Funding open works: Phabricator paid prioritzation, the WordPress economy

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An example in the wild of a project that recognizes the overhead of contract work, and getting around it: Phabricator Paid Prioritization. See also Phacility Prioritization Service Agreement.


The service we offer gives you control over our development priorities, not access to custom development. Everything we build will go into the upstream and be released as open source. We’ll retain ownership of all our work product and intellectual property. We’ll also maintain the feature in the upstream indefinitely, for free.

There have been notable examples in “premium” WordPress plugins/themes being released for free after experimenting with paid versions, but I wasn’t tracking them. I will start collecting them on this site, so we can map out what is going on. The WordPress ecosystem is financially infused enough to have more than a few conferences just focused on the economics of WordPress, so it is worth seeing what they are doing. :slight_smile:

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Phabricator Paid Prioritization is really interesting. They’ve removed much of the mechanism (and thus costs) of both contracts for custom development and various (one or more of voting, escrow, threshold) for direct user funding. With this they capture revenue from entities big enough to pay a substantial amount for things on the roadmap and committed enough as users to not likely stiff good work, and leave to the side more costly and unfocused work (custom development) and small dollar amounts from smaller users which need to be aggregated (and thus are costly and usually don’t add up to enough to pay for work). I hope it works out for them and if so method adopted by others.

I didn’t realize there were conferences on WordPress economics, but searching I find PressNomics. I’m not sure what to make of GPL but generally unavailable except to customers, and then possibly with non-free assets, license keys, and SaaS elements, but sure does show yet again that one can make money selling GPL software.

Some articles I skimmed (2011-2013):

I’m going to make the title of this post (“funding open works”) more specific and move it from uncategorized to software. The two cases discussed strike me as relying a lot on work being subject of ongoing development and customization, which so far has been mostly the domain of software (though I’d like to see that become less true; probably a different discussion though).

Also two more thoughts on the WordPress economy:

(1) in a way it looks a lot to me like the shareware economy, which I guess has morphed into the app economy – small software development shops making utilities and getting some people to pay but without doing much traditional marketing.

(2) how could one tell if users of these paid and GPL themes and plugins have software freedom in a meaningful way? I don’t think a developer deciding to go from paid to gratis would indicate much. The occasional successful fork of a “premium” theme or plugin as a regular free software project with expected public source repository and gratis download would be such an indicator. Or even an unrelated “premium” developer competing by using original developer’s code under the GPL. I’d love to know of such cases.

I think there is a lot of marketing going on, though I may not understand what you mean by “traditional”. Folks selling WordPress software do everything that larger players do: ads, cross-promotion, sales, events, affiliates, etc. WooCommerce, the most used ecommerce solution (based on the amount of WordPress sites that use it, which in turn have the largest segment of use) had a complete conference dedicated to it in the last year.

There are some freemium models, which follow shareware -> app store paradigm, and a lot of them show up in the official WP repo as “lite” versions of the pro plugins. But a lot of the standard go to plugins used by many developers do not have demos. They do their marketing like others.

I suppose it depends on who the user is. For instance, I buy a lot of software, and use it to build sites for clients. While they definitely benefit from it, it would be a stretch to say they “use” the software. In most cases I am the sole interface.

Now, for me, I greatly benefit. I can change the software, and I’ve submitted patches upstream to such packages. It seemed like the correct way to interact with the software, and I never thought about the commercial nature of the software. As I mentioned in person, what you are buying is support and ongoing updates. In a way I see this as crowdfunding a developer to fix a particular problem for me (with money coming from all the other paying customers).

There have been examples of what you’ve noted, case in point being WooCommerce, which started as a fork of another commerce plugin (or WordPress, which is a fork of b2, and really does the heavy lifting for all the other plugins ^_^). If one follows WordPress news/drama, every six months some asshat comes along and bundles a bunch of GPL software together and sales it was pennies of what one would pay if they bought it from all the folks that develop it. And it always ends with them getting a C&D from projects for trademark infringement and complaints from customers that tried to get a deal and end up with no support. Next time it happens I will post it here.

