Some Thoughts on GPL Business Models

A warning in advance – today’s blog post is a little disconnected. It is really a collection of thoughts I’ve had as people struggle through the question of “How 3rd party developers make money in the GPL’ed Joomla world?

  • Size matters. Successful GPL models will probably need to be based on large and very important applications. I can imagine that Community Builder, Virtuemart and Fireboard would be the extensions that are in the best position to move towards a subscription model. However, all of those are currently GPL so I’m left struggling to find examples of non-GPL extensions that are ready to make the move. We may find that smaller apps are left behind because fewer people are willing to pay recurring fees for components that aren’t mission-critical. On his blog, Roberto Galoppini agrees that the smaller non-GPL extensions might not make the move successfully to the GPL:
“I guess that only a fraction of Joomla! Extensions are really important to the majority of users and customers.”
  • Community matters – but takes a long time. Community Builder, Virtuemart and Fireboard are in the best position because they have had years to build a following. Skore mentions that he had one subscriber per week during the first months of development and close to a year to become profitable.
  • Template developers have an advantage. Template clubs have the ability to issue fresh product every month. Component developers can issue bug fixes but they don’t have the “Wow!” factor to help retain people month-on-month. Its also an unfortunate fact of life that most people never update their extensions. They install and forget, not having or wanting to spend the time keeping up with developer’s new versions.
  • The developer’s alliance idea is intriguing. Roberto mentions this on his blog. Would people subscribe to one site which offers support and downloads for not just one extension but several, even dozens? I think that we’re likely to find out at some point.
  • What reward do subscribers get? Some people are already trying the subscription model with components. Skore with this Account Expiration Component is a good example. His advantage is that people can make money with his extension. Subscribers have a direct interest in keeping his extension going because it makes money for them. Components that have a less direct relationship to the subscribers’ wallet may find life more difficult.
  • Replacement is unlikely. Its been mentioned a few times on the forum that people will step in to take up the slack on projects abandoned by developers upset at the change in licensing stance. This is a nice idea but I don’t think its likely to work in reality. Past experience has shown that the majority of projects never do find a new developer. See this thread for a list of the currently abandoned extensions. Some of the most important and popular extensions may be continued but most will not.

  • Change is likely to come from new, unburdened developers. Skore mentioned on the Joomla forums that he’s young, has no family and thus in a much better position to take risks with his business model. People with mortgages and families have less leeway to experiment and are faced with some difficult decisions by the changed licensing stance.

I will probably add this list over the next day or two as I mull over the matter more.