Everybody loves free! You get what you want and you don’t have to give up anything for it!
But is it the best “value”- even at $0.00? Is anything ever really free? Can we really get something we want without trading something for it?
TL;DR Why we love paying for plugins
- You can trust they will be updated and improved over time
- They are a safer cart to hitch your horse to for the long haul (path dependency)
- Support exists and is usually very helpful
- The author / company has a VERY keen interest in your success with their plugin
What about free WordPress Plugins?
Don’t get me wrong, we love free plugins too. There are free plugins that we use almost all of our WordPress projects. There are many high quality and reliable plugins built by people that we know (some we like ;) ) and trust.
Why pay for WordPress Plugins?
However, we really love paying for premium plugins as well. But, when many in our community expect things for free, we feel the need to dig into why we love to pay for WordPress plugins.
Open Source works phenomenally, but sometimes the author / company’s interest in providing well for themselves is an even more effective and predictable incentive.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
– Adam Smith
The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II
Quality of the Plugin Code
The first thing you might expect us to reference here is quality. The assumption is that if you get it for free you must be sacrificing quality.
In reality, free does not automatically translate to a lack of quality. Conversely, paid or premium items do not automatically guarantee a high level of quality.
Quality in WordPress plugins is a highly objective matter. Does the code follow security best practices? Does it do what it promises (and many times, only what it promises), and is it easy for our clients to use. (Note: here is how we feel about extending Enterprise-level WordPress with plugins)
In our space, there are many free plugins that greatly outrank the premium plugin alternatives in terms of quality.
The reasons are also tied to incentives. Companies can build extremely profitable businesses on the back of a free plugin via “Pro” add-ons, extensions, support, and connections to larger service projects. (AKA Freemium) Also, many individuals take pride in their public WordPress reputation and are incentivized to maintain quality as a matter of pride (no negative interpretation implied).
Even though they’re not being incentivized through direct plugin sales, there is still a huge pressure to maintain the quality on a free WordPress plugin.
So, quality could be a reason but why else do we really love to pay for plugins?
It’s reliability. If there is no path to getting paid for their work, we cannot rely on that developer to keep the plugin updated with current WordPress versions or provide support for the occasional bugs.
For us, this is the most important reason why we’re happy to pay for code used on our client sites. We’re not looking for quick solutions for these features. When we choose a plugin (or build a feature ourselves) we are committing them to a “path dependency“. We want it to be a fantastic path.
With any plugin that we choose to integrate, we’re looking for long-term, quality, and reliable sources that will best serve our sites for as long as possible.
How about you?
Have you experienced this? Any tools or resources you excitedly pay for rather than get for free? Tell us about it in the comments!
M Asif Rahman says
Thanks for the article. Completely agree with your point.
There are many free solutions for adding the social share button on your site, you could even do it manually too, but me & most of my folks who are serious about it use paid plugin for this, exactly because of those reasons you mentioned.
Josh Mallard says
Same here! If we’re regularly using a feature on a site, we’re very happy to pay for it.
Collins Agbonghama says
Exactly why we also rely on paid plugins. For example the store of our user registration and frontend login plugin uses Easy Digital Download. Although they’ve been raising their price of late, we still pay because we are assured of continous update and won’t run away or demise anytime soon.
It was a great read.
Josh Mallard says
Yeah, especially for Ecommerce stuff. The team at Easy Digital Downloads are awesome people and totally worth the peace of mind if you’re using your site to make money off of digital products.
Kim Doyal says
I think most products in the WordPress space are underpriced. I think the pricing model / WP ecosystem is changing. I’d rather pay for a plugin that is supported, updated and maintained all day long.
Josh Mallard says
Thanks Kim! Yeah, it’s hard since the premium WP community in general started monetization at extremely low rates. In other industries, companies find themselves in a race to the bottom. In ours, companies are now in a race to sustainability.
Gloria Barr says
Agree with Kim…..strange how people seem to want something free and then complain if they cannot get support without paying. Same thing with themes imho.
Josh Mallard says
I’ve seen a lot of the same. Thankfully, it seems more and more people are willing to pay for these things as the community has matured.
Luke Cavanagh says
Gravity Forms is well worth the cost.
Josh, what I believe is that a typical WordPress user has a mindset that if WordPress itself is free to use, then why should they pay for a piece of code? In fact, I know many WordPress users, who never look beyond WordPress plugin repository to add any functionality to their sites. Forget, buying any plugin from any external source.
Though, personally I had always preferred to buy paid plugin or themes. I’ve so far, bought over dozen of plugins, and themes and never ever I had regret for paying any of them, except for themes at ThemeForest.
I actually, don’t rely much on free plugins, as in the past many of the popular WordPress plugins are discarded by their respective authors and it’s extremely hard to find a working alternative, while preserving the data related to the plugin. Similarly, not all free plugin authors are ready to provide support. Whereas, with the paid plugins, I am assured that this plugin is not easily going anywhere, also the professional timely support, is always a plus.
Sometimes, I feel some plugins are highly priced starting at $130 whereas, there are free alternative to exactly same functionality, which resists me from buying them. I believe, plugin authors should price their plugins generously, so that more and more WordPress users, should rather prefer to buy the plugins and support the plugin authors, instead of always hunting down for free plugins.
David Hoe says
I nearly always buy premium plugins for the very reasons you have given. Clients with admin rights often break their site by adding some free plugin. And of course free plugins may also have security issues.
R.W. "Doc" Boyle says
I am a client and I couldn’t agree more with the author. I have several websites which I expect to operate for many years. I need predictable support over the long term. This is an issue I have already had to deal with and what with the sometimes overly dynamic nature of WordPress and everything related to it, expect to face again at some point in the future. I have certainly occasionally wondered just how it will sort out over time. Usually, my time and my money.
Having said all this, I am guilty of using free plug-ins on my sites over various convenience/resolve this now! issues. Current reality does intrude… and available $’s are always part of it.
Kate Lawson says
I’m curious, could you list a few examples of plugins that you love to use that are free, and some that you use that you pay for? I would love to see some examples of some Plugins that you have found that are worth the money, and those free ones that are also great!
Blake Imeson says
Hi Kate! Sure thing, here are a couple off the top of my head (not an exhaustive list by any means)