I am a massive proponent of people making money off of plugins. I think they can and should find a way to create a business in this ecosystem we’ve created.
There’s a problem with the approach of some of these products, and in a way we created it ourself, and it hit WordPress 4.5.
There is a plugin, it doesn’t matter which one, that’s a premium plugin. It’s not available for free on WordPress.org. You have to buy it, get a license, enter the license into the plugin, and in that way get updates. That’s fine. But there’s a complication. Actually a couple.
Licenses Expire and People Aren’t Informed
That’s a big ‘no kidding’ moment, but they do expire. And people don’t always notice that their license expired. Even if you post a big sign on the dashboard and email them.
Worse, people don’t know they have license. One of the major problems with software, when purchased for a company, is ownership. If I buy an app on the company dime, it’s their app. But when I buy an app for someone I’m building a site, and I pay for it myself, even if I charge them for it, who owns it? Who keeps the license? Who has the information for running a site?
This is an aspect of WebDevelopment where we collapse, regularly. Not just WordPress, every single person who builds websites for someone has screwed this up at least once. Either the information isn’t clear, or it’s not there at all. Regardless, what happens in the end is you have someone who lacks the information they need to keep their company going.
The Plugin Is Often Bundled in Themes
This is worse than you think. The official directions for this says that if your theme bundled it, and you need an upgrade, you need to wait for the theme to upgrade or you need to buy a license yourself. That’s perfect, to me, except for the problem I mentioned before. People don’t know. I’m not sure how they should know. But those bundlers, they’re so very problematic because they remove users one more step from the information.
If I buy a theme, and it has a library inside it, it’s the job of the theme developer to update that theme regularly, test it with WordPress before the new version comes out, and push fixes. If I buy a plugin, ditto. When the stream cross, though, is where we have the drama. Because I know I bought the theme, but I do not know that I bought this mystery plugin, hiding deep inside. Now it’s the theme owner’s job to update and make sure I get the information right away.
Pretty Much No One Gets It Right
Not even people I respect get this right all the time.
Let’s say you’ve written a plugin and have decided to handle all the updates yourself. I buy it, install it, and it works, everyone’s happy. What happens when I stop paying my license? Well I stop getting updates, that’s for sure. But do I still get notifications about them? Do I get an email? Do I even get an update?
There are some plugins that are free from pay-walled sites, but if you don’t have an active license for that free plugin, you will not get updates. At first I thought it was strange, since if I had a free plugin why wouldn’t I put it up on WordPress.org, right? But then I realized they’re creating the relationship. Once you ‘buy’ the free plugin, you have an account and information in their system. If it’s free, you’re the product.
All that aside, it comes back to the problem of what happens if that license, free or not, lapses? You could be annoying and pop up on the settings page “Hey! The license expired!” but people hate that and ignore it. You could email, but they ignore that too. There really isn’t a great way to remind people that (a) the license expired and (b) there are updates available.
Or Is There…?
What if the updater kept checking, license expired or not, and when you clicked to upgrade it alerted you?
You license for Foobar has expired. Please renew it in order to upgrade.
What if you got this email?
Hey, you bought Foobar back in 2014 and that license lapsed. Normally I’d never bother you, but today I’ve pushed a major security fix. Since this is a security release, I’m offering you a discount. It’s already applied to your account, just log in and you can buy the upgrade at 50% off. If you’re not using Foobar anymore, click here and I’ll have your account flagged so we don’t bother you about this again.
How happy would you be to find out someone saved your soy bacon?
This would require the original developers to have your information, which they probably do, and some way to track those two things. That is, did your license lapse and do you care? That’s all they need to track and only one is an ‘extra’ since I’m reasonably sure everyone tracks the license.
Make It Easy
If you make it easy for someone to know “This has been expired, here is one click to pay” people will pay. Yes, we love free, but we love easy even more. If you make it easy to pay, people will renew and pay. If you inform them of security issues, they will pay and upgrade. If you push them, the good way, about your updates, and make sure they know, they will be safer.
And then, when WordPress upgrades, your users won’t hate you.