Hey WordPress, Stop Treating Commercial Plugin Developers Like Second Class Citizens

I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the WordPress community concerning the treatment of commercial plugin developers and this has prompted me to weigh in on the topic. Keep in mind that this is an opinion piece. I welcome friendly discussion from differing viewpoints.

WordPress: A Prejudiced Commercial Ecosystem

You will find loads of commercially supported themes on WordPress.org but commercially supported plugins don’t receive that same blatant promotion. While theme developers and theme shops are making a substantial income, your average commercial plugin developer often struggles to find a way to cover the time spent on creating and supporting the plugin. Yet, both themes and plugins are subject to the same license. What gives?

Last week I noticed an interesting tweet from Drupal’s Dries Buytaert:

This refers to a comment by Jeff Sayre, a BuddyPress developer and forum moderator, as well as the creator of BuddyPress Privacy. Jeff is seriously considering switching his efforts to Drupal because of his recent experiences with the WordPress community.

Rarely have I ever seen a more courteous and informative exchange in the WordPress world than what I saw in the comments posted by Drupal community members in response to Jeff’s inquiry. In contrast, read some of the comments on Jeff’s update regarding his free plugin: Privacy Comes to BuddyPress.

Jeff makes an excellent point regarding the GPL:

Designers and developers alike should each be afforded the same freedoms granted by the GPL. In my opinion, anyone who does not fully support all rights given by the GPL license does not support its freedoms.

Granted, some plugin developers are better than others at monetizing their efforts, but all must overcome the stigma of creating something related to WordPress that isn’t totally free. The level of entitlement among WordPress users is astronomical, especially when it comes to plugins that are offered for free.

Try creating a WordPress plugin and see if you don’t receive several hateful emails because you haven’t updated your plugin or haven’t answered a support question or provided enough documentation. This is one reason many high quality WordPress plugin developers choose to sell their work, despite being shunned and/or openly mocked by leaders within the community. The WordPress project has a hard and fast “fall in line” approach, and if you disregard community “requests”, your business may be on the line, perhaps even set up for potential ruin.

Newsflash: Selling Free Software is OK!

Unlike the Drupal community, WordPress already has several high quality and fairly well-known sources for acquiring commercial plugins. Yet, commercial plugin developers are still regarded as second class citizens. It also doesn’t help that some commercial plugin developers take a self-righteous approach to their pricing, claiming that their small price tag means that they don’t even wish to make money.

There is nothing wrong with making money, even a large revenue stream, by selling open source software. The GPL means free as in freedom, not free as in beer. You have the freedom to make as much money as you want to. The libertarian, free market aspect of open source software is often unpalatable to scholarly types who are constantly crying out for the redistribution of wealth at the expense of individual freedom. They cannot stand to see someone succeed and make money from open source software.

Commercial plugin sites, such as WP Plugins and WPMU DEV, have been largely regarded as anti-community spirit. However, it’s important to recognize what the GNU GPL actually stands for when it comes to selling free software:

Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU Project is that you should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you should charge as little as possible — just enough to cover the cost. This is a misunderstanding.

Actually, we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can.

If WordPress leaders and community members continue to mitigate the freedoms afforded by the GPL, we’re going to lose excellent developers like Jeff Sayre. The WordPress community needs to make a concerted effort to curb entitlement among its users and stop promoting an emasculated version of the GPL.

There are many high quality developers of the caliber of Jeff Sayre who are capable of producing enterprise-class extensions for any open source CMS. However, due to the present anti-capitalist sentiments in the WordPress community, it’s no surprise that many are finding that they can no longer subject their businesses to an atmosphere that inhibits the freedom and innovation available within the GPL.

Entrepreneurs need freedom in order to establish viable revenue-generating businesses that will support their families. Just because the tools I use for building are open source, doesn’t mean I can work for free, even if I’m producing another open source tool for others to use. It’s simple math. My hope is that the WordPress community will grow into a more thoughtful and respectful discourse that respects different opinions. I would also like to see 2011 be a pivotal year in which commercial plugin developers are not regarded as second class citizens. Your thoughts and ideas for making this happen are welcome in the comments.