After my recent trip to WordCamp Boston and getting to talk with a number of WordPress theme and plugin developers, I’m convinced, more than ever, that just like there was and continues to be a need for premium WordPress themes … the need is great and the time is right for premium WordPress plugins.
As I recall back in 2007, the official WordPress theme repository had become a vast, un-managed wasteland. There were thousands of themes and most of them sucked. Bad.
People were abusing them with spam links.
Also, the problem that still exists today is that when a user emails the author of a free theme, rarely, would they get a reply or help. I readily admit that although I’ve authored more than 30 personally, I rarely respond to any requests because I have a paid gig to run like so many others.
So there was (and still is) no guarantee of support or updates.
After all, free is free for a reason.
It’s usually done out of passion or some other incentive … but as with any passion, it’s limited by time and resources. And resources usually means money.
(By the way, keep in mind these two things … time and money … as I continue through this diatribe.)
So out of all this chaos … the premium WordPress theme market was born … not simply out of innovation, but need.
And there is one big thing I’ve learned from the last two years of running iThemes:
People want to pay for good products, support and updates.
This is a mantra I repeat over and over and over as I talk with people who love WordPress.
It’s not that “people will pay” … it’s that they WANT to pay. (You’ll see more explanation of this later in the post.)
And as I told my fellow WordPress developers in Boston, I believe we — premium theme developers — do exist out of necessity, out of the void left from the above needs.
Now … fast forward to today, but apply all of the above to WordPress plugins.
The same thing that happened in WordPress themes is now happening to WordPress plugins.
Here are some of the current and pressing issues regarding WordPress plugins as well as my two pennies worth on the need for a premium WordPress plugin market:
- Too much crap or dare I say, spam … To date, there are over 8,000 plugins in the WordPress repository (some of which our team has authored, by the way!) …. when I search for the “Google Sitemap Generator” plugin, I get a ton of results, when the only one that I truly want or have any sort of confidence in is the one authored by Arne Brachhold. Although I’ve relied on this plugin for years and it is by far the standard sitemap generator plugin, it isn’t always listed at the top of the awesome built-in WordPress Plugin installer. And to assume that every WordPress user knows the difference is folly. This is about trust.
- Amazing and popular plugins being abandoned … this recently came to light when we were attempting to use PodPress, the long-time standard podcasting WordPress plugin, for a client. When we tried to find some updated information, the main developer site for it was out-of-date and as I recall some of the documentation went to 404 error pages. And I just read that one of the most prolific plugin developers in WP, Lester Chan, will “not be able to provide support for my plugins anymore due to my full-time job commitment.” Now, believe me, I’m the first to understand why Lester is not supporting his plugins officially. For a long time, I’ve wondered how he and others could continue to update and support their work for any sustainable amount of time without a premium business model. Out of sheer reality, more of this will happen. How long can you continue to support your work without financial profit? For those of you who have never had to pay your utility bill yourself or feed whole families with a salary, or worry about health insurance for a spouse, you will undoubtedly say, “Forever, because it’s about passion and community.” For those of you with that mindset, I hope your parents live forever and keep enabling you to live in their basement while they work to pay for your passions. For the others living and working on planet Earth, the same ones writing the check for the Internet service you’re reading this with, you are bound to see the writing on the wall here.
- “Core” WordPress plugins are not the answer…. Listen. Since I started using WordPress over 4 years ago, I’ve seen this beautifully simple software get even better with each and every update. I love and appreciate the efforts of our core WordPress developers. But hey … let’s be realistic … we want them to focus on making the core WordPress software better and more secure as they are already doing. I don’t want them developing extensions to WordPress that I believe are the responsibility of free and premium plugin developers. We want them to focus all their precious time and energy into making this simple, elegant and free online software even better. Please, spend your time on WordPress. And let us worry about plugins!
- Donations are not a sustainable model for solid plugin development … donations will never support the type of innovation and consistent development required for keeping quality WordPress plugins available for the community. I’ve heard and read a number of stories about developers seeking or getting donations to assist in support and development … to date, I’ve not heard one successful story that would pay for my monthly health insurance premiums.
- The business model is being perfected in the premium WordPress theme market as I type … Check out iThemes, StudioPress, WooThemes, Headway Themes, Press75 and others for examples. Two of the best premium WordPress plugin examples I’ve seen are WishList Member and Gravity Forms (all of whom I count as friends). But although there are other premium plugins, they are also in rare company right now. And let me say this: The best, long-term, sustainable model for ensuring quality, innovative, up-to-date WordPress plugins is to have a healthy and competitive premium plugin market supported by at least full-time 4-5 development teams much like we have in the WordPress theme market. (See the next point for elaboration.)
- The right business model and environment ignites competition which breeds innovation … my friends/competitors at the above theme companies FORCE ME and my team to be better. We all want to build better products than each other because we want to continue getting our full-time salaries from this business! If we don’t continually innovate in every facet of our business and satisfy our customers, we could easily be out of business. Customers vote on our existence with their wallets. (Check out Ronald’s post at WeblogToolsCollection for more insight on potential business models.)
