The State of the Xojo 3rd Party Developer Market [u]

BKeeney Software offers a variety of Xojo developer tools for sale. BKeeney Shorts is a reporting tool unlike anything else in the Xojo kingdom and allows you complete control over your reports. That is its strength and also its weakness since you have to fully code your report. We also offer a Calendar class for use in desktop applications, a cross platform Spell Checker plugin, and ARGen that creates the classes that ActiveRecord uses to make database coding easier and quicker in Xojo.

Over the years we were approached by developers that were leaving the Xojo market and wanted a home for their product. When True North Software decided to exit the Xojo market we purchased the rights to Formatted Text Control, RB Code Reports and a number of other Xojo related tools. When Pandaware left we picked up Simple Help Editor and Styled HTML Field. Many people were asking for PDF classes and had fond memories of Fireye Software’s PDF classes so we tracked down Asher and acquired those too.

We purchased these products from their respective owners either because we already owned the products or had a use for them. In some cases we simply updated the source code and in some cases we started a complete rewrite to suit our needs. This means that in addition to the original thousands of man-hours the original developers used to create them we’ve invested significant time and effort ourselves to work on them.

BKeeney Software can’t exist on the sales of these developer products. Developer product sales are lucky if they top 20% of our annual income. Most years it’s less than that. Our second highest income earner is our Xojo Training material but, by far, our best income source is our consulting services. With multiple Xojo developers that makes sense. Not only can we throw all of our developers on a project we can (and usually do) all work on separate projects. When one of us is idle (which thankfully isn’t very often) we find time to work on our applications and developer products (and me on training material).

I was on the receiving end of a grievance on the forums this week where I was accused of not delivering updates that I promised on one of the products. If I did nothing but work on our products I’d be out of business in short order and that product would just go away and who knows if anyone would pick them up.

This got me thinking. Am I unique in this position? So I queried some other Xojo developers to find out what the state of the Xojo 3rd party market is like and if they would share their thoughts. I received more information back than I expected.

Almost all of the developers I contacted said that product sales were a minor portion of their income with most stating it was less than 20% of their income. Jérémie Leroy has a full-time job and the Xojo business is just a happy sideline. Sam Rowlands said there was no way the sales of his developer products comes close to paying for itself. And,one of the more well known figures in the Xojo community, Christian Schmitz said, “Even with the scale I have with MBS myself. Consulting keeps the company running.”

From these statements, it’s pretty obvious that the 3rd party market, while not exactly stagnant, isn’t thriving either. Everyone I talked to has other sources of income besides their developer tool/utility sales. Part of this is probably because the Xojo market is small. Another reason might be the hobbyists that Xojo attracts and they simply don’t have the means to purchase tools. Another possibility is that Xojo has ‘good enough’ tools built-in and newcomers don’t need the more advanced commercial, add-ons.

One of the interesting comments I received from several developers was that it was those that purchased the cheapest version of their products (some offer encrypted and non-encrypted versions) created the most work for them. I’ve seen this myself with our encrypted source code that it seems to generate more support tickets than the full-source versions. Based on this feedback I am seriously considering removing the encrypted versions from our store and simply selling the full-source versions. It’s interesting that our one product that doesn’t have encryption (Formatted Text Control) doesn’t generate that much support help despite it being one of the largest and most complicated products we sell.

All of the developers I contacted felt that the future of Xojo is bright and holds promise. iOS development in Xojo might become as big as desktop and web which means new customers for their products. The new framework causes concern for many in the Xojo community but the developers I talked to were ecstatic that Xojo was listening to our concerns and making incremental changes to the new framework based on that feedback.

The 3rd party Xojo development tool market is tough business to make a living at. The fact that half our products came from developers leaving the community says something. That some of the most well known and respected voices in the community can’t make a living selling Xojo developer tools and have other sources of income is also telling.

So what can Xojo do to help us out? Growing the user base is the biggest thing they can do and it seems that having the iOS version is a step in growing the platform. One area of concern, though, is that many Windows users are unhappy with Xojo right now. They feel, rightly or wrongly is besides the point, that the focus has been so Apple and iOS oriented the past couple of years that they feel unwelcome. Some focus on making the Windows experience better would be reassuring to them.

