Top Three API Trial Methods

Walk through any shopping mall food court and you’re bound to be offered a free sample from at least one of the restaurants. The taster is such a staple of mall marketing for one simple reason: it just plain works. This tactic has been borrowed with success by software-as-a-service (and even downloadable software) companies and as such is also common with API Products.

The free trial gives developers a taste without making a large commitment. However, there is not just one way to provide a free trial and the method you choose may impact how successful the method is for your API. The following details the three most common methods of API trials with example providers using it today.

Time-based Trial

The classic software trial gives the user 14 or 30 days to decide whether to pay. With the example above, enterprise mobile app service API, developers will want to make sure to fully kick the tires. The time-based trial works even if your API starts much cheaper than thousands of dollars per month. Most often the time-based trial is self-serve, but this is the most likely of the free trial methods to put a salesperson gate in front of the developer. The length of time can vary, but it should be long enough to fully understand whether the API would be useful.

Free Version Trial

The freemium pricing model is popular and is a form of a free trial. The free version of the API is restricted in some way, such as number of API calls, number of features or other factors. The Geocoda API shown above caps both API calls and storage in order to encourage developers to upgrade to a paid plan. As an added incentive, Geocoda also uses a time-based trial, giving developers unlimited access to its API for the first 30 days.

Credit-based Trial

The credits-based trial has worked very well for the Twilio API, which encourages developers to "get started now." Twilio deposits a dollar value into new accounts. Free credits enable developers to get started and even build a fully production app. When their credits are gone, they can buy more in small increments, making for a very low upgrade barrier.

The credit-based trial works well for Twilio because it charges for its API based upon credits. It could still work for APIs with monthly fees, as well. In fact, it's a nice alternative to the time-based trial, because development timelines aren't always as short as the trial period. If developers have a limited number of calls, they can work at their own pace to determine whether the API is a good fit.

These are the three most common ways of providing a trial for a paid API. There are many more options if you consider that they can be mixed and matched, much like the ways to price an API.

Which is your favorite, from either the developer or the provider perspective?

Photo by Scott Sutherland

Adam DuVander is Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and Contributing Editor of ProgrammableWeb. Previously he edited this site and wrote for Wired. You can follow him on Twitter.

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