Building open source does not pay much. Running SaaS is still complicated. We have a better way to let you make money from your hobby.
This article was first published on April 24, 2021. It was updated on May 5, 2022 to reflect updates on the Apify platform.
Apify makes it easy to develop, run, integrate, and share cloud programs called actors. Our community has already published hundreds of actors, which are readily available for a wide range of use cases including web scraping, automation, and data processing.
A year ago, we launched a major innovation — developers can make money from coding by charging for the usage of their actors. This is important, as it gives you a clear incentive to keep building and improving software that brings value to the community, something that working on open-source software projects often fails to achieve.
Developing and publishing an actor on Apify is far easier than hosting your own, even small, software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, because we take care of scaling the cloud infrastructure, billing, web presence, and we’ll also help you get customers. Keep working on your hobby software projects even in niche domains, get a regular income, and keep your freedom while doing so.
Building open source alone does not pay
The open-source software movement is a tremendous success of human creativity and collaboration. It fueled the software revolution of past decades and changed the world for the better. Companies now routinely build their entire businesses on top of open-source stacks using open-source tools and libraries created over decades by thousands of developers all around the world.
While open source creates huge value to companies that use it, only a very small part of that value is distributed back to the creators. Open-source developers are often flooded by requests for free help. Even developers who build software used by millions of people often cannot afford to work full-time on their hobby projects. They have to find other sources of income and often end up taking corporate or consulting jobs.
The broken incentives of open source are not only unfair to developers, but affect the users, too, as they lead to security incidents like the Heartbleed bug in OpenSSL or NPM’s event-stream fiasco. Attempts to fix the incentives using donations or sponsoring for premium content have not succeeded on any wider scale. In fact, they never might. Once open-source code is published, the developers are no longer in control of it, so they will always have limited ways to charge a fair price with respect to the value the users get from their software.
So what options are you left with if you want to keep working on your hobby software projects and still make money? The emergence of cloud software offered one good way: publish your software as a service. But that’s not as easy as it could be.
Building SaaS is still too complicated
When you publish your software as a service (SaaS) that runs in the cloud, you have full control over who can use it and how much they pay for it. The code doesn’t even need to be closed source. Many companies will happily pay for the convenience of not having to deal with the cloud infrastructure and configuration required to run the open software themselves. Think of Red Hat, WordPress, MongoDB, etc.
The emergence of cloud infrastructure platforms such as AWS or Google Cloud and advances in cloud technology made it possible to launch SaaS products with minimum upfront investments. This has led to an explosion of SaaS companies over the past decade, for all kinds of use cases imaginable and unimaginable. In turn, the many SaaS products make it easier to build new SaaS products on top of them, further accelerating the growth of the cloud computing ecosystem.
But even though building SaaS tools and products is easier than ever, it is still not easy enough and requires way too many skills. Let’s say you develop software that does something interesting — that’s the fun part. But then you still need to set up an infrastructure where the code runs and scales, implement a billing system to handle payments, taxes, and invoices, find a domain name, set up a website, write marketing copy, work on your SEO, and acquire users.
Soon you realize that the development of the core service that you enjoyed was just a small fraction of the job. You end up spending most of your time working on the additional boring activities, just so that you can make some money from the core service that you enjoyed building. In the end, that’s not too different from getting a regular job just to be able to work on your hobby project. Only riskier.
We believe there ought to be a better way.
Building actors on Apify is easy and pays
The Apify platform makes it easy to develop, run and publish serverless cloud programs called actors. An actor is essentially a Docker image with a README file and input schema. When you publish an actor, Apify generates a clean landing page for it in Apify Store, provides a user interface to make it easy for people to try it out, and makes the actor available via an API to make it easy to integrate with other apps.
When a user runs an actor, it executes under their Apify account. We take care of scaling the computing, storage, and network resources, and charge the user for the cloud platform usage. This means that you as a developer don’t need to worry about the infrastructure at all. It just works.
Developers who publish an actor can now charge users a monthly rental fee, ranging from a few dollars to hundreds per month. 100% of the rental fee goes to the developer, Apify will just charge the customers for the cloud infrastructure with regular platform costs.
So here's the deal: Just focus on building your code, Apify will help you find customers for it, and will take care of running it for them.
We believe we live in an age where a single coder with basic skills, living anywhere in the world, should be able to easily build useful software and ship it to thousands of people. We’ll help you make a good living doing that, on your own terms, and without a boss.
The best ideas for what to build come from your own needs. Whenever you need to automate some workflow, ask yourself: are there other people who might be dealing with the same problem? If yes, it might be worth publishing the actor. Keep in mind that you don’t need to build from scratch, it’s easy to repurpose existing code as an actor, or call existing actors to do the job.
Benefits for customers
Finding, trying, and renting actors on Apify is extremely easy for users. Hundreds of actors for all kinds of automation use cases have already been published in Apify Store. For example:
- Web Scraper (apify/web-scraper)
- SEO Audit Tool (drobnikj/seo-audit-tool)
- Google Search Results Scraper (apify/google-search-scraper)
- GIF Scroll Animation (glenn/gif-scroll-animation)
- Send Email (apify/send-mail)
…and many more. New actors are published every day.
On Apify, the customers have a direct relationship with the developers of the actors they use, and can ask them for help or request custom paid features. By knowing the developers of actors are getting paid fairly, the customers can be more certain that the actors they depend on will be properly maintained and improved over time, unlike with many open-source projects.
Apify’s extensive open APIs, tools, and documentation make it simple to start using an actor and integrate it into a company workflow. Customers choose Apify for the simplicity and flexibility of usage, and because they can get custom help when needed.
So you have an idea for an actor or you already have code that you think could become an actor? Here are some suggested next steps:
➡️ Dive into our quick start tutorial on using Apify and creating actors.
➡️ As you develop your actor, make sure that you’re familiar with the technical side of building Apify actors.
➡️ Join other devs on our Discord server and get tips from the community on how to monetize and maintain your actor.
Currently, actors are best developed in Apify SDK for Node.js, but we also offer support for Python and other languages. In order to support more flexible use cases, we’ll keep introducing new payment models for actors. A lot more is coming, so stay tuned.