Why We Need a Premium WordPress Plugin Market

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 themesthe need is great and the time is right for premium WordPress plugins.

Here’s why:

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 forumFROM 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!

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17 thoughts on “Why We Need a Premium WordPress Plugin Market”

  1. I’m with you on the willingness to pay for premium plugins. I have a dozen or so free plugins that I install on all client sites and regularly make contributions to the authors, because I want them to keep supporting them. I was blown away when I saw a premium version of the “All in One SEO Pack”; I’d just made a donation that was almost the price of the pro version a week before. Will certainly go pro when the next update arrives.

    A few years ago, when I was first getting my feet wet in WordPress, the thought of paying for a theme, when there were thousands of free ones, seemed out there. Now, I’ve got a pro license of StudioPress, as well as the Artisteer software. (different levels of design and features for different clients)

    I was a presenter last week at a local social media club (topic was WP plugins) and I made sure my list of recommendations had the author, as I’ve experienced the difficulty in finding the “right” plugin myself.

  2. Cory,
    I really appreciate the thought and time that you’ve put into this article. It expresses many of the feelings and – more specifically – frustrations I have with plugin development. I pretty much cut my PHP teeth on WordPress plugins and our team develops dozens of them a year for clients – mainly other web developers.

    About 10 of those plugins made it to the WordPress repository (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/profile/blepoxp/) but I realized that after the initial funding was gone, I simply didn’t have the time or resources to keep them updated. Because of this, they’re pretty much all abandoned until I find more time or money (both are hard to come by).

    The ultimate result has been this: I continue to develop plugins for clients but I am hesitant to release them because I know I won’t have time to maintain them. Some of these are pretty cool plugins that others would definitely benefit from… but they’ll never see the light of day until I change my business model.

    I fed my family last year by creating WordPress plugins for other web developers. There is definitely a market out there for purchasing plugins… it seems to mainly be in the ‘new or custom’ market though. I hope that changes this year.

    • Cory,
      Great article! You make a ton of excellent points and or right on target.
      Having over 8000 plugins in the wordpress.org repository filled with broken or inferior plugins sure is a pain to sort though, and your point about Core plugins not being the solution is 100% correct. There are plenty of other solutions, and a solid commercial plugins market is certainly taking a giant leap in the right direction. When I use Gravity Forms, WP e-Commerce, iThemes, StudioPress, or any other number of paid plugins/themes, I know that I’m getting a quality product.

      Glenn,
      You have a number of very useful plugins. It’s a shame that you’re finding it difficult to maintain them all, however you’re exactly who Cory is referring to. Plenty of your users would love to know that your plugins will forever be maintained, updated, and supported by having a commercial element to them. Cory’s vision is for your plugins to stand out as quality paid plugins among a sea of inferior or questionable options, where users can have confidence in the plugins they commit to.
      I’ve used several plugins which have been dropped for whatever reasons, and I wish the authors would have had a way to commercialize them somehow so that I wouldn’t have lost the functionality or had to switch plugins.

  3. I’ve donated to plugin authors in the past, will do more in the future as my cash flow improves. (Currently in that weird void where I’m expected to pay for everything I need, yet my services aren’t worth paying for.)

  4. Hallelujah!

    I personally have a STRONG need for support attached to the services I use to keep my business running – and wordpress plugins are a integral element in making my business successful. I 100% agree with everything in this post, and it is part of the reason that I offer *paid* wordpress tutorials.

    There is certainly no lack in free WP information out there, but I found it difficult to find a clear, step-by-step video that was up-to-date (this last part is key). That’s why I have a paid model for my training – with people paying I have the resources to make sure everything is current. (And I just re-created my WP training vids after just about 6 months on the market due to the built-in plugin and theme installers that were added.)

  5. Really good post. And there wasn’t even any ranting (Probably why there are so few comments=).

    I think 2010 was considered to be the commercial plugin year. We will have to wait and see. I know of a few plugins that has gone from free to sold with support and four that was always commercial. Wonder when the market will take off. I got a few ideas for commercial plugins I know there is a need for.

    When the plugin market do take off wonder if we’ll get another GPL debacle. My impression is that plugin devs goes GPL more often than theme authors so we might be spared another one (don’t know why images and CSS are considered more worthy of protection than PHP code =).

  6. Good conversation Cory. It’s one of the reasons why I opined during bootcamp about charging for services/products produced (plugins). I certainly can’t run my company in the black by doing things for free.

    People do vote with their wallets. I do.

