It has been a boom year for Australian software retailers, according to the latest figures from Inform.
The market analyst said the major players in the mass merchant market, such as Dick Smith and Harvey Norman, sold more than $100 million of software packages in the year to August 2002. This figure is almost double that of the previous 12 months, Inform said.
The figures are positive news for software vendors Microsoft and Symantec, which Inform estimates currently command a combined 58 per cent of the packaged software market.
Lorenzo Coppa, managing director of City Software and International Software Warehouse in Melbourne, said the software market has become more predictable but said he had not seen a big jump in sales.
"It's a lot more stable; these days we are always within 5 per cent of what we forecast every month. Last year it could blow out as far as 20 per cent off," he said.
"We just came off a good quarter; we hit our targets within 2 per cent of what we predicted. But I wouldn't say there's been a massive upturn - not 100 per cent anyway."
Coppa said wholesalers have been offering retailers large incentives to buy in stock, so buy-in sales would have improved dramatically but sell-through sales are unlikely to have improved simply because there is more stock in-store.
He said Microsoft picked up a bit, while Adobe and Symantec have remained solid. The changes to Microsoft's licensing program created a "one-month spike" for the retailer.
While such software was selling well, Coppa said the applications market continues to remain very quiet compared to its heyday in the late 1990s. "There is nothing really exciting being released," he said.
His cautious mood was mirrored by smaller independent retailers around the country, all reporting that any hikes in sales among the mass merchants have only filtered down to them on a much smaller scale, if at all.
"[The year] was above average but not over the top. Our sales were up around 20 per cent but definitely not double," said Font Factory director Robert Alpe.
"We did not have a good year and the software business is getting harder and harder because of piracy," said Drazen Kajacic, owner of Boomerang Software. "It is a huge problem and people don't even try to hide it anymore," he added.
Year-to-date growth is up by 75 per cent for antivirus and 103 per cent for Internet security software, according to Inform.
"There certainly have been some very healthy sales," said James Mackay, business development manager for software distributor Manaccom. "Our best product has been PC-cillin, which has skyrocketed lately and a new version is due out in a few months so it should jump again.
"There are two important factors in the growth of antivirus: the public is much better educated about the dangers, and sales people add on software with hardware much better than they used to.
"Importantly, more than 50 per cent of our top software is Australian, which is encouraging for the future," he added.
But the highest growth is in the office suite segment, which is up by an estimated 152 per cent, a figure Inform puts down to the take-up of Microsoft's Office XP suite throughout 2002.