It’s A Fact: Freemium WordPress Plugins Outlive Free Ones

Last year, around this time, I was tinkering with what has now become Addendio.com. While doing my market research, I stumbled upon the Freemius blog, more precisely upon this blog post by Vova, where he explained how he sized the market for WordPress plugins at 1 billion per year.

It was the first time that I saw a proper market sizing exercise on this subject and it was very refreshing to see some numbers.

Fast forward to today and here I am, writing a guest post on the Freemius blog about, well, the plugins market. Who would have thought?

How did this happen?

This post is a result of a discussion I had with Vova a few weeks back. Vova wanted to understand if the amount of plugins having a freemium strategy was increasing, while I was interested in identifying “freemium” plugins in order to add this as a filter on the Addendio search engine.

Definition of Freemium

Let’s be clear about the definition from the start: we classified as “freemium”, plugins having either paid add-ons, a premium version or service (e.g. premium support). You may disagree with the definition, but it’s important that you will be aware of how it was defined when examining the data we present.

After a quick brainstorm with Vova I pulled out some data from the repository and I could identify with reasonable confidence a list of plugins currently proposing premium features. It’s not a bullet proof methodology, but we did proper sample checking and I am reasonably confident about the quality.

Freemium Plugins in the repository

Let’s start by answering Vova’s question:

Are we seeing more plugins with a freemium strategy in the repository?

In absolute numbers the answer is a clear “yes”, as you can see from this graph. This is of course influenced by the fact that more and more plugins are being added to the repository each year (around 7,600 in 2015), so it’s essential that we also check the evolution in terms of relative numbers .

WordPress freemium plugins updates graph

The same holds true in terms of percentages. As you can  see from this graph the percentage of freemium plugins in the repository is increasing. A constant increase of up to 10% in 2015. I did remove 2016 from the analysis, as I did not want to draw any conclusions on just 3 months of data.

WordPress freemium plugins updates percentage graph

After this initial analysis I decided to look at the survival rate of free plugins vs freemium ones. The question I wanted an answer to was the following:

Do plugins with a freemium strategy have a better life expectancy than the average free plugin in the repository?

This question was very much inspired by this other blog post from Vova where he explained why WordPress commercial plugins were in everyone’s interest. Vova’s reasoning in the post is sound, but we can now back it up with data.

Taking into consideration years prior to 2013 as a reference we can see that on average 50%-60% of “freemium” plugins have been updated in 2015 or 2016. This is a significant difference compared to the findings of previous analysis I did on the WordPress repository. The survival rate after 3 years for the average plugin in the repository is around 10%-20%. We are looking at a 200% improvement.

These results seem to hold true across the years. No matter when the plugin was introduced, the update rate is rather stable.

WordPress freemium plugins updates percentage graph

Let’s sum it up

From what I just illustrated we can draw some very simple conclusions:

  1. If you are looking for a plugin that is going to be key for your website activity, make sure you take into account the business model variable as part of your selection criteria. What’s free today will probably cost you a lot of time in the future. And that’s going to happen with an 80%-90% probability.

    What’s free today will probably cost you a lot of time in the future.

  2. The WordPress ecosystem is growing and more and more developers are creating plugins with commercial capabilities. This is great news for the community as the strength WordPress comes from its ecosystem!

    More and more developers are creating plugins with commercial capabilities.

  3. In order to quickly identify if a plugin offers premium services/features, you can use my Addendio search engine via the website, the plugin, or our Chrome extension.
  4. Last but not least, while we all love free stuff, remember that when you are supporting a commercial WordPress plugin you are doing yourself a favor and at the same time supporting independent authors, not some multi-billion dollar corporation.

If you have any comments, I’ll be happy to answer. Every analysis is debatable.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for this well documented post, Luca! I think what we’re seeing more and more now is market education in terms of price expectations when it comes to WordPress plugins.

    If at the beginning everything “needed” to be free, it gradually moved to a “freemium” and as you mentioned sustainable model, which benefits both plugin authors and users in the long term.

    Our first freemium plugin was Profile Builder, which allowed us to gradually transition from WordPress consulting to full time building and maintaining our plugins over at Cozmoslabs.

     
    1. Hi Adrian, I agree that the perceived value provided by freemium/premium plugins is improving. I think the good part about this analysis is that we can put some numbers of something which is really important like the “life expectancy”. I like free stuff as much as anybody else, but price is only one of the variable into the buying equation… 🙂

       

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