Here's a thought that has been nagging me lately: how come that there are virtually no commercial activities around Blender? A product with more than 250.000 users should be able to attract some entrepreneurial attention, right?
After some googling and thinking I came up with the following disappointingly short list of currently available services and products:
- The Blender Guide and related products in the Blender Foundation's e-shop.
- The project Orange DVD. (By the way: if you haven't done so yet I suggest you go and order one now; you'll be supporting the project and the Orange team directly).
- The ResPower renderfarm supports Blender.
- The yearly Blender Conference. I'm not sure if this qualifies as 'commercial' as it's run by the Blender Foundation, but the fact is that this is a professionally organised event and you have to pay an admission fee.
- There are a few Blender objects available on TurboSquid, but I'm not really impressed with the quantity yet.
Three of the above are products of the Blender Foundation.
Why don't we see more of the following:
- Top-quality training videos.There are already lots of video tutorials online, but the quality is often disappointing. If you want to know what I'm talking about, look at the trial video of Jeff Lew. This is excellent quality and entertaining to watch and I'd gladly pay $50 to get my hands on a similar Blender video. Instead of selling DVD's (pushing physical objects around the globe is always a pain) you could also try selling them online. As an example, check out the SimplyLightwave approach.
- Commercial end-user support.Guaranteed answer to your questions on using Blender within, say, one business day. From my experience in the corporate world, this kind of support contract serves one major purpose: it allows you to convince your boss to use Open Source software. Having free software is great, but managers need to be be reassured that the continuity of their company is safe (which makes sense to me).
I also see a shift in the corporate culture around me: companies have been using Open Source software for a long time without giving anything back, but now they are slowly starting to realise that they should (financially) support those projects if only to insure their survival. This usually is a 'bottom-up' process where the employees convince their bosses that supporting an Open Source project is a Good Thing. Again, it's easier to convince them if they get some kind of support in return.Of course, the above is a bit of a cynical view on the use of support; most companies need to *use* their support contracts as well ;-)
- Commercial 'find-a-coder' support.Studios often need to have a bug urgently fixed or they need a specific feature for their current project. They don't know their way around the Blender community very well so they could use a service that hooks them up with a coder who has a good reputation. Again, having such a service available will make it easier for artists to 'sell' Blender to their bosses.
- Commercial object and material libraries for Blender.I know that Blender can read files for other packages, but the resulting models are never textured or animated. You should be able to sell, for example, a good library of fully textured furniture or office supplies to architectural design studios. Maybe you can deliver models 'on demand'.
These three ideas are the result of just one hour of brainstorming so I'm sure you can come up with many more.
My theory is that the Open Source character of the software biases both entrepreneurs and potential customers but I believe that we are approaching a turning point. Project Orange is about to firmly place Blender on the map in the professional movies and design industry and with this new audience, new commercial products will become viable as well.
The interesting thing is that these services would not only be beneficial to the people who run them or those who use them; Blender as a tool will gain credibility as well. It is a strong signal when companies step up who say that they believe in it enough to invest time and effort in related services. At the end of the day everyone will be better off.
So: Where Are the Blender Products and Services? Now would be a good time to start thinking about how YOU could make a living by supporting Blender. The opportunities are there, you just need to seize them.