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Friday, December 31, 2004

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That is a disappointing figure! It is very sad to think that society as a whole has so little integrity.

I guess that some more work COULD be done in the area of security on this, but the real question is: "Do you want to change the licensing code encryption to make it any more complex?"

How can we as licensed users help you to "police" this?

That's just really sad.

Can I play devil's advocate for a second? Perhaps some of those users are just looking to try out the full functionality of the program for a while, and after deciding it's worth the money, will convert their cracked serial number into a legit one? Just an idea. *shrug*

Russ, I'm honestly not aware of a way that customers police this, but I appreciate the offer.

No matter how much I try to protect my software, there will always be someone with more time on their hands who can crack it. What's more depressing is that this statistic only counts those who have attempted to activate using a cracked serial number - it doesn't include those who have circumvented the activation, nor does it include those using a valid serial number that has been shared with others.

Nolan, while there may be a few people using a pirated version who later purchase it, I have to think they're in the extreme minority. After all, the FeedDemon trial version is full-featured, and it enables 20 days of usage before it expires.

Hey Nick,
I don't know if this will help but I saw something earlier this week on usenet about someone being blocked from downloading and vowing "revenge". Perhaps all of these attempts (or the bulk) of them are a single source.

The post is in soc.culture.singapore and its entitled "Blocked Again This Time Downloading FeedDemon".

HTH
Sharon Housley

It sucks. I've decided to start giving away my products soon due to people just stealing my code. (And some even resaling it at theirs!)

Thanks, Sharon. I've seen this usenet post, though, and it doesn't look like he wants to retaliate against FeedDemon - instead, it looks like he was blocked from downloading it, probably due to Singapore's internet censorship.

90% is the sort of sensationalist number that I would use to convince a middle manager that something is important ;-)
If I were in your place, I would be interested in finding out what IP ranges the bogus requests are comming from and what those registrations look like.
Ask yourself (and you may not want to answer here for obvious reasons)
1. Is it a select few that are pounding your servers in a futile attempt to devine your registration system?
2. Is it the same code, over and over again - possibly from a crack serial number site? Google can help.
3. Presuming that you can track the ip, version of feeddemon, and how many days are left in the trial, and posibly other usage information with each registration attempt - is it possible that these failed registrations are the act of average users that are prompted with the trial registration dialog every time the product starts and exits? I wouldn't put it past some users (my sister in law comes to mind) to type in their windows username/password in the licensed to/reg key fields - or just make up something to see if it works. Remember when 111111111111 worked for some versions of the MS Office installer?

Just something to think about. Comming from a guy that's delt with this sort of stuff before in his software.

Happy New Year

Jason, the failed activation attempts came from a variety of IP addresses, and the ones to which I'm referring all used serial numbers I've found on warez sites. So, these aren't random serial numbers, nor are the activation attempts made by a select few. Wish you were right, though :)

That is a sad figure, and the exuse of trying the full version before buying isn't really legit for isn't FeedDemon a full 30-day trial?.

~ an extremely satisfied customer!

Well 2 good things are pointed to by your statistic:

- FeedDemon must be in high demand, if people are willing to go to the trouble of looking for a cracked version.

- The fact that you have caught the cracked serials proves that your activation system works, and hopefuilly some of the people denied activation will go on to buy a copy.

That is a pretty depressing figure. Do you try and convince any of these people to become paying users? Give them a strong statement like "You tried to use a stolen serial number. I constantly scour the internet to eliminate such things. Your only solution is to buy now."

Of course it is impossible to convert some users. However the ones that actively search for a FeedDemon code obviously want it. I bet you could get some as paying users.

That is a sad statistic.

And I was one of them!

Perhaps you should lower the price? $29.95 seems a little steep, why not lower it to $19.95?

Hello Nick,

I'm not aware of the precautions you use to combat software privacy, but one idea (if you're not already doing this) is to authenticate every time FeedDemon is started.

This would prevent users using fake serials.

Of course the actual EXE can be tampered with and distributed, but you can check for thinks such as file size (If the file's size has been modified, don't start the program).

