The false economy of Free WordPress plugins…

The one thing that people love about WordPress and the plugins is that they are free. Sure, they don’t cost any money. But they’re not truly free.

You can ask on the WordPress support forums for some help. Or you could email the developer for some help. You might get some help. But what if you don’t get any help? You’ll probably need to pay for some help from a techie or a developer.

But what does it feel like to be the developer of a free WordPress plugin? Read on to find out more…

Wordpress Plugin

From a user’s point of view

Having access to lots of wonderful free plugins, WordPress SEO, Advanced Custom Fields, WP Super Cache, and more, is a massive benefit of using WordPress. The best plugins will save you hours of work and effort.

So, free plugins are useful.


From a developer’s point of view

A while ago, I released WP Portfolio (for showing off a portfolio of your websites). It’s had over 72,000 downloads since release, and took over 120 hours of development. Pretty impressive, but still modest by all accounts compared to WordPress SEO and others.

As a plugin developer, you get the following

  • The odd donation here or there. Currently representing about 0.005% of the total downloads for me personally.
  • Several messages and emails demanding that I change something or fix someone’s website using the plugin (for free) – even if the issue has nothing to do with the plugin.
  • The odd few messages with pure abuse.
  • Messages complaining about my plugin (when, in fact, they were using someone else’s plugin.

A large number of WordPress plugin users expect a developer to help them for free. Despite paying no money for the plugin, and the users are often making money from their website (as a business or affiliate).

Us developers still have a limited amount of time. And we still have to pay our bills. Being taken for granted is a massive demotivated, and therefore reduces the drive we have to keep the plugins updated and current.


So what’s the point of this article…?

This is not meant to be whining email, it’s more about helping you to appreciate the free plugin developers so that they continue to release new plugins and support the existing ones.

How can you appreciate free plugin developers?

  • Send them a message to just say thank you.
  • Give their plugin a 5-star review on
  • Send them a donation, even if it’s just 10 or £5 – to say thanks. The sentiment means a great deal to developers.
  • Purchase their premium version of the plugin (if they offer one)
  • Purchase any Add-Ons they have of the plugin (if they offer any)
  • If you want a new feature, offer to pay for them to add it.

You don’t have to spend money to appreciate a plugin developer. But if you can afford to do so, please consider it.

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Written by Dan Harrison

Dan Harrison is the lead developer and director of WP Doctors Ltd, a web development agency specialising in writing bespoke tools for WordPress-based websites that save time, hassle and money. You can follow Dan on Twitter here: @DanJHarrison and WP Doctors here: @wpdoctors.


Leave a comment
  1. Debora Humphries May 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm #


    I am NOT a WordPress developer, but I agree! Things have gotten way out of hand with giving everything away for free.

    Usually, people appreciate what they pay for and it is too easy for someone who receives something for free to devalue the work and time that goes into what they got.

    Our economy is changing and prices are rising, developers need to place a minimum of $0.50 or $1.00 price tag on a plugin for lifetime updates as long as the plugin is in existence. Then there will be an income for plugin developers.

    Not the best recommended price for all the hard work, but definitely an improvement from the freebie level.

    Think about this, most plugins are actually premium plugins anyway, when you consider the fact that 90% of the folks using them, have no knowledge on how to make the particular function they are try to achieve work without the plugin.

    I can understand the free WordPress platform, but independent developers giving their hard work and updates away for free makes no sense. Especially with the nasty demands for more updates or add ons to the freebie plugin by some people.

    We all need gas and we pay whatever price it takes to make the vehicle run. So, if we all need the best plugin to make the website work, why not pay for it at east once.

    Just my two cents.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a super blessed day. :)

    • Dan Harrison May 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Debra

      Thanks for the great reply. Yeah, you’re completely right. With everything free, there’s become a devaluation of the hard work that goes into great plugins.

      That’s why more developers are having free plugins, but paid support. Kinda works :)


  2. Justin Sternberg May 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Great article. I took the liberty to link here from my contact page. :)

    • Dan Harrison May 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks Justin :)

      I take it you feel that pain too?

  3. Jeff May 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    When people get stuff for free, they are expected to get more stuff for free, without question. You can find a few studies online about this, which is why I keep a helping hand on the low side for most clientele. Altho I’m not a true developer, the same applies to the everything else in life.

  4. Hanno Malmiste September 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    A very thoughtful article.

    I have wondered about the developers behind free plugins myself.
    What’s their angle, really?

    Are they creating plugins for common good or just to satisfy their own need for creation?

    That being said, whatever their motive, they deserve to be appreciated for the work they’ve put into their plugins.

    • Dan Harrison September 23, 2013 at 10:24 am #

      Hi Hanno

      For some developers, it’s about proving their ability and getting their name known. Mostly though, it’s just about just sharing something useful (which was why I created my first plugin for the public repository).