The creators of Newsletter Glue have removed their free plugin from WordPress.org in favor of focusing on the commercial version. The plugin streamlines the publishing workflow for newsletter authors who also publish to their WordPress sites. It includes blocks and patterns for email templates and subscriber forms. Five months ago the plugin’s authors warned users that they would be closing the free version and would no longer be updating it as of May 1, but the process of removing it was delayed until today.
Co-founder Lesley Sim announced the plugin’s closure on Twitter and shared a few valuable lessons for WordPress product businesses looking to use WordPress.org as a their primary distribution channel.
“We made a bunch of noob mistakes in the way we set up free vs paid,” Sim said. “Which made the customer upgrade flow kind of weird. I think it could’ve worked. We just didn’t set it up right, and it just doesn’t make sense to fix it.”
At the time of closure, the free Newsletter Glue plugin had approximately 200 active installations, which seems low for a growing commercial plugin. This is because the free version got uninstalled when a user upgraded to pro, so it was never a good representation of how many people were using the product. Sim said Newsletter Glue wasn’t growing the free user base and “it was just sitting there like a dead tree stump.” The company had not updated it in over a year.
“We stupidly set it such that when a user upgrades, they install the pro version and the free version automatically uninstalls,” Sim said. “So we lost free active users as a ‘reward’ for new conversions.”
This architectural choice meant that WordPress.org wasn’t bringing the product a significant flow of traffic and prospective upgrades.
“A year ago, we simply didn’t have enough features to make good decisions on what to put in the free versus pro,” Sim said. “So we went from having all our integrations on the free plugin to gating some integrations instead. I think this was a poor decision and led to our install count instantly stagnating. This could have been reversed, so I don’t think this was a key reason. But it was an instigating reason to begin considering removing the plugin from the repo since it was no longer bringing us traffic and installs.”
Despite not finding WordPress.org a good source of traffic for the product, Sim said the decision to close was not easy.
“Here are some things we lost out on:” Sim said. “1) Biggest distribution channel in WP. 2) Easy way for reviewers to check out the plugin for free without having to contact me. 3) Source of credibility (reviews).”
Current users can still use the free plugin but it will not be getting updates anymore. In lieu of a free plugin, Newsletter Glue is offering a test drive option where users can try it on a demo site before purchasing. The company has taken a unique path to becoming a commercial plugin that is fully independently distributed.
“I hate the free to paid user experience on the WP directory with a passion,” Sim said. “We had a full standalone pro plugin so the upgrade flow was really clunky. We’d get users using the free version emailing us saying, ‘I’ve just upgraded, but I don’t see any pro features on my site. What’s wrong?’ I also had some wonderful customers who would upgrade then continue using the free version for over a year, not even realizing they were on the free version.”
By focusing focusing exclusively on promoting the commercial product, the Newsletter Glue team is now free of the burden of supporting customers transitioning from the free version. The trade-off is missing out on exposure on WordPress.org. It’s an approach that works for the company at this stage but may not be suitable to other new products without strong marketing in place.
“Unless you already have experience marketing a plugin from scratch AND you have a good go to market plan, I think the default choice should be to be on the [WordPress] repo,” Sim said. “Just make sure you set up the commercial part of your plugin correctly so that it makes sense.”