I also think that Xojo could do more to promote the 3rd party products. Perhaps the Xojo Developer Evangelist could pick a product to review each month. Xojo Developer Magazine does reviews like this but it doesn’t receive the eyeballs that the official Xojo site gets. Personally I’d offer a discount for the people that purchase via the review. The market isn’t THAT big and it would be a good way to show off some products and generate sales for developers that are starving for income. More income means more of time for product development and everyone wins when that happens.

I feel the future is good. More Xojo users means more product sales (hopefully). This, in turn, means we can spend more time on those products and pump out updates on a regular basis. Until then, us 3rd party Xojo developers will continue with our labors of love and put updates out when we can.

What do you think of the 3rd party market? What could Xojo do to improve it?

[Update:  ]

After looking at our 2014 numbers our total developer products and training sales was LESS THAN 10% of our total income.  In 2013 the amount was more but amounted to less than 5% of our annual income (consulting was VERY good that year).  In other words, if we relied on our developer products and training to make a living we would quickly go out of business.

Seriously, why do I even bother with developer sales?  Just using them and updating them for ourselves would be cheaper in the long run.

14 thoughts on “The State of the Xojo 3rd Party Developer Market [u]

  1. Maybe some sort of crowd funding for functionality people want to see in 3rd party products?

    That way, if there’s enough interest, people get functionality they want in their 3rd party tools and the 3rd party developers have their time paid for.

    Just a random thought.

    • It’s a thought, but I don’t see it happening. To do something like BKS Shorts, if you totaled up the hours we’ve spent on it, would be the tens of thousands of dollars, minimum, to even get it to the point it is today.

  2. Well, crowd funding is not an option due to the time between someone needing something and someone need to develop.
    In general, if someone asks me to help with a problem, I can make a sale if I either have a solution in my toolbox or can make one in a day or so.
    Coming with solution months later, doesn’t help much.

  3. I guess I am of sort of a 3rd party vendor with my listbox… but not really. That said I originally offered an encrypted version along with a source code version. The only sales I had back then were for the more expensive source version, so i decided the encrypted version was more trouble than it was worth and stopped offering it.

    In any case pricing is difficult in a small price sensitive market. Pricing something so that it actually pays for the development time, would price it out of the market.

    Given that, it’s no surprise that all the significant 3rd party vendors are consultants or do it on the side.

  4. If it wasn’t for MBS and Einhugur, Xojo would be pretty much useless for me. I really admire the work they put into getting Xojo into a usable state with functions I need.

    Some folks over at the Xojo Forum yells at the top of their lungs every time the solution to their problem is to get an “expensive plug-in” and refuse to understand why not function X or Y is part of the standard Xojo package. Getting a complete PDF solution (like Dyna PDF) starting at $199 is a really good deal IMHO. Not to forget the Einhugur e-CryptIt handing almost everything thrown at it.

    As long as Xojo’s (the company) focus is all over the place I wouldn’t trust them to develop PDF or advanced encryption. H*ll, they can’t even keep the Windows version updated as the platform evolves. To get many features on Windows 7 and later I have to use MBS.

    To all plug-in developers for Xojo: I know you have a thick skin so ignore the “kverulants” (good Scandinavian word) on the forums. Many of the professional developers are using your plug-ins and hopefully pay you enough to keep you in the plug-in business.

    /Mattias

  5. It’s a controversial topic that has been discussed in the RB/RS/Xojo community ever since. Despite many happy add-on users (I am one of them), I feel like baiting has increased significantly (though cooling down a little in the past few months); add-on developers have been accused of excessive advertising and asked to step back despite offering adequate solutions for the problems raised.

    While the community (compared to many other development environments, at least) still is small, the problem IMHO lies in its composition: For people making a living out of Xojo development, spending a few hundred bucks is a no-brainer – it would take themselves far longer to get to that point; Time they could have spent on paid projects. For them, the calculation is fairly easy.
    On the other hand, we face a huge share of hobbyists that earn little if no money with their Xojo projects. Thus, time usually is not that critical. Cash out, however, certainly is.

    While I find myself somewhere in-between (having done 3rd party add-ons as well as some consulting but not making my full living out of Xojo development), my gut tells me that a possible solution for add-on providers might lie in business model innovation. There’s likely a model that serves both, professionals and hobbyists, while remaining economically sustainable. It’s yet to be discovered.

