Plugins And Commercial WordPress Sites

Vladimir Prelovac has opened yet another can of worms but I feel its warranted. In his post, he suggests that WordPress sites have the option to select a setting which tells people that they are running a commercial site based on WordPress. If set to yes, plugin authors would get the chance through the dashboard to recommend those sites purchase a commercial version of their plugin albeit with a few special enhancements not available to the general public version.

I’m pretty sure something like this will never happen but, If I were a plugin author of a somewhat popular plugin and I saw it being used on a number of high profile, income generating websites, I would certainly be miffed if I didn’t see sizable donations arriving in my paypal account from those sites. Thinking about this subject today, I realize that the more plugin authors I talk to who have had a large share of success via their download numbers on the repository, the more I find out that they have barely made anything through donations. So then what is a plugin author to do?

As we have discussed in the forums and in various outlets across the web, it seems the only thing left for plugin authors to do is consultation, custom development, or Software As A Service. But how is this for an idea. What if someone in the WordPress community developed something like an iPhone app store where plugins were as cheap as 99 cents up to $10.00 and you had to purchase them before you could use them. Of course, you would somehow need a way to try before you buy, but with the prices being so cheap, you could almost consider this to be mandatory donations. After the plugin has been purchased a set number of times, the price restriction is taken away and is free for all.

But see, the code in these plugins would need to abide by the GPL and even though you can charge for the code, nothing is their to stop people from taking the purchased code, repackaging it and putting it on the WordPress repository for others to use. This makes my entire idea a moot point. The only other thing I can suggest as an idea would be to give each plugin an API key, similar to the way the Shopp plugin works where you can not access upgrades of the plugin without having purchased it.

I would just hate to see plugin authors who turn out to be something special in the WordPress community who would like to make a buck drop WordPress in favor of working on a software project which has a more conducive license to make a living from. Then again, I would hate to see all of the cool things you can do with WordPress via plugins or themes become something you have to pay for, which is what it’s like in the Joomla community. I apparently have no answers for this complex problem, maybe you do?


7 responses to “Plugins And Commercial WordPress Sites”

  1. I’m not sure of the answer either – but I know what isn’t the answer – I recently purchased a premium plugin for a client to use on one of his sites – the plugin is well made, does exactly what it promises, and does it pretty well. It’s a membership management plugin, and as part of a bigger site, it needed to be pretty closely integrated with a few other components.

    I was happy to pay for the plugin, as it goes above and beyond your average plugin fare – I was even happy that I had to enter an activation key to register it for the site – a bit more hassle than I expected, but I understand that the developers feel like they need to protect their assets.

    I got to work putting the site together, and I got to the point where I’d need to do a little custom work to integrate the membership protection provided by the plugin with a forum, to protect that as well. Assuming the code would be as pretty as the interface, I didn’t have any worries. Then I got into the plugin files – and the ENTIRE THING was encrypted. (I’m not sure encrypted is the right word here – obfuscated? I’ve never needed to do that before, so I dont know how it works) Every file. Every last line of code.

    I’m still furious about it. I was on a deadline, so I had to use it anyway, and just guess at what was going on in the database – thank goodness they didn’t find a way to encrypt that. $100 for a plugin that I couldn’t extend at all beyond the out of the box functionality.

    I’m happy to pay for plugins – and honestly, I’d like to sell a few as well – but please, don’t render your plugin completely useless to another developer like this.

  2. Its a tough one for both plugin and theme developers. You need to consider whether 100,000 people using your free plugin(s) makes you money in indirect ways (advertising on your site, paid integration/development services, paid support, writing books such as Vladimir’s new one) or whether you’d prefer just a few hundred people use your plugin and pay a modest sum each.

    100,000 x $0 = $0 + unknown potential for indirect earnings as above
    300 x $10 = $3000 + they’re going to want free support for a paid plugin

    My view is a little simple plugin is something I would develop and support (best effort) for free. Revenue would be when people recognise my reputation as a plugin developer and request I do custom work for them. If I wanted to make direct revenue from a plugin I’d do something similar to WP Ecommerce, give away basic functionality free and charge for advanced modules that commercial customers will see value in purchase, and ongoing upgrades/support on a per-release or subscription basis.

  3. @Peter – I agree, encrypting the plugin is definitely the wrong way to go but an extreme measure to protect the code from being modified or redistributed.

    @Paul – Sounds like the model everyone comes up with when discussing how plugin authors can make a living. Perhaps there is no other way.

    @Ryan – Yeah, I could see something like that happening. The part about people getting greedy :)

  4. I think devs need to make a choice: offer it free and put it in the repository or sell it direct and provide professional levels of support.

    For me there is no place in “The community”, for commercial products and ventures. Perhaps there should be one single commercial marketplace for all items on a different website, but as there isn’t ya’ll will just need to live without it.

  5. “If I were a plugin author of a somewhat popular plugin and I saw it being used on a number of high profile, income generating websites, I would certainly be miffed if I didn’t see sizable donations arriving in my paypal account from those sites.”

    Well… when you release something for free, it means.. FREE. As in, you’re not gonna get paid. :) Regardless of who uses it or where it winds up. Saying that implies that once you (not you specifically, general you) put something out there, if it becomes wildly popular, then you *should* get paid for it.

    And that’s not what it’s about at all.

  6. Monetizing plugins will inevitably end in disappointment. Why? Because when you monetize something, peoples’ expectations change. They expect it to work perfectly, they expect to be able to extend the code, endless support, and we know that the world of development is a little more complicated than that.

    Also, there’s never been a better time to enhance your development via crowdsourcing. It’s arguably more productive to allow feedback and open-sourcing of plugins than to confine it to a private team.

    The perception that the only reward for producing a plugin is to make money, is fundamentally flawed. If your plugin is popular enough, there are various ways to leverage this popularity and turn it into potential business.


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