From the editor: This post is based on an interview with Jonathan Davis, founder of Ingenesis Ltd, developers of the Shopp eCommerce plugin for WordPress. Shopp is one of the most mature eCommerce plugins for WordPress (see our full review here), and has been in development since 2008.
In this interview, we’ve covered some of the recent changes to the plugin, changes to the revenue model, and what the future holds for Shopp. My questions are bolded, with Jonathan’s answers following them.
Shopp 1.3 was recently released, and was also added to the WordPress.org repo as a free plugin. What made you decide to release the core plugin for free with the update when Shopp was historically a paid plugin?
I’ve always wanted Shopp to be free, really from the very beginning. I didn’t want to have to charge for it, but early on it was the easiest path to sustaining the voracious development I was pouring into it.
I’ve been working on a pathway to releasing for free for a long time and the pieces finally fell into place when we shifted the support key model to an annual term last January.
- So really, you’d already shifted to a renewal model anyway; however, now renewals will be for support and services, not use of the plugin.
- Yeah, that was announced on our site last January on the 2nd, right after the new year. It went into effect on December 31st last year. We gave all existing key owners an extra year before needing to be renewed, so the timing was right to now release the core plugin for free and charge for support.
- So how does this change your business model moving forward?
I had originally approached the release of Shopp as delivering a product. I think a lot of developers would see their projects as a “product”, but especially in 2011 and 2012 I came to a realization that software development (and the peripheral support services) are all really part of a service model, not a product model.
That gave me the direction to go to shift the project away from the direct access revenue to a much more sustainable service model. I think the success of that is seen in almost every corner of the WordPress ecosystem. We held out for a really long time too, a last remnant of the old way and a lot of our customers appreciated us for that.
- Interesting. What’s the transition to annual service plans like? We’ve seen a few companies, namely WooThemes, make this transition recently as well.
Definitely not easy. I think the perception is that customers paid for what was originally billed as an unlimited term (although I had made some qualifications that it would change in the future). I think they would be more upset if the services they rely on for us vanished because we couldn’t survive since this practice is unsustainable. I can see that, if you have a simple plugin that only does one thing and does it right, using the unlimited model can work in an environment where there the competition uses an annual term. It would have to be a challenging problem that’s solved very elegantly with some calculated risk. I think eCommerce is too complex a beast to fit that model for very long.
eCommerce reveals the biggest flaw in that approach, a consideration I was too blind to see at the beginning: that the technology would change so radically. We’ve basically had to re-invent Shopp 3 times over already. In 2008, mobile hadn’t taken off. Custom Post Types weren’t in WordPress. PHP 4 was the predominant install available.
- Yeah, it’s certainly difficult to take a calculated risk when you don’t even know half of the variables, and the ones that you do know are always changing.
- How do you think having a free core plugin has changed adoption of Shopp?
- I think releasing Shopp for free changes the game for us in many ways. Adoption of Shopp appears to be growing certainly, but it’s an uphill battle with all the other great solutions in the market.
- Anything you’d cut from the core plugin now that it’s free?
No. Most separate plugins will address niches which might be feature niches or third-party system integrations. I can’t imagine stripping anything out of Shopp today. Part of what stands apart is that we give a lot in the core. Six different shipping calculators are built-in, along with payment processors, two different storage engines, faceted menu systems, and search. Not to mention the 13 or so smart collections and seven reports; there’s a gallery, a carousel, and a slideshow component all built-in.
It definitely covers the bases without needing to buy anything extra, but the extras that are available are definitely filling in those specific needs or encapsulating things that are in flux. For example, Stripe may be popular today, and you could call it a de-facto modern payment standard, but we deliver it as an add-on because that may change in the future. PayPal has long been dominant, and is built-in to core to reflect that. We just try to make reasonable decisions on what is fair to make an add-on and what is excessive.
- Aside from the points above, what features make Shopp the top choice as an eCommerce plugin, and what kinds of stores would be best served by using Shopp over other platforms?
Shopp is really retail focused. It works for downloads and subscriptions too, but it really shines with the retail fulfillment workflow. Order event history gives you full details on all changes in an order (payments, shipping dates, downloads, etc). You can process refunds within Shopp rather than going to your payment processor, and Shopp permits authorizations rather than immediate charges, which is actually what Visa and Mastercard require for shipped orders.
The specs and faceted filters are also pretty amazing. Shopp also has its own search engine built into it, separate from the WordPress search. It’s also got the best support team, and not one, but 4 different documentation sites.
(You can check out the full feature list here.)
- We noticed that you have a new marketplace set up on the Shopp plugin site that makes it far easier to find official plugins and themes. Is that going to be a focus in the future?
We’re getting our market up and running. The free plugin is a distribution model that provides a platform for the ecosystem. Putting up a paywall to that limits adoption and, unless you’re Apple, doesn’t allow the market to flourish.
Now people can join the ecosystem, then buy what they need. We’re working on some “official” themes to release soon as well.
- What plans do you have for that marketplace in the future? How will we see it expand – third-party add-ons, internal offerings, or both?
- Both, definitely. We have already begun adding some third-party additions to the store. As we get better management tools in place, we’ll be expanding that.
- How will the 3rd party integrations work? Will you be doing all support in-house, or more of a Theme Forest-style where each developer supports their offering?
- More Theme Forest style – developers will support their offering. The challenge there is making it clear to the buyer who they are getting support from – how to get support and who is providing that support. You have to step very carefully there lest it really spoil the parent brand.
- What common misunderstandings or misconceptions do you think people have about Shopp?
- Good question. Probably the biggest is that it is designed to be purely turn-key. You plug it in and that’s it, you have an eCommerce store. Shopp is designed first and foremost to be an eCommerce development platform. It has to be easy for a merchant to manage, but without boxing-in developers. That means we leave a lot of last-mile problems for developers to fill in. That makes it a great system for developers that need a platform that won’t tell them how eCommerce is supposed to be done. You don’t have to “un-wire” a bunch of code you don’t need in order to implement a custom component for your client.
- What’s on the roadmap?
- We’re planning on administrative order editing and account-payments in the next point-release. Then we’ll finally get to overhaul the product editor to fix a lot of the ills that confound people with our current product editor. There is a lot of innovation in the product editor now, but we just need to bring it fully up to speed with where the direction of WP has gone and our own UI design direction. We definitely have a lot of plans we want to implement in the core. We’ll always be adding value to it.
Thanks so much to Jonathan for taking the time to talk with us! We think the release of Shopp as a free plugin is an interesting move, especially since the core plugin has a lot of functionality built in (for me, the shipping methods stand out as bonuses) and definitely indicates a trend in the WordPress premium ecosystem as a whole. You get more information about Shopp in our full review and our coverage of updates in Shopp 1.3, or from the Shopp plugin site.