Who dominates the screenwriting software market?

Screenwriting was one of the first sectors of the film industry to embrace digital technology.

Way back in the early 1990s, software packages were being launched which empowered screenwriters to craft their work safe in the knowledge that they could maintain multiple versions, back up important scripts and meet the industry’s tough formatting guidelines.

Cut to thirty years later and now there are dozens of packages available, many offering extra features to help writers with brainstorming, planning and reporting on all aspects of the script.

I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at the biggest packages on the market and see how they stack up against each other.

I’m going to measure three things:

  1. Awareness – Market penetration among screenwriters
  2. Activity – Percentage of scripts written in each program
  3. Attitude – What screenwriters think of each program

I’ll be drawing on two sources of data to do this:

  • huge pile of scriptsA dataset of 12,309 feature film scripts from my recent collaboration with Screencraft in which we measured the opinions and values of professional script readers.  These scripts were either entered into a Screencraft script competition or submitted to receive a script report in 2016, 2017 or 2018.
  • A survey of 2,128 screenwriters I carried out with Screencraft in January 2019.  I asked respondents questions about their professional experience in screenwriting, such as whether they have ever had an agent and how much they have earned from writing.  This allowed me to split the screenwriters into two groups: “Professional” and “Aspiring”.  (In the real world the distinction is rarely so neat but I felt it was important to provide at least some filtering by experience).

There is more information about both of these sources in the ‘Notes’ section at the end of the article.

Here are the seven packages I have data for (presented in alphabetical order):

  • Celtx – $180 annual subscription.  Celtx was previously a free, open-source, desktop software but development stopped in 2011 and it was officially discontinued in 2017.  It is now a paid, cloud-based subscription service.
  • Fade In$80 purchase.  Launched in 2011 and aimed squarely at the top end of the screenwriting industry.
  • Final Draft – $250 purchase.  Final Draft is the old package, with its first Mac version launching in 1990. PC users got their first release five years later in 1995.
  • Movie Magic Screenwriter $250 purchase. Movie Magic Screenwriter was created by the combination of two older screening programs – ScriptThing and Scriptor (which was awarded an Academy Award for technical achievement in 1994).
  • Scrivener –$45 purchase. Launched in 2007 and designed for many types of writers including novelists, journalists and screenwriters.
  • TrelbyFree. It was initially launched as a commercial product called ‘Blyte’ in 2003.  In 2006 it was renamed and converted into an open-source free product.
  • WriterDuet$89 annual subscription. Launched in 2013, it is currently a cloud-based online tool.  Your first three scripts are free, after which you’ll need an annual Pro subscription.

Right, let’s take a look at how they fare…

1. Awareness

Let’s start with brand awareness. Within my survey of over 2,000 screenwriters, I asked respondents whether they had ever used each of the seven major screenwriting programs.

93% of professional screenwriters have used Final Draft, as have 76% of aspiring screenwriters.  The second place program is Celtx, which lags behinds at 39% and 49% respectively.

2. Activity

Next, let’s take a look at which is the more frequently used program.

Using metadata in the PDF files, we were able to determine which program was used to write the majority of the over 12,000 scripts in our script readers study.  Sadly there were a few programs which did not reveal themselves via this process and so they have not been included in the chart below.  I.e. the chart shows percentages of scripts for which we could determine the source program.

Final Draft again tops the pack, with a market share of 59%.  Celtx was second at 12%, followed by Movie Magic Screenwriter (8%), WriterDuet (7%) and Fade In (4%).  9% of scripts were written in programs not intended for screenplay creation, such as Word, Pages and, yes, even NotePad.

For each script, we have a Review Score, out of ten, given by the professional script readers who reviewed the script.

It will surprise few to learn that scripts written in general word processing programs performed the poorest.  That’s not because those programs make scripts worse, but rather because in screenwriting there is a strong link between experience and quality, and one would expect serious screenwriters to have taken the time to acquire a dedicated program to write in.

There is not a huge difference between the top three programs, with scripts written in Final Draft coming out on top with an average score of 5.3 out of 10, Fade In with 5.0 and Movie Magic with 4.9.

3. Attitude

Finally, let’s take a look at what screenwriters think of each of the major programs.

Of those who had used a program, we asked them to say whether they “loved it”, “kinda liked it”, were indifferent or “hated it”.   Maybe by now you will have already guessed which program came out on top…

Yes, Final Draft had the highest percentage of screenwriters saying they “loved” it (52% of people who’d used it) and the lowest percentage of haters (just 4%).  WriterDuet came second (37% love, 5% hate) and Fade In third (35% love, 4% hate)

I used this data to create a rough relative score for each program (“love” = two points, “kinda like” = one point and “hate” = minus one) and split the results by the screenwriters’ experience.

The biggest differences between the level of experience were with WriterDuet and Celtx, both of which are preferred by aspiring screenwriters more than by professionals.

So in all three ways of measuring impact, Final Draft comes out on top.  They are certainly the market leaders, although the other major screenwriting packages have many fans and the sector is far from owned by Final Draft.

Notes

The survey data is self-reported answers from people who chose to complete our survey.  That adds all manner of biases when compared to the empirical market share data we gleaned from the PDF metadata. 11% of the respondents fall into my definition of “Professionals” and 89% are “Aspiring”.

This is wholly independent research.  Just for the avoidance of doubt, here is my Shermanesque statement:  I was not paid, rewarded, induced or coerced into writing this article by any party, least of all any screenwriting programs.  None of the programs mentioned above were aware of this article before publication and none had any influence on the results.  In the course of researching our script readers report, I did chat with technical staff at Celtx and WriterDuet in order to help me understand the metadata their programs create.

Screencraft were essential in providing the screenplays and also helped promote the survey on their networks.  The research and number crunching was carried out independently by myself and my report co-authors, Josh Cockcroft and Liora Michlin.   This means that the results could not have been influenced in any way by any deals or connections Screencraft may have with script software.  That said, they never asked, suggested or even so much as hinted we do anything other than find out what the data reveals and report it faithfully.

Most programs offer discounted pricing for students, teachers, upgrades and bulk purchases.  The prices I listed are the current US dollar un-discounted price for the latest version as of the writing of this article.

Celtx is a complicated program to track as it has changed from being a free desktop program to a paid online subscription service.  All the scripts we studied were exported between 2016 and 2018 and so we can’t know if they were using the old or new incarnation.  Likewise, the views screenwriters shared could be recent or historical.

Other screenwriting packages are available.  These ones studied were picked due to a combination of relevance and availability of data.  This market snapshot takes no account of the features, quality or cost of each program – it’s simply reflecting the views and actions of screenwriters. Each program offers a different writing experience, so if you’re currently deliberating over which program to use I would highly recommend trying each and going with whichever works best for you.  It doesn’t matter what everyone else uses and no matter how well coded a piece of software is, it cannot make you a better writer in any meaningful sense.