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Secondhand Software

If you don't mind older versions, you can save a bundle by buying used software.

By AMY J. SCHATZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 1999


When Art Hooper was shopping for a word processing program for his Seminole company he thought about plunking down about $500 for Microsoft Office 97. Instead, he decided to buy an older, used copy of Microsoft Office 95 -- for $109.

"Software doesn't wear out," the owner of Elite CNC Machining said. "If you buy it secondhand, it's still as good as new."

With Microsoft lawyers banging down doors around Tampa Bay accusing computer shops of pirating Microsoft products, consumers might feel trepidation about buying used software. But in many cases, going for what a used car dealer would call "pre-owned" goods is legal and can mean a significant savings.

When Mike Herman tires of playing his computer games, he trades them in at CyberExchange, a Clearwater computer store. "Software is ridiculously priced," said Herman, a Largo resident who has been known to trade in eight or nine games at a time. "I found (CyberExchange) two or three years ago and I haven't been in a big computer store since."

The shelves of CyberExchange are lined with hundreds of shrink-wrapped copies of used computer games and utilities traded in by computer aficionados such as Hooper and Herman.

John Gentile, one of CyberExchange's owners, opened the store in November 1996. It has become one of the largest sellers of used software in the bay area.

"We have software junkies who pull up to the curb with a trunk load" of used games and applications, Gentile said.

CyberExchange is a national company with 40 franchises in 25 states that allows consumers to buy, sell and trade software. The St. Charles, Ill., company maintains a data base on software that tells franchisees not only how much products are worth, but how many CDs and software manuals should be included.

"If a new game comes out, just wait a month," Gentile said. "Somebody will trade it in and it'll be here for less."

Games are the most coveted product in the used software market, according to Brian Schell, owner of Dayton Software, an Ohio retail computer store. He has been selling used software since 1990.

"Utilities and business software aren't popular," he said. "Unfortunately they get updated so often they're not useful."

Popular used software titles include games such as Half-Life, a souped-up version of the popular game Doom, and Baldur's Gate, a role-playing game based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, according to Schell.

There is nothing illegal about buying used software as long as the original owner doesn't keep a copy and hands over all of the original documentation that came packaged with the software. "It's not a whole lot different legally than a used book store," Schell said.

Peter Beruk, director of anti-piracy for the Software Publishers Association, an industry organization, said that is generally true. "Yes, you can sell used software but it depends on what you're selling," Beruk said. "Most things that people have in their homes they are allowed to transfer."

There is certainly plenty of software out there to be traded. Industry groups don't track the sale of used software. However, sales of new software last year increased 13 percent from 1997 to about $5.2-billion, according to PC Data, a Virginia company that tracks such sales.

CyberExchange doesn't pay cash for used software. It gives in-store credits instead. The same is true of Babbage's/Software Etc. and Electronics Boutique, two national video game and software retailers located in shopping malls. (In the bay area, Electronics Boutique trades used computer software and video games, but Babbage's and Software Etc. stores trade only video games.)

Consumers who trade in used software receive a credit for a fraction of the original cost of the program. For example, CyberExchange will credit a seller with $20 for Microsoft FrontPage97, then resell the Web page design software for $50, a discount from the original $80 retail price.

The price of the software depends on how long it has been on the market, how many copies have been sold and how popular it remains, Gentile said. The price of FrontPage97 has dropped because it has been replaced by FrontPage98.

"It's like a real slow-moving commodities market," Gentile said. "People want the latest and the greatest."

Gentile says he doesn't make much money from buying and selling used software at CyberExchange. It takes time to check each program, run it through a virus detection program and rewrap it for sale. But used software brings customers in the door and supplements his main business, which is servicing and building computers and computer networks.

"It's not an easy business," Gentile said.

While Gentile's employees have become adept at spotting pirated software, most consumers aren't as skilled. Stories abound of hucksters at flea markets and computer trade shows selling CD-ROMs containing hundreds of dollars of illegally copied software for $10. Not only are such CDs illegal, they could contain viruses that would damage your machine.

"If you see Microsoft Office for $25, there's probably something wrong," Schell said.

Watch out for CDs that have handwritten labels, Beruk said. And don't buy software unless it includes the original documentation it was sold with.

"Everything that's sold out there isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "It's a growing problem and (has) been growing with the advent of people buying more writable CDs."

Surfing for used software

www.babbages.comBabbages/Software Etc. home page lists store locations and trade-in values for used games.

www.replaymedia.comDayton Software of Ohio sells used software over the Internet. Includes information on how to sell used software to the company.

www.retrosoftware.comThe Michigan online trader of used software titles offers information on how to sell used software to the company.

www.spa.org/piracy/homepage.htm

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