Plugin Repository And Commercial Plugins

Before the September 3rd WordPress development meeting took place, Mark Jaquith added some interesting items to the meeting agenda that specifically addressed commercial plugin authors and the guidelines of the repository. Mark had conversed with Matt Mullenweg and the decision was that there was not much to talk about.

Matt and I had a chat and there’s not really anything to discuss. Plugins that merely exist as placeholders for a plugin hosted elsewhere (like a “requirements check” plugin) are out, but “lite” versions, etc are in. The goal is to have the directory be free-to-download plugins. A placeholder for a premium plugin is against that spirit.

Makes perfect sense to me. When I pressed on for more clarification, this is what Mark had to say:

WordPress is not anti-business. We’ve just decided to keep the Plugin Directory a hosting site for zero-cost plugins. There is already a rule (#3) that says it is a hosting site, not a listing site. It’s for actual plugins, not plugins whose primary purpose is to send people somewhere else to download a plugin. This is not a change in policy as much as being consistent about the existing policies. One “requirements check” plugin was allowed in, and another was not. I was concerned about the dual standard.

If your plugin is actually a plugin, not just an advertisement or a placeholder for a plugin hosted elsewhere, you’re fine, as far as this rule is concerned.

I don’t see very many commercial GPL plugin authors having a product in the repository anyways. However, it definitely looks like you can have a free “lite” version hosted in the repository with links or mentions to a commercial version of that plugin. However, where does one draw the limits between a lite plugin that is reduced to the point where the commercial option is the only one that makes sense thus making it seem like a plugin who’s primary purpose is to push the commercial option?

Obviously, common sense here goes a long way to avoiding issues. If you have questions about adding your plugin to the repository, you should get in touch with markr who usually can be found in the IRC channel.

By the way, Matt himself said he was not aware of writing a blog post that would clarify these issues. So that rumor is debunked.


21 responses to “Plugin Repository And Commercial Plugins”

  1. I don’t have any issue with the policy and didn’t agree with the people who thought was anti-business.

    However, IMHO, the issue will remain a contention as long as akismet is in the repository. You can’t use it without the akismet server or signing up at to get an API key. Also, for commercial MU installs, there is a monthly fee for access to the akismet server (which I’m not opposed to).

  2. I’m not sure why someone would want to just create an “shell” of a plugin that is an advertisement for something else. I mean how would it do the plugin author any good — I can’t imagine that these plugins would gain any kind of traction. I mean wouldn’t users just rate them down to zero stars?

    I personally have a plugin (Pretty Link) in the repository that is very full featured — but allows people to upgrade to a premium version if they want. I’ve found that by providing as much value as possible even in the free version of a plugin — it gets people using your plugin more which allows you to “continue the conversation” — which I think gets them more interested in upgrading later.

    I really wish that more premium plugin developers would operate this way because I, for one, would be more likely to purchase them myself if I were able to see the value in them by using a free version first.

  3. I’ve spent too much time in the app store with my iPod, the thought of lite plugins scares me…

    I know by “lite version” they mean plugins like WP e-Commerce, which is fine by me because it is fully functional right out of the box. I think if the free version works as-is and comes with more than 50% of the functionality, that’s ok, but I’d hate to see it digress to the point of the app store!

  4. @JLeuze – Me too. Although it’s already been stated that half baked plugins with hidden features that are somehow unlocked after you pay up will not be allowed. So in a sense, all plugins on the repository should fulfill their need without playing any tricks on users.

  5. @JLeuze – I’m sure the wordpress team will do a good job. But you have to realize that there are greater than 10 times more iPhone apps than wordpress plugins which makes Apple’s job a huge one (even for a large company). I’m sure they’re trying to do the best job they can — but you’re right — I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff in the iPhone app store :) …

  6. @Ron – Plugin as a service is allowed.
    I asked Matt this earlier
    Plugin/theme that integrates with a must pay for service

    There are plenty of plugins that tie into third-party services, for example Google Adsense, and some of them have no free versions. That’s totally fine as long as the plugin is totally GPL.

    I’m not sure how that would work with a theme, that seems way more user-hostile. It could still be legal under the GPL, but just like putting artwork included with a theme under a restrictive that’s probably not something we’d want to promote on

  7. @Jeffro

    Although it’s already been stated that half baked plugins with hidden features that are somehow unlocked after you pay up will not be allowed.

    So Akismet is out of the repository then, as it does nothing until you enter the key?

