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The monetization of Wordpress

Yup, there's a plugin for that

Wordpress, for those four in the back row who don't know, is the highly popular open-source blogging platform thankfully made by this guy. Fast forward a couple years, and Wordpress is going from strength to strength, having just beaten the likes of Drupal and Joomla as the 'best open source CMS'.

Much like Twitter, the key to this meteoric growth is thanks in no small part to its simplicity - Twitter's basic concept means people can effectively mold it into whatever they want it to be. The same goes for Wordpress - it's obviously a web publishing platform at heart, but due to it's feature set, endless extendability and open-source nature, it can be (and has been) used for just about anything - from contact managers to full-blown CMS' and ecommerce stores.

However, with all that said, a plain and simple Wordpress install rarely gets it to become any of those things. That's where plugins come in, and without the thriving Wordpress plugin community/ecosystem, Wordpress might have faded into obscurity long ago (just think of Twitter again, and imagine if there were no 3rd-party apps - just the web interface to use? Blasphemy).

There's a plugin for that

There's a plugin for literally just about anything you might need. Taking a quick stroll through the directory and you're sure to find solutions for problems you'll never have. But there are always developers toiling away at making those obscure plugins, and to make a plugin you need a solid understanding of PHP, an idea, time, and devotion. These things aren't free in the normal marketplace, so why should creating a plugin on be free?

The commercialization of Wordpress themes took off some time ago, and many designer/developers are now getting steady income streams solely from their passion for web design and grasp of Wordpress' backend. Their themes are licensed on a flat fee, with the extent of backend customization often the defining factor for the price points. However, I've noticed that the plugin community seems conspicuously free of charge, but for how long?


Recently it's dawned on me that some plugins are crucial to each and every site I build for a client, and as such I'd happily pay for them. Yet at the same time I'm not sure a flat-fee licensing scheme would be as widely accepted as full-blown front-end themes. Paying $59.95 for a plugin just doesn't seem right, as often Wordpress themes are purchased by end consumers - not producers - in the vast ecosystem of Wordpress. Plugins are targeted to the producers first and foremost, and unless the license fee is passed on to the client, most WP developers wouldn't take kindly to paying $50 for an sIFR plugin, would they?

Go Micro

Enter the concept of micropayments. Theoretically, much like Apple's app store and iTunes, plugin users would create an account on and 'top up' with funds, similar to a Starbucks coffee card. When downloading a plugin for a site build or other project, a small payment is made to the original developer from the account. Costs would range anywhere from $0.02 cents to $20.00, where the value and price point is based on complexity, demand, and community-powered ratings.

The main issue with micropayments is that the cost of transactions is often higher than the micropayment itself. The use of a pre-funded account would mean plugin users could 'top up' with more normal amounts like £20 rather than £0.02, £0.05, £1.05 and so on. The recipient/developer accounts would be tied to their PayPal accounts, and paid in once an amount threshold is reached.


More monetization on a micro level satisfies both sides of the equation - the better a plugin does, the more incentivized that developer is to make improvements, updates and create similar plugins. Similarly, the lesser quality plugins are weeded out by natural selection. A microcost for downloading reduces the barrier to something resembling free, yet based on a quick scan of the more popular plugins out there (All in one SEO pack, for instance), the daily download rate is topping 16,000. 16k! At just $0.05 USD per download, based on a micropayments premise, that equates to $800 per day with Wordpress presumably getting a base commission from that. That's likely enough incentive for creating a robust, high-quality plugin. The all time stats for the same SEO plugin? 3,894,00 downloads and still going strong. You do the maths, but trust me - it's a high enough number that would have most would-be plugin developers scrambling for their keyboards, code editors and an idea for a great plugin.

I'm willing to pay in micropayments for my use of the crucial plugins I need for client site-builds. Clearly I'm not the only one, and implementing this system would only benefit the community as a whole. Sure, I realize it conflicts drastically with the concept of 'open source', but then aren't Wordpress themes doing the exact same thing? And doing it well, making money, and expanding Wordpress' reach in the process?