Ardour and Money, 2014 edition

I love Ardour and I hope we can figure out a way to fix the $$ problem. I don’t know anything about Paypal’s subscriptions, but here’s the boat I’m in. I currently have the $10/mo subscription, and I’m willing to pay more. …however I can’t aford the $50 option. Is it possible to add a 15 or 20 dollar tier? maybe even allow people to write in an amount? just a thought I had. I have no clue if anyone else feels this way.

I too am on the $10 subscription and would go a touch higher. In fact, I did for a brief time( I believe). This past month I moved up from 4 to 10 and noticed it kept me subscribed to both and I had to unsubscribe from the 4/mo. Thinking back on it, I could have remained subscribed to the 4/mo added the 1/mo and would have reached $15:) It would be easier with a straight up $15 subscription…


You could always take the $10 susbcription and then randomly send extra donations as and when you remember or can afford it.

But I agree that an option to set your own amount would be good. Except that setting it up is so many hours of works for Paul that could have been spent making Ardour even better.

I have some experience of setting up web payment systems, but I’m not sure I trust myself to do any better, or to do it properly or securely enough, where other people’s money is concerned, so I’m not offereing to set up an alternative payment system. Also I can’t see an easy way around the problem where people in some countries can’t use PayPal without opening a PayPal account. It would be good if somebody could do that.

I’m inclined to agree with LinuxDSP’s comment about attempts to reinvent money.

I’ve often cited Ardour as an example of how ‘community open source software’ and ‘developers getting paid for their efforts’ are not mutually incompatible, usually in response to detractors of the open source concept. Obviously only Paul can comment on the administrative issues (e.g. cruddy PayPal APIs and what not) but from the perspective of someone who wants to make some tunes on Linux I have no complaints about the principles of how things are done.

If you want to download the prebuilt software, well, pay for it if you can’t be bothered to wait for it to compile and set it up properly (I know I can’t). Then there’s Mantis. Need something fixed in a hurry? Sponsor the bug to sweeten the deal. A bit like micro-crowdfunding really, and given the success of Kickstarter et al, it’s a model that works. We’re not talking about complicated economics here. It’s the simplest kind of transaction: scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

There’s a certain money phobia in the open source world and it tends to prevent people from taking the concept seriously. And I want said phobia to be cured. Ardour continuing as it is is one way of doing something about that. I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I hope other users will do the same if they’re able.

I think I’m repeating myself, but anyway … in my eyes there are 3 categories of open source software projects.

  1. Large infrastructure projects whose existence and continued development is in the mutual interest of a variety of money making organizations who divert some of their revenue stream to help make those projects continue. The Linux kernel, Apache, Mozilla are examples of such projects
  2. Small projects that have a beginning, a middle and a more-or-less-done phase. My favorite example of such an app is SoundJuicer, which is pretty much perfect as-is. Someone had to start it, get into it, finish it. Now of course, these programs get superseded by other programs with similar goals, but each one of them tends to be self-contained, and can be developed in a relatively period of time by a group of mostly unpaid enthusiastic developers. Even if they never get to "done", they typically make it to "mostly done", which is typically capable of keeping the users of the program happy, and remaining work is often a few hours a month hacking some detail.
  3. Large, complex projects (particularly those targetting creative work) which are never finished because the workflows and desired functionality keeps evolving rapidly. These are too big and too complex for a few guys to hack together in a couple of months. Their development takes place over years. There is no organizational funding for such projects (Intel and Google certainly don't care too much about them), but they cannot rely on a small group of people working together for a short time. Ardour is in this category. We don't, in general, have good solutions for how this kind of thing gets funded when Linux is the primary platform, mostly because the number of paying users on Linux is small.

I might add for other users who live in the UK, or otherwise have savings in GBP, that the pound is very strong against the dollar at the moment. £50 gets you about $85 at the time of writing, and vice versa. offers some indication of what you can buy with $85, not that I know how accurate it is. I also don’t know how much PayPal chews off in fees for donations. Still, for Brits this may well be a good time to donate in terms of value.

Hi… let me introduce myself. A friend sent a copy of this article, and wanted to know if I was interested!!

I told him I would think about it and get back to him.