I remember hearing about FlashFXP doing unexpected things when it found a user with a fake serial. It would delete all of your sites, change your settings, etc..

Basically they made it very frustrating to use a pirated version. I'm not sure how that worked out for them, but I think that might be a way to force users to register and avoid all of the headaches.

Best of luck,
Brad

Hey Nick,
Sorry misread the post - I thought you might be blocking regional IP's or something. I know that can be done with FileKicker - I just assumed that was the case.
That statistic really stinks - especially when you consider where the money is going this week.
Sharon Housley

Sad stat, and suprises me. I just don't know how they could get away with it. Through one person distributing their legit serial to others? Although free software is ideal, I don't mind paying for good software especially from small/sole developers like Nick. My only other non-freeware software is Trillian (who, Nick, I think check your registration as soon as you open it by pinging their servers. If it's not correct (or if you're not online) then it goes back to the freeware version).

Regardless - keep up the great work for us paying customers :)

Nick,

Sorry to hear that. I wouldn't worry about lowering the price -- for what it does, it's a great value and I rely on FD heavily. There are, sadly, plenty of people who will try to steal it regardless of the price. If it's not free, then they see it as a challenge.

I've worked with a couple of people in the past who were into warez -- they get off on the hunt and figure anything digital should be free... And these were salesguys responsible for selling our company's software product. Pathetic.

Keep up the good fight,

JD

Nick,
Don't know if you have realized this yet - but this thread is now the number 1 search in Google for "FeedDemon crack" :-)))))
Sharon

One of my all time favorite encryption techniques is to create a signed 128 bit license file that must be in the app directory for it to operate and
have enough personal information in it (like the credit card number and expiration date) where the owner would be totally stupid to give it out to anyone.

It does mean you would have to eliminate any automated payment methods by requiring human review, which would let you reject any registered name like the "CrackMaster".

That seems bad, but it may also be told that people frown when I tell them I buy music. That's also pretty sad.

Per your earlier comment "the FeedDemon trial version is full-featured, and it enables 20 days of usage before it expires"

...I know I've been in situations before where I install a 30 day trial, then get slammed with work and can't really touch it for a few weeks, then poof, the trial has expired.

I'm sure you're right that the idea I brought up is a minority, but I think it is at least part of those that download cracked versions of things.

Happy holidays. :)

Hi, Nick -- I love FD and my husband and I have 3 registered copies between us. I also named it as one of my top 5 software apps I installed in 2004: http://www.cadence90.com/wp/index.php?p=3430

Happy and prosperous 2005 to you!

(On the piracy thing. I was a bike advocate for many years. I would tell people, obey traffic law on your bike, and they'd laugh. The fact is, I could ride from my house to downtown and run every red light and go the wrong way down one way streets on my bike -- and I'd never get arrested. If I tried that in my car I'd be in jail. Laws that aren't enforced or are unenforceable will get broken routinely. If someone steals from your house and you get a license plate number, you can call the cops and you'll get a response. What do you do when someone pirates software? Who do you call? I wouldn't even know where to start. My hope is that lots of people register FD and TopStyle in 2005!)

At least you can console yourself with the knowledge that they're cracking FeedDemon and not something else (proof of popularity), and that most of those people probably wouldn't buy it anyway (not lost sales).

With more people using it, you get more people recommending the software to friends and family -- some of whom will register.

Yeah, scant consolation, but it's still better for you than those people switching to an open source aggregator instead.

Lowering the price would bring in more buyers.

I doubt that. Some people are just hellbent on NOT paying for their software...

Although I guess it would not help much, I think that 29$ is too much, especially considering all the Open Source alternatives.

I happily paid for Topstyle, because Topstyle is truely unique for that market.

But Feeddemon has a lot of competition (which makes me wonder even more why people don´t switch to e.g. SharpReader if they don´t want to pay).

I tested Feeddemon for some time, but Opera 7s integration of RSS feeds is enough for me; Moreover I didn´t want to use a cracked version of Feeddemon and I found the price too high in comparison.

