This week we’re publishing a series of interviews here at Alledia.com.
Every day this week we’ll be talking with a Joomla developer who works with a commercial GPL business model.
Our third interview of GPL Week is with with Andrew Eddie from NewLifeinIT.com.
1) Could you explain a little about your Joomla products?
I have two products that form the flagships of my commercial offerings.
The first is called RokZine.? I started building it early last year for a company that needed to have a magazine-style for their website but at the time Joomla!’s content system just couldn’t handle the diversity required.? RokZine can handle any number of separate publications and issues within those.? It can handle regular magazine sections and also has support for sidebars.? One of it’s strengths is that I’ve separated the traditional section-category layers that come in Joomla! so that you can use both separately.? The category system is also multi-level and you can also map articles to many categories. Unlike other competitors, I’ve built this completely separately from Joomla!’s content system so I can provide a much richer feature set.
The other product is called Things.? I think the name is really cool because that’s it in a nutshell.? It a very advanced catalog system, sort of like what Community Builder does for users, but in a far more powerful way.? Like RokZine, Things has a deep and multi-mapped category system as well as a class system for describing what attributes a “thing” has.? The attribute system is fully configurable. It’s much like OsCommerce or ZenCart but I feel I’ve actually made the attribute system usable and understandable.? There is also a fantastic taxonomy system with it – I’m really pleased with how that has worked out.
Both systems are purpose built for Joomla! 1.5 and so receive all the benefits of template layout overrides, the new menu, module, parameter system and so on.? I do have a 1.0 version of the Zine and while it’s functional, it’s not as rich or easy to use because of the limitations in that version of Joomla!.
2) What subscription packages do you offer currently?
I’m actually releasing both products now but only included in project work. For the retail versions I am still looking at a few different ways to do things.? I will probably settle on a split system whereby you can subscribe at a level that will get you the base product, and have other levels that allow you to mix-and-match maintenance, support, additional things like specialty modules, etc.? If you are on one of the maintenance plans then all upgrades will likely be included.? If you are not, then upgrade charges would probably apply.? It sounds complicated but I’m looking at quite a smart system to give the customer maximum flexibility to marry what they need with their budget.
3) What extras do you offer to people who subscribe?
Well, they get exclusive access to a private communal support forum where they can ask questions of me and each other.? They will be able to log tickets in appropriate locations as well as make official feature requests, maybe even vote on what I concentrate on for the next point release.
Most importantly they receive access to the documentation, premium content, video-tutorials, tutorials, etc.? This will constantly grow over time as I do more implementation projects and people want to push the envelope more.? Because these are super-components, you really need to access to this to do the extraordinary things that people want to do.? I had one client complain “Andrew, you’ve made this so flexible and powerful we don’t know where to start”.? He meant it in a really nice way and eventually got it after some explanation, but it’sone of the reasons you need value-added material.
I’ll also be including premium content over time for many of my free products like the ACL manager (which hopefully will get accepted into Joomla! 1.6), my Report writer, and other really neat little components I have in my toolbag – you end up collecting a few after you’ve been around a while.
A big plus over competitors is that the subscription system doesn’t lock you to a domain.? You can use the software on as many sites as you want and I think that makes me immediately more competitive. Obviously that doesn’t entitle you to equal support for every site you run.? Support would be handled on a per-ticket or time basis and you just pay for what you need.? And access to automatic update systems may also be handled differently for multiple sites.? I expect we’ll have an economical plan that will cater for a single customer wanting to support many, many individual sites.? Or you can to do it yourself it you really want – it’s up to you to choose.
In summary, we’ll be able to cater for the person that wants a one off purchase and never wants to upgrade, through to a multi-site customer that just wants everything to run like clockwork automatically.
4) When did you/what made you decide to go this model?
I have to admit, and I’ve said this on the Joomla! forums, that I was initially in the “proprietary encoding” camp before the major discussion were held by the Joomla! team and the discussion was held on the forum.? About that time I saw your posting on views on encoding and you were a big influence to me deciding that encoding was not the right way to go.
Research during the “great GPL discussion” led me to the same conclusions that the Joomla! came up with, that GPL and non-GPL are like oil and water – the don’t really mix at room temperature.
