Fair pricing in the World of Open Source

Developers ask for money for WordPress/Joomla Themes and Plugins they create. It's legal, but not every pricing model is fair.

WordPress & Joomla as a part of an Open Source world

Both WordPress and Joomla CMS are examples of Open Source software distributed under GPLv2 licence that can be used for free. Additionally, only open source licensed themes and plugins are listed in official directories on WordPress.org and Joomla.org. To call a plugin or theme an Open Source software it’s licence must comply with The Open Source Definition.

Open Source != Free of charge

Open Source software is not necessarily available for free. Developers can't charge for using themes or plugins (licence charges), but it’s ok to take money for services like access to download and support. Here’s my recent post explaining what you really buy while paying for Open Source software. 

„Selling” plugins & themes under GPL licence

There are 2 most popular ways of „selling” WordPress plugins or themes. First are Club Memberships and Bundles, where you pay for access to all themes/plugins from the developer for a certain amount of time. Usually, updates and support are included as well. Paid download which includes access to a given theme or plugin with support for a certain time is another popular way of offering. All these pricing models comply with GPL licence and are legal.

Legal does not always mean fair

Open Source is not only about licensing. It’s also about attitude. Although there is nothing about pricing models in The Free Software Definition, on opensource.com you can read that "approaching all aspects of life "the open source way" means expressing a willingness to share, collaborating with others in ways that are transparent”. Let's apply this principle to pricing. Is making someone buy the entire "club membership” transparent when all he wants is a single theme? If someone just wants to download a plugin why should he pay for support? Why does somebody need to buy a bundle if she needs to is a single plugin?

7 deadly sins of theme and plugin developers

From what I have learnt here are the most popular „sins” of theme/plugin developers.

  1. Free versions that do nothing
  2. Hiding that software can be used for free
  3. If you need one - pay for all
  4. Want to download - pay for support
  5. Want support - pay for download again
  6. Distributing some files under „closed" licence
  7. Distributing full version under „closed” licence

We weren’t saints either

free versions should be usable

I must admit. We’ve done all of the above. We were trying to trick our users in many ways. We thought it’s the only way to make a living on a tough market of WordPress extensions and plugins. It felt so bad that one day we decided there’s no way we can continue doing business that way. We have remade our pricing model. We have unbundled all plugins and extended our free versions. We published our full versions under GPL licence and let users decide if they want support or not. And guess what! Our sales increased by 30% in the next 2 months.

Hiding that software can be used for free

Open Source Fair Pricing Manifesto

This experience has completely change my way of thinking. I started to believe that if we can afford to offer our software on fair terms, every other plugin/theme developer can do exactly the same. That is why I'm starting Open Source Fair Pricing Movement. Here’s a draft of the Movement Manifesto.

  1. Don’t make people buy software they don’t need or want. 
  2. Free versions should be usable. They may require some proficiency though.
  3. Call paid download, a paid download. Be honest that software use is free.
  4. Offer support and paid download separately.
  5. Bundles and club memberships are ok, as long as you offer every part of it separately as well.

Would you join me?

I’m looking for people ready to become ambassadors of Open Source Fair Pricing Movement. Are you a theme/plugin developer? Then consider changing you pricing along with Open Source Fair Pricing Manifesto. Need any help? Just let me know. Are you a WordPress enthusiast? Then share the idea and spread the word. Together we can make commercial WordPress plugins and themes more Open Source!