02/14/2005

WordPress, O'Reilly and Monetizing Software

This post will probably not be very appreciated in some quarters, but bear with me. Currently there's a tiff going on at the WordPress forums in response to a Larry Ayers who says he has been using the software (provided for free) for three weeks, wants to write a WordPress how-to book and has approached O'Reilly on the matter. I won't link to Larry Ayers' site here, but suffice it to say that he's stated on his own blog that he's visited many of the WP tutorials sites, that he knows that he can use WGet to download whole sites of tutorials and has "thought about it".

Thing is, there are a handful of WP developers, some of whom have played a huge part in supporting WordPress in the WordPress forums and in posting tutorials on their sites and in the WordPress codex, Wiki, etc. They've made a piece of software that is immensely popular and has enabled many people to have a voice on the Web.

What do they get out of all this development and support? I wouldn't know. But even though there is a big "DONATE" button in WordPress' main menu, I've read more than one forum poster state that it's too bad that WP doesn't charge. So we have software that zillions of people are using, though I have no idea how many of these users have actually donated for anything — the software, the support, the anything. I'm one of those people who continues to donate for each install of WP regardless of the fact that the version I'm using has been sitting on my hard drive for months, but I have no idea how common that is.

… which reminds me of Netscape. When I got on the 'Net in 1996, I found the Netscape Communicator suite (browser, email, composer, etc.) in my local computer superstore priced at $129. For personal use, it was a free download. In its heyday, Netscape users comprised something like 80% of the market, then Microsoft started giving away Internet Explorer (which was included on new computer desktops) — and Netscape, in order to "compete", did the same. This was cheered as a terrific rebuttal to MS by the Web community. Well, I may not know the whole story, but it appears that without a product to sell, Netscape eventually put itself in a position to be purchased by AOL.

I'm not sure that $129 versus zero dollars was the best choice — literally all or nothing. In those days, I toyed several times with the idea of writing to Netscape to suggest that they charge $10 for the personal version.

Think about it: 10,000,000 users x $10 = enough to stay afloat, especially in an extremely pro-Netscape market, that's for sure. I didn't write to them because this was a big Web company and I was a new-to-the-'Net marketer/designer in Los Angeles. Little did I know that dot-coms were lost in their "New Economy" thing and not known for their economic or marketing finesse. Sure, I don't know if they would have listened, but I know for sure that they couldn't have listened to what I did not say.

It's the same here with WordPress. This time I will not say nothing.

Guys, it's fine to have a vision of empowering voices on the Net. You've done that, and continue to do that. That does not mean that it has to be free with only the occasional donation from a well-meaning soul.

Look what it takes to build and support software like WordPress: vision, passion, effort, talent, knowledge, server bills; I'm sure you know this better than I do. But it takes something else, as well … time. Time that could be invested elsewhere doing something that gets you ahead. Gets you somewhere more than being "one of the developers of an extremely popular free software that gave a voice to zillions of grateful bloggers" …

Maybe this is against your creed, or maybe it's not exciting now. For all I know, you'll be happy getting whatever you get from working on this project for five years, ten years. Maybe free with the occasional donation is all you're after. Or … maybe if you do something about it, you won't have to care about some new guy making a profit from your hard work because you'll already have taken care of yourselves.

I'm of the belief that one should get something for what one gives. Value for value. And really, even though where I came from, making money in some industries was called a "sellout" (yeah, we learned better, but that was later), there is nothing wrong with getting something in return for what you do. Good deeds are good deeds; they don't require that you don't also benefit.

Think about it: last I read, WP is used by some 165,000 people. Come on. All of these people are not broke, and all have to host it somewhere and surely are not paying nothing for that. Even at a low-end host, it's $70+ a year … which is precisely what MoveableType is charging for its Personal Edition; hosting not included.

One more thing. Okay, enough said.

8 Comments to "WordPress, O'Reilly and Monetizing Software"

  1. Ross Parker says:

    The Larry Ayers story is disappointing. I don't quite know how I missed that one. Still – aside from ill will, there is no way really to stop him writing an unofficial guide. To take a long range view, many of us would know less about computing if the only available guides to software were official sanctioned ones pumped out by the software companies themselves.

    With that in mind I think it is useful to break the two parts of your post apart. The book and the charging question are separate. I agree with you in many ways: WordPress is software good enough that it could command a high price. But if that isn't where the authors want to take it, that's their call. Of course, people should donate more. Will they? Hell no. The temptation not to is too large.

    I have to say that I like the way that WordPress balance their requests for help between the financial and the non-financial. Asking people to help others on the forums, or to contribute to documentation is a lot more realistic a project than expecting everyone to donate money, however useful the latter will be.

    I'm sure WP will survive as free to use software. If it does, the reward of the authors is kudos, not cash. But then, that is all they ask for. So it leaves me wondering what exactly the problem is.

  2. DianeV says:

    I agree that the book and the charging are separate questions — and that unofficial guides are extremely helpful.

    That said, it's clear that there is, in at least the one case, upset that free tutorials may be used in the compiling of an unofficial guide to be sold for profit. That may be all it is.

    On the other hand, there's nothing like sinking your heart and soul into something for years on end without satisfactory recompense. I wouldn't fault anyone in that situation for wanting something extra.

    But of course, I'm just guessing.

  3. Tom Raftery says:

    Unfortunately Diane,

    while I agree with your sentiment, I have a feeling that as soon as a charge was levied for WordPress, 100,000 of those 165,000, at least, would desert it for a free alternative.

    I know it is not as simple as that, many people would stay on the free version and not upgrade to WordPressPro – the paid version, but you get my point.

    Tom

  4. Podz says:

    My problem was the theft, not the principle.

    I too have been told by many people that I should ask for donations, so I put up a button. Total number of clicks from people who read those guides ? None, zero.

    Why do you think I now offer zero help for certain aspects of wp ?

    Having the label I have probably leads to people thinking that I get something of whatever donations are made. I do not.

    The simple fact is that Larry Ayers is a thief.

  5. DianeV says:

    Podz, I had no idea that you get no part of the donations, especially as you're designated as a developer in the forums. I fully agree that any of us should help only as much as we wish, and should charge for any assistance for which we wish to charge.

    And, actually, I gave your name recently to someone who was looking for paid assistance with basic installation and a bit of CSS work. :-)

  6. Larry Ayers says:

    Well, Podz is still calling me names.
    I don't know what I am supposed to have stolen, and don't really care.

    The simple fact is that WordPress really changed my life, and I have undertaken to help people in my area get the stuff installed. A WordPress advocate, if you will, just as I am a Linux advocate.

  7. Tom Raftery says:

    Larry,

    I think you are being a little bit disingenuous.
    From what I have heard, it sounds like you are taking the guides published freely on the 'Net by people like Podz, copying and pasting them into a document, getting O'Reilly to publish this as a book and profiting from this.

    This is clearly theft.

    If this is not what you are doing, feel free to set the record straight.

    Tom

  8. DianeV says:

    Hello, Larry. Let's be clear: are you saying that you don't understand what Podz is saying, or that you haven't/won't be borrowing from his work and the work of others in order to write your book?

    While you are free to write your own book, I think the latter would go a long ways towards resolving the poor public relations caused by your statements and building some credibility for your own work.

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