On the other hand I guess a lot of those 90% think paying 400$ for a graphics card or paying 50$ for 12h of gameplay is ok, just because they cannot get around that so easily.

FeedDemon uses an activation system? *bark*

@Sharon Housley: You cannot assume that people you crack a software would buy it without this possibility, they would most likey simply not use the software. And on the other hand, cracking might even enlarge the user base of a software - just think of Microsoft as an example!

Firstly if Nick starts spending hours and hours writing ways for the program to "protect" itself is a waste. It will get broken within a few days. I think the activation route is the second best you will get. The first being username/password login (with the username being an email address not a user selectable name). I know you can track serial numbers and who you give them to however it is more "personal" using a login system.

How a login system with FeedDemon would work i don't really know.

I think checking activation _every_ time FD loads is over the top however at a random time would be a good idea.

As for dealing with the trial time limit. This is something Nick had to deal with already. FD was originally a 20 _use_ trial however we (the users) suggested a day limit not usage limit.

So why not merge them? Make it last 20 days and 20 uses. Say a user installs it and users it 5 times in the first 20 days, they can continue to use it another 15 times over, say, 6 months. Or if a user uses it 100 times in 20 days it then exipres after 20 days. Meet the user "in the middle" as such.

I think developers can spend way too uch time on protecting their application and end up making it crappy. Look at UltraEdit. With the new armadillo technology used in UltraEdit, which must have cost the developer a fair bit of cash, just slows down loads of the application and yet within a week there was a keygen available. So nothing was gained, just the developer wasting money and losing long term users as it has made their life harder. At work we had to move away from UltraEdit because it could not work correctly with debuggers as armadillo "protected" UltraEdit. That is a few hundred licenes they lost to another programmers editor :(

I understand Nick needs to protect his applications however I think changing the licensing system will just annoy current, legit, users and not actually cut piracy of FeedDemon at all.

Hope everyone had a good New Year :)

@Patrick. I understand what you are saying regarding alternative software and the price of FD. I mentioned to Nick that $24.95 would be a nicer price however it is his product and he can price it how he wants to. Because of the price I did look at other RSS apps however I realised FD was the best and then appreciated what I was getting for the money. I am convinced ~90% of FD users dont use some of the advanced features in FD like watches and newsbins which is what makes them thing $30 is too much.

Also lowering the price will make no difference. This has been proven many times. Making FD $20 will not lower the number of people who pirate it. Even if it was $1 there would still be people pirating it. More people might but it for $1 however Nick will be making less money from it so he doesn't do any better from it in the long run. It is the same for CDs and DVDs. That is why the prices don't drop, it won't make any difference to the profits. A few more sales at a lower price, sadly, means less money.

There isn't much anyone can do about piracy other than educating people. People have stolen from others since the begining of time. Serial numbers and activation isn't going to change that. IMO it isn't even going to stop the "casual pirate" as Microsoft likes to call them these days. A simple search on Google will turn up thousands of cracks for whatever you search for, some of the time without evening searching for them! Also as more and more people start to take note of their online privacy with firewalls (which is a GOOD thing!) they also learn about things like internet activation and, as a side effect, learn about how to stop software from "phoning home" to activate.

I have to admit, I get a little annoyed with FD when I have to acticate it. As I reinstall my system a lot I have to keep activating FD. I think I have contacted Nick 2 or 3 times to increase my activation limit. I can't complain about getting the limited increased as Nick has been great about it however it is annoying to have to get it increased, etc. I would like to have a way to activate it offline like I can do with PGP. However I can understand it makes tracking illegal copies much harder :(

I think the best way of tracking software is to create personal copies along with activation. Much like what Steve Gibson does with SpinRite. The EXE you get is coded with your name and address in it. Combine that with random internet authorisation, something you can easily do with FeedDemon as it needs an internet connection to update feeds!

Perhaps you could do this Nick?

Ouch, Nick, thanks for posting this. FeedDemon is great software and $30 to support an independent developer is nothing. I think the problem is that there's just a culture of Free when it comes to software, particularly the Web. I used to think this way too, it's only in the last year that I've started regularly buying apps like yours.

