The lifecycle of a plugin
Let's say that I decide to create a new plugin for the marketplace. Let's suppose that I've spent 4 hours browsing through the marketplace of October and another 4 hours looking at plugins for competing CMS systems to get ideas. Then I start developing. Let's say that I develop my plugin in 3 days.
If I would have built my plugin for a single customer, I would now be paid for 3 days (not 4, since I did not have to come up with the idea for this plugin myself if a customer had ordered it). If I have a lot of experience, I may produce a higher quality plugin. If I have a little less experience, I may produce a lower quality plugin. If I am self employed I will calculate a lower hourly rate, if I work for a big firm, that firm will calculate a higher hourly rate. In any case the price for developing this plugin will be anywhere between $1200 and $3600 USD.
Selling on a marketplace
But... I do not offer my plugin to the marketplace for $1200 - $3600 USD. I offer it for $17 USD (the average product price on October). And I do not get paid now, but in small amounts over the next years.
If I manage to sell my plugin once every week I will have sold it 52 times after the first year. 17 x 52 = $884 USD. But wait! I also have to pay 30% commission to the marketplace so I only made $618,80 USD. At this rate it would take between 2 and 4 years for the plugin to become profitable for me. A lot can happen in 2-4 years and usually some of it does.
A lot can happen in 2-4 years
After 2 months somebody reports a bug. It takes me 2 hours to investigate but the bug turns out to be unrelated to my plugin. The original time invested is now no longer 4 days but 4 days + 2 hours.
After 6 months an update to a plugin that my plugin depends on breaks something. It takes me 2 hours to fix. The original time invested is now no longer 4 days but 4 days + 4 hours.
After 1 year and multiple requests by users I decide to add a certain new feature. It takes me 4 hours to develop. The original time invested is now no longer 4 days but 5 days.
This is just after the first year and the time it will take to get fully paid is already no longer 2-4 years but 25% longer.
A sad reality
Unfortunately, by now a competing plugin enters the marketplace and my sales drop. To compete I must add even more additional features. But I cannot increase my price because the product I am competing with is priced the same or slightly lower than mine. I eventually decide to abandon this plugin and create some other plugin in the hope that it will be more successful than this one and compensate me for my loss.
At this time we return to the top of this article and start reading again... or change something.
You cannot offer a lifetime of updates for a fixed price, it is unsustainable. The premium plugins I know in Wordpress include only 1 year of updates (per site) for this very reason. Those that don't either will evolve or disappear.
The marketplace needs to accommodate this with subscription based licenses for plugins if the author requires them.
If you purchase a website you also purchase a yearly support contract. This is no different.
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