My name is Alan Simmons - you can find my resume on linkedin.
What does not show there is my stint with Syntronics of Toronto. We acquired the rights to and attempted to
expand the McLeyver - designed by Bill McLey. We ran the team that developed and never brought to market Amadaeus.
It was to be the next generation. I left to start V3 Semiconductor before the company imploded. Am mostly retired now, wish to explore taking over the site as you seem to need to leave it?
That was my take-away, and also my friend’s!!

Let me know what you think of the proposal.

yours sincerely,

Alan Simmons

The post I made was not intended as an announcement that I am giving up responsibility for Ardour or at this point in time. In addition, if and when I did turn over such responsibilities, I would much prefer that it involved people who had already been involved in the Ardour community as active and visible users, testers, designers or developers. If there is something about Ardour that appeals to you or motivates you, I’d encourage/urge you to get involved.

@linuxdsp: You’re probably quite right with your list. I would like to add:

  1. Projects that produce software, that is mostly used by people producing software. Or, in other words: Users are developers. Most standard Linux distros come with support for programing languages you’ve never even heard of, there is definetely no lack of editors, compilers, and other development tools

Which brings me to a more general point: When I started using Linux on a daily basis in 1998, pretty much all users were hackers. So I became a bit of hacker, too. In the meantime, I acquired solid skills in Java programming. But as of today, when I listen to my music productions, I sometimes wish I had gotten into music production somewhen back then, because then I’d be really good at it by now and way more satisfied with what I’m doing.

My impression is: People who are really good at developing audio software are often not the ones who are really good at music production and who don’t have skilled ears. And of course, even worse vice versa. (I’m aiming to be general here, this is not supposed be a statement about Ardour or linuxDSP, which are great products.) Actually this seems to hold for many areas of open source, mostly related to the creative business but also to other areas.

Yet another point: Many earlier open source projects originated in academia - in a world, where people used to have nice salaries and lots of freedom, so in a way the software was a by-product of their research career. (These times have gone; salaries aren’t that great today and also any kind of basic computer science research has been done. Me and myself are creating programs highly specifc to a small field the world doesn’t care too much about.) In contrast, producing music takes a lot of time and for most people is not well-paid, so there is no free time for getting into too much of open source programming. And for those who are in the fortunate situation of being well-paid as producers and musicians, they can easily afford a Mac and Logic or something similar.

As a musician, one can easily get a feeling for the situation: just ask people to pay for your music and see how they react.

So how would you and other “potential subscribers” do it - what’s the next best thing to PayPal that’s acceptable or possible?

Following my own question: looks very promising, so much so fact that I’ve signed up myself. If it turns out to be as easy to use as it promises, I’ll use it instead of PayPal and Nochex for payment processing on my own (very low turnover) site.
Apparently they can handle bitcoin too!

stripe: cheaper than regular paypal but a LOT more expensive for the very small transactions i run via paypal’s micropayments system. No interaction with bank accounts of customers, so you must have a credit card. Nicer APIs than PayPal, but that’s about it.

Just stating facts: I would have been a subscriber for the past 5+ years, but it hasn't been (and still isn't) possible

It’s not that it isn’t possible, its just that it’s not possible if you don’t want to use Paypal. Paul doesn’t write the rules about processing financial transactions across international borders.

The problem is that this dislike of PayPal is to me (as a long term customer of PayPal and someone whose entire livelihood depends on them), largely irrational. Why?

  • PayPal have done some pretty bad stuff, no question. Find me a financial institution that hasn't
  • PayPal have extremely limited access to your financial accounts outside of their system, and there is always recourse if they abuse that
  • As a payer, rather than a receiver, your interactions and financial entanglement with PayPal can be fairly minimal. Contrast that to my position where if PayPal locks my account, I don't know how I would pay my bills
  • There are still no feasible alternatives for many of the services PayPal provides. Credit card swiping is just one component of contemporary transactions

I do understand people’s aversion to PayPal and I share some of it. It is why I abandoned the development of the code to use Braintree (a credit-card only gateway with nice APIs and subscriptions) - they were purchased by PayPal. But at the same time, it isn’t as if anyone can point to an alternative that actually works to anything even close to the full scope of what PayPal offers, and since I’m trying to reach the maximal possible number of “customers”, that matters a lot. The fact that a notable percentage of network-savvy people don’t like PayPal doesn’t change the fact that globally it is still really the only game in town for what I need.

