What will the impact of WP Plugins be?

@Kevin | Development

Yesterday I logged into WordPress and noticed that there were multiple updates available for my plugins. Nothing shocking considering the latest version of WordPress had just come out. When I upgraded the All in One SEO Pack plugin I noticed that there was a new update on the top of the plugin announcing that there was a “Pro Version” of the plugin through WP Plugins. I checked out the WP Plugins webpage and also saw that another one of my favorite plugins XML Sitemap listed on the site as well along with other well-known plugins that a lot of WordPress users deploy.

To be honest I had a lot of mixed emotions when I saw these two items here. I totally understand the need for these developers to monetize plugins on some level. Go look at the plugin pages and see the massive amount of comments on the plugin blog post/page or the forum. Development, support, and the overall maintenance of a plugin in someone’s spare time isn’t necessarily time well spent, especially on a volunteer basis. (Multiply the effort by 100 the more popular the plugin is.) I think a lot of people realize this after creating a plugin and that is why you see so many abandoned or taken over by another person. This is why when I have a plugin that I use often I make a donation to the developer, I can’t even wrap my head around the messages and comments they continually get.

Designers have been monetizing their themes for a while, Thesis, StudioPress, and many others have had a licensing model which people are happily paying for. (I have used StudioPress themes for a number of clients.) Additionally there have been some higher end plugins for WordPress like shopping cart programs that charge, which I understand because of their complexity. (Like some themes I have purchased some of these plugins for clients as well.)

What irked me a little bit was that these two plugins; All in One SEO Pack and XML sitemaps are pretty much “must haves” in any WordPress install. When I saw that they now had regular and pro versions I was a little put off. The idea that the public could potentially be losing a lot of the functionality they have come to expect for free was not a pleasant idea. When thinking about this change I had two major questions:

1) What are the main differences between the two?

Is the basic version going to lose any functionality that will become exclusive to the pro version? Will there be specific updates for just the pro version that you won’t see in the basic version? I don’t think the basic plugin site or the WP Plugin site are clear in addressing this at all. When I look at the product description on the WP Plugin website it looks like it just removes donation information and they will offer support for the product. The differences between the two versions really needs to be explained in a better fashion.

2) Licensing info… What are we getting for the money and is it worth it?

There isn’t information on the product pages about the licensing and there FAQ on their website. I did notice a blurb on their about page that explains it.

Here is what they say about the licensing:

Simply browse the site to find the plugins you want to use and then choose to either download them as one-offs (you get access to download the plugin for 7 days after you have bought it) or subscribe to them to get ongoing support, upgrades and more (for as long as your subscription lasts).

It’s that easy!

If you choose to download the plugin as a ‘one off’ you have unlimited downloads of that plugin for the following week.

If you choose to subscribe to the plugin you have ongoing access to the plugin, all updates to it and personalised help and support from the plugin author!

The way I understand it I can pay the download price and install this plugin as many times as a want for a week. But when updated pro versions (which we still don’t understand the feature set difference between the basic and the pro versions) come out past that week I can’t get updates because I am not subscribed to the plugin. Additionally I can’t get any support past that first week, which really isn’t my concern as much as the loss of functionality and the loss of being able to get critical upgrades.

If I do subscribe I get access to the support from the plugin developers themselves, I get an unlimited amount of downloads of the plugin, and get access to any updates.

So if I wanted to have both XML Sitemaps and All in One SEO Pack for my clients I would have to pay:

Download price All in One SEO- $69
Monthly subscription- $89 x 12= $1068
Download price XML Sitemaps- $69
Monthly subscription- $129 x 12= $1548

Total for both for the first year= $2754

For open source software that is money I would prefer not to spend unless I clearly understood what I was getting, what functionality I would be gaining, and the real benefits to me. If support is the main cost (if there is no difference in functionality other than removing the donate links) in this I think that the pricing is ridiculous. With some of the themes that I have purchased it is a flat rate lifetime pricing, I get access to any themes they develop and I get lifetime support. I think I have asked four questions on the support forum over the year I have had access to them, are four questions worth over $2,500?

If these “pro versions” are designed for companies deploying large WordPress installs or firms that push out dozens of websites a year without their client knowing this is open source software  I think the pricing is fair. Like I said I don’t begrudge someone for trying to make money but if I don’t know what I am spending my money on and if there is no clear reason to make the purchase it leads to confusion and a little bit of frustration.

What do you think about popular WordPress plugins going the paid route?