The Open Source software movement has come a long way in the last couple of decades and it has been exciting to have been a part of it. Unfortunately, as open source has grown, and along with it the expansion of the freemium marketing model, there has also been growth in the number of people that use and benefit from free open source software but do not pay for it.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with free open source software and freemium marketing. In fact, free is the 21st Century business model. I strongly support it. Not only that, but my business and livelihood depend on it.
What I hope to get across is why it is important for you to financially support the developers of this kind of software.
Consider the following quote from Pippin Williamson, regarding price increases of premium add-ons for the free (and popular) plugin Easy Digital Downloads:
It is absolutely crazy that we’re more accustomed as a society to pay $5 for a latte from Starbucks, which we will consume in a matter of minutes, than we are to pay $12-$20 per month for platforms that allow us to operate our businesses. We are accustomed to paying $80-$100 per year for subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu but we react with revulsion and disgust when a company asks for $150 per year to provide software that businesses literally rely on to bring in their own revenue. In the United States (where the customer above lives), we’re used to paying $50-$100 per month for cable TV subscriptions, but we expect software to be provided for so much less.Pippin Williamson, Reflections on a Price Increase
The Freemium business model is nothing new; it has been around for decades. With the expansion of the Internet and the Open Source software movement, it has become an ever more popular way to build a business.
In terms of Open Source, the Freemium model means that there is something available to you for free but you pay to receive more features or more support. Generally, the part that is available free is not limited in time, but may be limited in scope.
This model is popular in the WordPress plugin ecosystem. Many plugins are available completely free, but through their paid offerings you receive more features or additional support. Often these features are available as “add-ons” or “extensions” – essentially plugins for the plugin. This is the model I employ for my WordPress membership plugin WP-Members through the site rocketgeek.com.
So What? Why Is This Important?
Go back and read the quote from Pippin Williamson above. Let it sink in.
When you use the free open source version of a plugin, keep in mind that 80-90% of users will never pay for using it. The project will be supported by the 10-20% that do. This is the 80-20 rule.
When you operate a revenue generating business and use a piece of software that is a freemium offering, you should be a paid supporter of that project. After all, your revenue is being supported by this tool.
Developers rely on revenue from a small percentage of users to provide the tool you are using. Without financial support, that plugin will disappear. When it does, your ability to use it to support your own business will dry up, too.
Consider that a popular plugin for WordPress can require thousands of hours of development along with thousands of hours of support. This can be overwhelming for a company to support, let alone a single developer. Yet there are single developer shops out there doing it.
Plugin Project Sustainability
Let me ask you this. How long do you think a plugin project will continue if it takes 20-30 hours per week to support it yet there is no financial support (and that is a very, very conservative number of hours)?
The answer is, “not very long.” It is unsustainable for anyone to put the kind of time into a professional project that has minimal return on investment. What may start off as a labor of passion will eventually dry up and go away with no financial support.
The WordPress.org repository lists 57,760 plugins as of the time I am writing this. Thousands of those are abandoned projects. Have you ever seen a plugin page that indicates the plugin has not been updated in 2 years or more?
Often the project never received any traction and no one was really using it. However, I see projects all the time that had momentum and a user base and then eventually died. Why? It ceased to be financially sustainable, and so the developer abandoned it.
How Can You Help?
Make sure if you are relying on plugins with a business behind them that you financially support the project. This should be the case regardless of whether you actually use the support or not. If you’re using the tool and want to see it remain available, support the project.