People are just scum.

And its not like there are any free RSS readers available. *sigh*

Well, I have used the cracked version of FeedDemon for quite a time. All the time testing any fee free feedreader (wow, an alliteration) I could find. But I found out that FeedDemon is just superior about any other reader. So, finally I own a real Version of FeedDemon and TopStyle now.
afaik these were the only tools on my pc I couldn't replace with free equivalents.
Really Sorry for this and shame on me for brushing this aside for a too long time.

90% has got to be a pretty disheartening statistic, but it certainly shows that the software is popular at some level.

Maybe it would be worth releasing a version that contains advertising of some kind. That way people who don't want to pay can continue to use it. If they want to go to the extra trouble of cracking it so the ads are disabled then so be it, but you might at least be able to reduce the level of piracy and improve the revenue stream.

It certainly sounds like it would be worth pursuing alternatives to the current pricing model because you're only getting (at most) 10% of the users to pay with the current one.

I guess it's up to you, but I'd be looking for ways to turn some of that 90% from pirates into customers, or at least potential customers. Preferably building community and loyalty at the same time.

Are these people (besides using a pirated copy) plain stupid or clueless? To me, an attempt to activate a cracked copy is, uh, barefaced impudence? It's like stole a gadget in a shop and then returning to refund.

Thats sad statistics. I bought FD yesterday and it is realy worth the money. It is one of my favourite applications along with my browser and e-mail client and HomeSite ofcourse. To bad that I have a feeling that Macromedia is going to ditch HomeSite soon.

This is indeed a depressing statistics.
First of all, i didn't even know that there is pirated copies of FD and TS exist. Blogging it here actually lures adevnterours to try this option.

Few things I could suggest.

1. Use a certificate file instead of a serial number string. The certificate file could be an encoded (possibly with MD5, where the key being the serial number) text file. The certificate file should store all the user information. The certificate file should be unique to a user. And check for the contents of the file many times during the fly. i.e Say when the user creates a new channel, may be when user synchs to an external opml file, and the options are too numerous. Hence a DOS debug of the assembly will not reveal the if (SERIAL_NUMBER == VALID) part of the code.

2. You have to limit the number of installations to possibly 4 (One at work place and 3 at their homes).

3. You can possibly store the credit card info in the certificate file and charge the user every time if you think that he has made a fresh installation over the limit. (I don't know how this is legally possible)

Of course 30$ is not much in absolute terms. And I very much want people like Nick supported.

But (always the but *g*) I prefer paying 50€ for Topstyle Pro, or 15€ for Opera 7, to paying 30€ for a product I know I won´t use to the full extent.

Furthermore I try finding new buyers for Topstyle :) and I think that´s fair enough; And Feeddemon is not DonateWare, 30$ is it´s price.

@Morgan: I buy DVDs; I even buy CDs that I got from the Internet first,lately: DM 101, and DM Violator. I just won´t buy a DVD for 30-40€, or a CD that is copy protected, or an album that costs 20€.

A lot of people won´t pay for software whatever the price is, and I´ve found it very hard to make people understand that
- you don´t buy software
- that software represents someone´s work
- that the actual pricing is quite adequate for most software (except for those companies that release a new bloatware every year with close to nothing added in terms of value)
- that saying "I can´t afford it" is simply a lie for 99% of the people (Especially as for most software there is OS software that can fulfill 90% of your needs)

I´d even say that Topstyle Pro is a little bit underpriced for europeans.

It´s a real problem that Feeddemon is targeted at non-corporate customers, these are a lot more unwilling to pay.

All that aside I think that copy protection means of Macromedia´s or Adobe´s type are a minor nuisance for pirates but a large one to honest buyers.

The number is surprise for me. But I have little hope of this changing. For one thing, many people have never paid for software apart from what came with their PC. A lot of people don't have a credit card, so they simply can't pay for software. That might sound strange in the US, but here in The Netherlands most people don't have one. Especially the 15 to 25 year olds...

