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WT Trends logo

Second-Class Third-Party Developers.

Welcome back to WP Trends. Long time no see.

What's covered this month:

  • πŸ“ˆ  WordPress.org plugin directory changes
  • πŸ”Œ  A move away from addons 
  • πŸ’°  WordPress businesses for sale

An Apology

Yes you're quite right, I haven't landed in your inbox for quite some time. I apologise for the lack of newsletters. The last 10 months have been rather hectic, I've been getting my head down on my projects and I've changed companies.

Plugin Directory Changes

The WordPress.org meta team recently removed the active installs growth chart and corresponding public API from plugin listings.

Due to concerns of security and gaming the system, the plugin team have always tried to hide numbers from the public and more importantly plugin authors. Rounding high install numbers, combining new and update downloads into one metric, obfuscating the true active growth, and this is just another example of that. 

I can’t help but feel this is a symptom of the wider issue that WordPress doesn’t really want to support third-party developers who build freemium plugins, those that actually help grow the WordPress ecosystem. Freemium is a dirty word in WordPress, where the focus has always been on FOSS, the GPL and contributing upstream to the project for free. 

Because of this, the data insights for developers is severely lacking and it's one of the reasons I created Plugin Rank and why other solutions like wpMetrics exist and both will be impacted by this change. That's not to say other platforms and marketplaces are perfect, but they don’t seem to work against developers like WordPress.org does. As a plugin developer trying to grow a business, data is everything and the data from the directory is poor and requires a large overhaul to improve what is collected.

I’d love to see data available to plugin developers like:

For me, this all stems from Matt Mullenweg’s belief that plugins should be free and not commercialized within the plugin directory. In Post Status slack, he discussed in January how he fears better support for premium plugins would create less collaboration and less improvement to WordPress core:

Matt Mullenweg in Post Status commenting on plugins

Matt Mullenweg in Post Status commenting on plugins

His view seems to be directly against the commercial initiates within Automattic, where JetPack and WooCommerce are heavily monetized and enjoy the freedom outside of plugin directory guidelines to operate as they please, and WordPress.com hosting has added their own marketplace for premium plugins to be bought and installed right within WordPress installs. At what point does ideology become just a cover for using competitive advantage?

Freemium Plugin developers shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in the ecosystem. Even developers with just free plugins should be able to see decent statistics. There's no incentive to keep developing plugins if you don’t know people are using them. We see the same treatment on the plugin directory in the reviews system where developers can be held hostage to 1 star reviews, and with a support system that cannot be customized or handled elsewhere but is still a factor in the search algorithm, which penalizes developers who perform support elsewhere. 

As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been any good clarity around the reason behind it or if it can be reverted. With a large number of people adding their voices to the new trac ticket calling for it to be reinstated.

What’s the solution here? I do think plugin developers are fighting a losing battle if they think the plugin directory is ever going to act in their best interests. However, the alternative to spurn the repo and go premium-only, utilizing other marketing channels, is problematic.

It's something Carl Hancock has been advocating for years:

Don’t want your WordPress plugin to be reliant on the .org repo policy decision making you have no control over? Distribute it yourself and don’t rely on the repo.

Although I can’t help but think his viewpoint comes with a good helping of survivorship bias. Gravity Forms is the original premium-only plugin which has flourished for many reasons in a very different WordPress landscape. But there are plenty of premium-only plugins that struggle to survive.

I still believe the plugin directory is a valid marketing channel for a plugin as long as it’s seen for what it is - a closed system we have no control over, that can change, as we’ve seen, overnight.

The End of the Addon Model?

For a long time, the way to add more features to a free or premium plugin has been with the addon model. Often this is done for commercial reasons, pay X and get Y addons, or just simply to reduce the need for code bloat in a plugin by letting users install additional features in the form of addons.

However, over time the management and maintenance of addons like this can become onerous for the developers and fatiguing for the users. Right now I’m seeing more and more plugin companies move away from the addon model, rolling their addons into the main plugin either behind feature flags or license checking.

Advanced Custom Fields moved its addons to the PRO version way back, WP Migrate and WP Offload Media have both done it recently, and it’s coming in the next Admin Columns Pro version.

There is a big technical benefit to managing all the code in one codebase. There’s much less dependency issues to worry about, having to worry if users have older versions of the addons that aren’t compatible with the core plugin.

If you’re a developer starting out a premium version of your plugin I would strongly recommend not building out separate addons for plugin functionality.

Acquisition Opportunities

There are currently 31 listings on FlipWP.

All are plugins for sale, with a good range of 4 to high 7 figure asking prices. You can get a flavour of the listings on the homepage.

Here are the recent WordPress product listings on MicroAquire:

  1. WordPress plugins to protect digital assets, products, and content - $476k TTM
  2. WordPress themes and plugins business specialising in directory listing and WP job manager - $100k TTM
  3. Practical and Functional WordPress Plugins and Themes - $4k TTM

That's all for now, thanks for reading. If you have any feedback about the newsletter or want to chat about the WordPress ecosystem, I'd love to hear from you - just hit reply.

Till next time πŸ‘‹


Iain Poulson avatar    Iain Poulson
Founder of WP Trends