Update: URL Fixer was acquired and is now hosted at http://urlfixer.org/
I have written twenty-six add-ons for Firefox in the last five years that I have released for free on Mozilla Add-ons. I enjoy writing add-ons, and because I wrote most of them to fulfill my own needs, I had no problem giving that software away.
At last year’s Add-on Con, some of the major discussions centered around add-on marketplaces and non-free browser extensions. Most parties agreed that the current system of asking for donations is not a viable revenue stream for an independent developer and that add-on developers should have a marketplace to sell their software, if they choose to do so.
Since participating in those discussions, I had been quietly considering developing a freemium add-on: an upgraded version of one of my free add-ons that comes with extra features for those willing to pay a few bucks. I was planning on waiting until a proper add-on marketplace materialized (Mozilla is working on one, as are some independent third-parties), but a few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge on my own. (Worst case, I’d have a premium add-on ready and waiting as soon as a marketplace opened for business.) I eventually settled on freemium-izing URL Fixer.
URL Fixer is an add-on that helps you avoid typos when typing URLs in the browser’s address bar. According to the statistics gathered by Mozilla, it has been downloaded 960,000 times, and is actively used by 70,000 people. I wrote the first version in June of 2006, and it has gotten generally positive reviews, but the one request that has been consistently raised is for the capacity to add custom corrections — URL Fixer will automatically convert “google.con” to “google.com” (because google.con is most definitely an invalid URL), but it won’t fix “gogle.com” to “google.com” (because “gogle.com” might be a legitimate website).
I’ve always resisted adding any sort of correction mechanism that won’t work 100% of the time for 100% of the users (what if someone really wanted to visit gogle.com?), but I could justify this kind of feature in a non-free add-on, as the users who want the feature will pay for the add-on, and the users that don’t want it can continue using the free version.
To confirm my assumptions that people would pay for the ability to add their own corrections, I put a poll on the page that is shown after a user installs URL Fixer. (This page contains basic instructions on how the add-on works in order to cut down on confusion for new users.) This poll asked, “Would you pay .99 for a premium version of URL Fixer that allows you to add custom corrections?”
Out of the several thousand people that saw this page, 78 participated in the poll. Out of those 78, 29 said they’d pay for a premium version of URL Fixer. That’s 37%! You can imagine the numbers that started going through my head at this point – 37% of 70,000 current users is 26,000 users; multiply that by .99, and that’s a quick ,000. (Never mind the 1.5% poll participation rate.)
I spent a few days writing the new features, making sure that the premium version (“URL Fixer Plus“) was able to coexist with the free version if both were installed, and writing a barebones add-on marketplace. Last Friday night, I published URL Fixer Plus and the marketplace, linking them from the firstrun page of URL Fixer. I then went to sleep and waited for the money to roll in.
So how did things turn out? Of the 15,121 people that have upgraded or installed URL Fixer since I released URL Fixer Plus, 342 of them have clicked on the “Try URL Fixer Plus” link. Out of those 342, only 8 decided to actually pay the .99. For those of you not keeping track at home, that’s a conversion rate of 0.05%, a far cry from the ~37% that I expected. So, what could have gone wrong? Take your pick from these possibilities:
- People don’t read firstun pages.
- Anyone who didn’t participate in the poll was effectively voting “no,” putting the result much more in line with expectations.
- Even people who did participate in the poll and said yes changed their mind when it came time to actually pay.
- .99 is too much.
- People want to buy the add-on, but they don’t want to use PayPal.
- People don’t trust me enough to buy something from me.
- People don’t expect to pay for add-ons at all.
- All of the above.
- None of the above.
Even though I’d consider this project a failure thus far, I’ll certainly participate in any legitimate add-on marketplaces that crop up. Several of the possible causes of URL Fixer Plus’s failure could be fixed by having a trusted, discoverable marketplace, and that’s something I can’t build on my own. In the meantime, I’ll continue to offer URL Fixer Plus as an upgrade to URL Fixer. The marginal cost of selling any more copies is essentially zero, so I have nothing to lose.
What are your thoughts? Why did I get such a low conversion rate? What could I have done better?