WordPress.org is not an official marketplace for plugins and themes. Except for some plugins that are strictly SaaS products, all extensions to the platform are publicly available for the low cost of $0.
Despite not directly selling through WordPress.org, the plugin directory is a huge source of income for many individual developers and companies via product and service upsells. Plugins are big business. Besides a bounty of third-party marketplaces and individual shops, commercial interests often flow directly in and out of the official WordPress site. For many developers, it essentially serves as a marketplace.
In December, we dove into an early proposal of the WordPress block directory. The new directory should land within the WordPress software itself in version 5.5 and will house a new type of plugin. The idea behind the block directory is that it will allow plugin developers to create and share one-off blocks that users can install on their websites.
This is the future of WordPress.
Love it or hate it, there will come a time when end-users are primarily looking to install individual blocks to solve their problems. This is not to say that other types of plugins won’t exist or have their place. They will continue to be a major part of the platform. However, blocks will be a big deal once users can install them at the click of a button via the WordPress admin.
The question is whether blocks can also be big business.
Tavern reader Matt Gowdy believes the guidelines for the block directory could be an issue. “There’s a lot to like here,” he said. “Though I’m still troubled by the directory submission rules that are fairly stringently not allowing for any sort of promotional link or defined up-sell of any kind so as not to ‘disrupt the flow.’”
Currently, the block directory guidelines make it clear that advertising of any kind is disallowed:
Block Plugins are blocks. They must not include advertisements, prompts, or promotional messages.
On the one hand, it makes sense, particularly for something that is not yet built and will eventually serve as a version 1.0. If every block a user installs begins advertising, it could be a recipe for disaster without some type of standard.
On the other hand, would the idea of not having an upselling route turn WordPress businesses away? While many developers would be willing to submit blocks, is this sustainable? Many of the most popular plugins are backed by businesses. The more popular any particular piece of software becomes, the more likely it is that the software will need funding to cover maintenance, feature updates, and support.
“More often than not these days, people don’t have as much free time to invest in coding just for the fun of it,” said Gowdy. “I speak mainly of myself, but I have the notion that while WordPress is still grounded pretty firmly in Open Source (not a bad thing), it’s been the open markets that have allowed it to grow as much as it has. I don’t think it’s wrong to allow people the opportunity (within reason) to make something back off their hard work should they choose. Donations are non-viable in my experience as the vast majority of humanity are way cheaper than they would like to admit.”
Currently, the upcoming directory has a limited number of blocks available. The WordPress Meta and Plugin teams should expect more. However, it is unclear whether the guideline will slow its growth.
“Without any sort of up-sell channel (rule-defined or element defined in blocks), we aren’t going to see the plethora that we are hoping for, nor in some cases the quality that could be brought in by people working professionally on a block plugin,” said Gowdy. “The time to define these up-sell and link options is right now.”
Gowdy is not alone in his concerns. Several others expressed similar opinions in the comments on the block directory announcement post.
“Where WordPress started and where it is now are two separate points in time,” said Gowdy. “I hope the Open Source community and the marketplaces can find a way to co-exist here in order to really rev up the platform for the future.”
This post is part of a new From the Comments series where we highlight interesting points of discussion from comments on WP Tavern articles. The hope is to give these comments, which can sometimes get lost, the attention they deserve.
Some projects like Drupal aggressively discourage premium versions, but I imagine that the WordPress tolerance of the freemium model is partially responsible for its success. However, this also creates a tension that is a big gray area.
Although it has been talked about, the guidelines are not always clear where plugin and theme authors can advertise: in the Customizer (where / how)? On the general plugins page? On the plugin’s settings page? On the post edit page? On the update page? And what about on WP.org? Maybe we should have a tab for Premium services?
This might be a good time to standardize some rules. Perhaps in this case, for one-off blocks, have some guidelines and allow a button on the block context menu or block sidebar?
However it is done, it would be nice if the advertising / upsell rules were standardized.