The "paywall" and related matters

I love free software and even publish some bits. I disagree that free implies it has to be gratis in any case.

It’s obvious that running a project like Ardour needs massive amount of work - so much work, that it needs to make a living and luckily nowadays Ardour seems to do so. I support the project since a few years but rarely use it. This is, cos I like it a lot but more important, cos there is a paywall! Let’s be honest - I’m no exception I’m one of this lazy humans that would have clicked on the mirror cos it’s easier than subscribing

If a licence isn’t clear for me, I usually check the repo. IMHO this the most obvious way?

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Thanks for the release, Paul & The Gang!

For some obscure reasons not having to do with Ardour I had to get a Mac recently and I was pleased to see that Ardour 6.7 was very easy to install and runf there, too. On my Linux box, which is my main machine, it works like a charm.

For those complaining about the binaries not being free as in free beer… folks, I just want to tell you Ardour is such a great DAW and I can’t emphasize enough how much it has grown since its early versions I started using in 2006. I am very glad that it is backed up by subscriptions and donations. I run a very small business and I use Ardour for it, and my tiny subscription is less per month than what I pay for the gas to get to my video or recording jobs. I would not dare to complain.

Of course, I could built Ardour myself. I have done this before using LinVST to enable VST support, back in the days. But in the end it costs my way more, since I could be out there doing some funny church live stream in that time, which would pay me money.

Only trouble I’m having is that on my very system the Harrison AVA LegacyQ freezes when having more than one GUI window of it opened. I’ll dive into the issue see what I can find out. It’s most likely something with graphics. (The issue does not occur in Carla).

But anyways, 6.7 - I’m happy! Keep up the good work. Thank you!



Having dwelt further on the topic of legally distributing source code and binaries of open-source software even when initally behind a paywall, I feel my various points have distilled into one larger idea:

Having unspoken expectations, rules etc promotes the reality of an “in” club.

Allow me to back up slightly. We can all agree that distribution of the binaries is 100% legal even if the developers or other users might take issue with it. Because one user has exercised that right, that user has been chastised in response. Yet, another user who has, in essence, done exactly the same thing (perhaps asking beforehand as a courtesy), is not publicly wrist-slapped.

Therefore, we have an “in” club culture that could form or has formed. The route that each user took to make the binaries public is neither here nor there as both are entirely legal processes but, and very importantly, the reaction to both has been very different based on unspoken rules/ideas developed from inside the organization.

Perhaps we can begin to see why there is confusion about Ardour’s license/status when these expectations/rules are not visible from the outside. I think it goes beyond the simple confusion of a paywall.

So, I’m no longer suggesting what route to take in terms of donation or paywall but simply saying that no one should be made to feel guilty for doing exactly what the website states is one of the foundations of the GPL license which is “the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors…”, especially if that response comes from an insider expectation that runs counter to the spirit of the chosen license.

I’m not against the paywall approach - it’s 100 times better than nothing - but its as though there’s not enough confidence in the actual product when the thing that you monetise is the installer.

Shouldn’t the mantra be “people will pay good money for software that improves their productivity?”

I’m not surprised that going around with a begging bowl didn’t yield great rewards. I never saw Steinberg saying, “please give me $5; I worked so hard for it.” And don’t tell me about freedom to share binaries. Pirated Cubase was everywhere, and probably still is for all I know.

So you’ve monetised the installer. Here’s a low-cost experiment to monetise the software itself:

  1. Compile a short list of the most sought after features for Ardour.
  2. Put it in front of users.
  3. Get them to pledge money for the feature they most want to use in the next major release.
  4. Highest bid wins.

And if you want a fail safe, reserve the right to go back to your own roadmap if they don’t collectively reach a certain threshold.

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You may not be aware that we used to do this.

Before Ardour 3.0 came out, the #1 issue for users was “adding MIDI”. This was the most sponsored “bug” we ever had. Sponsorship for the bug totalled somewhere around US$3k. Google contributed US$4500 as part of its Summer of Code project.

This isn’t a viable way to fund development.

I would contest that interpretation of anything that’s been done in the past. But if you see anything that we’ve done that way, that’s fine, just a little sad.

This isn’t true. What is “monetised” is a build service, because we recognize that the majority of DAW users have neither the interest nor the skills to build the software themselves. I deliberately made the choice years ago that we do not charge for the software, but for the service of building it. That’s not because of a lack of confidence in the software, but is rooted in my 30+ years in GPL’ed projects that leaves me with a conviction that software itself should probably be gratis.