As a business, um, entity… meh, I work in the WordPress ecosystem, and run a business, so I also pay attention to how things are priced, and how these folks make money. It is fascinating when they break down the lifetime value of a customer that renews over many years, and where the price points come into play. It is something that I wish applied to other free software ecosystems, but I have a half-serious theory that WordPress is too mainstream for FOSS advocates to care about, and thus most free software is stuck begging for money.

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Yeah, strike my “traditional marketing” comment. The way the premium stuff WordPress economy reminds me of shareware is really just that it is another big thing that I (and I imagine others in free software bubble) easily forget exists but a free software person reminded me of.

Glad to read that occasionally premium themes/plugins are forked under the GPL. I imagine that vast majority of times done by as you say by “some asshat” but if it is sometimes done by someone(s) who actually makes the fork into a better product … that’s GPL deregulation/the free market working, or GPL regulation/free market monopolization thwarted … depending on one’s perspective (some validity to both I think, depending on specifics of case).

I have a half-serious theory that WordPress is too mainstream for FOSS advocates to care about, and thus most free software is stuck begging for money.

That’s an interesting theory, suggesting that there’s something about the WordPress economy that ought be copied by other projects? What does that look like?

FWIW, if useful (and happy to have people edit it to add thoughts and notes):

Decent overview, I think; obviously the general intro too:

Good roundup of stories and links for a mini-trend in premium WordPress plugins being released in public repos (all happen to be GitHub):

Of note is that some of those folks are inspired by an interview with Mullenweg, specifically the part about ubiquity vs. scarcity.

Of the three plugins I’ve known to do this (aside from Easy Digital Downloads, which was an early adopter of this policy), I have support licenses with two of them, and was planning on trying out the third. I purchased developer level support for both GravityView and WP Pusher. I was holding off on Lasso, because that was a lot of money to pay for something I wasn’t sure I would be using, which means that in my specific case, providing it to the public makes good business sense.

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Interesting, thanks for pointing out.

One small curiosity is the persistence of the ‘license’ term, in the Lasso

We do ask, however, that if you are using the plugin on a live site that you please purchase a valid license from the website. We cannot provide support to anyone who does not hold a valid license key.

That sounds like a valid support contract and valid support key. :slight_smile:

Automattic acquires Woo Commerce

Just like us, the vast majority of WooCommerce’s work is also open source and 100% GPL.

This has actually been taking up a lot of my time lately, because it is big news for the kind of work I do. I have a bunch of links to share, getting them sorted now. :slight_smile:

Some interesting data came out recently.

2015 WordPress Business Revenue Statistics

This morning, WordPress developer Scott Bolinger published a compilation of 2015 WordPress business revenue statistics based on publicly available transparency reports and figures submitted by business owners. The resource includes each company’s business model, description, and monthly/yearly revenue.

GravityView has passed $100k in sales

GravityView went on sale July 24, 298 days ago. Yesterday, GravityView passed $100,000 in sales. I’d like to go over a few numbers and take a look back over the past 10 months and share some of what I’ve learned.

And adding to the vertical-specific conferences, as listed in a post about DrupalCon LA:

I add those events to punctuate that WordPress as an economy based on free software is thriving, a rich resource for for gathering data, and is largely ignored by free software advocates in my experience. On the other hand, WordPress is so ubiquitous, I find more and more people have at least heard of it, but have zero knowledge of software/user freedom. What’s up with that?

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The first link is especially interesting.

On one hand, the existence of this thriving economy based on free software ought be much better known by free software advocates, and probably more people should be aware of WordPress as free software.

On the other hand, the numbers are pretty small, with a couple medium sized enterprises. Totally unimpressive to VCs I imagine. But on the other fingers of the current hand, can this be taken as evidence of massive consumer surplus from free software? I think so. Software that powers 20something% of websites, owners of the company developing that software only have $1-2b valuation. Compare with Facebook: over $200b market cap. Needless to say there are numerous differences that make this comparison sketchy, but 100-200x leaves lots of room for error.