[wp-hackers] Making money from GPL plugin development (Was: Advertising on plugin pages)

Mike Schinkel mikeschinkel at newclarity.net
Sun Mar 1 23:44:48 GMT 2009

I concur with Nathan and add a few comments.  

-- "Charging for support" requires a significant number of users to be economically viable and the best developers don't often make good support techs. It's very hard to do both well.  Also, how does the one-man shop who charges for support ever go on vacation?

-- "Paid consulting work for plugin development" also has real shortcomings. If someone gets paid to develop then they are disincented to release things to the community that someone else might want to pay for.  Also the clients drive specific functionality and care not about the value of a general purpose plugin with nice admin functionality for configuration.

-- "Donations" based on users thinking its a good idea can buy beer, but little else.

Here are a couple of thoughts I've had on the subject. In my past I've built and run a company that was successful for well over 6 years that is similar to the consortium idea.

1.) Implement functionality in core that encourages donations and streamlines the process for users making donations. I know in the past when an open-source product I've downloaded has solicited me from within their software to make a reasonable donation and made it as easy as clicking a button or two I've gone ahead and given money. When it is something I need to search out how and where to give of my own initiative, I never seem to get around to it.

This could be accomplished by adding fields into the plugin description header for a payment account and a recommended donation amount, i.e.

Plugin Name: My Awesome Plugin
Plugin URI: http://example.com/wordpress-plugins/my-awesome-plugin
Description: An Awesome Plugin that everyone should use
Version: 1.0
Author: Joe Plugin Developer
Author URI: http://example.com
Donations To: paypal/joe at example.com
Suggested Donation: US$5.00

When the plugin is activated WordPress could suggest they send a donation and launch the process if the user agrees. I used PayPal as the example here but only as a first donation service provider because of it's ubiquity; more could be added over time.

Further, each time an admin page is visited for the plugin the same suggestion could be displayed with an option for the user to select "Don't show me this again for this plugin."  

If this became super easy I bet a lot of plugin developers would start getting more donations than they currently get.

2.) On the plugin screen add in core a "Suggest Feature" link for each plugin. When a user clicks that link it could display a suggestion form along with a few fields where they could offer to pay a bounty including dollar amount and when they'd need it by. This would trigger an email to a hypothetical new "Suggestions To:" email address in the header, and later if could also post that information into a database at WordPress.org to aggregate the suggestions and allow people to agree to collectively contribute to the bounties.

3.) Develop a consortium of plugin developers that offer support contracts to WordPress users. One of the keys of support is to provide users with a defined set of "approved" plugins that will be maintained by the consortium with urgency when the new versions of WordPress are released. Clearly a distinction would need to be made for the benefit of paying users and ones who don't pay. I've actually run a business than in many ways was similar to this. Organizing something like this might really interest me.

I'm sure there are other ways but I figured this could start the discussion.  

-Mike Schinkel

----- Original Message -----
From: "Nathan Rice" <ncrice at gmail.com>
To: wp-hackers at lists.automattic.com
Sent: Sunday, March 1, 2009 4:50:52 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
Subject: Re: [wp-hackers] Making money from GPL plugin development (Was:  Advertising on plugin pages)

It's not my intention to start a war here or anything, but I want to address
your 2nd point ... something that bothers me a good deal when it comes to
the "give it away, charge for support" model ...

In the "give it away, charge for support" model, if you write an easy to
use, user friendly program/plugin/theme, you're undercutting your own
Whereas when you charge for the product, and give the support away for free,
then you have a greater incentive to write easy to use code in the first

It would seem that the best way to make the most money is to write a program
that is very useful and in high demand, but make sure that you don't make it
so easy to use that you end up making support unnecessary.  It's almost like
you have to purposefully inferior product in order to get a decent return.

Obviously, this doesn't hold true in your first and third points, nor does
it hold true in the service industry (like WP.com), but in your second
point, I believe this is that particular model's greatest weakness, and is
why it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to make work. (there's a
reason why Revolution/SudioPress themes are no longer available for free)


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On Sun, Mar 1, 2009 at 4:40 PM, Peter Westwood <peter.westwood at ftwr.co.uk>wrote:

> Mike raises an important question which I think more sums up what Joost
> wants to know:
> "How can a plugin author generate a revenue stream to support his efforts
> that doesn't require him or her to constantly do client-focused consulting
> and instead better target the needs of the general plugin user?  If we could
> come up with a community-acceptable way that can generate real income for
> plugin developers w/o retarding the open-source aspects that make the WP
> community so vibrant and valuable, this could benefit most on the hacker's
> list, no?"
> I agree answering this question definitely sounds like a good idea.
> In general I think that if you want to make money from open source
> programming in general then you need to accept that the software that you
> write will directly generate very little revenue.
> In simplistic terms,  a traditional business relies on the one-off revenue
> from sales to fund development and after-sales support.
> On the other hand the open source software businesses model relies on
> giving away the software for free and charging for the after-sales support
> so that people only pay for the support they.
> My personal opinions:
>  1) Charge people for support - this is the one revenue stream that the
> open source model positively encourages.
>  2) Take on paid consulting work for specific plugin development with a
> view to making the plugins written available to all - i.e get someone to pay
> for the work but release it to the community and make sure you promote the
> fact that they made it happen.
>  3) Accept donations - This is never going to be guaranteed income - think
> of it more like a bonus scheme.
> In short, if you want a continual revenue stream then you need direct
> clients.
> The only way to avoid requiring direct clients is to work for a company
> which has them!
> westi
> --
> Peter Westwood
> http://blog.ftwr.co.uk | http://westi.wordpress.com
> C53C F8FC 8796 8508 88D6 C950 54F4 5DCD A834 01C5
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