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How Do You Plugin/Theme Developers Make Money?

I just read a recent post on Vladimir Prelovac’s blog titled “The Future of Free“, and I totally agree with this. My question is, without putting a price on my WordPress plugins, how do I make people appreciate all the work I’ve put into them? I think the WordPress community is too used to getting things for free. You can download and install tons of plugins/themes completely free of charge. Here are some questions for you on this topic (along with my own personal answers):

1. How often do you thank those authors for their hard work?
Not very often (guilty as charged). I do appreciate them on a whole different level though. Whenever I find a bug in their plugin, I help submit fixes.

2. How do you put back into the WordPress community?
I write plugins and provide them for free.

3. How are you other developers making money from your free plugins/themes?
I am making money from advertisement revenue from traffic generated by my plugins.

4. Do people appreciate you for what you do or just expect you to do it?
Generally people appreciate me, but I’ve come across a few people people who flat out expected me to troubleshoot their site and when I didn’t have time for it, they got mad and said that I am a terrible person.

It would be interesting to hear some perspectives from fellow plugin/theme developers. Please share in the comments section!

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28 Responses to “How Do You Plugin/Theme Developers Make Money?”

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  1. Otto

    I get a lot of donations through my simple paypal donate box. Not enough to live on, but I'd say around $200 a month or so.

  2. Michael Fields

    Interesting questions. Here are my answers:

    1. How often do you thank those authors for their hard work?
    Not as often as I should. One of the ideas that I came up with is to create a resources section on my site where I have links to scripts and plugins that I want to remember + think that other people will benefit from. The section is small, but I hope to get more posted as time goes on. I think that while a simple "Thank you, your plugin rocks the house" email would be appreciated by the author it would be better to tell others that the plugin rocks and why.

    2. How do you put back into the WordPress community?
    I've volunteered in the support forums on and off for the past 3 years or so and released about 9 free gpl plugins. I try to update codex whenever I see an error or omission, but this is admittedly rare for me to do. I'm getting itchy to help out in actual development, but there's a small learning curve there for me.

    3. How are you other developers making money from your free plugins/themes?
    Directly, I'm not nor do I really care to. I have received a few donations here and there but they really do not amount to anywhere near the time spent. Am I upset? No, not at all. I build websites for a living and use WordPress as a base for about 90% of the work that I produce. When I create a plugin, it is to fill a gap that I see in the core… basically something that I want or need to happen which is not yet supported. To put in in another way: When I create a plugin, I created it for myself. If I feel that it will benefit others, I clean it up and release it. The more eyes on a piece of code, the better. I'm paid in ideas by those who appreciate my work and care to give their personal perspective on how things can be better. I'm paid in cash by those who hire me to build websites for them.

    4. Do people appreciate you for what you do or just expect you to do it?
    Not sure how to answer this as the term "people" is a bit broad… I'm sure both are true in different situations :)

  3. Jim F Munro

    Thaya, as you know already, I donate to plugin developers for plugins I use regularly and that help me generate income. Pure and simple. If I don't use it actively, I uninstall it and don't use it. If it's critical to my biz, then it's more than paid for by how much time I'm saved.

    I've only contributed to 3 or 4 authors so far, but I am devoting this year to weekly trying to donate some fair amount to authors. I urge others to do likewise.

    I guess if you blog for fun, don't really make any $$ then I guess you may have a different opinion. But as I work in the industry, I try to support where I can.

    I hope it helps….

  4. xentek

    I've never had anything but nice folks asking for support on my free plugins, maybe I'm lucky. However, I am able to release them for free and continue to support them since I am a full-time developer-for-hire. 60% of the work that me and my team do is WordPress related, and I include a GPL clause in my contract informing my clients that much of the code we use is Open Source, and that we do contribute code back to these projects. We never, of course, give away the composite work for which they paid us to do (and hurt their chances in the market) but if we can solve a problem in a sufficiently generic way, there might be a new plugin release coming. However, given that we tend to shy away from most off the shelf plugins and build a dozen or more custom solutions into our projects, only a few make it out alive to live on as open source projects. Not to mention the others that are just waiting to be extracted and released when time allows.

