggest critic developers into participating, most people (including myself) have come over to appreciate them. But because of the success of MacHeist, there are now oodles of bundles happening each year, sometimes concurrently. This "bundle fatigue" makes me feel like there is a law of diminishing returns at work here. Putting on a bundle is all about marketing — and not just to the tiny percentage of Mac fanatics who keep up to date with everything happening in the community. And so, many of the bundles just flop. I'm a bit wary of participating in a bundle now unless I can see a good track record and/or impressive marketing plan. Otherwise, it's just not worth the trouble of getting a few hundred new customers.

Of course, there's nothing to stop you from creating your own bundle, as Apparent Software has.  It could be something as simple as teaming up with one or two other developers, agreeing to a price and your percentages, and then getting the word out about your bundle in as many ways as possible.  There are usually some technical issues you have to overcome (who hosts the web site, who accepts the payments, how licenses are generated, etc.) but most of the effort in doing a bundle really comes down to marketing. 


One way to get your product in front of a new audience is to participate in a daily Promo. The two main players in this field are MacZot and MacUpdate.  There is also a new kid on the block, MacDailyBox, that I just stumbled upon so they are probably not reaching as many as the more established promos.

I've only worked with one of the promos before, and my experience has been fairly positive. The way it works is that you contact them and schedule a date where your application will be promoted by being put on their website and sent out to their email list. You and they negotiate a discount price for the software (and it should be significant) and a cut of that they will take (and it will be significant), and you figure out how you are going to get the licenses generated.

These have some plusses and minuses like the bundles. You can reach many new people, though you have to realize that the subscribers to these promo lists are getting emails every day so they might not pay much attention to your particular offer. If you can come up with something that makes your application stand out that day, like using the promo for your new application's launch, or offering an additional application as a bonus giveaway, you might capture people's attention even more.

Most of the reasons for participating in a bundle also apply here. If you have another product to cross-sell, or a paid update several months later, you could use it for leverage.  But even if not, you are getting more on the dollar than you would in a bundle, and it can be nice to get a lump sum check after the promo is over.


People love to shop if they know they are getting a special discount.  And you can use discount coupon codes to reach new customer who would have never heard about your product.  So if you have an opportunity to generate discount coupon codes that others will spread around, do it! 

From time to time, we get emails from a user of our software who wants to talk about the program at an upcoming user group meeting, conference, etc. This is a perfect chance to issue a special coupon code that they can use — hopefully a code-name related to the group they are speaking to. Not only does it give them some special clout in being able to offer this exclusive discount, but you can also get a sense of knowing  how successful they were by looking for the coupon code in your sales reports.

Alternatively, you can create your own coupon codes as special promos. For instance, you could mention a coupon code on Twitter that is good for a limited time; people may pass the word around. You could register a coupon code or two on coupon-tracking sites like RetailMeNot, just so that people who are hunting for a coupon code with Google will find something. Or if you keep an email list of not just customers but non-customers, you could mention a promo to your mailing list and pull a bunch of people off the fence! You could even go all-out and publicize the discount by issuing press releases, blogging about it, and so forth, though you should probably make it a significant discount  — and offer a good reason why this discount is happening — so people don't feel like they are being bombarded with annoying sales pitches!

Oh, my!  That is a lot to think about. Good luck!

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