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Is there a market for commercial plugins and themes?

businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP
edited October 2012 in Vanilla 2.0 - 2.8

I was having a chat with a friend recently, and we had a look at the various plugins I'm developing for Vanilla. He liked several of them, and he was asking me if I thought of selling them. I didn't think about it before he mentioned it, but he might be right, as some of the plugins can definitely be useful to other people and, considering the amount of effort put into their development and maintenance, it would not be a bad idea to get some bucks for supporting and maintaining them.
However, I haven't seen a Vanilla Forums Marketplace, as least not similar to the ones for other frameworks I use (e.g. Magento or OpenCart). Therefore, I'm wondering, why is that? Thing is, it would be a bit silly to set up all products for sale, and finding out that nobody would ever buy them, whatever could be the reason.

Thanks in advance for all the feedback.

PS: one of the plugins my friend liked the most is the Categories Accordion Menu (see screenshot). It was a nightmare to implement, but it gave me the inspiration for a Menu System plugin that I'm developing at the moment.

Categories Accordion Menu



  • mcu_hqmcu_hq yippie ki-yay ✭✭✭
    edited October 2012

    The only two people that I know of that sell their services are 422 and X00. As you may know, 422 left Vanilla and is selling his website. You can check out his web income on there, with $300-400 being an average week for him.

    A popular method is providing free software and then offering paid support. This a proven strategy (vanilla forums for example). A lot of people will ask you for help and it will take up your time to help them. It is always the question of time versus money. If someone is running a popular forum and they REALLLY need your plugin, they should feel comfortable with paying you to get it to work, especially if they don't have any background knowledge. Problem is that a lot of people feel entitled to get this and that for free since free software is abundant everywhere. I'm a victim of this myself.

    Forums that are operated by businesses or hobbyist ones that yield an income or provide support for their product are more likely to use paid support than your average <100 member site that talks about minecraft. This comes back to time versus money and mentality. If your large site makes $300 a month and all of a sudden your server crashes or your database gets wiped, you are SOL unless you can fix it yourself. You start losing members, hits per day, and your ranking falls. Then that $40 a month becomes worth every penny. If someone is constantly asking you for desperate help because their site performance is on the line, then you should probably start offering paid support if its bothersome. If someone had a problem with your theme or plugin and they don't know how to fix it, I would say something like: "It will take me xx time to fix, so therefore $xx is needed". This would be classified as a 'per-incident' case. Otherwise, you can offer support for xx amount of time. Here is an example support matrix that Sphinx uses.

    I don't know what plugins would garnish the most income, but I would say badges would be a good start. My SphinxSearch plugin is also a good one since it is geared toward very large communities that probably can afford paid support for it. Plus its complicated as hell if something goes wrong.

    I have no experience doing something like this, so not sure of the outcome. A one-time purchase could work, but then you run the risk of someone exposing your code to other people. You should take into account of this happening in your profits though. Most people are honest and will pay if what your selling is reasonable.

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @mcu_hq Thanks for your feedback. I didn't know that 422 left Vanilla. Pity, he is quite knowledgeab;e about it!

    I thought about the whole free plugin, paid support, but I don't really like that model. I strive for simplicity, and I attempt to reduce the issues with my code to zero (I know it's impossible, but I still try). About exposing the code to others, that's one of the risks with all scripting languages (unless you encrypt the code, but I'm the first person who doesn't install encrypted software). To discourage the practice, I'd simply use proper licensing terms which forbid sharing and distribution. If they do it anyway, and I bust them, I'll hit them with the "almighty hammer of the Emperor" (tm). :)

    Regarding to what to produce, apart for the menu in the screenshot, I have coded a very flexibly logging plugin. Vanilla lacks a proper logger, so I made my own. Funnily enough, first version was ready in one day, but you had to create its configuration file by hand. This new version has a full graphical interface for each destination, allows to download to (theoretically) infinite destinations and supports external loggers too. For someone who runs a community, this kind of 24/7 monitoring can be invaluable. The downside is that, since Vanilla doesn't log stuff in its Core code, my logger won't get called. Perhaps I might submit the idea to the owners and see if they might be interested in integrating it with the main framework.

    By the way, I think you might recognise your "Traditional Chocolate" theme from the screenshot. If your ears were "whistling", that was me cursing loudly. :)

  • peregrineperegrine MVP
    edited October 2012


    Speaking of plugins. at one time back in July you mentioned in a discussion that you were working on 3 plugins for vanilla. I think one had to do with dashboard or profiles. Were you ever going to release these as addons on this forum or are you planning to sell those too. They sort of intrigued me.