    I don't run ads or ask for donations (except for the donation link in the readme.txt) on my plugin pages. For me its free advertising for the services I do charge for. However, I have purchased a few high quality, GPL-compatible, themes and plugins in my time and plan on looking at going that route in the future.

  5. Thaya Kareeson

    Thanks for visiting Otto! Where do you place your donate box? On your site, plugin page, or in WP Admin of your plugin options?

  6. Thaya Kareeson

    Thanks for responding!

    "It would be better to tell others that the plugin rocks and why. "
    That's a great idea. I should incorporate a little resource section into my blogs to help spread the word for the authors.

    "I try to update codex whenever I see an error or omission"
    I was never brave enough to put back into codex. I'm too scared of breaking the internet. I tend to think that if there is an error or omission that's probably done on purpose.

    "When I create a plugin, I created it for myself. If I feel that it will benefit others, I clean it up and release it."
    There are many times when people request features from me that I never needed or wanted for my own purpose, so its' not really creating it for myself. But then it is nice to be the center of attention!

  7. Thaya Kareeson

    Thanks for stopping by Jim! Glad to see you again!

    I think your core values are a great guideline for many people in the WordPress community. I hope many people adopt your perspective! It encourages plugin authors to really put value into their plugins

  8. Otto

    I put a donate form on my site, in the sidebar. My plugin settings pages do have links, but almost all the donations come via the site.

  9. Thaya Kareeson

    Thanks xentek!

    I've done some freelance work before and I got too exhausting after a while. I would like to build residual income instead.

    That's interesting, so you would rather sell premium plugins than get money from ads or donations? I figured that I can do something like a freemium model. Basic features for free (for people who blog for fun) and premium features for money (for people who blog for money).

  10. Thaya Kareeson

    How much does traffic does your plugin generate?

  11. xentek

    It might just be my personal aesthetic, but there is something about Ads that make me trust a site a little less. It seems like the priority is on making money and not providing what ever it is that the site is providing.

    I'm not bashing anyone that uses them, and obviously banner ads, text ads, and the like are effective – to a certain degree – but for me, they tend to clutter a design and take focus off of the information that is trying to be presented. In other words, they can be a huge distraction to users.

    But since most of my plugins tend to be a by-product of other work, they're paid for indirectly and I don't mind supporting them after the release. If I don't have time, I don't respond, and so far no one has complained.

    If a plugin is sufficiently complex, or solves a real business need, it really warrants a price tag. Some of the plugins I have in the pipeline (and even some I've released early but with very few user controlled options) seem like perfect candidates for the premium plugin route. And with Envato (the themeforrest guys) opening a WP Plugin section on the Code Canyon marketplace soon, it seems like a good way to go for me.

    I've been self-employed for 7+ years now and that's not about to change anytime soon, and while consulting is a lucrative career, it is still a game of trading time for money, and I too am looking for ways to pull in a residual income for code I've already written.

    But who am I kidding? I write the code for free. I'm paid to answer the emails :)

  12. xentek

    > "I try to update codex whenever I see an error or omission"
    "I was never brave enough to put back into codex. I'm too scared of breaking the internet. I tend to think that if there is an error or omission that's probably done on purpose. "

    No really, go ahead and try to break it :)
    Even incomplete (or slightly inaccurate) info in the codex is better than a blank page. Someone will build on your contribution. Though most wp developers I know just read the code and ignore the codex.

  13. xentek

    I should also add that I've had colleagues think that I was out of mind to NOT be running ads on my site. But again, its against my personal aesthetic, and choose not to do so.

  14. Thaya Kareeson

    BTW, thank you for the suggestion! I have added it a donation section to my sidebar too!

