Musing on the options for how I will release Mentat 1.0

I have been thinking hard about what to do with Mentat when it reaches proper 1.0 release quality.

Options I have thought of:

  1. Make it a free open-source product
  2. Make it a free product
  3. Make it a chargeable product with a “professional” price (e.g. £200)
  4. Make it a chargeable product with a “consumer” price (e.g. £20)
  5. Make it a freemium product and charge for premium features (e.g. sharing)
  6. Make it a free/open-source community-supported app (e.g. via Patreon)

Here are my thoughts:

With respect to it being free/chargeable. The challenge with making it chargeable is that people are going to expect support and experience tells me that the amount of support involved will not vary based on price (i.e. expectations will be the same for a product at £2, £20, £200, £2000) and I am not geared up to support a product (esp. a complex, desktop, app) since this is not my core business. I do not imagine selling enough licenses at any price to make more than a nice dinner. I don’t think it makes sense to charge. Freemium just introduces the same kind of issues although if I provide some kind of service to allow sharing that may have costs which will need to be covered.

With respect to it being closed/open source. I have no illusions that making it open source means I am going to get contributors. It’s a reasonably complex application written in Objective-C & Cocoa going on about 16k lines of code across 189 files. There are relatively few people with the skills and experience to contribute to such an app, intersected with those who will be interested in a “knowledge workstation” app. If I open it, it will be more as a philosophical than practical stance. That said, I have no specific obejction to making it open source.

Then again the idea struck me that I might set up a Patreon account and allow the app to be community supported. In this kind of scenario, the app would be free, supporters would get access to the source. Again this is less about their ability to do anything with it and more as insurance should I go under a bus, that the app can be continued. It might also be that this could help fund running the sharing service if such service comes into being.

Again, I have no great illusions about a huge community of people (Mentat I imagine will appeal to the kinds of people who are interested in Tinderbox or TheBrain, and to a lesser extent sophisticated Evernote users or users of things like Roam) I guess we’re talking hundreds. But a few dozen people chipping in, say, $5/mth might actually pay for some help with the UI and hosting.

As I say, these are my musings so I’m not expecting responses but of course, am happy to hear from anyone with a view.

I’m sort of sad to say (given the wider implications for economics of the creation of software) that I think your assumptions seem fairly accurate.

Beyond that I can only speak for myself, but neither TheBrain nor Tinderbox’s pricing has worked for me, in that I’ve played with demos, felt the pressure of feeling “this doesn’t quite fit how I think” and then felt unable to commit to that price. So I do think something like the Patreon system might work better (I have Patreoned creators in the past, even software ones) because it lowers the hurdle to trying the thing out properly, yet gives a way for people to show some support.

Of course, Patreon yields may not add up to much, but I think that’s also the difference between a hobby setup and a pro one. For whatever my disagreements with Mark of Eastgate that mean I didn’t feel Tinderbox is for me, he spends a lot of time on the software and I suspect you need to, to make a serious income stream from it.

Yes absolutely, it even seems like Tinderbox progress has increased pace lately. But I’ve no inclination to make this kind of thing my business right now so Mentat has to exist on the scraps.

I’ve few illusions about how little Patreon is likely to deliver. I’d be pleased if it was enough to recover the cost of some UX expertise. But even that’s probably a stretch.