    I released over 20 plugins on this site with over 3,000 downloads (not nearly as popular as whosonline or voting). There is very little positive feedback for plugins in general on this forum. With respect to my plugins, for all I know, two or 3 people might be using them, so its hard to gauge. I too wouldn't mind some donations for plugins I spent time on and wrote, but I think there are only a few plugins (I won't mention the names, one rhymes with "cadge") would probably get much income. I'm sure alot of people would pay $1 to $5 for that plugin :).

    Another person to ask about plugins is Aolee.

    I've had a couple of plugins that I wrote that were sponsored, and would do more sponsored ones, if solid $ offers for specific were made. I think the entitlement factor relating to open-source software negates the offer to pay for a plugin let alone thank someone for a plugin. (those of you who offered positive feedback or thanks on plugins, I'm not talking about you).

    That said, I think themes would be more profitable than plugins.

    I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @peregrine You're right, I was working on three plugins in July. At the moment I only released the Cron plugin, but I'm planning to release my Logger soon (Cron plugin will depend on it soon) and the User Statistics, which also got some people interested. I was thinking of releasing the theme I'm working on as well, but it's way too buggy (sorry mcu) and I don't have the patience to fix everything.

    Regarding the original topic, I was curious about selling the plugins, mainly because doing it would have a cost, both in terms of organising to actually provide commercial software, and in terms of support. The sense of entitlement that you mentioned is, in fact, the most discouraging issue in the whole idea. For sure I would not even bother writing a post about it if I were to sell my stuff for $5 (that would represent about 2 minutes of my work, any second extra and I would be at a loss). Besides, I can guarantee that whoever would spend $5 in a plugin or theme would expect unlimited gold standard support because "hey, they paid for it!".

    For the themes, all I can say is that:
    - I'm not a designer (designer != developer, and I still have to find one who can do both well enough).
    - I strongly dislike working with themes, especially due to the tons of issues in cross browser compatibility. In current project, my client has, on average, a theme adjustment every five minutes, most of which are "1 pixel here, 1 pixel there". Tedious like hell, really not my job.
    - I've seen the website from 422, and he is selling themes very cheap ($5, as mentioned above). If that is "more profitable", I'll give up the idea altogether and recycle my code on some other platforms. It's a pity, because coding with Vanilla is an excellent experience, but my family enjoys a meal more than "coding fun". :)

  • @businessdad said:
    but my family enjoys a meal more than "coding fun". :)

    I know exactly what you mean. We've all seen the list of threads about the 'cadge' plugin, right?

    Half of our community wants to use it on the 'free' version.
    The other half of our community would 'pay for someone to create that plugin on the free version' and a few of us would like to help 'if someone would start on that plugin', right?

    The problem in that case is how much someone would pay for such a great plugin. You don't know how big the market is, hence this thread but you also don't know which plugins the community wants and wants to pay for.

    mcu_hq and peregrine make valid points, as usual. Hope it helps!

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  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @UnderDog (and everyone else) Ironically, the badgerbadgerbadger plugin has been requested to me by a client, included in the project. He has seen it on Vanilla website, and would like to have it on his forum as well. The thing is, he's not willing to pay for all development costs (it's a fixed price project, he might just accept a little extra). Unfortunately, the complexity of such plugin is not trivial, there are countless parameters to take into account just in the "I want to award X if Y and Z and God-knows-what-else".

    If I were to make such a plugin, surely it won't cost "just a few bucks", people should start understanding that Developers' time has a cost, as much as any other professional. Ironically, it seems that clients accept more easily to pay big money for a Designer, rather than for a Developer, although the complexity of the job is similar (if not higher for the latter). Probably it's because they can see and understand a good design more easily than efficient code (a good design makes people think "OOOOH", good code makes people think "meh. Nerd.").

    Anyway, I'm not going to even try making templates, not really interested. I'll probably just wait and see if things change. It's a pity, but I'm not in the condition to give away too much, especially in this period of highly reduced income".

    Thanks everybody for your contributions, this discussions turned out to be more interesting than I initially thought. :)

  • Let your client sponsor parts of the plugin. Start with only being able to flag the plugin as 'awesome' and then let's see what else your client would like to see...

    x00 has experience with sponsored plugins and I think there are some ppl who are willing to pay for the youknowwhat plugin.

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  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    I have the feeling that the plugin is going to be called Voldemort...