I’m VERY peripheral in all of this but I want to clarify that AVL exists because of Ardour and my appreciation for it and want to promote it. I have been distributing from the days of Ardour 2 long before there was any paywall. When the devs moved to bundled packaging and decided to stop support of ALL Distribution builds I asked Paul if I could distribute bundles (and then later full version bundles) and he agreed. I think this demonstrates even more generosity on his part because AVL has a large enough user base that I’m sure those free distributed builds cut into his revenue and are an overlooked way to get Ardour yet another free way. I encourage people who want to upgrade to subscribe or pay per download for version upgrades so hopefully that offsets some of it.

As for the “if it’s good people will pay for it without a paywall” I can say as a student of human nature and as a distributor of a free product with a donation page for more than a decade, there are indeed some very good people out there who ‘get it’ but sadly they are probably less than 1 in 100,000… You can’t and absolutely will not make a sustainable income that way.


It seems impossible to separate charging for the build process and saying that the software is gratis given that a standard non-tech-minded user cannot get the binary for free or even compile for themselves at no cost without some trouble in Linux (knowledge of dependencies etc) and tons of issues for Windows and MacOS (ridiculously difficult).

Do it again! What will you lose?

Ah, I misread what you said. I thought you said “before we had a paytunnel” as in, “a payment tunnel is what we had before.”

Is that a belief based on pragmatism or principle?

Ardour would lose all full-time developers. Development would grind to a halt.

PS. The system is still active on You can sort by “Sponsorship Total”.

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Why? Is it frowned upon, or something?

Because Paul and Robin need money to purchase food. If they had to become full time subsistence farmers they would not have enough time to develop Ardour. Which is what they would need to do if Ardour finance levels reverted to what they were when the previous system was in use.


So you think people are going to stop paying the subscriptions because they can bid for features instead? I suppose that’s possible, but I’d have thought it much more likely that you’ll diversify revenue streams. Maybe you’ll find a new set of customers who don’t want to subscribe yet, because the project isn’t ready for them, but will pledge money for the features they need. Or maybe some of the people who have subscriptions will also pledge money.

I’d be curious if you can cite any other FOSS project that uses sponsored features to raise anything close to full-time income. I’m not aware of any. The amounts that I’ve seen cited for Python, which has a user base that is likely several orders of magnitude larger than Ardour, are essentially beer money for a US-based independent developer.

And sure, perhaps it would be a diversification of income in some sense. However, it would also change the development process for the program, away from “stay in touch with what users want, chart a course that respects those priorities but also takes into account code realities and other long term plans” and towards “just do what people pay for”.

I’m not a huge fan of “money speaks” in any context (democracy, ardour development, …).


I’m afraid there are very few FOSS projects that even try to raise money. The broad consensus is that it’s not possible. (I’m talking about consumer software now.) I can name two projects that disprove this myth, Ardour and Blender, and I think that’s a tragedy. Well it’s a triumph for you, and congratulations, but it’s a tragedy more generally.

As for the “money speaks” issue, well you’d still be in charge what goes on the list, so you retain control over development that way. OK, so the majority of users get their wish first (if everyone pledges equally), but the rest get their wish later, so that seems like a reasonable trade off to me. It’s better than nobody getting anything.

I don’t see monetisation as a dirty thing. The commercial success of free software is the success of free software. They’re the same thing to me, and everyone wins.

As Robin pointed out the option to pledge for features option is still active, I took your “do it again” to mean go back to the old way where pledge for features was the only option, and there were no subscriptions.
You can look at the amounts pledged, as Paul pointed out it is basically trivial for anyone who has to pay living expenses in North America or western Europe.

Try as I might, I’m afraid I can’t find it.

It certainly isn’t very visible. It was more so in a previous version of Mantis. When Mantis changed, we didn’t bother to “fix” the visibility because of the low significance of the associated bug sponsorships.

there are very few FOSS projects that even try to raise money

Wordpress (and thousands of wordpress plugin developers), Musescore, Linux Mint, Me, Zrhythm… there are many more.

Here is a list of some of the more notable examples - List of commercial open-source applications and services - Wikipedia

Here is an article about various “Open Source” business models - Business models for open-source software - Wikipedia

The advantage of free software is that it gives the users control, it’s not that it gives them stuff without paying for it, although in most cases that is true also.

Ardour provides binaries for as little as $1 - I think that’s more than reasonable considering the costs of generating the binaries, hosting them, and providing the download bandwidth.

Free software is the only software worth paying for.


In theory yes, but when you get to something as complex (and niche) as a DAW, there are probably only a few hundred people in the world who have the (diverse) skill set required to understand the features, and the methods of implementing them (though there are probably a great many more who think they do… its audio, how hard can it be? :slight_smile: ). That’s why its easily worth $1 to have someone build it for you in my opinion. (And after all, how much really is $1 in the context of all the other equipment you also need in order to actually make use of the software? )


Most users (with some programming ability) can make small changes to large program such as Ardour. I’ve done it, and I know very little about C++ or how Ardour works, but I was able to tweak the small part that was relevant to me with guidance from the developers here.

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