Since we launched Advanced Ads Pro in 2015, nulled versions of the plugin have been shared in so-called “GPL clubs”.
I learned early from conversations and experiments that they are probably not putting a dent into our revenue.
Users who download a nulled version of your plugin which might contain additional malicious code, might not become paying and loyal customers anyway.
We have a very efficient way of identifying and blocking nulled versions and their source. I admit openly that this is an ego thing. The costs of implementation are probably not outweighing the few users who might become paying customers now.
The only negative effect I am sure about is that “free” users of the paid plugins still asked for support before we put some barrier before receiving it.
And now the U-turn.
I believe there should be a legal and moral version of a GPL club for certain users.
Being a member of a GPL club
To figure out who shares nulled versions of our premium plugins, we had to get access to the GPL sites. There are a couple of free forums, but the “best” sources are so-called “GPL clubs” with a paid membership.
Some cost around $15 per year. This gives you access to thousands of premium plugins and themes at no additional costs. Updates included.
Once we became a member, my team quickly realized that we could benefit from access to a lot of premium plugins or themes.
A couple of new test sites emerged to finally look at some old support threads, which then got resolved or rejected, depending on whether the issue was with Advanced Ads or the other party.
We extended our membership
When the first paid month finished, it was a no-brainer for us to pay for another one and probably extend the membership for the foreseeable future.
Guess what. That hurts me.
I do not what to pay someone who copies and sells the work of others. I don’t care about the legal fine-print related to GPL-code and whether it is allowed to do that or not. It just feels wrong.
I also find it wrong that our support is spending time on reproducing bugs caused by third-party code, asking our customers for one of their other premium plugins, or spending time on creating a staging site.
I am annoyed if the support of such a third-party plugin neglects us access to a copy and complimentary license to do work that is 50% theirs.
Between these two paths, I choose the one that protects my team, our time, and our sanity, and is most helpful to our users.
Entering me looking for a solution that benefits both parties.
Building a new plugin club
What if there was a place where we could get the latest version of the most popular premium plugins and themes without bothering anyone?
This could be a sanctioned plugin club where everyone willingly shares their premium versions with other members.
To run it, there would still need to be a membership fee similar to current GPL clubs. But everyone would have a good feeling.
Only verified plugin and theme developers would get access. They would need to provide their own versions and a way to get updates for it to access other plugins and themes.
There could even be a standardized solution to contact each other for bugs and compatibility issues when the companies normally hide support behind a customer login.
Needless to say that access would only be granted to use the plugin versions for testing, but never to use them on a production site.
Reasons not to do this
I can understand if plugin authors would not want to share their premium version with an unknown public. There is probably a way around that by logging who downloaded which plugin.
On the other hand, if your premium plugin is popular then it is probably already available for free somewhere. This is why I would personally be ok to give our developer colleagues full access.
I often get the feeling that our plugin support is too proactive compared to other companies. We try to understand a potential conflict before sending customers somewhere. This might be another reason why such a platform doesn’t exist already.
Or maybe, everyone silently pays for a GPL site and is fine with that.
Or, and this is probably very certain, there are other things I am not seeing.
Some feedback on the idea
After publishing the original article, I quickly talked to other plugin developers.
They liked the idea, but it became clear that such a plugin club would need more advantages than just access plugin files.
Many of us know the frustration of getting stuck with the first-level support of another plugin company. We would really like to have a channel directly to their developers to resolve potential conflicts.
We also agreed that there are already plugin developer communities that could leverage their existing user base into building a solution to sharing plugin code. Among them are
We had a bunch of ideas for additional services. Some of us might actually start something based on them, so I am not going to reveal anything.