Selling WordPress Plugins and Themes

Are you a WordPress plugin developer or a WordPress theme designer? You’re not alone, that’s for sure. If you want to make money selling WordPress plugins or themes, traditionally you have to list with a marketplace. Yet, marketplaces take a huge cut of your profits.

What if there was another way? But first, a little background…

WordPress is Kind of a Big Deal

At this point, WordPress is an absolute monster, with up to 60% of CMS-based sites using it (30% of the entire Internet). It’s also the fastest growing CMS with over 600 WordPress sites in the top 10 million websites. Compare that to competitor SquareSpace which has only around 150 websites in the top 10 million.

Any way you cut it, more people using WordPress means more people looking for WordPress themes and plugins. Likewise, more demand for themes and plugins means more web developers are specializing in writing themes and plugins for WordPress. The result? It’s now a massive market with lots of opportunities but extreme competition. How can you cut through the noise as a WordPress developer and make money at the same time?

Should You List Your Plugin or Theme With a Marketplace?

Marketplaces are like the mobile app stores of the WordPress arena. They offer you greater access to potential customers, provide a great search tool, and lend credibility to your offering. In other words, they provide you with “discoverability,” or the potential to more easily be found and for people to purchase your offering.

However, much like the mobile app stores, theme and plugin marketplaces are increasingly saturated and very few people can make consistent money in an ultra-competitive, race-to-the-bottom marketplace. You’ll find a few top earners with well known plugins that are making it, but after that, there’s a huge drop-off to the next level of developers who end up toiling in relative obscurity.

Marketplaces Take a Massive Cut of Your Earnings

Let’s take Envato as an example – that’s the company behind CodeCanyon (WordPress plugins) and ThemeForest (WordPress themes). If you list with them exclusively, you’ll pay between 12.5% and 37.5% of every plugin’s sale to Envato. Also, that 12.5% figure is misleading since you have to have an unbelievably popular plugin to pay “only” 12.5%. Most authors end up paying 37.5% PLUS what Envato calls an “author’s fee,” usually around $5.

If you don’t list with them exclusively and try to list on multiple marketplaces (including your own site), you’ll pay a staggering 55% of your profits to Envato (plus the author fee). This means on a $40 plugin, you would net only $15.75 from Envato. That’s terrible!

But Is It Worth It For The Exposure?

The argument for listing your plugin or theme with a marketplace is that more potential customers can find you. Well, maybe! But as mentioned earlier, so-called “discoverability” is a huge, huge problem. With around 7,000 plugins currently listed on CodeCanyon and around 12,000 themes on ThemeForest, how will anyone learn about your offering? Well, you’ll probably have to set up a web page of your own and engage in other marketing efforts.

Yet, this is backwards – why would you invest in marketing dollars just to drive people to the marketplace, so that marketplace can turn around and take a MASSIVE cut of your profit? How did you benefit from being listed there when most of your traffic will come from your own marketing efforts on your own website?

What we’re saying is that in many cases, the marketplace ship has sailed. If you want to make it as a developer, you should seriously consider selling directly to your customers (which is now easier than ever).

Selling Your Plugin or Theme Directly Puts You in Control

There are many options for you as a developer to sell premium plugins directly to your customers. WordPress is home to two really great e-commerce offerings, WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.

There are a lot of options out there if you want to use these to sell your plugin or theme. But what if you want to go beyond what they offer by default and sell a license code, restrict updates, and even limit functionality to those with a valid license?

We are partial to WooCommerce, so we created our own solution called WP License Agent, allowing you (and us) to sell WordPress plugins and themes.

WP License Agent – A WooCommerce Solution to Sell Your WordPress Plugins or Themes

WP License Agent Statistics vs EnvatoWhen a customer places an order from your WooCommerce store running WP License Agent, they receive a license key which can be tied to the following options:

  • License Length: Anything, from 1 day to forever.
  • Number of Site Installations Allowed: Restrict how many sites the license can be installed on.
  • Restrict Functionality: Disable functions within your plugin or theme if the customers’ license is not valid.

What’s more? We include an update server so that you can publish updates where only your paying customers with valid license can receive the updates.

While you host the plugin or theme update package on your server, on the client side (your customers’ WordPress installations) it uses built-in WordPress updater. The result is a robust and well-supported update process.

If the customer tries to install your plugin or theme on more sites than they are licensed, or if their license term has expired, they won’t be able to receive updates. (If you want, you can allow people without licenses to get updates – that’s just one of the many options provided.)

We even included an optional dashboard news widget where you can display messages on your customers’ WordPress dashboards. By default, it shows the current license status. You can add additional messages on your own server about new offerings or other news. Within a few hours these messages will be shown in the dashboard widget on your customers’ site.

And it just gets better – WP License Agent has easy-to-integrate code that can show a license panel within your plugin or theme, handles the widget, and provides for secure update processes.

You can check out WP License Agent here.

In Closing, You Should Really Find a Way to Sell WordPress Plugins or Themes Yourself

While we would love if you would try out WP License Agent like many other happy customers, the point is that you should be selling your WordPress plugins or themes without relying on a marketplace.

With or without a marketplace, you’re going to have to invest in marketing and promotion on your own site. Without this promotion, virtually no one will find you. Getting discovered in a massive marketplace at this point is just not a good bet. So why would you do all that marketing to drive people to your site and educate them about your plugin or theme, and then turn right around and send them to the marketplace to make the purchase? They were already on your site! The marketplace is going to take a massive cut, but what did they do except process the payment? Did they handle your marketing, or did you? So why do they get so much to, in effect, process a payment, when that’s something you could do?

Once you have potential customers on your site, interested in your product, you don’t need to send them away. It’s just not good business. You have the potential customers on your site, so sell to them right then, and the profit is all yours.

Good luck to you, and may you make it as a profitable WordPress developer!

Steve Talley

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