Evolving devot:ee: Timed Downloads and Pricing Updates
October 3, 2014
by Ryan Masuga
We’re introducing a new “timed download” feature for add-on developers, and are making minimum pricing and percentage changes.
Developers in the ExpressionEngine community have talked for a while now about how supporting commercial add-ons is harder than it looks, and less profitable than it could (or should) be. There was the thread about Paid Support Options from the short-lived devot:ee forums, and recent comments like the following, from well-known ExpressionEngine add-on developers:
“Simply put, free lifetime support is not a viable business model.”
– Brian Litzinger (@boldminded)
"Supporting Blueprints has become a chore and its sales are not high enough to justify keeping it around."
– Brian Litzinger (@boldminded)
(Source: "Blueprints is no longer for sale”, Sep 27, 2014)
”Someone has an issue and you have to solve it for them. For free. For someone who bought your product 3 years ago. For $30.”
– Eric Lamb (@mithra62)
(Source: "I Have a Whatnow?”, Sep 23, 2014)
This is a growing sentiment. We see commerical add-on developers just up and leave the market without even telling anyone. Just ask anyone who was a fan of the relatively popular Title Master (look at those reviews…ouch).
We recently spoke with Brad Parscale (@parscale) who operates DevDemon, and he mentioned to us that the majority of their support requests come from users who bought the add-on in question over 18 months before.
ExpressionEngine's market share is very, very small. Even if everyone using a developer’s add-on had a legal copy in use on all of their sites (and we see evidence all the time that this isn’t the case) many developers still wouldn’t be wildly profitable off of sales, and when you throw the amount of time they spend on support into the mix, things can nosedive for them quickly.
Our new feature for “timed downloads" is meant to help this problem and help support the developers that spend so much time and effort making those add-on that make ExpressionEngine better for us.
How Timed Downloads Work
Here’s what the timed downloads feature means for you, whether you’re a commercial add-on developer or an avid ExpressionEngine user.
For Commercial Add-On Developers:
There are basically three things an add-on developer would have to do if they want to enable this for their add-on:
- Pick a timed download duration (6 months, 1 year, or 2 years)
- Set an update price - the price which a user would pay at the end of the download duration to extend the download for that duration again
We’ll use our own Link Vault as an example. We’ve been selling Link Vault since 2012. So far, everyone who has ever purchased it has gotten support and the ability to download updates whether they purchased it in 2012 or yesterday.
If we enable timed downloads for Link Vault, we would specify that the user gets access to their Link Vault download for one year after purchase (the duration selection is up to the developer, who can best gauge how much support they need to provide for their add-ons) and then we would determine an update price. Link Vault currently costs $45, so we might set the update price at $20, for example.
With those in place, anyone purchasing Link Vault today would be able to download the current version and any new releases we might put out for the next year for that license…whether we go to 1.3.9, 1.4.0 or as far as 2.0. After a year has passed, that user would be prompted to pay the update price (in this case, $20) for access to continue to download updates for that specific add-on license for another year.
For ExpressionEngine Users:
Keep calm and carry on developing as usual. For example, if you have a copy of Link Vault that is a couple years old, you’ll notice the download link would be greyed out, and you would be encouraged to pay the extension fee to get the latest release(s) and to ensure that we will help you in the timeliest manner, and can easily help you, because we’ll know you’re talking to us about a recent version of the add-on. Is the old version of Link Vault working for you? Well…that’s great! No harm, no foul. Continue to use it for as long as it works for you.
When Will Timed Downloads Be Implemented?
We’ll have it set up so that developers can go in and turn this on and set a duration and update price for their add-ons by the end of the day today. Then it will be fully implemented at the beginning of November 2014. On November 1 we’ll run queries to update every add-on that was ever purchased so that the previous purchase downloads expire from their original date of purchase as if this feature always existed. If you’re an add-on developer and you want timed downloads on your add-ons, you’re encouraged to update your add-ons before the end of October, so that add-ons you sold in the past (and especially those add-ons!) can take advantage of this new feature. You may want to update your commercial license agreement to make note of this.
Evolving the Marketplace
We had previously had requests to implement upgrade pricing, but the logistics of doing it were tough. Timed downloads were a simpler option for us to implement than upgrade pricing would have been. They are different, too. Note that any developer electing to use the timed download feature on their add-on is saying that a user gets access to any version released within the timed download time frame they specify for that add-on, whether it is numerous minor releases or even a major release.
