Charlie Livingston, Founder of aThemes, Acquires Pro Plugin Directory

Earlier this year Steven Gliebe, founder of Churchthemes.com, launched Pro Plugin Directory, a site that lists commercial WordPress plugins for a variety of categories including, forms, performance, and security. After accumulating more than 170 plugins in five months, Gliebe decided to sell the site in November citing a lack of time to devote to the project.

Charlie Livingston, founder of aThemes, is the new owner of Pro Plugin Directory. Livingston purchased the site because he believes in its potential. Gliebe received more than 20 offers to acquire the site but after the first one fell through, he chose Livingston’s offer. The terms and financial details of the deal are undisclosed.

Pro Plugin Directory Home page
Pro Plugin Directory Home page

Pro Plugin Directory will remain the same in the short-term as Livingston learns how the site works. However, he plans to add new features in addition to increasing marketing efforts, “I have a few ideas about what I can do to make PPD an even better resource as the aim is to make it the go-to place for commercial plugins,” he said.

Livingston is currently soliciting feedback on what features and enhancements you’d like to see made to the directory. Pro Plugin Directory is one of the few resources devoted to listing commercial WordPress plugins so it’s great to see the directory will live on with someone willing to spend the time and effort needed to maintain the site.

20 Comments


  1. Great news, thanks!

    Is the acquisition cost public, or do you have an estimate? on your previous article with GA data, it seems that the traffic stats shared is pretty standard..

    Good joob to aThemes!

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  2. Would love to talk with Livingston about WPdocker.com and how he could leverage our platform to monetize both his themes and possibly the plugin directory. Can be reached at wpdocker @stratus5.com.

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    1. Trent why did you on purpose flat out advertise on here and not talk about the blog post? You could of sent him an email or did you want to advertise on here?

      I love this directory and glad it’s not going away but just getting better over time.

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  3. I’m excited to see Charlie move PPD forward. His background in both selling his own WordPress products and marketing other peoples’ WordPress products was one reason I was excited about him being the person to take over the project.

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  4. Now I remember why I didn’t add my plugins there….. it requires them to be GPLed for no real reason. Hopefully now this policy will change.

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    1. Hmm well, the reason I assume was to avoid Matt’s and wordpress foundation bullying, but that should be my problem and not the directory’s.

      (BTW, Jeff, why did you remove the comment editing feature?)

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      1. I considered allowing plugins that were not 100% GPL and asked for feedback on that. In the end, people I respected affirmed my initial intention to require 100% GPL licensing just like the official directory. I personally don’t have a problem complying with the wishes of the WordPress Foundation and apparently neither do most plugin sellers outside of the Envato ecosystem.

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      2. It is always great to see how pro diversity and pro freedom open source communities can be.

        Did it occur to you that you don’t have a binding contract with those plugin authors that will force them into maintaining the GPL license, that you basically invited people to game the system.

        You had an opportunity to create an alternative, instead it was just more of the same. If I need to release plugins as GPL then wordpress.org is the obvious place so no wonder not many people bothered (there are probably more then 170 extensions to woocommerce just by itself).

        neither do most plugin sellers outside of the Envato ecosystem

        That is a statistic you invented by yourself right? Fact is most people (by a survey probably as scientific as yours) are not happy with the implications of GPL https://wptavern.com/poll-shows-majority-consider-public-redistribution-of-commercial-themes-and-plugins-to-be-unethical

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      3. Mark, different people have different viewpoints. If you think a commercial plugin directory would be better off not respecting the WordPress license, then please feel free to spend your time and money developing one. I won’t criticize you for doing what you think is best.

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      4. Steven, my point wasn’t to criticize your decision to do things the way you have done, but your poor excuses for doing it. There is nothing wrong with saying that “it was the path of less resistance” without inventing statistics as justification and claiming there is a “wordpress license” as you have just done, something that its inexcistance rivals only the inexistance of the flying spaghetti monster.

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      5. Because it has a bug that effects the way comments are submitted. I’m waiting for a fix from the author.

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    2. re: “…it requires them to be GPLed for no real reason.”

      Why do developers who want the freedom of distributing their code under a non-OSS license want to develop for the WP market for no real reason?

      A WP marketplace that welcomes non-OSS based products would already have a reason not to get traction. The differentiating point with a Pro directory is that it makes it easy for people to find commercial plugins, which wp.org isn’t for.

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      1. GPL is a license designed to help big companies get code without paying for it. Maybe if a big company uses my code I would like it to pay?