  8. Actually couldn’t they just remove Akismet from the plugin download page since it comes included with the WordPress install? That way you satisfy people who demand 100% GPL “free”dom. And you’d still have to grab the WP key to activate Akismet, but the plugin is no longer on the website.

    Seems like it would be a simple solution. It’s their product, they can put whatever they want in the initial install download. If a person hates non-GPL stuff so much, they can take it out of the plugin directory if they want.

  9. Because then they wouldn’t get update notifications. I think you’re reading my comment from the opposite direction that it is intended. I’m not a “free”dom person. 100% the opposite.

    I just don’t like double standards.

  10. @Barry – The “free”dom comment wasn’t directed to you. It harkens back to the big debate we all had several months ago about GPL themes…. Especially the big debate we had at WordCamp MidAtlantic… yeah, you know who you are. :) (Though it was a very spirited debate, it was tons of fun… but the quantity of beers probably contributed.)

    Now it would be easy enough to not have Akismet show up on the website, but but have it update through the control panel. That would be a simple issue.

  11. It is pretty funny that people who make their living standing on the shoulders of all those who have freely contributed to the WordPress project over the years, people whose businesses would not exist without WordPress, now complain that it is anti-business.

    Everyone should take a long, hard look at the pay-for-play mess that other CMS eco-systems have descended into because of the dominance of commercial plugins.

  12. @donnacha – Funny or not, I think unclear rules (and “the spirit” isn’t a rule) make people think again about the platform and whether they should bother spending time developing and releasing projects, free or not.

  13. Akismet is probably the perfect example of a free plugin.

    If I remember correctly, almost everyone uses it, fully-featured, for free but if you have a massive site and subject the service to unusually high usage, you pay a few dollars, but far less than it would cost you to police your own comments.

    Again, Akismet is one of the things that has allowed WordPress to bloom, to everyone’s advantage, and now people are complaining about it?

  14. @Barry – If a developer’s certainty as to the commercial viability of a project on the WordPress platform is so tenuous, he should really be considering a different platform. I mean, if you design a WordPress plugin to do a certain thing, to address a particular market, you are getting to use a platform with hundreds of man-years invested into it for free, at zero cost to you or your intended customers. It seems a tad petty, then, to complain that your commercial plugins cannot be listed on the site that organizes, encourages and allows that free platform to exist.

    What people should respect is that the WordPress team are protecting a rare and fragile thing: an environment in which people are motivated to freely give of their time for the benefit of themselves and others. Motivation is tricky and nothing would muddy the waters more than to include commercial plugins.

    I understand that commercial plugin authors are anxious to make money but this reluctance to understand where their free WordPress meal is coming from is short-sighted. Again, think about all you are getting from this situation.

    It is also unfair to say that Matt himself is anti-business, he actively encourages it – in May 2008, he gave your StayPress project a tacit endorsement and massive exposure by linking to your Introducing StayPress post. If you had capitalized upon that spotlight by releasing any sort of plugin within, say, a year, I have no doubt that you would be making a good living from it now, instead of being written off as vapourware.

    Property owners would be finding StayPress and buying your plugin or service, not because they’ve ever heard of WordPress or have the slightest idea of what a plugin repository might be, but because they searched for a way to handle bookings. As far as they would be concerned, the lovely WordPress dashboard they use everyday to manage their bookings would simply be part of StayPress.

    The developer of Jomres, on the Joomla platform, is doing a LOT of business, charging up to £330 for his plugin, and is now actively adapting it for the WordPress platform, because he recognizes that it will be easier for his users – his users have no idea what Joomla or WordPress are, all they know is that Jomres allows them to manage their bookings. That could have been StayPress.

    As I see it, WordPress plugin authors who are worried about making money should spend less time agitating for access to the plugin repository and more time actually writing plugins, you will make plenty of money if you simply focus on getting them shipped.

  15. As I see it, WordPress plugin authors who are worried about making money should spend less time agitating for access to the plugin repository

    Agree entirely. I’ve not put a plugin in the repository, or updated any that are already there for a while. Have no intention of putting any plugins in there at any point in the future. To be honest, thinking about it, I haven’t actually downloaded a plugin from there for, well close on a year now.

    If you had capitalized upon that spotlight by releasing any sort of plugin within, say, a year, I have no doubt that you would be making a good living from it now, instead of being written off as vapourware.

    Strange that nobody has noticed that when someone reminds me of that link, I tend to go and work on some other projects for a bit before coming back and scrapping what I had and starting from scratch. :)


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