Making money from open source project?


I have a script that I have developed that I had a need for but nothing was available. Is it possible to make money from an open source product?

How can I monetize it and why would people pay me if it's available for free from my GitHub account?

Open Source

asked Feb 8 '14 at 16:39
Cao Tuyết Thanh
11 points

2 Answers


It seems like I see four general paths on making money from OSS.

1. Charge people for support. Give the product away free, but charge your customers when they need help. A lot of open source projects do exactly this, so you would be in a large group of peers doing the same thing.

One thing I hate about this is that it encourages the developer to build their software in such a way that it requires support. There's no motivation to make it easy to use, because you get paid when it's complicated and users need help.

Likewise, you can write books or other supporting material that discuss how to use it, even at a level above and beyond a simple User's Manual.

Of course, this makes more sense for a large product that is naturally more complicated (like JBoss) than it does for something much smaller, as people will evaluate what you script does and decide if the cost of support justifies the time saved by not having to write it themselves.

2. Ask for donations. You're not likely to get a whole ton of money from donations, let's be honest. But there are definitely people out there who are willing to do the equivalent of buying you a beer or a cup of coffee for saving them some time. If your open source project is on the small side, this may really be your best option.

3. Dual licensing. The idea here would be that you can offer the thing free to people who are also building open source products (using a GPL-like license) or perhaps for educational purposes, or what have you, and then charge people for a different license if they want to use it commercially. The trick with this is that you're still giving it out freely (because the open-source side needs free access to it) and hoping that people on the commercial people will voluntarily pay you. A good chunk of these people will do so, but others will forget, pretend they didn't see that stipulation, or just blatantly use it anyway. You could theoretically enforce it legally, but there's a good bet that won't be worth your time and money.

4. Use a freemium model. For this, you would provide a basic open source and free version, and a more advanced closed-source, commercial version. So you charge people for the bigger, nicer features that the basic one doesn't have.

Finally, a word of caution. People who are actively seeking out open-source software have a tendency to not be interested in paying money for it, even through the channels that I just described.

Some of them are there because they don't or can't spend money on it (so they wouldn't be paying you anyway), others feel that all software should just be free and open-source at a philosophical level, while others still would just as soon use pirated software instead of paying for it. Trying to have a foot in both the open source world and the commercial world is always going to be a tough sell. (Not impossible, but tough.)

I don't mean to discourage you by saying this, but it is worth considering if you should just let it be free and open source and just consider it your donation back into the world for all of the open source software you've used in the past, or pull it off of GitHub and try to make it a real product that people are willing to pay for instead.

answered Feb 8 '14 at 19:37
3,465 points


Many developers use their open source projects on GitHub as a marketing channel to get consulting contracts.

I know several who get most of their leads for new clients from their popular projects on there. So this is another thing to explore.

answered Feb 8 '14 at 20:08
Nishank Khanna
4,265 points

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