Most developers agree the donation model isn’t great (giving the plugin away for free and requesting, not requiring, a small donation as a sign of support).
Arguably the best alternative is freemium model (where you have a free plugin and build premium functionality plugins around it) which is growing in popularity and is used by plugins such as WooCommerce and EDD.
Freemium may not be suitable for all plugins however, as some may not have many features which you can make premium, or you may just want to avoid the burden of supporting users who’ve purchased a premium product (who’s expectations for support may be far greater).
One of my plugins, Download Monitor, has always been donation based and free on WordPress.org. Although there is space for a few premium extensions, I’ve not had the capacity nor will to build them yet. When I rewrote the core plugin however, I did take out a feature I deemed to be bloat and made it separate – but not premium, as I thought users would react badly to a previously core feature being made paid-for after an update. Instead I made it “pay what you want”.
Pay what you want
So, the “page addon” feature was turned into a separate extension hosted on my own site as a simple Gumroad product with pay what you want pricing. Essentially this just prompts for an amount, in dollars, which you can optionally pay before downloading. The user may enter 0 if they want to download the product for free, that’s no issue.
I didn’t expect much difference in donations, but a few months in the stats are looking much more positive.
Can you tell where I introduced pay what you want? That’s a huge spike. In addition, I’m also able to collect user email addresses should I wish to spam them with updates 🙂
Why the donation model may have been failing
Don’t get me wrong, I do get user donations which was great (and thanks to everyone who has contributed) but the numbers are low comparatively to the number of downloads. I cannot be 100% certain but I’d expect the reasons for a low donation rate would include:
- donations are not highlighted during the install/download process.
- there are few prompts after downloading the plugin (most plugins are install and forget anyway)
- do users know how much is appropriate to give?
- there is not much incentive to donate
Does WordPress.org need better donation features?
As most plugins are hosted on WordPress.org, you are kind of at their mercy when it comes to new features. Currently WordPress.org has just a plain ’donate’ button which uses the donation link you define in the readme file. It’s not overly noticeable and probably ignored by most users completely.
I’d love to see .org make donations on plugin listing pages more flexible in future:
- Prompting for a donation before/after pressing the download button
- Some kind of kudos/supporters feature – “X supported this plugin”
- Pre-defined donation amounts
Something like that would be great, helping developers monitize their products, and potentially making donations more viable as a source of monitization if Freemium or Premium is not possible.