  7. Speaking as a relative web design and WP newbie, I can say for over 2 years, the many problems with the quality\support and incompatibility issues with many of the plugins featured on wordpress.org had given me constant setbacks and concerns about investing in a long term site based on code that was written and\or updated based on the whims of the author. I go in that plugins directory and see tons of stuff that simply has no documentation, hardly any description, and hasn’t been updated in 1,2+ years. And I’ve had to find some of the better plugins by searching outside that repository as well.

    When I heard about Gravity Forms and saw the cost, I was hesitant to buy it, but I finally did and am so happy with it. The plugin itself is really polished, it has a ton of features (one of those things where everything I wonder if it will do something, I find the feature is already built in), and the first time I had a support issue, not only the tech support answer it within minutes, they remoted into my site and made the necessary changes (plugin setup and custom CSS). Can’t say how delighted I’ve been with them. If I could expect the same experience from other plugin developers, I’d gladly pay for most plugins, though $30-$40 is IMHO too steep for the functionality most provide.

  8. Hi Cory,

    There already is a premium plugins marketplace, that’s doing really well for plugin authors (we paid out almost $9,000 last month… only our 3rd in operation!)

    It’s entirely GPL, 100% legitimate and supported by us (Incsub_) who have been providing premium plugisn and support for the WPMU market for years.

    It’s also being 100% ignored by people like Matt and Jeffro for reasons so long and boring that I can’t bring myself to go into.

    And it’s even got a cool name… WP Plugins http://wpplugins.com

    Anyway, if you wanna know anything more about it let me know or its got a blog / twitter feed, cos I can guarantee you won’t hear a word of it fropm any ‘official’ wp sources 🙂

    Cheers, James

    • James Farmer, thanks for stopping by … yes, I’ve definitely heard of WP Plugins and love the look and what you’re offering.

      But also as I said, I think there needs to be 4-5 plugin stores with big-time brand recognition (much like in the theme business).

      If we were the only theme developer, there would still be a HUGE need for a bunch of others in the market, just like there is.

      The only way I think one plugin store would gain traction is an official WordPress.org one, but that’s not likely to happen.

      When I was in Boston, I thought the idea of one main store could get traction, but in reality, there needs to be 4-5 major players for the market.

      Re: the other issues …. I know there’s a huge back story to it all. I don’t want to get into that, only to say I think we need to express our voice and be more active in the community in a balanced, calm manner. 🙂

      • You get me [a little] wrong – I was just complaining that everyone talks about premium plugin marketplaces, without mentioning the people who… y’know.. started the first premium plugin marketplace 😀

        I agree with you too, competition is always good, improves your game and the service you bring to your users, so bring it on for sure!

        FYI, your comment notifier is bust.

  9. Just a very quick note, I am supporting this. Few plugins that I am using since the beginning are All In One SEO and Google Sitemaps plugin. Both helped me and my clients a lot, it saves time and saves money.

    See just for an example, my work is not free, why should there be yours, we all have families.

    Count on me.

    Thanks,
    Emil
    PS Well this wasn’t really quick was it? 🙂

  10. WordPress Boston was a great event, and it is clear that it sparked some great conversations, and I was glad to be around to hear the passion from everyone.

    I have to agree 100% with Cory on this also. I switched all my dev from Joomla to WordPress for a number of reasons. One of the things that I really missed, and have had to start hiring devs for are those extra plugins and add-ons. I have never worked with Glenn, but I know a few plugin developers that we have worked with that feel bad that they cannot release the plugins to the public.

    I think, and Cory touched on this that just as the premium theme network grows, it encourages and challenges people to push the envelope. I have been a long time iThemes and StudioPress user and am floored by the work being done with Headway Themes. If that passion was echoed in the plugin market it would be amazing. As Cory pointed out Gravity and a few others are already doing this, and for me Gravity Forms is a MUST have for all my clients. It goes on the top of the list of things I require my clients to buy. I can think of a couple other functions that if there was a Gravity Forms caliber plugin I would be on board every client.

  11. As a WordPress website designer and internet marketing professional, I am 100% behind paying for premium plugins. I also believe in donating to quality plugin authors.

    I wish the WordPress community would embrace premium plugins more, because I for one, would pay for them.

  12. I am a consultant and software developer and was looking for new ways to branch out. When doing market research including sounding people out on LinkedIn, I got one consistent reply, namely there is no real money to be made in WordPress development. I find this hard to believe given WordPress is a very easy to use, extensible, and flexible framework.

    It would be helpful towards making the case of a premium plugin market if people could help distinguish the different WordPress plugin needs. For example,

    – SEO (including Google site maps)
    – Statistics
    – EMAIL Capture
    – Advertising (i.e. Adsense)

    Identifying the major sectors so to speak will help nascent WordPress plugin developers identify where there are critical needs in The WordPress user community.

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