  • peregrineperegrine MVP
    edited October 2012

    businessdad said

    I have the feeling that the plugin is going to be called Voldemort...

    or Dante (for the developer attempting to develop it in the seventh ring.. in inferno).

    I think some modifying of one of the like plugins would be time-consuming, but not too difficult to get a rudimentary badges and reactions plugin, if somebody provided the images.

    Another thing that might help individual developers is getting plugins "approved". Merely to indicate there is no malicious code in them. Perhaps plugins that have been downloaded over 100x. I understand this could be time consuming on the vanilla founders part - so maybe ...

    a clicker that would be associated with the plugin "great plugin" for users of the plugin to click.

    I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @peregrine said:
    a clicker that would be associated with the plugin "great plugin" for users of the plugin to click.

    This would also be a good idea. At the moment, it seems that poor contributors, good contributors, lurkers and grabbers all get the same attention, i.e. none. Creating a basic plugin or a super advanced one doesn't seem to be making any difference, apart for the amount of downloads and the requests for (free) support. As 422 mentioned in one of his posts, it seems that the only reward for investing time and knowledge are some badges, which is not much.

    It's not my product, nor my company, therefore I don't have a full understanding of the reason behind the choice of not pushing Vanilla and supporting its Community more than it's done right now, but things should definitely improve.

    By the way, as a comparison, a "shaky" framework such as OpenCart (just look at its design and open vulnerabilities), whose community is not even remotely as supportive and friendly (one of the main Developers replies with "idiot" to whoever disagrees with his choices or criticises OC, even constructively), has a strong marketplace, where people are willing to pay for bug fixes.
    Some modules have price tags of over $500, which is unbelievable, for a framework that, in my opinion, is far from being "production ready".

    [Deleted User]
  • AnonymooseAnonymoose ✭✭
    edited October 2012

    Are you suggesting developers pay to get their plugins approved?

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @Anonymoose said:
    the solution has to be right now and work

    Which is, way too often, not the case, even with paid plugins. Personal experience, I can't recall downloading a plugin for OpenCart (or Magento) which I didn't have to heavily edit before it worked as advertised. If it weren't an obvious violation of the T&C of use, I could have re-sold them, since they finally worked properly. :)

  • On the other hand : contributions by major contributors on the forum do get noticed.
    Maybe, just maybe the 'cadges' plugin can be sold by the Vanilla guys, but I think it will render lots and lots of support questions. At least it's not re-inventing the wheel, as this community will do when the Vanilla guys will not sell 'cadges'.
    Let's see what businessdad's customer wants first. Which functionality. and then build from there.
    Maybe a 'shop' application is a good start? Since that's what we need for a marketplace, right? Base = Addons app.

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  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @Anonymoose said:
    Are you suggesting developers pay to get their plugins approved?

    I meant that some "plugins" are actually bug fixes. They are sold as paid plugins, though.

  • @peregrine Is there a possibility of you or someone else making the -don't name it- plugin if I provide you with the images?

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @pawandubey said:
    peregrine Is there a possibility of you or someone else making the -don't name it- plugin if I provide you with the images?

    I'm designing Voldemort (I told you that) as we chat about it.

  • There is a major disconnect here at Vanilla between people that need custom work done and those that are available and qualified to do the work. This issue is really hurting Vanilla as a whole as developers end up giving up on Vanilla as they can't make a living coding for it, and potential new Vanilla users end up with a different forum because they couldn't get the customizations or support they needed.

    IMO this is a failing of the Vanilla staff. Perhaps Vanilla needed to setup a marketplace for paid plugin work here at the .org site. Whatever should have been done, the state of the development community here is pretty bad.

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP
    edited November 2012

    @DirtyDog I think I know what you mean. I created a couple of plugins already, and I sell them through my shop, but clients don't have an easy way to find them, as they cannot be listed in the Addons section.

    Not many clients will spend time searching the Community section, they will eventually ask if X or Y is available in Vanilla, to which Users who are unaware of the plugins will answer "no", or "custom coding". As a result, client will either abandon the requirement, or move to another platform.

    I believe we would need to modify the Addon section into something like the marketplaces available for many e-commerce systems. This way, one can list his/her own products more easily and get in touch with clients as well.

  • @businessdad why can't your plugins be listed in the addons section? Is it just because you need to charge for them and that is not supported here?

  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP
    edited November 2012

    @DirtyDog That's the reason, yes. I made some free ones, but I also sell others, and the Addon section contains only free contributions.

This discussion has been closed.