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Winning Together in a Decentralizing Plugin Ecosystem

Are OrganizeWP (and Newsletter Glue) leading indicators for trends and opportunities in the plugin space?

Estimated reading time: 60 minutes

Cory mentioned Jon Christopher‘s debut of OrganizeWP last week, calling attention to 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. His thinking about OrganizeWP goes back a few years too. (Actually it goes back a decade, with OrganizeWP’s predecessor, Hierarchy.) He’s documented a lot of the planning and iteration on his site, so there’s a lot to learn from if you’re interested in a different business model for WordPress products.

Will it work? A lot of people with “subscription fatigue” seem to like the idea, what about the challenge of maintaining multiple major versions? That concern drives a skeptical take from Carl Hancock.

The WordPress Admin Experience: Still a Blue Ocean

Looking at Jon’s model, I wonder 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: the wp-admin interface. WordPress core will catch up to the rest of the WordPress user experience on the other side of Gutenberg, but that’s a few years away. So it surprises me how few plugin shops and developers have looked for opportunities in backend customization. (Only PublishPress comes to mind as being really committed in this key area with their plugin suite.)

The WordPress admin experience is something everyone wants to change when they’re building sites for a team or larger group of users with unique content types and workflows. There’s a large gap in what is available to that potentially high-end niche in the premium plugin marketplace. That’s whose needs Jon is aiming to meet β€” freelancers, site builders, agencies. It’s a good bet there’s opportunity in those spaces, if you can go directly to the people there.

Selling Outside Don’t Go Alone

Going directly to your target market touches the last and biggest item of note with OrganizeWP: it’s not in the 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. Althought it’s not exactly uncommon, the reasons why that choice gets made are worth deeper consideration for what it may say about the business and .org ecosystem today.

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. Speaking to Sarah Gooding at the Tavern, Lesley noted 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 for plugins owners where sharing current best practices (or simple checklists) with first time plugin owners helps them enter the marketplace.

Opportunities for Partnerships

According to Lesley, the main upside of using 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. WordPress hosting platforms targeting eCommerce niches are making the “looking for an easy button” market increasingly competitive. There are mature, established models for building a market outside the .org plugin repo, but that may also be a disadvantage to newcomers entering the space.

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.”) I’d love to hear from anyone doing this or trying to do it, as a smaller, independent product owner today.

Challenge: Lack of Market Data

When a premium plugin leaves or never enters a centralized distribution channel, it goes off the radar. We have less data about it and the overall shape of this part of the plugin ecosystem. Assuming the number of plugins sold outside centralized marketplaces has only grown over time with WordPress, we know less about the ecosystem as time goes on.

The .org repo which can be measured. So can the new and growing marketplace. Large ecosystem plugins like Elementor with their own marketplaces are highly visible. But outside of centralized distribution channels, we don’t know what’s happening or even have a map of that market with any depth or breadth. That’s another disadvantage to product owners in that space.

Are the centralized and decentralized products and markets all growing? At what rate relative to each other? However limited it may be, a key metric like active installs becomes an even bigger unknown when product owners set up shop outside the .org repository. That’s data they could benefit from most directly. If that’s something you’re working on or thinking about deeply, I’d love to chat.

Speaking of Market Data…

  • In the WooCommerce ecosystem compared with WordPress, Ellipsis has some new data and analysis published that attempts to answer the question, “Who is winning in the WooCommerce marketplace?” Their conclusions:
    • WooCommerce has been a lot stronger than ​WordPress this year.
    • 70% commission on sales makes the WooCommerce Marketplace a viable sales channel.
    • $85,498,900 in estimated revenue from the WooCommerce Marketplace.
    • They’ve also got the top 5 highest grossing products in the Woo marketplace, all estimated as grossing over $2 million (USD).

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