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*


  1. The unanswered question for a distribution level non-profit is what do upstream projects consider reasonable behaviour from a distributor in terms of revenue sharing. There should be some gentlemenly ball-park expectations discussed out in the open.

    What would Mozilla be happy with in terms of a distributor tax for search revenue? Would would the GNOME Foundation be happy with in terms of a distributor tax on affiliate dollars when sharing with a distributor level non-profit?

    Get those discussions happening out in the open and get it out from behind closed doors. A Not-for-profit OpenSUSE Foundation may very well be able to have an open dialogue around these issues and help set some firm consensus expectations on the ethics of profit-share in the upstream-distributor relationships across the ecosystem and start untangling the more disruptive aspects of web services revenue and distribution.


  2. Hi Jos,
    I think you hit an important point. Tranforming your ideas in my perception it means: how to monetize the distribution in a way developpers of the OS and the bundle of applications can be financially better supported for more innovative power. Besides that money is needed for a professional marketing OpenSUSe still lacks.

    I think too many open source adepts still are too much focused on what they call "freedom". Freedom of what? That's not the right selling point for Joe and Wilma. Would I care to pay for OpenSUSE, LibreOffice, Banshee? Of course not as long as I will not buy a vendor lock-in. And as long as the open source developpers have the freedom to write code in a free and innovative way aimed at the needs of the end user (the CONSUMER) rather than at their own paradigma's and hobbies. Open source versus proprietary wars make no sense and the consumer is not interested in it.

    My OpenSUSE-system should just work and it has to have the highest level of interoperability and compatibility with other (proprietary) stuff. Restricted formats don't interest me. I just need them. So they have to be available out of the box if possible. Well for OpenSUSE that's not a big problem with the one click installers.

    Donating party's, fund raising, selling T Shirts, OpenSUSE Festst in Munich or where so ever is not marketing. It is amateurism and preaching for the converted. You don't reach the average consumer with that like Linux in general didn't in the twenty past years. The unique selling point of OpenSUSE is not freedom. Unique selling points of OpenSUSE should be specific capabilities, apps and userfriendlyness the consumer wants and needs. Developpers are as (un)important as far the end users like, want and need what they brew.Unless they invent something really new and sexy like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook. The OpenSUSE community should not preach for the converted, but has really to hit the streets. Where the consumers are.

    Marketing has also easy-to-do aspects. They don't cost no money at all but they only need a change of mind, of mentality. For instance: OpenSUSE could distinguish itself towards the consumer in getting rid of the commandline, also for configuring the system. As no average consumer will dive in the Windows-register, the average "normal human being" doesn't want to use the command line. He hates it. But what if he visits an average Linux-forum, or reads the OpenSUSE helppages? Everyone tells him he should type command a,b,c and d to extract audio from a videofile with ffmpeg. Is this userfriendlyness? No,it has nothing to do with it. So it is no good promotion for OpenSUSE. Fortunately I know the GUI WinFF. That's doing the job for me using ffmpeg in the background.

    It's not strange over all those years Linux in general did get the wrong image: it's for freaks and geeks. Wether it's true or not. Sponsors like Novell or Canonical never cared for the consumermarkets. They were only interested in the server markets. Well, they did a good job there. It's to the OpenSUSE community to get in another direction. And not always try to invent the wheel the big proprietary brothers already did. OpenSUSE has to make clear to the consumer in a clear marketing strategy and with clever promotion why this particular distribution is suited for the average consumer and what really new and innovative difference it has to offer. Keep a clear image of your brand. Don't mess around with the Ubuntu Unity desktop as OpenSUSE distinguishes itself with the shiny KDE desktop. And so on.

    Money is important to reach your goals. But without a fundamental change of mind also OpenSUSE will not reach them. As a regular reader of SUSE Planet and SUSE News I do sense first signs of change. I appreciate that cause I'm a satisfied user of OpenSUSE. For me it's a good distribution. When will it be a good one for Wilma and Joe? Or better: when will they ever know OpenSUSE exists?

    Willem Franssen

  3. "the $10.000 that Banshee brings the GNOME Foundation each year"

    I realise it is confusing, the difference between English speakers and how European languages use the comma and the decimal place but I can only assume you mean €10,000 and that seems like a lot and I can understand that Banshee is popular but I'm not sure from your description where this estimate comes from. It's not that I don't doubt the popularity of Banshee just that with a bit more context I'd be better able to decide for myself if you are being polite and underestimating or otherwise.

  4. "This move from Ubuntu takes away resources from downstream"

    Did you mean from *upstream*?

  5. @Alan
    Jos' $10 000 number comes from an extrapolation of what Banshee was bringing in the last months : more than $800 in December, and I think about the same amount in January (the report is not out yet).

    See the following posts for more information :

  6. Who cares about mono crap like banshee? At least at planet KDE. There's Amarok.


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