Yes, they should use a free alternative instead. And most would, if they really couldn't find a crack. If cracks where not available, Nick's turnover would not suddenly grow 900%.

@Patrick. I'm not saying it doesn't make a minimal difference. Obviously when the prices go down there are some people who will then purchase the CD or DVD, etc.

However you are forgetting that there are still millions of people who are buying DVDs at full price, so when the prices drop, say they are half price, the industry is taking in 50% less, now there is a small percentage of people who will now buy them however it isn't enough to push the profits up to at least what they were before.

The problem is that no matter how cheap something drops to people still want it cheaper. It is very difficult to lower the prices enough to get enough purchases to increase your profits. After all if the profits don't increase why go to all the trouble to lower the price?

@Morgan: If it's pricing you are interested in, you should take a quick second to think about what a company like Amazon can do with technology.

Let's say I routinely buy DVD movies from Amazon at $24.00. However, you sign up and you only buy movies that are below $20. Doesn't it make sense for them to show me a $23.99 price and you a $19.99 price.

In other words, each individual user has a price point instead of each market or even each country.

That's what technology is leading us towards and I am still unsure whether it's good for the customer or not.

Think positive! There are so many free RSS Readers out there that you should feel honoured that people use ours, allthough they don't want to pay you!

I think the $30 price point for FeedDemon is just right for what it offers. Those who think he should charge less should read "Camels and Rubber Duckies" by Joel Spolsky. It helped put things in perspective for me :-) http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/CamelsandRubberDuckies.html

I, for one, am looking forward to buying 2.0 when it comes out.

Mike, would you feel honoured if someone stole your car?

For my shareware products I no longer allow the demo version to be registered or activated. Instead, the user gets a link to the full version after purchase. The results since then: sales have increased and my bandwidth requirements (my costs) have decreased.

I agree with the price point at $29. If anything I might suggest charging more! I doubt lowering the price would change a person's mind about purchasing or stealing.

Sorry for not commenting more here - I got sidetracked by a lost dog :) Michael, I use separate EXEs for TopStyle, and what happens now is that warez sites host cracked copies of the registered EXEs (usually purchased with a stolen credit card).

Having separate EXEs has also meant a lot more work getting registered customers updated EXEs when a new version is released. Most likely, the next major version of TopStyle will switch to using serial numbers as well.

I have heard good things about Thinstall. It should work very well with any type of application (ie. Delphi apps, .NET etc.). It protects the actual application and has licensing options for your software baked right in with features like "Create 30-day trial demos of your software". Take at look at www.thinstall.com

For better understanding of Thinstall, I found this flash-video. it's great at introducing the features.
http://thinstall.com/demos/overview.php

Btw. I'm not affiliated in any way with the Thinstall company. I just hope it could help Nick in protecting his great software from scumbags stealing his software. I have a licensed copy of TopStyle and the money is well spent. However FeedDemon IS awesome, but I have not urgent need for newsreaders so I uninstalled it after a few days. If I should change my mind, I would register FeedDemon without a doubt. Bradsoft products is always good value.

Thinstall looks nice, but I've had too many problems with similar tools in the past, so I no longer use them. And quite frankly, no matter how good the protection is, it will be cracked - and once it's cracked, every warez site on the planet will have it.

RE: all the comments about pricing. I've seen plenty of claims that people only steal software because it's too expensive, but there's little evidence of this being true. If you visit most warez sites, you'll see applications as cheap as a few dollars offerred for free.

I priced FeedDemon in the same range as other commercial RSS readers. NetNewsWire, the leading RSS reader on the Mac, is $39.95. NewzCrawler is $24.95. NewsGator for Outlook is $29.00.

This pisses me off, since I'm protective of software in general, but I have an functionally emotional attachment to apps that I depend on daily — FeedDemon is one; my text editor is another. And when "my" developers are losing money, then I know they'll tend to move on to more profitable projects.

When it comes to pricing, as a user I judge its value on what the developer is doing. For example, are they upgrading major versions to often? Do they continue to actively develop and debug the app throughout its current [major] version? Is it clear that the author is committed to the app's future development? I see these points as more important than price alone.

