It's free, well, free-ish, well … ummm

April 6, 2011 by Dave Haynes

The “free” software guys are eternally interesting with their tortured approach to marketing.

Consider the following news:

Saudi Aramco ranks first among oil companies worldwide in terms of petroleum production and exports. It has purchased licenses for up to 22 Locations for the use of Digital Recalls Digital Signage Software.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, other oil companies located in the UK and in the USA have also opted to use Digital Recalls Free Digital Signage Software.

Michael Marcus, CEO of Digital Recall says “Our free software is a World-First, and was originally developed to provide a free (or extremely low-cost) digital signage software solution for small and medium sized users.  It turns out that even the largest institutions are not averse to saving dollar – that’s a good thing for them, for us and for their stake holders.  Although it’s not a lot of money for the organization (when you view it in the context of organizations that may have billions of dollars of revenue), it speaks volumes for the culture of an organization when it decides to purchase a (digital signage) solution that achieves what they want at a fraction of the “normal” price.”

So … how does a customer buy something that’s free???

Well, the first two licenses are free, the rest cost money. And I don’t know what all you get for free, but it can’t be much. To add extremely basic functionality like multi-zones and proof of play logs, and remove the regular Digital Recall interstitials that pop up in a playlist, changes the price from free to $500.

Good luck figuring out from the Aussie firm’s site what the $500 is for … one license? Blanket license? Whatever the case, by checking three boxes on a pricing calculator for this free software the offer went from free to costing more than some very solid solutions that START with price tags.

Goofy. I am not the last word on marketing, but it strikes me that misleading and confusing the hell out of potential customers is not the best approach.

If your software is always free and you make your money through related services, you have free software. If your software is free, but only for a couple and only if you want the deeply limited, compromised version of it, well …

Saudi Aramco did $233 billion in revenue in 2008, the most recent numbers I could find. Is the biggest oil company in the world really opting for a bargain bin solution? Doubt it. I must have seen 40 software companies with logos on their websites or PPTs claiming McDonalds is a client. I doubt McD’s corporate knew who 39 of them were.

Big hmmm.


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