One of the most significant factors that contributed to the success of WordPress as a CMS is – in my opinion- the plugin directory. Being able to quickly add functionality to your website by installing a plugin makes WordPress versatile while remaining very affordable. No other CMS has something like our plugin directory. In my eyes, it is like the Hall of Fame of Open Source. As a community, we should protect our Hall of Fame with everything we have (shoutout to all the heroes working in the plugin review team).
Recently, while talking to (potential) plugin builders and companies I invest in, I noticed that many new businesses are considering not building a free plugin (and only going for a premium product). I also read some consultancy reports. Those reports were written by marketing positioning agencies specialized in the WordPress market, and they suggested removing free plugins from the repository, stating that a free product devalues the proposition.
Let me be clear: in some cases, it does not make sense to build a free product. In thinking about whether or not a free plugin is wise, however, I feel it’s essential to take the community interest, the WordPress interest at heart, too. Because if nobody is going to release free high-quality plugins anymore, that would be detrimental to the WordPress project. Next to the needs of your individual business, I feel that businesses should also think about the needs of the WordPress ecosystem. We want that ecosystem to grow and flourish, right? And that means we need businesses that release high-quality plugins using advanced technology. With those plugins, we can maintain our Hall of Fame.
Ten years ago, Joost de Valk spoke about the Victory of the Commons for the first time (check out his talk and notice how black his hair was back then). He explained how free-rider behavior could ruin an open-source project but how NOT making money is not an option either. Back then, making money with plugins was frowned upon. And that wasn’t the way forward. We need to make money with our businesses. To thrive as an open-source community, the solution is to make money for our businesses and donate time and effort to the WordPress project.
I don’t think that all businesses need to have a free plugin. But I think it should always be a consideration that businesses should make. Choosing not to have a free plugin – for whatever reason- is a very valid choice. Choosing not to contribute to the WordPress project at all is not.