        Lets see how the GPL was abused in the history of wordpress.by big companies ripping off small players 1. back when gravatar just started there were about 3 plugins that provided the auto generated avatars. To be fair I don’t know if gravatar ripped their code, or used some other source but the end result was the same, IIRC version 2.5 included the gravatar service and the plugins became not needed, all this without even saying any nice words to their authors.

        2. remember jipshop? Maybe if they were not GPL their owners would have been milioners and not woo’s owners. If it wasn’t for GPL Woo could not have just offered a much better salary to only two people and make the plugin their own.

        2.5 iThemes adopted “better security”. The guy that wrote it got a several months salary out of it, but this is probably not how much the software was worth by itself with it huge install base. Not having the code as GPL would have given the owner a much better starting point for negotiation (to be fair to ithemes, we don’t know the terms of the deal, and for sure they ended up to be more ethical than woo any way you look at it).

        3. The default security wp-engine use is the limit login plugin. Did they pay to use it? Why should they? No wonder the plugin is not supported any more.

        The idea that you “give software for free and monetize on support” just don’t work when you need to compete against bigger companies which have more resources to give better support.

        And CodedCanyon is still not a GPL market place, it just gives you the option to select GPL as a license instead of their default license, therefor I have no idea were you both come up with “everybody wants to use GPL as a license”, with 4k plugins on CodeCanyon (probably more actually maintained plugins then in the repository) that claim is a very sad joke.

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      2. I think it’s understandable that the examples you mention can be construed as negative evidence for GPL. Let’s take a recent case when a multi-million dollar firm decided to fork a commercial plugin called Bloom and offer it for free, repercussions on Bloom’s company be damned. They cried ‘GPL’ when they got heat for that. So is that negative evidence for GPL? (side note: their plugin got delisted)

        I think when we assess business moves that are being made and we focus on the license as the principle facilitator, the big picture gets lost and things get distorted. Let’s look at the behaviour of the groups involved in your examples. Any industry, any ecosystem, businesses are operating under capitalistic principles and – especially the bigger players – will conduct themselves with shrewd, aggressive business moves. There is no license on earth that stops businesses from making the kinds of business moves that leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.

        Even if plugins were coded with restrictive licenses that are specifically designed to protect the author, external parties can still deploy tactics that are just as unpalatable if not more so. Small developers can get copied, bought up and pushed out just as easily. There is no shield for that.

        >GPL is a license designed to help big companies get code without paying for it

        GPL is an open source license designed to grant important freedoms to users. These freedoms have allowed WordPress to prosper, with a philosophy that people can stand behind. Businesses can leverage that, sure. But they are at least bound to distribute their work, and thus grant their users with the same freedoms. Restrictive licenses don’t do that. This environment, were users have these freedoms, is in large part what makes this ecosystem special, big and innovative. It levels the playing field.

        It also makes the WordPress environment somewhat rare and special, because what other industry do users have real freedoms? In practice most companies ultimately regard customers are sources of revenue to be extracted and are not incentivized to grant their users freedoms. Restrictive licenses restrain the very freedoms under which WP was allowed to prosper and grow.

        GPL is not a protective shield to how the world operates however, businesses will apply all the leverage they can. No license can do that. The notion that the GPL is an impediment to a business just doesn’t make sense when you look at it from this point of view. Especially when you consider just how much people are making a living through WP oriented products and services and how many businesses are thriving even though it is competitive as hell.

        Also, the danger in focussing solely on circumstances where an original developer got the short of the end of the stick at a particular juncture in time paints a very limited picture. It suggests that deals happen or don’t happen because of a license, when good and bad deals happen in every area of business. It doesn’t consider impact overall (WooCommerce is now the most popular ecommerce platform, consequently supporting many developers). You also don’t consider all the projects that were helped and saved because the work was OSS and others could continue the work despite an original author losing interest or dropping out. Not to mention all the plugins that are better because development can happen in the open under a collaborative framework and attract many contributors.

        Another important element is the fact that the license of the code is just a small part of a commercial business. Commercial software is a service industry, we charge people for a service, not the code. The license doesn’t make your service copyable at the click of a button. You get to set your own terms. You also retain all the other ways to protect your business through copyright, trademarks and superior service.

        Lastly, it’s pretty accepted that a big part of WordPress success is because of it’s pro-user, pro-collaboration, pro-freedom philosophy and license. Without it the pond would not have grown this big. When we consider commercial vendors that sell their code under different types of licenses that give users less freedoms, it undermines the principles under which WordPress has been able to grow. If we say, that’s ok, it doesn’t lead to a level playing field. We are then saying that some developers have more rights than others, and some users have less. If the minority of developers who skirt the GPL would grow, it would have a negative impact in the long term.

