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 Since many of them lack continued development, they become outdated and often have security issues.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.

cartoon girl with a laptop on a hammock and a sample code on the side an image of a sample codes
  1. Well said Vova! Noticeable is, that I´ve read your article see than the Mashshare buttons at end of it – What a coincidence:-)

  2. No we don’t love them.

    Yoast and W3 Total Cache are really great.

    Akismet is a data leech and Jetpack bloated.

    WooCommerce kicked their customers in the face by increasing prices without warning. It worked at first, but they made some enemies and will lose a lot of customers as soon as they find an alternative.

    And you shouldn’t think that business models of big players and leaders of their area can be adopted by small or medium plugin developers with the same success.

    Especially don’t believe everything Chris Lema and people like him tell you – he is best at two things: promoting himself and sell ideas and products to beginners. His interests are not your success or that of your customers in many cases.

  3. I don’t necessarily agree with this entire article. I think free plugins are good. I think paid plugins are good. We really can have it both ways. I really think it’s on WordPress to do a better vetting process so that the free plugin market is dragged down, because not every awesome plugin is going to be a for profit undertaking. I look closer at all this in a post I just wrote. Feel free to take a look. https://www.futurehosting.com/blog/free-wordpress-plugins-are-good-for-everyone/

    1. Several years too late…But I have another idea: Why don’t you provide free hosting and I can sell my plugins through your site as a service. You can build a reputation which you can leverage to do get a job or get future work. Free hosting is good for everyone.

    2. 95% Of freemium plugins i end up deleting. Freemium isn’t a bad business model but don’t release a broken plugin that forces you to buy the “pro” model. Certain Freemium plugins have also broken many of my sites with 404 errors, etc. Freemium is a good business model, but the plugin has to sell itself and be good enough so that the site admins eventually buckle up and buy the pro model.

  4. We wouldn’t be where we are if not free plugins. Without those people who spent countless number of hours making those free plugins or free themes WordPress wouldn’t grow that big, and we wouldn’t have the current economy around it. Of course times are different now, but there’s still a need and place for free stuff

  5. Hello, what a provocative title… Well, I paid for themes and plugins and they are no more supported. So, in my opinion, paying for plugins does not give at all any assurance about the longevity of the product. And, as it is said before : without free plugins and themes, WordPress would never have meet the success.

    1. Hi Li-An,

      I can imagine your frustration with that. I think it’s important to remember who is behind the products you are buying. I suggest when considering premium products in the future that you get in touch with the developer(s) behind the products and ask them about their product goals and whether or not they plan to continue supporting the product in the long-term.

      Another great way to tell if the product offers long-term value is by reviews and testimonials. If you see WordPress.org reviews left years earlier that rave about the product, as well as more recent reviews – then you’re probably in safe hands. If there are few, if any, then you might think a bit more deeply before investing in a product that doesn’t seem to have a good reputation.

      Keep in mind that developers deserve to have sustainable businesses based on the hard work they put into creating their products, so you’re not only buying a useful tool or feature when forking over your cash on premium plugins or themes, but you’re also making sure that business will last far into the future and provide great support in the long-term.

      I hope this helps create better experiences for you in the future. Feel free to reach out with any other questions/concerns about buying premium WordPress plugins or themes!

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