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Ready for Retail? Get Your App on the Map

You've had the great idea, written the perfect software, tested it, revised it, debugged it, put it on the Web, and people are downloading it like hotcakes. But where's the money? The real money's on retail store shelves—and you can't get in easily. Find out what the experts say about how to get your commercial applications into retail chains.


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ow many times have you walked through your favorite electronics superstore, say Best Buy or CompUSA, looked at the software products sitting on the shelves and wondered 'why them'? As a developer you probably personally know at least 50 people who've written better, more interesting software than is available on store shelves today. Maybe you've even written some marketable products yourself.

But there they are: Rows of neat boxes, ready to be plucked off the shelves by throngs of consumers, each purchase ringing a virtual cash register bell over the coffers of some other developers' bank account. Why are they so lucky?

The answer boils down to two things: They have the right kind of product at the right time and they probably have a publishing partner who outlays all the cash and handles all the complex operational details in exchange for a chunk of the sales.

There are plenty of other ways that software gets from its creators to retail, all of which are discussed at length in Rick Chapman's book, The Product Marketing Handbook for Software (Aegis Resources). Chapman, who is well known as the seminal figure on the subject of software marketing, says he always advises companies to sell directly whenever possible. But this method is only viable for companies valued at $10 million or larger. For small operations, you start with direct sales online and, when you're doing strong sales there, it's a good idea to choose a distribution partner to help you go to retail.

In fact, a publishing partner can make the process of taking a software product to retail exceedingly easy for a developer. A publisher knows the inner workings of the retail channel, of product marketing and development, has the supply chain prerequisites already in place, and is willing to be the conduit between the high-tech mindset of the developer and the low-tech world of the retail store.

Some publishers/distributors will front all the costs of getting your product into the stores, meaning no major capital investment for you and no third-party funding required. All you have to do is show up with a great product that everyone wants to buy. Others will agent you into the stores but expect you to front the cost of goods and manufacturing. The difference, of course, is how many of your precious sales dollars you're willing to forego for the convenience (see page 4 for more on "Raking in the Cash").

As you'll soon learn, the world of retail software sales is a far cry from the tech-savvy circles that the average developer mingles in every day. In fact, the culture shock of selling to a mass consumer audience is usually reason enough for a developer to seek out a professional channel partner.

The good news: If you succeed in bringing software to retail, you can make anywhere from $350,000 to $2 million in the first year. The bad news: Whether you succeed or not has very little to do with the outright quality of your product.

Either way, this article will dispatch the fog that surrounds this not-so-mystical process, give you a clear idea of what factors will lead to success, and tell you how to get started if you think your product is ready for the shelves of Wal-Mart.



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