        Overall, the big companies in the WordPress space have bought into what makes WordPress work so well. Many of the premier companies are giving back in the understanding that it grows the pond bigger and that their work is made possible by thousands of contributors. (The companies you mentioned sponsor events, fund things, distribute free plugins.) If it’s fairness you want (you cite examples that didn’t seem fair), the best way to get it is for every developer to operate under a similar license and grant users the same freedoms.

        Ps. CodeCanyon is not great evidence if you want to champion non-gpl licensed plugins, it is a marketplace that is anti-user and anti-developer at the same time.

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      3. Peter, I don’t see GPL as bad or good, it is just a license intended to do specific things (which admittedly I mis-characterized, a little).
        Even the repository can not really enforce GPL on plugins and themes since no prof of ownership is required as part of the submission process. There used to be a time in the past where many themes violated the license of the icon set they used by not giving a proper attribution which in theory should have prevented their distribution from the repository.
        Today there was one plugin that was caught and was not added to the repository, but jetpack is still there even though it violates the GPL spirit (and maybe the letter as well) by denying any modification to the plugin if you want to use the photon service.
        How many plugins and themes use snippets from stackexchange without giving attribution as the SE license requires, and then claim to be GPL without being legally in the right to do so?
        The GPL discussion for me is not about if it is good or bad, it is about making everybody pretend to have one position to gain social acceptance in the community while not believing in it and really not wanting to conform to it.
        As for the GPL itself, it is obviously designed to remove freedom. People that want to grant freedoms use a MIT/BSD style license (distribution and modification with no restriction). There are some successful small project that do so, maybe you have heard of one of them – http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0, but maybe its real world usage is too small to be a valid example, so what about SSH – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenSSH?
        Licenses to not create communities, licenses do not encourage sharing (there is and always was a lot of sharing around microsoft dev tools, there is almost no sharing at all around woocommerce), it is people that do it..
        The saddest thing that happens in the WP community is the attempt to silence by “force” any one that have an opposing view over licensing or the “decisions, not options” dogmas Not letting people with different licensing ideas to be part of a directory is just part of the silencing.
        Imagine google delisting all GPLv3 software from search results because they don’t like the license, how fast will they be sued?.

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      4. @Mark
        I agree there are varying levels of dogmatism and/or militancy around the licensing and other topics, like the ‘decisions over options’ you mention. Also it’s true there are developers who use the license not because they believe in the underpinnings, but merely as a perceived cost of doing business in the WordPress ecosystem.

        But, looking at the bigger picture, something that history has demonstrated so far is that the licensing scheme has been a good foundation for the entire platform, with the pond getting bigger and bigger for everyone. There is value in having a community agreeing on certain principles or rules because it translates into benefits for all. It works when the overwhelming majority follows it.

        When certain businesses deviate on the licensing, it doesn’t just betray the philosophy regarding user freedoms, it fragments the ecosystem. If business X starts encrypting their code, or slaps a more restrictive license on their code, or feels the need to patent what they deem as ‘innovative’ approaches, it has a knock on effect that extends beyond their own business. It runs completely counter to what helps the platform succeed and it makes the community less cohesive.

        Given how much flexibility, resources, business models and opportunities businesses have while operating inside this platform, why should we promote businesses that feel special enough that they can create their own rules while still leveraging all the perks of our OSS platform? This is where I get really confused when developers insist on a particular license but they also insist on benefiting off of a platform where an OSS license is part of the DNA. If those developers want to use a non-compatible license, why don’t they freely choose another platform.

        So a directory that only welcomes GPL compatible work reflects a belief in the idea that it wants to promote stuff that contributes to a stronger platform for everyone. To put that down as censorship or bullying is mischaracterisation to me.

        ps. different versions of GPL are compatible with various versions of MIT, Apache and BSD too I believe, so there are choices (see (http://gplv3.fsf.org/wiki/index.php/Compatible_licenses for specifics)

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      5. Peter, I find licensing discussions boring as they are very similar to arguments about religion. I fully respect Matt (and everybody in his camp) for having a consistent long term POV about the issue while totally disagreeing with the validity of it (especially that it has anything to do with the success of wordpress in any way) and some of his tactics. All I ask is just for people to be honest about it and make educated decision instead of hiding behind phrases like “someone I am not going to name told me that it is the right thing to do”.

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  5. Thanks for the mention, Jeff. I’m excited to build on Steven’s concept and hard work and hopefully realise PPD’s potential as a resource for finding premium plugins. I’ve slowed down a bit for the holidays but expect to see new things in the new year!

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