So going with a subscription model for GPL works (or as I call it Commercial GPL) was going to be the most effective way for me to deliver products in an economically viable way.? It gives me so much freedom.? I can add in any other GPL software bundles – I can even provide a complete Joomla! fully configured with my extensions – neither of which would be possible alternative license schemes.? You just can’t do that sort of thing with incompatibly licensed sources.
5) How did you handle the introduction of subscriptions? Were people willing to subscribe or did you need to educate people about the benefits?
This is a bit of new territory I have yet to cover, but my experience in observing what others have done with club systems, like RocketTheme, and also the interest I get from passers-by say “they are happy to pay” leads me to believe that people will get it generally. I know there will be a lot of people that will get copies anyway via the GPL distribution channels and that’s fine.? The people that want more value, or find it too complicated to install on their own, will buy/subscribe.? Those that aren’t are still endorsing/advertising my products by simply using them so it’s a win-win for me.? I actually haven’t come across a client yet that is thinking “oh goodie, this is GPL, I can redistribute it”.
I think the hardest part for me is tuning the choices in the subscription level so that people only have to pay for what they need, but it’s simple enough not to require hours and hours to work out which plan suits you best.
6) Do you mind us asking about the level of subscriptions? How many of your users subscribe?
Because most of my work has been medium scale project I can’t really answer that yet, particularly as those projects are still under development.? The other thing I have been waiting for is for a reasonable level of stability from the Joomla! 1.5 trunk.? That happened with the release of Beta 2 so I’ve been able to make good development progress since it’s release.
It will be a good case study because these will probably be among the first of the 1.5 super-components to come out.? I’m sure a lot of people will be watching them.
7) Do you think that now or in the future it will be possible for you to make a full-time living from a GPL business model?
On the one hand I already do so the answer is yes.? My business is full time Joomla! development.? All my work is released under the GPL whether it’s free or for hire.? I think one of the keys is diversity.? It will be genuinely hard for a business to survive on the subscription sales for just one product.? But then, that’s just a business reality regardless of what you are selling.? It could be done, but it would be very hard work in any industry or sector.
I’m looking at a combination of subscription sales, project work and general consulting to provide a well-rounded base for economic viability.
Another thing I am doing differently to other is actually teaming up with a few other guys.? This is for a number of reasons.? I love feeding of other people’s ideas.? It’s also a way to reduce overheads and maximise the efficiency of your exposure.? The customer also gets a huge benefit of being able to purchase several quality extensions from the same “store”, as well as receive all the service needs in one spot as well.
I will give some advice though, and this applies to any business. Don’t go into business lightly.? You may be very, very lucky and strike a pot of gold overnight.? But it’s mostly very hard work and takes time to build your reputation and identity.? Believe those people that say “the first two years are the hardest” – they are right, it is. Don’t under-estimate the initial capital investment of time and money you will need to get going. The success of your business will largely be controlled by decisions you made before you even make your first sale. The wisdom “fail to plan then plan to fail” is so true.? Most businesses will fail not because of a software license, they will fail because they took shortcuts or broke the fundamental rules that make a great business or where just flat out ill prepared.
8) Do you have any other thoughts or advice about Joomla moving to the GPL?
I think they’ve done the right thing in sticking with it.? Many of the other respected projects like Drupal and Typo3 have been doing it for years.? I know people disagree with the findings, and that’s fine, but I’ve seen first hand what can happen to Open Source projects when proprietary or self-centered interests get out of hand.? Even I have to remember that my commercial components are still only possible because of the efforts of hundreds of other people, so doing everything to protect that project for the benefit of everyone in the long term, not just a few in the short term, is very, very important.? In my view the need to keep Joomla! free (as in freedom) and available for everyone is much more important than a license change that would make it easier for me to make a “bigger” profit, but potentially allow the unscrupulous to rape the project to make a return for their investors.
Joomla! has done the right thing to ensure that Joomla! is around for a very long time.? Actually the more I look at it, the more I see doors opening in sticking with the GPL.? As I say on my site: “it’s just simpler that way”.