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Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Unfortunately, I Really Am That Nerdy

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The predictable surprise sale
chromatic self
for those who aren't aware, I enjoy typesetting. I don't get to do nearly enough of it, but Adobe PageMaker was one of my favorite toys. I was bad at it, but I really had fun with my Tech Writing class; I want to do more of that, I just haven't had the time. I've got a project I need to do such desktop publishing on, but I'm having trouble with the content; form must follow function. (That said, I'm refining it. It's the rules to an Icehouse game that has proven quite good in playtesting.)

I may have a passion for PageMaker, but I lack it for InDesign. InDesign is an excellent professional tool; in several hours, nearly any project of any complexity can have significant progress made. Unfortunately, this includes the trivial projects. InDesign is astonishingly powerful, but it's about as user-friendly as a double-ended chainsaw. Its features and proper use are not immediately obvious. I needed a lighter-weight desktop publisher, but it needed to be significantly more capable than Microsoft Publisher and an order of magnitude more stable than The Print Shop. Research and reviews led me to Serif PagePlus X3, which has turned out to be an excellent decision. It was, simply, the right solution for me. It's as user-friendly as Publisher, but as powerful as PageMaker; of course it isn't InDesign, but it's 1/15th the price and it has every feature that I actually understand how to use, plus a plethora that never made sense in InDesign but are presented significantly better here.

After I placed that order, Serif started spamming me. This is exactly what I expected when I left the "yes, I want offers from Serif" box checked, mostly because I was hoping for the occasional sale; PagePlus was the software of theirs that I needed, but I wanted to play with about half of the rest of their product line. I just didn't want to play with it at full price.

Apparently, Serif has "surprise" sales for "loyal customers", which turns out to mean "anybody who ever bought anything from Serif since they got a major web presence, plus anybody else who signed up on the mailing list". And "surprise" means "every Wednesday at 10:30 AM, until the following Friday, at which point they extend the sale by another 48 hours".

The bad thing about such predictable sales is that I decided to wait them out. I figured it was only a matter of time before the tool I sort of needed (PhotoPlus) went on sale- and that it did, several weeks ago; I bought it, and I've been using semi-regularly ever since. (Consider all the features of the GIMP, in a good user-interface.) What I was really waiting for, though, was their vector illustrator/animator. I'm not sure why, as I'm as terrible with those as a form of art as I am with all other visual forms of art, but they've always been fun, and interested me; maybe it's because they're excellent for making technical diagrams, and I suspect it'll be extremely useful in that capacity with regard to my interests in inventing board games of various forms (and therefore board diagrams in rulesets).

The problem with predictable sales: even after your loyal customers decide they love your products and would consider paying full price for software they only need for a curiosity, not professionally, they'll wait you out until you put it on sale. Which is why I now have a receipt for buying DrawPlus, plus its resource CD, plus two DVDs of clip art, for $25, with free shipping. (Free international shipping, at that.)

Regular sales keep customers, but I can't help but wonder if they're actually shooting themselves in the foot here. It's probably safe to say that for any given Serif program, if you've ever bought a Serif program before, you'll be able to get it for at least 60% off within three months. I wonder how many people who might've paid full price are just waiting them out, as did I.

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I actually suspect that Serif makes money at the sale price level. I've never bought a Serif product that wasn't super cheap. Neither has anyone else I've talked to about it. Not that their products are no good, they are all within the acceptable range on usability and features.

My best guess is that they are written offshore by very cheap application programmers, probably in Asia somewhere.

They've got two things going for them: one is probably well-managed cheap offshore programmers with local expert code reviewers and spec writers (offshore programming can be excellent when run correctly), and the other is that the programs haven't fundamentally changed since their original versions. They've been dramatically refined, and new features keep getting added in, but it's been a graceful evolution rather than a throw-out-the-codebase totally new rendition every version- their upgrades are nontrivial from a buyer's perspective, but perhaps not that big a deal from theirs- so they're coasting on a codebase they already wrote years ago, which is inexpensive to maintain if and only if it had good architecture to start with and an extensible design.

If that's what they've done, then bravo to them. Many projects simply can't grow like that in any maintainable way, and inexpensive addition of stable new features and overall stable improvement of the code is exactly the reward good investment in design from the beginning gives them, and they've earned every bit of the profit they win by undercutting their competitors on price.

dear typesetter!

thank you for friending our project, and please feel encouraged to contribute by the overwhelming response wee have received!

wee miss you,

bottomliner dogon shzme

My guess is that they figure they make more money by offering you everything they sell on sale than they are by keeping prices on everything high and having you not buy it.

Keep in mind the sales are only for their mailing list; and that by your own admission the price point at which you were willing to make your purchases was lower than the retail price. Sounds like it's working out for them pretty well.

And spacing the sales like that also self-selects those who are willing to wait long enough to buy it at sale price -- the cheap, the broke and the casual buyers. Those who are really interested probably will pay full price anyway to avoid the wait, and those who wait for the sale might not ever get it without the deal.

So, from what you're saying, if someone wants a Serif product, sign up for the mailing list and just wait for it to go on sale? Or do you have to first actually buy something to get on the mailing list?
We Didn't Start the Magic — © Curt "the Camera Guy"

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