Recently I reported on the poor donation rates that WordPress plugin developers receive and posted a follow-up article in which I criticized Matt Mullenweg for the minimal level of support he displays to WordPress premium theme developers and commercial plugin developers. The first post was received with accolades and a call for action to help support plugin developers as the reported donation rates for some of the most popular WordPress plugins were downright offensive (e.g. < 0.01%). The post where I criticized Matt Mullenweg for not clarifying major issues that the GPL doesn’t address received a lot of coverage and it seemed to quickly identify those that were clearly in the tank for Mr. Mullenweg whom prefer not to think for themselves and censor those that possess valid alternative arguments from their comments section. Thankfully there are others that also have the guts to stand up to Matt Mullenweg and demand he recognize the error of his ways to help provide a better business model for WordPress plugin/theme developers. Unfortunately, during that brief discussion Matt hid behind his whole GPL song and dance once again, put forth no effort to openly discuss the issue, and tossed out the lame excuse that he didn’t have time to discuss it. To add insult to injury he countered that comment with one that conflicted with his own excuse saying that he’d be happy to address such concerns via email. Clearly Matt’s strategy was to avoid such a discussion in an open forum. It’s the same tactic we’ve all seen before; hide behind the GPL and tell everyone to email him privately. Well, that just isn’t going to cut it anymore Matthew. If you want developers to continue to contribute their own time and money towards creating free WordPress plugins and themes that improve upon your commercial business, you need to put forth an incredible effort to help them maintain a desire to do so.
Matt Mullenweg Gives In But Continues Scare Tactics
A few weeks after I posted those articles Matt announced a commercial WordPress theme directory at WordPress.org and the next day he posted an update claiming that the “unbiased” legal counsel called the “Software Freedom Law Center” has stated that “PHP in WordPress themes must be GPL, artwork and CSS may be but are not required”. This statement changes absolutely nothing until the someone actually challenges it in a court of law. Matt’s using this as a scare tactic try to convince all premium theme developers to go GPL. The major stipulation for the commercial theme directory is that a commercial theme must be GPL compliant in order to be considered for inclusion. I’m betting that it’s much more complicated than simply being GPL compliant however. History has shown us that if you merely link to other sites that sell premium themes that aren’t GPL you’ll most likely be thrown out of the WordPress theme repository. While it’s Automattic’s prerogative to decide who gets into the repository or not, I’d say it’s dishonest and quite petty to censor what people can and can’t link to on their own websites. The timing of the announcement for the commercial WordPress theme directory may have been more than coincidental and it’s possible that premium theme developers knew this announcement was coming soon since some had made their own GPL announcements weeks before (WooThemes, iThemes). Sure Matt made an promise nearly a year ago that he was “happy to give significant promotion to theme designers who stop fighting the license of the platform” but why did it take so long? As you may recall from my previous post, the Revolution2 theme advertisement debuted in the official WordPress themes repository around eight months ago.
Commercial Themes Directory Worth The GPL’s Risk?
Despite his hesitation Matt has finally realized that he couldn’t win the theme battle and that premium themes were going to continue to thrive regardless of the scare tactics he and Automattic employed. It was a good move for Matt Mullenweg to find some middle ground for himself and the premium theme developers by creating a commercial themes directory where premium WordPress theme developers are given the respect they deserve. I’m not so sure GPL themes are any more susceptible to piracy than non-GPL themes. For the most part, if someone wants to steal your theme, they’re not concerned about the legal ramifications. If anything, making a theme GPL compliant may actually give them more reason to do so as Alex King points out, “if I receive a theme under the GPL I can then redistribute it (for free or for a fee) as a right granted by the GPL”. The question now becomes whether or not the inclusion of premium themes into the commercial themes directory on WordPress.org is really worth the extra traffic and the risk the GPL incurs. That is, how many more sales will the commercial themes advertisements at WordPress.org produce for a theme developer and will we see more bootlegged copies of that developer’s premium themes available elsewhere that will negate this advantage? Compete’s traffic statistics in the coming months should provide us with some insight as to whether or not the compromise was well worth it or not for those premium theme based businesses.
Matt Needs To Create A Commercial Plugins Directory
It’s hopeful to think that Matt Mullenweg has gained some wisdom in his young age and he’s beginning to understand that commercial development is a major driving force behind the success of WordPress whether he likes it or not. What he still lacks however is an irrefutable, tangible appreciation that without the plugin developers and all their great work, WordPress wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as it is today. It would be in Matt Mullenweg’s and Automattic’s best interest to embrace the commercial WP plugin developers as he has the commercial WP theme developers. If Matt can create a commercial themes directory, why can’t he do the same for premium plugin developers and add a commercial plugin directory to WordPress.org? As it remains, it makes no sense whatsoever to submit your WordPress plugin to WordPress.org if he isn’t going to at least make an attempt to find a better solution for plugin developers too. The act of merely emphasizing the donation link on each plugin’s homepage hosted on WordPress.org would be of great help to plugin developers. Currently the donation link is positioned near the bottom of the right hand column and unseen by most visitors. No wonder donation rates are so low. Why not feature a brightly colored donation button immediately above that brightly colored download button Matt?
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Developers Better Off Hosting WP Plugins Themselves
WordPress is an open source platform that has a tremendously helpful community of developers that have transformed WordPress into the great blogging/CMS solution it is today. Developers that submit their free WP plugins and themes for inclusion into WordPress.org should be acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work. The reality however is that the small amount of extra traffic, PageRank, and a few donations here and there can’t sustain long-term maintenance and development of such work. But don’t just take my word for it, read what the leading WordPress plugin developer/expert and WP SEO guru Joost de Valk has to say about this issue. Then ask yourself if you really think it’s worth it to submit that plugin to WordPress.org or host it yourself. Even if you don’t want to sell your plugin, I’m betting you can surely do a much better job of increasing donation rates on your own website than Matt Mullenweg can on WordPress.org. Moreover, by hosting a plugin on your own website you don’t have to deal with the politics/censorship involved at WordPress.org and you’ll have total control over what the future holds for your WordPress plugin.
Plugin Developers Should Make Change Happen
In closing, I must say that without a commercial plugins directory, it’s undeniably clear that Matt Mullenweg doesn’t value/support/respect WP plugin developers as much as he does commercial WordPress theme developers. Considering that plugins actually build upon the core functionality of WordPress and that plugin developers’ work is freely integrated into some of the best commercial WP themes available today, it’s quite offensive for Matt to not offer the same opportunities for commercial plugin developers. Perhaps it’s time to follow the theme developers lead to force Matt Mullenweg’s hand by boycotting the WordPress plugin repository altogether and withdrawing their plugins from the official WP plugin repository? I’m betting that the outstanding plugin developers like Joost de Valk could come up with a much better plugin repository solution than Matt Mullenweg and Automattic. More importantly I can’t see Joost or anyone else attempting to censor what your can and can’t link to on your own website through threats of plugin/theme expulsion like Matt and Automattic do at WordPress.org.
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