Every now and then there are discussions and debates that arise to the forefront of the WordPress community. One of these discussions caught our attention: paid products based in WordPress and how they are (or are not) promoted within the WordPress.org ecosystem.
Our hope is that Matt will see this and take the time to chime in here and help us and our readers to understand the reasoning behind why one type of paid product is promoted and the other is not.
The Short Story
This discussion (re)-started when WP Daily posted this article including some tweets by well-respected community members questioning whether WordPress.org was showing favoritism by showcasing a marketplace named Creative Market on the WordPress.org main page.
The issue was that this marketplace, which includes WordPress theme shops and other digital products, was being promoted and – at the time – no other marketplaces or individual theme shops were being showcased on the .org home page.
The question of favoritism was because there are other theme companies and marketplaces that have been around much longer than the Creative Market site, and as stipulated by the .org guidelines, have been 100% GPL. Why weren’t these companies getting any promotion on the .org main page?
A Double Standard?
The question of the promotion of commercial products based on WordPress quickly turns to paid (or premium) plugins. Commercial themes are allowed and listed on the WordPress.org themes page under the “Commercial” category, so why not plugins?
In fact, on this above referenced page, the terminology even suggests that there is support for all providers as seen in this paragraph…
Commercially Supported GPL Themes
While our directory is full of fantastic themes, sometimes people want to use something that they know has support behind it, and don’t mind paying for that. Contrary to popular belief, GPL doesn’t say that everything must be zero-cost, just that when you receive the software or theme that it not restrict your freedoms in how you use it.
…the software or theme…can we infer that “the software” is a reference to plugins, and that they will receive the same promotion as commercial themes at some point?
Community Discussions Change Business Practices
If you’re not aware, there is an article that generated a lengthy discussion about GPL licensed products and their correlation with the WordPress Foundation guidelines pertaining to speaking at WordCamps. The short story is that a theme developer was asked not to speak at a WordCamp because his themes were sold on ThemeForest and at the time, were not fully GPL complaint because ThemeForest offered no 100% GPL license option for vendors.
This discussion ultimately sparked a change in the way that Envato does business with their vendors. They now offer 100% GPL as a license choice.
A perfect example of how an open and transparent conversation can spark the kind of change that directly effects the WordPress community as a whole. Developers and end-users are now better off because of a little conversation between Envato and Matt.
Matt: We ask for your voice again, but this time as it relates to 100% GPL plugins and plugin marketplaces.
Is There a Place for Paid Plugins?
Obviously FooPlugins is one location where premium plugins are being promoted and sold. Both our own and those from a growing curated group of 3rd party vendors, but we’re not the only plugin marketplace.
Why is the promotion of 100% GPL theme marketplaces on WordPress.org acceptable, but not 100% GPL plugin marketplaces?
The question we are asking Matt is:
Is there a bias against paid plugins for WordPress and, if so, why?
Obviously, we ask this with utmost respect and do not want to come across as forceful in any way, but I think we (that is, the WordPress community at large) deserve a well rounded and complete answer.
We ask the question above because of a comment on Matt’s own site more than a year ago regarding the WP App Store plugin. If you don’t know, this plugin essentially brings a WordPress commercial theme and plugin marketplace into the WordPress admin.
When asked in a comment:
Hey Matt, what are your thoughts about wpappstore?
His reply was simple:
I don’t like wpappstore, and I’m not sure why anybody would install it.
But Automattic have Paid Plugins
Even though you do not pay a dollar price for plugins written by Automattic, they are still not entirely free. Akismet is free for personal use, but you have to pay for a commercial API key.
What about JetPack? Jetpack is free, but you have to sign-up for a WordPress.com account. And if we look at the recent Instagram or Tumblr buy-outs, it seems user registrations are the most valuable commodity when it comes to putting a price tag onto an “online brand”.
Matt has expressed his dislike for paid plugins in the past, most notably at the first PressNomics conference last year as summarized by Tony Perez of Sucuri.net in a blog post here. But again – why plugins specifically?
Existing Marketplace Submissions
And why not on a site like CreativeMarket.com, which is being promoted on the WordPress.org main page? It’s worth mentioning here that Matt has a stake in CreativeMarket as evidenced here, along with a few other very smart people.
As referenced above, the CreativeMarket.com marketplace did briefly list some WordPress plugins but they were taken down rather quickly after the buzz started. My feeling is that the submission of WordPress plugins was a bit unexpected and partly a mistake in some terminology used on the menu selection. There are “plug-ins” listed under the “Add-Ons” menu, but I believe these were intended to list things like Photoshop plug-ins and not WordPress “plugins”.
We contacted Matt by email and asked for a conversation, but haven’t heard back yet. We’re not upset about that, it’s pretty safe to assume he’s a very busy guy with an inbox full of emails.
We’ve also been in contact with Creative Market in an email thread sparked by our signing up for a shop there. We asked if it was now allowed to start publishing our WordPress plugin products and this was the reply: (please note that this should not be considered an official response)
Automattic requested that we temporarily remove all plugins and we haven’t received any updates or an ETA as of yet. But any relationship to rumblings within the community are pure speculation…
So does this mean that WordPress plugins will be allowed in the future, but they just have to iron out some kinks first?
Commercial Plugins and Plugin Marketplaces on WordPress.org
References to commercial plugins and paid services are currently allowed on the WordPress.org repository. This usually comes in the form of a free plugin, that provides real value and functionality, and then linking to either a Pro version, paid support, or a web service subscription for that plugin. We think this is a great model and has worked very well for providing a revenue stream to dedicated developers.
Modern plugin & theme monetization platforms like Freemius even allow up-selling the paid version directly from within the WP Admin using their unique in-app purchase technology, which makes the whole upgrade experience seamless and smooth as butter.
But why are commercial plugins not promoted in the same why that commercial themes are promoted?
Generally speaking, themes and plugins both provide the end user with additional functionality for their sites. It seems to us that for some unknown reason, themes have preference in the WordPress.org space and we truly want to understand why that is.
WordPress is Organic and Always Changing
Perhaps the current state of paid plugins and their role in the overall WordPress space is at a crossroads. Maybe our questions above will be answered shorter than we expect. We hope so.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re already well aware of the beauty of this thing we know as WordPress. We’ve seen this software and it’s community both blossom and make some mistakes along it’s 10 years in existence. We’ve seen the Internet grow and voices given to those that would otherwise not have had a public forum.
What Does the Future Hold for Commercial WordPress Plugins?
Please consider the comment section an open forum to discuss this question.