Software Licensing: Pay-Per-Use versus Perpetual
34 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2008 Last revised: 21 Apr 2015
Date Written: November 1, 2007
Piracy has been a major problem for perpetually licensed software. Usage-based licensing architecture such as pay-per-use or software-as-a-service can offer technology-based protection against piracy. We provide an analytical framework to examine the economic implications of pay-per-use versus perpetual licensing in a market with potential piracy, network effect, and heterogeneous consumers in terms of marginal usage benefit and acquisition costs for pirated software. We show that the potential piracy rate, the user inconvenience cost of pay-per-use licensing, consumer heterogeneity, and the network strength are important factors determining a vendor's optimal choice of licensing architecture. While perpetual licensing tends to be optimal when consumers have homogeneous valuations, pay-per-use is more profitable than perpetual licensing or mixed licensing in markets with heterogeneous consumers and low user inconvenience costs. If the inconvenience cost is low enough, pay-per-use will be more profitable than perpetual licensing even if the market has no potential piracy. The presence of network effect also favors pay-per-use over perpetual licensing; if the network effect is strong, pay-per-use will always dominate perpetual licensing regardless of the inconvenience cost or the potential piracy. With more heterogeneous consumers, higher potential piracy, lower inconvenience costs, and stronger network effects, pay-per-use licensing yields not only higher vendor profits but also a higher social surplus than perpetual licensing. Important managerial implications are also discussed.
Keywords: software pricing, piracy, network effect, licensing innovation, pay-per-use, usage based pricing, software licensing, perpetual licensing
JEL Classification: D62, L86, O3, D42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation