Open source software is everywhere but if you want to make money with it, this could be kind of hard. On one hand, open source is considered free by default and users consider it their right to use an open source program for free. On the other hand, many users (mainly corporate ones but also separate individuals) do not object against paying a fair fee for the open source applications they use.
If you feel it is immoral to make money with open source, rest assured – you are not doing something illegal or unethical. GNU and the open source spirit don’t ban you from making money with open source, so your objections are ungrounded.
Rather, the difficulty with making money with open source stems from marketing and sales grounds – mostly the above mentioned fact that users perceive open source software as always free software. Still, this is not a barrier you can’t break – many companies and individuals are making tons of money with open source and their users don’t complain. So, here are some of the most common ways to make money with open source.
1. Offer a Dual License – A Free and a Paid One
The most common way to make money with open source is by offering two or more separate versions of your software. Generally there is a community edition, which offers enough features and is free, and an enterprise version with some additional features, which costs money. The trick here is not to strip the free version of vital functionality and offer it only in the paid one because you can bet that such a move will not be welcome by the open source community.
2. Sell Consulting and Customization Services
You can offer your main software for free but charge for consulting and customization. You might be tempted to offer software, which is hard to use without your help and hope that this will drive you clients, but don’t do it – not only because it is unethical. If your free version is great and users love it, there will always be people, who will need consulting and customization and you can make money from them.
3. Provide Paid Support
Consulting and customization are one source of revenue from open source software. Another source is support. Again, don’t offer a buggy version just to hook clients to pay you for support. In many cases paid support can be a huge source of revenue. Many corporations have an internal rule not to purchase software without a support package, so if you offer paid support, they will buy it because they are obliged to.
4. Write Extensions
Paid modules, templates, and extensions for a free open source product can also make you money. It is true that for many popular open source products there are tons of free modules, templates, and extensions but this doesn’t mean the market is saturated. If your module, template, or extension is useful, there will be buyers for it.
5. Write Custom Modules/Features
The intersection between providing customization services and writing paid extensions is to write custom modules/features for a separate client. Clients who need custom modules/features aren’t rare and on freelance programming sites and in forums you can find many such offers.
6. Make Money with Open Source Publications
Writing about open source can also make you money. Even mainstream, non IT publications, publish articles about open source, provided that they are written in a voice appropriate for their audience. Books and other training materials also are a form of open source publications but generally they take more time and require in-depth knowledge of the product.
7. Provide Training
Open source training is another option to explore. Similarly to support, many corporations require training when they purchase a new product. This is where you can fit. Additionally, many enthusiasts need training and this is why open source course, for instance Linux certification courses are always in demand.
8. Place Ads on Your Site
If you offer your open source product online on your site, you can place ads in the sidebars and make a few dollars this way. Alternatively, you can include ads in the software itself but be warned that users might be irritated by them.
9. Accept Donations
Donations are a traditional way to make money with open source. Even the leading open source products have a Donate button on their site, so don’t feel like a beggar. You just need to provide an easy way for people to donate money to you.
10. Sell Supplementary Products
Finally, one more option to make money with open source is to sell supplementary products. For instance, WordPress offers freemium hosting or Google sells hardware devices for Android (together with ads in Android, though) and this also brings money. It is true that selling supplementary products isn’t for everyone and for every type of open source project but if you and your project can do it, why not?
Making money with open source isn’t impossible. Anyway, if you can’t make money with your open source software, you still own the copyrights and can use it as samples to show to prospective clients and launch new projects – this is an indirect way to monetize your open source efforts.