Kevin Eklund who operates ToMuse.com published a thought provoking article the other day which has become yet another piece of this puzzle known as ‘How To Make Money Making WordPress Plugins‘. On the WordPress Tavern forum, this is a topic that we have been discussing in different incarnations for a few months now. Here are a few examples:
- Where To Draw The Line With Support Models
- Ian Stewart’s Business Model
- Commercial Intent To WordPress Sites?
- Making Money Making Plugins
Kevin provides a few different statistic samples based on his discussions with some popular plugin authors and it’s easy to see that donations alone do not equate into a favorable business model for plugin authors. I’ve spoken with Michael Torbert who is the author of the top downloaded plugin on the WordPress Repository, All In One SEO Pack and he has told me that the amount he receives in donations would not be enough to make a living on. Kevin then goes on to provide some alternative business models that plugin authors can use to bring in revenue to support their work.
One suggestion that has been brought up a few times by different people is to turn the WordPress.org plugin repository into something like the Apple App store where plugins can be purchased for a very cheap price. Another option is to place a $1.00 required donation on all plugins in the repository. I understand how this could be a good thing as plugin authors would definitely make a nice chunk of change if everyone who had downloaded their plugin donated just $1.00 but if something like this were to be forced upon users, I can already see a number of people with pitchforks lining up to protest. But, if this were accomplished by someone creating an app like store completely independent of the plugin repository, I’m all for that.
One thing I don’t want to see happen in the WordPress ecosystem is something I remember from my days using Joomla. It could be vastly different today than a few years ago but I remember that whenever I wanted to do something cool with Joomla either through an extension or a theme, I had to pay for it. Usually a good chunk of change. In the end, this became a major turnoff as it seemed like so many cool developers were in it for the money. Money I eventually ran out of.
I can completely understand why plugin developers should be compensated for their time and effort. I’m not against that. I am against certain ideas on how this can be accomplished but they mostly pertain to anything dealing with the official plugin repository. The good news is, there are a few examples of plugin authors who abide by the GPL and who are making a living at it. Two of those examples off the top of my head are both e commerce solutions. Dan Milward of WP E-Commerce and Jonathan Davis with the Shopp Plugin. Dan has the free plugin available in the WordPress repository while Jonathan’s plugin is not. I’ve spoken with Jonathan about how well his business is doing and so far, it’s way above all of his expectations. I have not spoken with Dan but from the outside looking in, he is doing pretty well himself. After all, WP Ecommerce has been around a long time so he must be doing something right.
Over the past two years, there have been countless debates on trying to get commercial theme authors to align themselves with the GPL as part of their business model. It’s been a tough struggle but thanks to pioneers such as Brian Gardner, those folks are starting to come around. I really hope that we are not entering a new time period where the same debates regarding the GPL and themes encompass plugins.
I believe that the best model for plugin authors is the combination model as proposed by Kevin:
A Combination Model – This would entail using any combination of the models described above. For instance, maybe instead of selling the plugin outright, the developer draws on all the other plugin business models for sustainability (i.e. donations + ads + paid support + paid upgrades).
I think if plugin authors would use a bit of creativity, I think we’ll see some cool models spring up. I’m keeping my eyes peeled on how the guys at RocketGenius handle this situation with their upcoming Gravity Forms plugin. I have no idea if it will be a commercial plugin or not but if it is, it will be interesting to see how it all works out for them.
You can add your thoughts on this issue either in the forum where we have a bunch of threads already created or by leaving a comment.