I completely agree with what Paul says - and, I would also question whether using something like Bitcoin (which seems to be the altermative most often advocated by exactly the same people who profess to dislike Paypal) is actually any better (in fact it seems considerably worse and / or more risky).
There is a minimal chance, as a customer, that something will go wrong with a Paypal transaction, and you can limit your liability to such risks. Paypal also protects the buyer from the actions of disreputable sellers too.
Bitcoin and other unregulated crypto currencies by contrast, fluctuate wildly in value (and so it seems do government’s attitude to them), so, if you buy into it, how can you really know the true value of what you have, and following from that, neither buyer or seller can reliably quantify the real value they have exchanged in a given transaction. This seems like a bad thing.

Given the very nature of those currencies, they might also be liable to attract the kind of people you definitely wouldn’t want anywhere near your financial information, and quite possibly could make anything Paypal might do (which has to abide by the same regulations as other financial institutions) look tame by comparison.

I feel like I should quantify the PayPal micropayments system too, so that people can see precisely what I’m talking about. Most transaction systems these days charge something like 2.9% plus US$0.30 per transaction. This includes PayPal, Swipe, Braintree etc. It refflects the fee structure of the “real” transaction processors (members of VISA international etc.).

I get a LOT of US$1 transactions. That fee structure would cost me $0.33 per transaction. Thats 33% of the amount someone pays, vanished into PayPal’s (or some other company’s) middleman’s hands.

Now consider PayPal micropayment costs: 5% + 5c, which on a $1 transaction is $0.10. I thus save $0.23 per transaction. That’s a 23% increase in my income, obtained by doing nothing but making sure the transaction uses my micropayments account (the breakeven point is about $12, after which the normal fee structure is better).

Alternatives to PayPal have to offer something similar for me take them seriously, given how many people take up the “$1 minimum” charge for a prebuilt, run-anywhere, supported version of Ardour.

@Paul: I think the minimum for a pre-built download should be higher… to put it into context, $1 - for example, in the UK that’s £0.58 - now, even £10 or £20 in the UK doesn’t buy much of anything any more, in fact it probably wouldn’t even keep the power on long enough to build the code… :slight_smile: but that’s £0.58 for a fully functioning DAW - even Reaper, which I consider to be extremely good value, is expensive by that measure, and other applications such as Cubase (elements), Studio One, Sonar etc are at least around £80 - £100 last time I checked - all of which is a reasonable amount given the complexity of those applications (and in the context of how much it also costs to actually make proper use of the software… instruments, equipment, soundcard, PC etc) - why should software be singled out as the thing which is given away? So even e.g. with a price tag of $10 for a pre-built ardour download, that would still be incredibly good value (and still affordable for most budgets). Especially given that there is still the option to build it for free, for those who would (or have to) invest their own time rather than paying for the service of pre-built and working download.

I believe the thinking is not only looking at first world countries, but also third world, where $1 would actually be a sizable chunk of money. That being said, there is an argument for a larger initial price even so to an extent.

As for the rest of the conversation. I will say there are other options for microtransaction fees of similar nature obviously, for example Amazon payments, but the question is do they offer enough benefit vs Paypal for it to be worth the time invested to implement it. For example I dislike paypal, and Paul knows full well I avoid it like the plague, but I don’t have as much of a problem using Amazon payments, but that does nothing to address the need for people to use other than credit cards IIRC, so only answers one part of the problem.

In the end I don’t know that one single solution will cover the entire problem, which is why many commerce sites are using multiple options these days, but the more options you have the more the time required for supporting them goes up obviously. So again you have to ask the ROI questions obviously.


Was going to post something TLDR, but suffice it to say that if Ardour charged $30 for every major point release I would still consider it underpriced. At current exchange rates a meal for two at Nando’s costs more than that. (Then again, I do live in a first world country.) People have to learn to swallow the fact that free software is not necessarily free of charge, and the lunches of said software’s developers are invariably not. In ‘marketing’ terms, for want of a better word, a higher price point — by which in this instance I mean any compulsory price at all, given that this is the open source world — can be a good implication of quality.

The problem is, of course, that then Ardour would be inundated with ‘paying customer syndrome’ sufferers hitting Mantis with demands for LV2 plugins that make tea and level meters that play My Little Pony animations when the signal is clipping. Still, the obvious riposte to that is “Well, sponsor the bug and show us how much it’s worth to you.” You don’t get that with Steinberg or Apple née Emagic. But then the free lunch crew would probably start talking about ‘extortion’ and ‘bait and switch’.

Human beings. Who’d have ’em.

James Brierly: <hugs>