Pricing WordPress Themes and Plugins
There’s been a lot of chatter on Twitter recently about how to price WordPress themes and plugins (mostly themes) with respect to support that has been very interesting to me. What really caught me was how to handle pricing for those who don’t really need support (i.e. other developers). I loved reading everyone’s opinions so much that I decided to write up a quick post on my own feelings toward this subject. I’d like to first point out that this is just my opinion and in no way am I disagreeing with anyone who thinks otherwise. Developers have their own circumstances that may dictate their pricing and none of them are required to conform to any “generally accepted” pricing model. Also, my opinion is based on the fact that I’m a developer and very rarely need or want support for the plugins and themes that I purchase. If this post seems like it fails to make a point, that’s because it really isn’t supposed to. I just want to ramble for a bit on my thoughts regarding purchasing premium WordPress plugins and themes. For the record, I don’t have a problem with the way things I purchase are priced. If I did, I wouldn’t buy them. The only pricing model I’m not a fan of (and will likely never use) is a monthly subscription fee to use a product when I can find something very similar for a cheaper yearly price.
In the WordPress market, you generally see three different pricing models from all the various plugin and theme vendors. To define them for anyone not familiar with the phrasing:
- Free – This may not be a pricing model in a typical sense but I believe it is if the developer offers premium products because a free product can be a great way to market a premium product. I consider a product totally free if the developer/vendor offers some type of support for it. The key aspect being that everything to do with the specific product is free. For example, Easy Digital Downloads is a great plugin from Pippin Williamson and is available for free on the WordPress plugin repo. There are also free support forums for EDD users so the whole base EDD setup is free (there are premium addons available for EDD).
- Freemium – This model is a combination of the free and premium model. Basically, the software is free but support costs money. One of the best examples for this is with Jason Coleman’s Paid Memberships Pro. PMP is free to download but users will need to purchase the support option to access full support.
- Premium – Finally, the premium pricing model is where the user must pay to receive the software and access to support. There are many vendors who operate this way (Elegant Themes, for example).
Plugin Pricing from My Perspective
When it comes to plugins, I love free plugins. What WordPress user doesn’t? Most of the things you need plugins for can be achieved with a free plugin from the WordPress repo. Therefore, the first place most users will look first for a plugin will be the repository, myself included. However, there are times when even the best free plugin just doesn’t cut it. The best example is Gravity Forms (nothing else comes close for form creation). As much as I love free plugins, I could not imagine a WordPress world without Gravity Forms. Therefore, premium plugins are often a necessity and most WordPress users will likely encounter all three of the pricing models I mentioned previously during their search for a plugin. Here are my feelings toward each of them:
- Free – Great, love it! I can’t complain if a plugin is coded well and serves a purpose.
- Freemium – As probably the least common of the three, I don’t have much experience with freemium products but I like the model. Since I’m obviously very experienced with WordPress, I typically don’t need support so the freemium model is great for people like me.
- Premium – If a plugin blows me away and serves to make my life easier, thereby outweighing making up for its cost, I will likely buy it. So far, the only premium plugin I could not live without is Gravity Forms.
Personally, I think plugin support is very important (much more important than for themes). Why? Because plugins are typically (and should be) way more advanced than themes. The advanced nature of plugins can lead to unexpected conflicts and troubles that would be difficult to figure out without some help from the developer. After all, who knows the plugin better than the one who wrote it? This makes plugin support a necessity for most premium plugins. Referring back to my Gravity Forms example, I have not yet had to submit a support request to Rocket Genius but I prefer to know that I can and will pay for that peace-of-mind. This means that I don’t mind support being tied into the price for a plugin.
To address a plugin’s pricing options from a customer’s perspective, let’s first cover some different licensing options:
- Single-site license – A single-site license seems to imply that a plugin can only be used on one website. However, if the plugin is licensed under the GNU General Public License, you can use the plugin on however many sites you want. The GPL specifically allows for this so trying to limit the use of a GPL plugin is a violation of the license. Since WordPress itself is licensed under the GPL, Matt Mullenweg, Automattic, and the WordPress Foundation believe plugins and themes to be derivative works of WordPress and should be licensed under the GPL as well. This isn’t a post on the freedoms of the GPL but I just wanted to point this out because most developers license their premium products under the GPL for this reason. Therefore, if a plugin you purchase is licensed under the GPL, you can use it on multiple sites despite purchasing a single-site license. The point of a single-site license is to restrict automatic updates (via the dashboard) and support requests to one domain. Since these things are considered services, they are not protected under the GPL so, if you pay for a single-site license, you can only expect these features for one site. Simple enough.
- Multi-site license – This is basically the same concept but your license key that grants access to automatic updates and support is good for multiple domains. The number of site is typically specified by the vendor in the pricing information. A multi-site license might be good for 5 sites, 10, 20, or however many the developer wishes.
- Unlimited license (frequently referred to as a “Developer’s license”) – Automatic updates and support for an unlimited number of domains.
Questions I consider before choosing a license
- How many sites will I be using this plugin on?
- Do I want automatic updates (at least) and support for all of those sites?
If may answers aren’t “many” and “yes”, I’m probably going to purchase a single-site license unless I really really love it, in which cases I’d buy an unlimited license just to own an unlimited license. I don’t mess with multi-site licenses because I’d rather go all out and get the unlimited option. If a vendor doesn’t offer an unlimited license (i.e. WooThemes), I won’t ever buy anything more than a single-site license.
Theme Pricing from My Perspective
Themes are completely different for me because I’m a developer who uses the Genesis Framework to build designs. Any Genesis child theme I purchase will be hacked up to a point where the developer would likely no longer offer support for it anyway. Therefore, Genesis child theme support is useless for me. One exception to this is Dynamik for Genesis because it’s such an advanced tool that I consider it to be in the same ballpark as plugins in terms of support necessity. Since I’m essentially paying for a theme’s design knowing that I don’t want support, I prefer to purchase the cheapest option available. With Genesis child themes in particular, I think support from the author should be entirely optional. For example, if I find a child theme that I really like and it is priced at $49 with support, it would be nice to see an option that does not include support for $29 or something.
Theoretically, the freemium model would be the best option for users like me and other developers who want to use a plugin or theme but don’t need support. The download is free and since we wouldn’t need to worry about support, there would be no cost to us. However, I totally understand that the freemium model would not work for many developers since most people, including novice users, would just download the product and never pay for support. Honestly, I think most people would probably ditch the product before paying for the support. In reality, the plugin’s features (or theme’s design) are what sells it. Charging for the download makes perfect sense and is typically the best business option. Ideally, though, I would love to see an option, especially for themes, where I could pay less to receive the files without any support. I think this is a win-win for both parties involved because the developer still generates income with the added benefit of not having to support the customer in the future and the customer receives the product at a better price.
If you made it through this post, I would really love to read your thoughts about this so please comment below.