When it comes to various business models that surround WordPress plugins, there are normally three types:

  1. Completely free
  2. Freemium
  3. Premium

How a developer opts to publish their plugin is their prerogative, and there are a lot of opinions as to why any one model is better than any of the other models. As with anything, each has its own set of advantages, and each person’s opinion is not necessarily any better than any other person’s opinion.

That said, as someone who has tried all three business models, I have to say that the longer I work in this particular economy, the more I lean towards the third option.

Though I’m not saying I dislike the other two, and though I’m not interested in discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the first two (at least in this post), I am interested in sharing my thoughts on the premium model (or the pay-for-it model or whatever you want to call it.

Aiming for Premium WordPress Plugins

First, I know that there’s a lot of commentary about premium plugins, their long term viability, whether or not they should even be premium, and so on.

  • Some people quote others as saying all plugins should be free,
  • Some say that you should donate at least a dollar to a plugin,
  • Some say that you should calculate the net worth of your site, divide it out among the components that make it up, and then donate that amount to the plugin author
  • …and so on.

On a long enough timeline, I think end up hearing every thing that can be said about the topic (or any topic, for that matter). But time keeps going, so something new always crops up.

Anyway, this post has nothing to do with anything about any of the above. In short, I’m heavily learning towards moving to a premium-plugin only model and shifting all work under Pressware for a number of reasons.

I wanted to share them here if for no other reason than discussing it with those of you who are also involved in plugin development.

1. Support

When you work in the open source world and you sell products, you find that a significant amount of your time is spent in supporting the products that you sell.

Sure, development is also another area, but if you’ve yet to sell a product in the open source marketplace, do not underestimate the amount of support that it will require. There are a number of reasons for this one of which is having to deal with compatibility issues with your work, WordPress, themes, and other plugins.

Assume that you’re a top-tier developer who follows all of the standards, employs design patterns when necessary, writes clean, efficient, organized, and maintainable code (does this person even exist? ;), and then someone installs your work alongside three other plugins written by people who have completely ignored all of the above either out of lack of experience or simply just to get something working, you’re going to have your hands full.

For whatever reason – some variation of Murphy’s Law, perhaps – you’re going to be contacted and need to provide support for your work because it appears broken against all the rest. Maybe it was the most recently installed, maybe your name is the only actual reputable one.

Who knows. But you’re the guy or girl who has to take care of this.

Whatever the case, support takes time away from a number of things, and time’s our most precious resource. To that end, there should be charge for support. And since we’re supporting our plugins, we should charge for our plugins.

2. Work (Or “Make Your Own Job”)

I realize that open source does amazing things for educating other people especially as it relates to those who are passionate about programming. One of the greatest benefits of open source code is the free distribution of it.

The sheer variety of things that you can learn from the open source community is amazing, isn’t it? We’ve got everything from web browsers, blogging applications, JavaScript libraries, and even full on operating systems all of which are available for us to study.

To assume that I want to stifle that is wrong.

People make money off of free software all of the time. In fact, some of the most successful WordPress plugins both in terms of customer base and in terms of sales are all open source. There’s no reason a premium product can’t be made available on GitHub (or another similar site) but also available for purchase.

For some, there is a time in which the work that you’re doing must likely be done in order not only to further your career, but to further support yourself, your family (if you have one), or the things that you own.

So if you can continue to contribute to the open source economy, and can earn a living off of doing so – that is, you can create your own job, so to speak – why not do that?

Sure, we all have different situations and there’s no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all solution, but there are options for those who need it. This is just one of them.

3. Quality

Although there isn’t a hard and fast rule on this, there’s something to be said about paying for software. Ideally, when you pay for something, you’re paying for quality.

This is not to imply that when something is made available for free that it’s of low quality, but it’s simply to state that the person who is making the product available has a personal stake in its success.

That is, s/he is personally invested not only in the success of the product but in the utility it provides you.

Thus, quality is almost a pre-requisite because one terrible product or one terrible experience can completely ruin a sellers reputation with a consumer and now, more than ever, word of mouth can make or break a company.

To that end, it’s not unreasonable to assume that premium plugins are going to have a level of quality about them that free plugins may not offer. Again, to make sure that I’m not raising any eye brows in the wrong direction, I’m not saying that free plugins aren’t made with quality, nor am I saying there aren’t poorly written premium plugins – I am saying that there are exceptions.

And when a person is selling a plugin, then it’s more likely than not that the product they are selling is going to have a high-level of quality, compatibility, and support.

Anything Else?

As I mentioned earlier, all of this is coming from personal experience, but I’ve really shared more reasons as to why I think premium plugins is a good idea.

In short, I’ve released a number of free plugins – only a handful, really – and I love that they help provide people tools and value for their site, but do not underestimate the number of emails that I receive about issues that occur with them, and some of the time it takes to handle the free customers.

And 99% of the time has to do with compatibility issues with poorly written themes or other plugins.

This is not a knock against the customers, either. I, on my own volition, released the plugin for free, and I don’t have to support it at all if I choose not to do so. I just happen to think that there should be some base-level of support.

That’s just me.

Anyway, as with most people, we get further into our careers, we get busier, we get older, and we change our minds about things.

To that end, and because I’m working to lay a foundation for a company that serves bloggers well, I’m going to begin taking plugins in the premium direction.

I’ll likely have fewer customers, but that’s okay. I’d rather be arming the few with the best tools that I can create for them and offering them the support for which they pay than any of the alternatives.

But that’s just me. I’m interested in your opinion, too.