- Passion plus profit can and must co-exist…. At iThemes, we have over 6 full-time people devoted to what we do (plus several other part-time team members). Like many of the other theme developers, our team is extremely passionate about WordPress (we all use it personally and as note have contributed free themes and plugins to the community). But the only way they can devote their full-time attention and skill to WordPress is because of profit. Those of you who think that you can’t have passion AND profit haven’t met my team. I don’t say that arrogantly, I just state is as a fact. (Join us for iThemes.tv sometime and you can see for yourself.) But you also haven’t met the other full-time theme and plugin developers I’ve met face-to-face over the last couple of years. Their passion, like most in WordPress, overflows for love of this great piece of software that makes web publishing easy. But they are only able to devote their lives FULL-TIME to that passion because of profit. Read Lester’s post and you’ll see he mentions that he has to devote his time and energy to his full-time job. My concern is that there continues to be an immense hostility toward combining passion with profit within the WordPress community. But here’s the reality: There is and will continue to be a need for a premium market around WordPress. Passion will always be limited by time and money.
- Like themes, people are willing to pay for plugins … see the next item on WHY they will pay.
- Four Reasons Why People WANT to Pay for WordPress Plugins: (1) Confidence and Quality – I believe people want to pay for things in order to feel confident that they will get a quality product. Yes, not all themes, or plugins, (or heck, any product) are created or supported equally. Yes, not a week goes by that someone purchases a theme and is unsatisfied with what they’ve gotten. But by purchasing a theme, they are also confident they can demand satisfaction for that product – more in reason no. 4. (2) Filtering and Sifting – I believe people come to iThemes or other premium theme developers because price by nature should sort out the crap that comes with free (as in price). Price filters the junk. Yes, see reason no. 4 again. (3) Support and Updates — If you buy a product, you expect and almost demand that you get support for it. One of the most frequent questions we get is “Will this work with the most recent version of WordPress?” If you buy a product, you expect some kind of warranty. And most likely you would expect and demand that it be updated properly for your warranty period. Finally, now, reason no. 4 that undergrids all of this. (4) Recourse – If the above conditions aren’t met, people will cry foul, QUICK. People who pull out their wallets and pay for a theme or a plugin expect and demand a good, working and updated product, or else, they will call their credit card company and lodge a dispute. They will usually win. Trust me, the power is with the consumer and ultimately the credit card companies (and PayPal).
- Full-time WordPress development teams offering great products are ONE (not the only) solution to the above issues … WordPress plugin dev houses can contribute to the community and spur the spread of WordPress faster. The innovation that has been rolled out through the premium theme market would not have happened as fast (if at all) without those developers devoting full-time skill and energy into those innovations.
- Whether you like it or not, we, in the premium market, are evangelizing WordPress… One of the beefs I’ve had for a long time is people hammering us premium theme developers for not contributing to the community. (If I may say it: that’s the biggest pile of crap, ever.) We spend an inordinate amount of time TRAINING newbies and others on how to use WordPress (not just our themes, but WordPress)! Ask any theme developer and they will tell you the same exact thing. We’re all busy building tutorials and supporting users in our forums to use and leverage WordPress — knowledge those customers take with them long after they stop paying for a theme or plugin. If we want to see WordPress domination continue, we need premium themes and plugins to extend it even further while keeping the core software small, lightweight and simple. We need more people devoting their full-time time and energy to building plugins that allow you to power your ecommerce store … or to build HTML forms … or to roll out premium content through membership sites … or hosting a forum … FROM WITHIN WORDPRESS. (Whenever possible, we use WordPress plugins to extend WP to do what we need to do.)
- Last but not least, we in the premium market need to have a more vocal voice…. I think for too long we haven’t had a voice, or maybe even expressed one publicly or actively. Call it being busy, call it the hostile environment we see in some circles, call it being selfish, call it being afraid of the shunning or anger we’ve gotten sometimes, call it whatever … but I hope this is a call for us devoting our lives to this to participate in the WordPress community conversations more actively. Whether you like it or not, we ARE a part of the WordPress community. And I think we have a lot to contribute to it. Now, granted, the voice must be done without personal attacks and we must be nice and calm about it. It must be cordial even when we disagree (and boy, do we!). The great thing about open source community that I’ve experienced through WordPress is that by the very nature of open source philosophy we can and should have a voice and a vote — even if it’s ridiciulous or obnoxious or ignored or in the minority.
Now to the not-so-final words ….
All of these thoughts flow from two years of full-time development at iThemes, where we’ve served thousands of customers, and more than four years of being in the WordPress community as a user and part-time developer.
My conversations in Boston with my fellow theme and plugin developers inspired and motivated me to come back and talk with our team about all of this (but frankly, most of these conversations have been raging in our office over a year now).
I really do love WordPress.
I’m extremely appreciative for the efforts of those who started it and are continuing to make it better. When I’ve had the chance, I’ve thanked those individuals in person for their work. They deserve it and much more.
After all, we’ve built an entire business that centered firmly on it. Using WordPress allowed me to realize a personal dream: becoming an entrepreneur.
And, by the way, although iThemes has already been in the premium plugin market for about a year now (i.e. our Billboard plugin) … in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be announcing our new premium WordPress plugin store at PluginBuddy.com.
We — the iThemes team — see a bright future ahead for WordPress and love and enjoy being paid to pursue our passion for it each and every day.
Here’s To WordPress and the future!