For years shareware catalogs and electronic bulletin boards have functioned as distribution channels of last resort for software scrap -- that is, programs turned down by traditional publishing houses.

But shareware is finally going mainstream. Tom Droege of Droege Computing Services, in Durham, N.C., is among those who think niche-shareware catalogs are the way to go in marketing software. Last April Droege sunk $25,000 into a catalog (printing 10,000 copies) with 125 programs devoted to servicing the medical market, 40 of which were his own company's creation. Explains Droege: "We just say, 'Here's a list of programs; if you want to try one, send us $5.' If people like it, they'll pay the registration fee because they'll want technical support, manuals, upgrades, and all the other things one expects when one buys software." Droege hopes the shareware catalog will be a profitable way to put evaluation copies of his programs -- some valued at thousands of dollars -- into the hands of potential customers who wouldn't otherwise see them.

Recently, publishing giant Ziff Communications purchased Public Brand Software, the largest shareware catalog in the country, boasting a mailing list of hundreds of thousands of names, plus a library of sophisticated reviews on each program in the catalog. Ziff's managing director of desktop information, Michael Kolowich, wanted the reviews and software to include on Ziff-Net, a new on-line-information service. "Shareware is a much stronger market than the corporate market realizes," says Kolowich.

-- Teri Lammers

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