Should developers charge for add-ons?

I’m very surprised that many people are questioning whether developers should even be allowed to charge for add-ons. Traditionally it is true that add-ons have been freely available, but I’ve known of pay for add-ons for at least 2 years now (that add-on is still available so must be doing ok) and I imagine there have been some around for longer. Some companys’ entire business rests on their Firefox add-ons. That sort of situation wouldn’t exist if no-one ever paid for add-ons in some way.

I believe that developers should feel welcome to do whatever they please. If they believe their work is good enough to charge for and users think it is good enough to pay for then great. There are probably more funded add-ons out there than most people realise. Charging for download is just one mechanism for recouping some cash for development. I use adverts on my website to help fund some of my development. Some developers ask for donations, others are supported by virtue of their add-on driving traffic to their website. Do you think Google give you the Google Toolbar for free purely out of the kindness of their hearts?

I’m no expert in the matter, but I suspect there would be something seriously wrong with the add-ons ecosystem if it was only populated by free items. I’m pretty sure that people actually getting paid for their work will feel more driven to release higher quality add-ons as well as put more pressure on Mozilla to fix the issues that they find in the platform during their development. This helps all developers, not just those charging their users.

I suspect that people who don’t like the idea of add-on developers making some money out of their add-ons simply don’t fully understand just how much work developing add-ons involves. It takes lots of time and effort to get something to the level of quality you are happy with releasing. Those that aren’t developing for a company are literally taking weeks and months of time away from their friends and family to provide users with something useful. You can argue that if they enjoy the work then they shouldn’t be charging for it, I enjoy my day job yet I still expect to get paid. Believe me that working through all the little bugs your users find but often you can’t see is generally not much fun compared to the actual development of a new feature. Money provides that little extra incentive that might mean the difference between an add-on continuing to be maintained and it dying out.

If you don’t like that a developer is charging for their work, even if the same add-on was previously available for free then I don’t really think you have any right to complain. If you don’t think that what they are offering is worth the price then don’t buy it. I wonder, if you were to try disabling all the add-ons you are using for a day, how many of them would you so sorely miss that you could see yourself paying a small price for them.

9 thoughts on “Should developers charge for add-ons?”

  1. I too konw of one non-free addon. Before FF3 was released, it was hosted on author’s website which is now impossible – FF3 blocks those addons pinging for update outside of AMO. Solution? Adding PayPal capabilities to AMO.

  2. funtomas, that is not the case. Add-on developers can still host their add-ons outside of AMO with Firefox 3, however they would need to meet the same security restrictions that AMO already does, either by hosting on an ssl secured website or using signed updates (which cost nothing except a little effort to set up)

  3. This reminds me a little of the controversy over WordPress themes a while back. Although in that case it was over “sponsored links” built into the theme, sort of the equivalent of an extension adding advertisements to the browser chrome.

  4. AMO should make it easier for add-on authors to collect donations. Not as a financial broker, but just provide a space on the AMO page for an official link where the author has a donation page set up.

  5. @funtomas, actually, it’s not true that an add-on author can’t host their own add-on and update it. Many do, take e.g. Google Toolbar – it is currently not hosted on AMO and they publish updates themselves. See here

    Examples of commercial add-ons: Attensa Feed Reader, iMacros, Loop-to-PDF and many ohers.

  6. No problem with them asking for money, but not at AMO. That’s unfair as I’m investing a lot of time for free and expect some difference/preference from people getting paid of. As I posted in the other blog about AMO allowing adverts I think the compromise would be to set a separate section or site for paid addons.

    If you don’t do that (differentiate them and prioritize free over paid) and most of the people working for free will switch to ask money for their work or even stop working, and that would be really bad for Mozilla.

  7. At first I have to confess that in the past and also probably today my main motivation for installing a piece of software is if you can get it for free. The only thing bought was the operating system (Win XP) together with the machine and I probably wouldn’t pay for add-ons, maybe donate later when I will have an income. Openness has a lower priority.

    It’s the right of developer to sell an extension or not. If he does, he should remember the following consequences:
    – If it was for free, users will try to live with the existing version and keep it alive = continued development on their own (at least private) . The user rate will drop by more than 90 percent, iirc only three percent of the internet users is willing to pay for things in the internet [citation needed].
    – External supporters like testers and localizers will often loose interest in supporting your product (because they think that they already invested something in your product and won’t pay anything for it).
    – Clones of your product will probably develop. If they already existed, people will replace your add-on with theirs, even if it has less quality.
    – Indirect payments by the users should be tested: Adding ads to your add-on or the web pages or changing the search engine could be an alternative.

    Consequences for AMO:
    – If a free version had a license which allowed to use the code, the files shouldn’t be deleteable.
    – There should be an easy way to exclude buyable extensions from search results (just visit a page with freeware and shareware and you will get know how frustating it will be if you can’t). Free limited versions which only describe the limited versions are ok to list.
    – Maybe paid versions should only be linked from AMO (there is a general bug about external add-ons and AMO), so they can improve their quality by submitting fixes as updates faster to the consumers (without the need for amo editors). Also, paid add-ons are often more complex and so the chance to get reviewed is lower.

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