Winning, Together, in a Decentralizing Plugin Ecosystem

I wonder if OrganizeWP might be seen as a leading indicator for a couple of important trends and opportunities in the plugin business.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Cory mentioned Jon Christopher‘s debut of OrganizeWP last week for its unique and unusual pricing model: no subscriptions, you just buy all releases within one major release and then renew for the next release. The idea is to keep a happy, honest relationship between product development and its users.

Jon’s been around the WordPress product entrance-exit block before with SearchWP, and his thinking through all the steps with OrganizeWP goes back a few years. He’s documented a lot of it on his site, so there’s a lot to learn from if you’re interested in a different business model for WordPress products.

The WordPress Admin Experience: Still a Blue Ocean

I wonder too if OrganizeWP might be seen as a leading indicator for a couple of important trends and opportunities in the plugin business.

OrganizeWP is a cool and needed product in an area that hasn’t received a lot of love from plugin developers, let alone WordPress core. That will happen on the other side of Gutenberg, but it surprises me others haven’t looked for opportunities in backend customization of the WordPress admin experience. There are large gaps like that are felt intensely by anyone building custom WordPress sites. That’s whose needs Jon is aiming to meet — freelancers and others. It’s a good bet there’s opportunity in those spaces, if you can go directly to the people there.

Selling Outside WordPress.org: Don’t Go Alone

And that touches the last and biggest thing of note with OrganizeWP. It’s not in the WordPress.org plugin repo. There was probably never any thought of putting it there. No freemium model. And at the same time, Lesley Sim has gotten attention for pulling Newsletter Glue out of the .org repo.

Dropping Newsletter Glue’s free version was a decision made some time ago, but the reasons behind it are really instructive for anyone starting out on the same path. Lesley notes the challenges of the freemium model with a basic version in the plugin repo, especially if you don’t have prior experience developing a product and marketing strategy for this approach. There’s no onboarding where sharing current best practices (or simple checklists) with first time plugin owners helps them enter the WordPress.org marketplace.

According to Lesley, the main upside of using WordPress.org for distribution is access to the “[b]iggest distribution channel in WP.” It’s an “easy way for reviewers to check out the plugin for free” without contacting the plugin owner too. And finally the .org repo serves as a “[s]ource of credibility” from customer reviews.

Without alternative centralized marketplaces, going outside .org requires plugin owners to create and maximize their own distribution channels, generate their own sources of social proof and provide an interface for customer support. Then there’s the barrier of customer confusion and frustration with having to assemble all the parts of their site themselves. Meanwhile, SaaS and no code alternatives are more visible than ever.

To get past all these hurdles, why not work together more intentionally? Partnerships, networks, and community building could be the key to success. If other plugin shops and owners see the value in working together and trying to help their customers reach their goals simply and quickly, they can amplify their marketing and distribution networks together rather than try to do it all alone. (See “On the Web Publishing Tool Race.”)

As the Places Plugins are Sold Proliferate, We Have Less Data

It would be instructive too if we knew how big the market is for plugins distributed entirely outside of .org relative to it and also the new and growing WordPress.com marketplace. (Not to mention large ecosystem plugins like Elementor.) Are they all growing? At what rate? And then active installs — these become even bigger unknowns when product owners set up shop outside the .org repository.

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