  15. Otto

    For both Simple Twitter Connect and Simple Facebook Connect, they get around 800 hits a day. On Extend, they get roughly 600 downloads per day. That varies, of course, the max I've seen is 4000 for SFC.

    You can see the donation bit on the sidebar of http://ottopress.com . It's a simple affair, just a box and a suggested $5 donation, for a beer. :)

  16. Thaya Kareeson

    That makes sense. There's only so many ads you can place before it just kills your site in terms of usability.

    BTW, how did you get the little WP logo in your intense debate?

  17. xentek

    You know… I don't know how that logo showed up. Intense Debate is owned by Automattic, so maybe its because I used the same email address as I do on wordpress.org? :)

  18. Thaya Kareeson

    Hm… I just checked and I use the same email address on both services. Darn!

  19. Michael Fields

    "That's a great idea. I should incorporate a little resource section into my blogs to help spread the word for the authors."
    Awesome! Can't wait to check it out.

    "I was never brave enough to put back into codex. I'm too scared of breaking the internet. I tend to think that if there is an error or omission that's probably done on purpose."
    Definitely not done on purpose… it's a community effort!!! Go for it.

    "There are many times when people request features from me that I never needed or wanted for my own purpose, so its' not really creating it for myself. But then it is nice to be the center of attention!"
    When you say "request features" are you referring to "modifications to already existing code" or "requests to create custom solutions".

  20. Thaya Kareeson

    Most of the time it's suggestions for how it can make the plugin better (but also benefit the requester at the same time). A lot of features I put into all of my plugins, I never really use at all but have to spend time developing and testing. It does make the plugin better for everybody, but sometimes I just don't have the bandwidth to help someone troubleshoot their super tricky way of using my plugins.

  21. Julian

    i think developing is not too good as blogging

    i mean…
    i have made 28 plugins and only got $5 for donations

    wheeew
    http://profiles.wordpress.org/users/julianwp

  22. Frank Massa

    There are some plug-ins people would pay for.. Yours would not be those.. you steal other peoples code and try and force your ads into everything. Stop crying, no one would pay you anyways.

  23. Thaya Kareeson

    Are you a plugin developer? No? How about a thank you?

    I have ads because I don't want people to pay for my plugins. If I don't get paid somehow, I can't afford to code for free. If I go premium my plugins will be ad-less, but I'm not planning on it.

    If you say I steel people's code then many other plugin devs steal from my code too (including some big time developers). It's called GPL. Learn your facts before you slander.

    It's people like you who make me not want to continue coding for the WP community. You want everything for free (plugin, support, time) and cry about it when you don't get it. Good thing there are lots of other great people in this community that keep me around or else I would pull all of my plugins right now so that I can stop supporting bad apples like you.

  24. @paulgailey

    OK, so what I don't really understand @ThayaKareeson is how sites like: http://wpplugins.com/purchase/296/wp-greetings/ get away with charging for your software and making it look like theirs? Are you having to police this sort of activity alot?

  25. pratish

    Plugin developers also make money by selling more advanced version of the plugins which they provide it for free. they can also make money for installing and configuring it with more advanced custom features on their clients website.
    Some plugin developers make money through the ads which are running on their website and they generate traffic by attracting plugins users to their website.

  26. Thaya Kareeson

    Hi @paulgailey,
    Yeah I have to keep policing this stuff. It's kind of a pain. Now-a-days it's just not worth policing this stuff since I don't get money for my plugins anyway. Lots of great WP plugins now stopped developing plugins since there is really no money in it for them.

  27. Thaya Kareeson

    That is the most common monetization model for sure. The only problem is, the amount of effort developers put into their plugins and site is tremendous. If they were to put the same amount of effort elsewhere in a different niche, they can make 10x the money easy.

  28. Praveen Rajarao

    There are a lot of ways that we can. There is online advertising, online surveys, affiliate marketing to name a few. You can visit my blog to know more.

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