  6. Summarized from a conversation with another developer who asked to remain anonymous (so these are not my comments):

    The Xojo web store takes a significant cut from any sales. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was any actual *promotion* going on. But as it is there is nothing other than them listing it on their web store.

    This makes it very clear that Xojo does not consider 3rd party add-ons important for their customers. This is discouraging, to say the least. There is no incentive to have our developer products in their store as they pretty much do nothing.

  7. There is just no way a 3rd party vendor can live of Xojo extension making alone. In the 17 years I been supplying extensions for Xojo / Real Studio / Real Basic I have always worked full time also. There was a time I thought maybe the market was growing but that was long time ago. Xojo forums pretty much ignores announcements (at least from me), so I stopped trying to post there a long while ago. They have one developer that I can’t say enough good about regarding relations to the 3rd parties, thats the only thing that keeps 3rd party development possible (in my mind), other than that then the 3rd party market is tough to say the least and its not all Xojo’s fault, the nature of multiple platforms, the platforms them selfs constantly moving often puts you in constant keep up maintenance phase, update because of changes in one of the operating systems, or for Xojo. I make a lot of .NET components and controls, a control there that takes me a week to make will take many months to make for Xojo, due to platforms and because of the lower level API’s.

  8. “Seriously, why do I even bother with developer sales?”

    What is your goal? If you spent that same time you spend on supporting your developer sales doing more consulting projects, would you make more money and would it be significantly higher? If yes, then the answer is pretty straight forward if your goal is strictly to make more money. Otherwise, is there an intrinsic value to providing the tools and videos that adds value to the Xojo community which in turn supports your consulting work by making Xojo more supported? The latter is a harder one to calculate.

    • Well, my main goal is to make a living. A secondary goal is to help the Xojo community.

      The developer products helps both goals but because sales are such a minimal part of overall income the consulting work has to help pay for updates. So any updates come when I need to use them in client projects.

      • Your update to to this blog post was probably not the wisest thing you could have done. There is no upside for you saying things like “…LESS THAN 10% of…” (notice your emphasis with the all CAPS) and “Seriously, why do I even bother with developer sales?” You just told existing and potential customers that these products will get the absolute lowest priority. No one is going to say, “Oh look! Bob is spending less effort on these products and it makes me want to send him more money!!!” Your reputation will counter this effect somewhat, but it is now out there.

        One thing you could do is sell the FTC to Xojo and they could incorporate it into their framework. Xojo gets an instant feature, you get a good chunk of change and the whole community gets access to the FTC. In the past, I approached Geoff with such a proposal long ago and he was interested, but he did not want pony up to the table and dish out the money. His reasoning was he could do the same thing a lot cheaper. I believe he was fooling himself because he would have done it if he could of for the amount he quoted me in his offer! Since then, maybe things has changed for Geoff and his thinking is different. With the FTC he could instantly replace the RTF parser they currently have and get a far greater performance envelope with greater capabilities. The RTF parser is modular and has its own API within the FTC so it could be used separately and I actually wrote glue code to use it with existing text areas, but there are bugs in the text area they could easily fix to make it work. If I were you, I would approach Geoff and ask him if he is interested. If you can work out a deal to your satisfaction with him, you could accomplish both of your stated goals. In addition, Xojo could contract with you for specific updates and features they want. Seems like a win-win situation if Geoff is willing to make the investment.

        On that note, Xojo needs to set up a program where developers could submit framework additions. Developers could submit a complied sample program, an API and documentation. Xojo looks at it an decides if they are interested to taking it to the next step of purchasing. Xojo would provide a fixed rate of compensation maybe based on X amount of dollars per line of non-commentary source lines. Xojo would also provide a coding standards document and documentation format they will accept. I bet you would see a flood of new features come into each Xojo release as long as Xojo treats the developers with respect by offerring reasonable compensation rates for the work. This is a risk free proposition for Xojo where all the risk is on the developer where Xojo says their not interested in a particular addition.

  9. “Seriously, why do I even bother with developer sales? Just using them and updating them for ourselves would be cheaper in the long run.”

    Then why not open-source them? If you make more money not doing tools then the economic case is clear. If you need the tools then open-source MIGHT get you help in developing them, and at worst has no benefit to you (reme

    • I might do that with some products that we don’t have any passion for. I will be giving that some more thought.

      I’m not a huge open source fan. In most cases it ends up being a labor of love for one or two people. That might be enough for the Xojo community.

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