So FeedDemon cost $29.95 and my salary in last work was about 250$, so can I afford to buy it if I pay (like all most you) have to for rent, study and so on and so on... I’m developer too and steeling someone work sucks, but look at the bright site, if so many attempts to register with fake/cracked serials it are a demand for your software, and there always will be someone who can afford and buy.

P.S. I’m using trial but I saw cracks for FeedDemon, and they work…

How many people who use a cracked copy would actually buy it if they couldn't crack it? Hardly any. So what impact does that have on revenue? Hardly any. So why worry?

Comparing software theft to theft of a physical object such as a car is not valid. It is a copy of the software which is stolen - leaving the owner no worse off. There is only one copy of a car.

Bob, I don't buy that argument. Even if nobody using a stolen serial number bought FeedDemon, I'm still paying the bandwidth costs of people downloading the trial version from my site (not to mention the bandwidth costs of warez sites linking to my images, etc).

And as I've talked about before, people using cracked versions still contact me for support.

Last but not least, many cracked versions were the result of purchases made with stolen credit cards, and I pay the chargeback on those.

I've got a very different take on pricing: Charge more! Or, at least, charge differently: Software should not be a one-time charge, because it's not a one-time event. I use FeedDemon every day, and I expect Nick to continue to update it, fix bugs, add new functions, etc. I would happily pay a monthly/quarterly/yearly fee for him to continue to do that work.

I also like the idea of having FeedDemon randomly "check in" with its home server, to make sure it's a valid copy. Since FeedDemon has to have an Internet connection to do its work, that doesn't seem to be prohibitive.

"...many cracked versions were the result of purchases made with stolen credit cards, and I pay the chargeback on those".

That's not fair!. I get angry when I hear something like this!. Nick, you should change the way purchase works. Let people register, but before using the credit card, verify the email they use and then send them a link to complete the purchase!. The information that is required for the registree would allow you to cancel all the scumbags, since I doubt they would use their real name and address when registering. I know it's more work on your part, but you can narrow down the payments with stolen creditcards etc.

Hi,
I might have overlooked that, but how many attempts (in numbers) to activate the program have been made and is this a trend or just a spike? 9 out of 10 is still 90% percent, but 900 out of 1000 would be even more sad.

Anyway, I hope you still have enough customers to make it worth your while.

Kolja, it was closer to the larger number.

hey Nick -

maybe a different perspective on this issue -- if 90% of your users are crackers, then i'd suggest you haven't reached the broader market out there.

most folks would simply be too lazy to deal with the knowledge required to steal a $30 product, so if 90% of your users are stealing it, then either:
1) you're not converting enough of your free users to paid users
2) you're not marketing to a broad enough audience for paid usage.

i'm convinced that 90% of people don't steal... maybe 30-50%, but not 90%... unless it's a really easy "steal" that most people don't think of as stealing (like copying MP3 files).

i'd guess that you're just looking at a microcosm of your potential audience with a skewed behavior pattern, and that if you shift your economics / marketing / purchasing models you can reach a much larger paying audience. or at least one that only exhibits 30-50% stealing behavior.

just my $.02,

- dave mcclure

Thanks for stopping by, Dave :) You may have a point here - if you have any recommendations, I'm all ears.

Surely 90% of activation attempts isn't the same as 90% of users? Users with a valid serial number will only require one attempt, as opposed to trying lots of serial numbers until they find one that works. So maybe the figure is closer to the 30-50% suggested?

Have you thought about making a free version available with advertising and maybe a reduced feature set? That way it discourages people from bothering to crack it and you get an income stream from every user. Like Opera do. Obviously the maths would have to be done to compare the income from advertising vs the loss in paid registrations, but I'd be interested to know if it's something you've looked into.

90% is not so surprising when you consider the demographics of internet users (china, russia and so on). It suggests to me that your potential market has increased (is the 90% stat interpolated?) along with the value of your company. Now would be a good time to look at your exit strategy, some companys thrive on this type of market and would love to have a mature rss reader in their portfolio and lets face it there are not many of those

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