Why there is no Free Editing Software for Writers

Most dedicated software for creative writers is aimed at early stage writing. The market for this software is huge. Poll ten people in a room and at least two of them are writing something—that’s assuming they’ll admit to it, as many writers are a bit shy about their work-in-progress.

The sheer number of people who occupy this early-stage writing sphere is so large that writing software cannot be termed niche software. A host of products, both free and paid, have sprung up to feed this market. The common thread that runs through all of this software is that it is aimed at first-draft writing.

When it comes time to edit that finished first draft, and time to share it with another person, none of this early-stage software can be used. Even powerful and widely used and recommended products such as Scrivener fail when it comes time to share and edit.

Why is this?

Two reasons. Firstly, because that’s when things get complicated—from a programming perspective that is. Features such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes—used by professional editors all the time—are very difficult and time consuming to design and build. Which leads into the second reason that most writing software fails to properly handle the post-first-draft stage.

Most ‘writers’ never finish a first draft.

This is rarely talked about, but it is THE key reason so much writing software stops at the first-draft stage. If 95% of the users of your software never finish a first draft of a novel, that means only 5% will ever have use for the complicated post-first-draft feature set. Track Changes and whatever alternatives might have popped up are never incorporated into the software because it would only benefit 1 in 20 users.

Building polished, commercial software takes time and effort. A business decision has to be made for each feature that is added, and for low priced writing software (under $100), the business case for hard-core editing functionality cannot be made.

What does this mean for editing software in general?

It means that while early-stage writing software is NOT niche software, actual editing software IS. Its target market is the 5%—those writers who have completed a first draft of their 80,000 word novel. A real achievement, not to be sneezed at, but so rare that any software product aimed at this market cannot be called anything but niche.

The downside here: because the market is so small compared to the market for more general writing software, the number of players in this field is also small. Free software for editing does not exist. Small apps can be found at no cost—such as SmartEdit Lite, or the various word cloud utilities that take all of 5 minutes to build—but heavy duty software for editing is invariably going to cost real money and take real months or years of development time, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

If you’re waiting for the arrival of free editing software, don’t hold your breath.

[The prompt for this post: the number of search queries hitting this site with a variation of Free Editing Software for Writers. (that’d be the 5%)]

30 Sep 2013