Directorstar Galactica

Cylon: Replaced by CGI

Image via Greenfield Games, original from

Ever get the feeling that you’re part of a ragtag group of beaten-down survivors constantly on the run from the unending hordes of Flashlons? That the ship you’re on is constantly blowing gaskets and leaking air and the engineers are doing their best to keep things running but they sure as hell aren’t making major improvements? That not only is everyone around you getting old but that there aren’t many new faces showing up?

How many Director users are left? Who knows? The Macromedia management was so secretive about sales figures that I never heard anything about how many users there were even at the peak of its popularity late in the last millenium.

This was always an issue in the matter of Director book sales estimates. The size of the market of Director users had a direct bearing on the number of copies you could expect to sell and the quantity of books that could be published. Books have an inherent overhead: it takes the same amount of time to write and edit a book that gets read by one person as it does if 20,000 people read it. But the author and the publisher make a lot more money in the latter case.

Specialty books, on advanced programming topics, never really made an inroad into the Diredctor market. One of the first of the few was Peter Small’s Lingo Sorcery, which came out for Director 4 and was the introduction to the concept of object-oriented programming for many users who had no formal programming training. But Director never had the number of books on topics like data-driven applications, multi-user applications, or even programmatic animation that Flash has had (apart from a few books that tried to capitalize on the 3D capabilities of Director 8.5). The Flash user base is simply large and robust enough to support multiple books on non-general topics. Not that all Flash books do well, you can glut any market. See my Special Edition Using Flash 5 for an example of that.

I recently came across some information about the once-upon-a-time size of the Director market. Now it probably helps to know that as an author, if you sold 20,000 Director books, you were doing pretty well. That’s not a lot of books in absolute terms, given the amount of work it takes to produce a book six hundred to a thousand pages long, but in Director numbers, it meant you’d done OK. Neither of my Director books ever sold that many copies.

Anyway, the number I saw for Macromedia’s Director revenue was from the late 1990s, around the period of Director 7 and 8, which were products I worked on as a contractor, writing Lingo for the Behavior Library (along with James Newton). The figure was in the range of $55-$65 million annually for Director. At the time, Director was sold as Director Shockwave Studio (which included Fireworks and a sound editor). The retail price for the full Studio was $999, upgrades to the Studio were $499, and you could upgrade to Director 7 alone for $449. So let’s run some numbers.

First, assumptions. Let’s use $60 million dollars of revenue as a base since that’s in the middle of the range. Director was sold both directly by Macromedia in bundle prices and through resellers, where Macromedia wouldn’t get the entire price as revenue, so let’s discount all retail prices by a generous 20%.

Using those figures, if every Director sale was for a new Studio, that would be 75,000 copies. That would be the low end. On the other end, if all sales had were for upgrades to the Studio, the number would be 150,000. Some people, of course, wouldn’t have upgraded. The real number of Director 7 sales is likely on the higher end of that range, with more upgrades (at a lower price) weighting the figure to 120,000 or so.

Then, of course, there were a number of Director users who didn’t upgrade to version 7. Even if that was half of the user base, that put the total number of Director users worldwide at somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 back in the day. Which would explain why 20,000 copies of a Director book selling would be considered pretty good, what with 8-10% of the user base buying a copy. Even more impressive is the fact that since most of the books were version-specific, that figure would be about twice that compared to the number of new users.

Hey, I don’t know for sure that the figure I have to work from is completely correct. I may be misestimating how discounts affected sales figures. It’s hard to say, because nobody tells me anything. I doubt we’ll see any hard numbers on Director sales, historical or otherwise, but I’m fairly certain that if the size of the Director user base had been such that it was still making $60 million in sales for Macromedia in more recent years, it would have an engineering team the size it used to and there would be enough people to support a few more books, even if $60 million is only about 2% of the Adobe’s 2006 revenues.

How many of us are left, I wonder?