17 February, 2011

Banshee, referral money and how to earn a honest living

I'm catching up to some reading and bumped into Joe's interesting article on Open Source Report about the Banshee Amazon store in Ubuntu 11.04.

How not to make money?

If you haven't read the article, you should. Its about a question which has been on my mind too. How can a Linux Distribution make money in a sustainable way? This move from Ubuntu takes away resources from downstream - the party actually writing the code they ship. This community, partially funded by Novell, donates the money to the GNOME Foundation. I can't politely express how low it is to take that away so I won't try. However, it does beg the question how one should do better.

Needed for...

openSUSE is in the process of setting up a Foundation (or e.V. or...). Once there is a Foundation, it will be on the lookout for funding. Obviously my employer will support it, we are a stakeholder in the future of openSUSE. And provided we support the Foundation's goals. But the Foundation will also want to explore other ways of generating income.

What doesn't work?

Donations and merchandising don't seem hugely profitable in other communities. Sure, openSUSE did well at FOSDEM, selling 16 crates of openSUSE beer and donating the money to FOSDEM. But we're still talking about a few hundred euro's and that's including the t-shirts we also sold for FOSDEM. That wouldn't keep the openSUSE Foundation running. So I understand that the $10.000 that Banshee brings the GNOME Foundation each year is interesting from a distro point of view. But ethics and common sense should play a role here too. I guess it might make sense to take a 20 or 30% cut in discussion with the projects - not 75 or 100%. So it might bring some revenue. Not enough still.

I've been thinking about the individual sponsorship program - communities like openSUSE, KDE and GNOME have lots of people who used to be active members but since then moved on. The skills they learned while active surely still help them every day. Maybe they even got a job because of their activities! So why not set up an alumni program, target them to give a small share of their income to the community? Organize something for them - a yearly reunion, a special alumni meeting at a yearly conference, some way to share what they have learned since leaving openSUSE...

So what DOES work?

Good question. Maybe the answer is all of the above. Use referrals as much as is reasonably possible. Take a 20% cut of the Firefox/Google referral, 20% of Banshee/Amazon etc. Sell some merchandising. Set up a Individual Sponsor program, an alumni program, try and offer companies incentives to sponsor as well. And do specific, targeted fundraisers for specific causes sometimes. But stay reasonable. An e.V. or Foundation should protect, support, mediate, communicate. It doesn't need to employ 100s of developers or marketing people or consultants. That is for the other parties in the ecosystem.

Ideas are more than welcome

This is something all Free Software projects struggle with. Surely there are plenty of articles about how companies can develop a sustainable business around Free Software _ found less on how communities should generate income. So ideas and links are welcome!

*photos by kaero on flickr*