Remember, not every developer might elect to do this. It is on an add-on by add-on basis. Some devs have their own support systems and may never bother with this. We’re simply providing the option - and we would encourage all add-on developers selling add-ons through devot:ee to take advantage of this.
Since May 2010 (one year after officially launching), devot:ee has helped numerous developers easily sell tens of thousands of ExpressionEngine add-ons to a worldwide market. We already have some of the best SEO around ExpressionEngine-based searches, and are the #1 unofficial resource for ExpressionEngine add-ons.
We started out our sales cut very low, at 20%. As far as we know, no one else was offering software sales while taking only 20% (outlets like CodeCanyon were taking upwards of 70%). There was little room to move after fees, we weren't clearing much. In fact, before we had a minimum price on add-ons, if someone made a purchase for a $1-2 add-on, we were paying people to buy that add-on. The 80/20 worked for 1-2 people, but the site is such that it needs 3-4 people to properly maintain.
To remain viable, we're moving to a more standard 30/70% split. As everyone is aware, Apple is sort of a standard here. We need to move to a more industry-standard split for software sales in order to continue to maintain devot:ee and move it forward.
Our goal is that developers make more on the new split. There are two ways we see this happening. One is recurring revenue from timed downloads, and the other is having developers look at adjusting their prices.
Developers, Rethink Your Pricing
We'd like to encourage you to rethink your pricing at this time. Many popular add-ons have raised their prices over time, and our research shows that most people either haven't noticed, or don't care as much as you think they might. Here are some examples or extremely popular add-ons, and how their prices have changed over time:
CE Cache: The most popular caching add-on for ExpressionEngine started out as a $20 offering! It's now $65 and sells just fine. (That's a 225% increase!)
CE Image: This is easily one of the best selling add-ons, and used to go for a paltry $8. It now sells like hotcakes at $22. (175% increase!)
Zenbu: A personal favorite of mine, it used to sell for $39.95 but now sells for $60 (50% increase!) I still install it on every site.
There are numerous other examples. You can do the math based on the prices of your add-ons, but a modest price increase of around 15% or an increase in the number of items sold can make up for the new split. A price increase and an increase in the number of items sold can result in...much happiness.
New Minimum Add-on Price: $6
There is a new minimum of $6 on a commercial add-on (up from $3). We would highly encourage you to even consider raising this. If you're charging less than $9-10 for an add-on, should it even be commercial? Why not just give it away, or add features that would make it attractive at $9-10? Are you really able to offer "support" for an add-on priced so low? Unless you're selling in real quantity, it's probably not worth your time.
As you developers know, last year we instituted a $100 minimum payout that takes some developers many months to hit (see these two news items for more information on minimum payouts: http://dvt.ee/wk69 and http://dvt.ee/wk72). This would be less of an issue if the low-end prices were either bumped up to something respectable or simply eliminated.
Goodbye For Now
The last thing we want to see is developers stop selling their ExpressionEngine add-ons (or bail on development altogether) because it’s not worth the time or effort. We hope that timed downloads are a reasonable way to help create recurring revenue so that smart, hard-working developers can continue to pour time into their add-ons. This would also encourage EE users to keep their purchases relatively current, while supporting these devs.
We think that the potential for increased recurring revenue from timed downloads, and potentially rethinking pricing, will allow developers to make as much, if not more, than they currently make.
To recap the timing of everything:
- Now: Devs can go in and enable timed downloads for any of their commercial add-ons right now (and should do so before November 1)
Timed downloads go into effect for all add-ons, retroactively(see update below)
- November 1: New developer split goes into effect (first payout with new split will be in Jan 2015 for Nov sales)
- November 1: Minimum price of $6 goes into effect. On this day we will automatically update the price of any sub-$6 add-on.
As always, if you have questions or comments about these changes, you can leave them here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update (Oct 7, 2014): There was some confusion over which add-ons the timed downloads will be applied to. I elaborated in the comments below, but if you don't feel like reading comments, note the following two updates to the 2nd bullet point above:
- Timed downloads go into effect only on those add-ons a developer has optionally enabled them on. As of this writing, it is an incredibly small amount of add-ons (eleven, or 2.8% of commercial add-ons)
- This change is not retroactive. Anything you purchase up until the end of October 31, 2014 will not be affected by the timed download option.