Paid feature development of open source plugins

On Twitter this morning, I asked: How do you feel about having clients sponsor development of specific features? Good idea or fraught w/ problems?

Apparently this dilemma resonates with developers:

  • Rarst: “sounds better in theory than works in practice, from my limited experience”
  • Boone: “Generally a good idea, as long as the client’s needs aren’t so wacky as to make the feature awkward for general release. You might also include something in the agreement about post-contract support of the feature. Transition from ‘I’m paying you to implement my wishes’ to ‘I’m a regular user making feature requests’ is the tricky point”
  • Eric: “If you properly vet these specific features (as opposed to blindly accepting cash) I think it’s a good idea. Biggest drawback is when the sponsorship dries up and you still have to support said feature in the plugin.”
  • Brad: “great idea, not only features but full plugins. Easy to sell them on it knowing you’ll keep it up-to-date with current WP”
  • Brady: “I’d say it’s a great route if the feature makes sense for general use, otherwise an extension/add-on might be better.”
  • David: “good idea, as long as client understands the difference between customization and configuration. Oh, and proper contracts.”
  • Nick: “As long as they understand they don’t own that feature and you may need to implement it in a more general way, it can work. One approach is to make it an addon and add the necessary hooks in core plugin. Allows you to EOL the feature if needed.”
  • George: “don’t see anything bad in developing add-ons for side income, plus you might never developed for your use.”
  • Jake: “as others said, it’s all about good expectations upfront, and not compromising the rest of the plugin’s audience”
  • Travis: “Personally, I think it is a win-win, but it heavily depends on the “strings attached” mentality of the sponsor.”
  • Ryan: “I’ve done that many times before and have encouraged it. I usually gave a big discount for open source stuff. I used to provide two prices, one for open source, one for closed source. Everyone chose the cheapest option.”

My takeaways:

  • Make sure you’re explicit about the business relationship upfront (including support scope), probably in contract. If you aren’t, it can get complicated.
  • If it fits within the scope / roadmap of the plugin, it can be a nice way to bootstrap open source development. Otherwise, it probably makes sense as an add-on.
  • Pay attention to what users want as add-ons, as you can potentially turn those into premium plugins.


Leave a Reply