Why Free WordPress Plugins are Bad for Everyone

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We all love free stuff right? It’s hard to look past the benefits of a free product when it comes to web development, whether that means a plugin, or a theme. You, the plugin developer, know this first hand. You can understand how people look at plugins, because free plugins are everywhere!

Trust me, I know. As someone who grew up in Israel, paying is not part of my culture — we like free stuff too!

People might overlook your plugin if it’s not free after all. There are so many free plugins on the marketplace, and after toiling around with code for hours, the idea of a user ignoring your long hours of work seems horrendous. At least if it’s free it’ll get seen right? Perhaps people will donate! And if it’s expensive, people won’t invest into the plugin.

However, the best and most popular plugins have actual businesses behind them. That means plugins like Yoast, Akismet, Jetpack, W3 Total Cache, WooCommerce and ManageWP — which are all within the official WordPress.org Repository. People pay for these plugins, either through a premium version, or paid add-ons / paid support. These businesses make a lot of money which lets them maintain quality development. Do we hate these guys? On the contrary — WE LOVE THEM!

If you don’t make any money with your plug-in, the course of the plugin’s life, and thus your attention to the project can never reach it’s full potential. There are thousands of plugins with great potential on the .org repository that are abandoned because developers received no financial return on their creative investments, therefore had to stop the development. These free plugins are often host to many problems. Since many of them lack continued development, they become outdated and often have security issues.

I mentioned donations earlier. If you think the donations are still working, or that they really ever worked, then you are wrong! I was running RatingWidget for 3 years, as a side project, for FREE. I spent over 300 hours on weekends — working 20 hours on the weekend alongside a full time job! I consider RatingWidget a highly successful project as it grossed over 200,000 downloads as a side project, but with all of that work I only received $30 in donations. 3 years, 300 hours and only $30!

If you’re a plugin developer I highly encourage you to immediately think about premium features and start monetizing your plugin. And in my opinion, the freemium model is the best way to monetize. With this model, users have the choice to pay for the premium features, while free users can benefit from the constant maintenance, updates & support — which is sponsored by the paid customers.

Now, if you are a blogger, publisher, business owner or just using WordPress in any way — I challenge you to examine the importance of developers earning revenue for their hard work, because it impacts everyone!

Like I said before, when developers make money from their plugins, this provides longer development processes to ensure projects can keep growing. Developers can write better code, maintain their plugins, provide support, add new features, and thus create better plugins for the whole community. Free is free after all, but it is not necessarily better.

What do you think? Are developers better off with promoting free plugins? I would love to know your opinions on this subject.

Vova Feldman

Published by Vova Feldman

Freemius CEO & Founder, a serial entrepreneur and full-stack developer since age 14, propelled by a pursuit of excellence, embraces a holistic approach to life shaped by invaluable lessons in hard work and discipline.

Joe Dolson

“Gathering statistics has been tremendously valuable in terms of understanding the long-term future of the plug-in. I should have done it years ago. (Which will be a future post: “mistakes I’ve made with WordPress plug-ins”.)”

Joe Dolson - Accessibility Consultant & WordPress developer at WP to Twitter Try Freemius Today

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