The reluctance of big retail chains like Harvey Norman to deal with small fry is forcing independent Australian software manufacturers to consider new ways of getting their products on the shelves of mass marketers. As a result, a number of software developers within the Australian Software Publishers Association (ASPA) are seeking to form an alliance between members to enable them to market products under an umbrella organisation.
Standardised packaging, ASPA labelling and one-stop shopping for retailers for Australian software are just some of the benefits being mooted. While there is general agreement among ASPA's membership that an alliance would be beneficial to the marketing of individual developers' products, there is some disagreement as to the form it should take.
Stephen Sampson, a director of Melbourne-based Robust Software, which distributes locally developed products, hinted at a recent meeting of the Victorian branch of ASPA that his company would be just the organisation for the job. "Big retailers are not interested in talking to one-person businesses," he said. "Therefore, small local developers, who often have world-class products, will only be able to get into big stores through companies like Robust, who can present them with a range of products to choose from."
No vested interests
However, other ASPA members such as Mary Frenkel, national marketing manager of Melbourne-based security software producer PC-Plus Systems, believe that umbrella marketing of ASPA products should not be done by any member company that may have a vested interest. "Among other products, Robust Software distributes a security product which is a competitor of ours," said Frenkel. "However, we recognise that there is a need for small one-product companies like ours to band together under an umbrella to provide retailers with a single source for accounts and distribution.
"I think there is an opportunity for ASPA to become not only a voice for Australian software developers as a lobby group, but also to provide other activities which are of common interest. In addition to becoming a marketing umbrella in its own right, it could provide quality assurance functions for its members' products. ASPA should promote Australian software through its own banner, rather than an independent distributor [that would] become a one-stop shop for the Harvey Normans," she said.
"If a major retail chain is looking for Australian software for say a 'Made in Australia' promotion, ASPA should be able to provide a stand of Australian software for the promotion," she said. Frenkel believes that a starting point would be for all products of ASPA members to be packaged with the same look and feel.
A uniform look
"Penguin books, for instance, all have different stories in them, but the external packaging has the same look and feel and this tends to give a product credibility," she said. "In the same way there could be a set of Australian software that has a theme going through it that makes it look like a suite of programs. This gives retailers a central source and a better suite of programs than Microsoft's because each of the products would be the flagship product of the respective developers.
"The history of software is one-product wonders being swallowed up by large companies and then getting lost in a different culture and mindset and eventually disappearing," she said. Frenkel believes the movement towards umbrella marketing within ASPA will soon lead to the establishment of a full-time marketing arm within the organisation. "Let's face it, if you put in a part-time effort, as we are at the moment, then you're bound to get part-time results," she said. "It needs to be done now if the independent Australian software industry is to grow."