At what point do plugin acquisitions become evil?
Because that’s kinda the sentiment going around lately. All kinds of big “evil” companies are buying off the soul and spirit of smaller benevolent “goodwill” companies. Themes and plugins that were once open-source stances against greedy corporatism have now been seized and subjected to serve the more profitable alignments of larger eco-systems.
What are users supposed to make of all this?
- Do pick up our torches and fling them at our once-beloved plugins?
- Do we spray-paint “f**k Syed” on gas station bathrooms?
- Or do we just bend over and fork out the extra money to keep our essential plugins?
There’s no easy way to look at it.
Why plugins get sold off
You have to understand why plugins get sold, before you get mad at why plugins get bought.
They’re sold because the original dev…
- Is no longer excited by the plugin.
- It doesn’t make much money.
- It’s not fun to maintain anymore.
- No more new ideas.
- More time spent on support than developing new features. Almost to the point that you’d rather not develop new features because of the hassles of supporting it.
- Wants to retire.
- Found much bigger money elsewhere.
- Or just wants to do something else entirely.
What most common users don’t know…was that the plugin was already on track to die. Its founder (heart & soul), had already left it long ago. Knowing that…it’s in their best interest to sell off at its peak so it can be maintained and taken to the next level by someone else. Trust me…no dev wants to sell off their baby unless they absolutely had to.
So what would you prefer?
- A. Your plugin slowly decays under neglect, allowing other competitors to establish market share…leaving you with an unsupported plugin nobody uses?
- B. Your plugin is bought out by a bigger company with much more profitable visions…but will build it out to justify those massive price increases?
Some of you may have came up with C. pay the original developer more money to keep it going. Nope! Sorry, buddy. That ship has sailed. Maybe he wasn’t at the level to keep it going. Or maybe he gave too much of himself bending to the whims of every user, neglecting price increases for too long. But it’s no longer realistic. His passion isn’t there anymore.
Realistically…your only choice is the plugin being bought out.
What can users & plugin developers do moving forward?
If you don’t ever want your favorite plugin to get acquired and lose its soul to money-driven investors…here are my ideas.
- Don’t get sucked into a popularity contest. It’s great to help the community but don’t build something just because everybody else is doing it…or because the demand is high. Being too popular can be a (scaling) curse. Stick with solutions to problems that truly resonate with you.
- Name your price. And raise it. And keep raising it to keep yourself happy. Loyal users will stay (if the quality justifies it). Price-shoppers will jump ship…as they always do!
- Be supportive. Say nice things. Give positive reviews (on WP repo), or at least constructive feedback. Donate to the dev’s tipjar. Support price increases. Help promote the dev’s work.
- Don’t be a PITA. Don’t drag down the dev’s time with silly support requests or feature demands.
- If you’re a dev yourself, help contribute to the project…yes, for free!
Ideas for once a plugin gets sold:
- FORK – if you’re a dev (and the plugin is simple enough), fork it.
- SUPPORT COMPETITORS – even if the plugin is absolutely essential to you, switch over to a smaller competitor and beg them to implement your most critical features. Once they do, work your ass off to promote them. It’s the only way to prevent plugin monopolies.
Who else got ideas? Cuz we sure need them in a time like this. (Drop them in the comments below.)
It’s not acquisitions that bother me, per-se, it’s more about the companies that are acquiring them and the lack of visibility into their long-term strategy for the acquisition. In general it seems to be less about actual enthusiasm for the plugin and customer base that is being purchased and more about creating a moat around their existing hosting, theme, etc ecosystem or just straight up acquihiring the devs.
As you said… few devs are going to sell if their heart is still in it and the financials are good, so it’s not safe to assume that all would be well had the plugin just continued on the same trajectory without acquisition.
But warm-fuzzy-wise it feels SO much better to me when a plugin gets bought out by an experienced solo dev or serial plugin development company than when it gets purchased by a major hosting provider who has zero effort invested (other than the acquisition) in building and managing plugins.
AMEN! That’s something I should have talked about. Some plugins are bought because of the buyer’s enthusiasm for the plugin itself and market solutions it provides…but other times, it’s bought because they want its users and not necessarily the plugin itself.