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Software group thinks inside the box

A new partnership aims to help small developers clear hurdles to retail distribution and give buyers a choice of software products.

For retail buyers, software has been a vanilla-chocolate market lately, with most categories dominated by two big-name products.

Now an obscure French publisher hopes to add some flavors to the mix, with a new publishing strategy aimed at helping small developers get their products in stores.

Paris-based BVRP Software Group announced the formation Wednesday of Avanquest Global Software Publishing, a network of small software makers that will take advantage of BVRP's retail contacts to place products in stores. The initial developer lineup is a mix of BVRP subsidiaries, investment partners and nonequity partners, all looking to expand their sales outlets.

While many small software developers have focused on electronic distribution as the easiest way to get their software to market, most consumers still prefer to buy a physical product from a real store, said Bob Lang, director of North American operations for Avanquest.

"I think it just validates the product more in a consumer's mind if they see it in a box in a store," said Lang.

Yet retail distribution is a daunting challenge for small developers. Even if you can figure out a cost-effective way to get the software on a disc and in a box, big retailers are usually reluctant to deal with another supplier.

"Even if the buyer at Staples sees a gap in their selection, and you've got a product for that, they don't want to talk with you if you're just selling on the Internet and only have a couple of titles," said Anne Norland Anderson, senior vice president of marketing for Elibrium, one of the main partners in Avanquest.

Avanquest takes a portion of sales and in exchange handles all packing, distribution and localization of products to sell to foreign markets. Besides retail, the network also has extensive contacts with PC makers and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). BVRP's RightFax is one of the most common fax applications bundled with new PCs.

"It took us years to build those relationships," Lang said. "The reason we're so good with OEMs is that we come from a cost-management approach. They need to include a fax program with the hardware, they want to do it as inexpensively as possible, and we accommodate that."

Initial Avanquest partners include WinZip, creators of a popular decompression utility; ACD Systems, which makes a number of digital imaging applications; and BlackIce, a popular firewall program. The partnership is looking for other developers with popular downloadable software that are ready to step up to retail, Lang said.

"We want to offer the small developer an opportunity to get into the channel, where a huge amount of customers still prefer to buy their software," he said.