Jailbreaking WordPress, and the MemberPress renewal crisis

This week, I discussed license churn and the future of paid plugins in depth on Post Status.

various tools against a backdrop

This week, I was a guest contributor on Post Status to address the challenge of churn for WordPress plugin developers. As you may have seen, the MemberPress plugin was recently taken to task on Reddit for disabling back-end functionality when its license expired – an escalation of the trend Brian discussed recently, in which admin notifications are getting louder and louder.

The fun part? In the spirit of jailbreaking iPhones and modding Nintendo Switches, I was able to modify the plugin in four minutes to spoof an active license and get around the new admin-blocking functionality. But that’s not the real problem – MemberPress isn’t targeting advanced developers with these new notifications. Instead, they’re targeting users who don’t even realize they need to renew, as well as those who don’t mind tempting fate with out-of-date software to save $179 a year.

Here’s an excerpt:

I downloaded the MemberPress plugin as I was writing this article, and it took me less than four minutes to find the function where you could swap out a few lines of code to spoof an active license status. (That’s way easier than jailbreaking an iPhone or modding a Nintendo Switch!) Doing this is not illegal, since the General Public License under which MemberPress is distributed allows you to “change the software to suit your needs” and even “share the software with your friends.”

So, other than screaming loudly in the admin area, what are the solutions for plugin developers to reduce churn? I present a few ideas in detail in the article:

Offer five-year licenses for the cost of four. Offer monthly plans. Make your identity or your product’s identity clear on credit card statements.

And finally, I talk about my vision for what a future premium plugin marketplace might look like:

Unfortunately, all these separate e-commerce sites are awful for end users, so things quickly devolve into a tragedy of the commons. Every new e-commerce site is good for the individual developer, and in isolation, one new site doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when you repeat this for hundreds or thousands of commercial plugins, the customers end up with an indecipherable labyrinth of plugin renewals, password resets, and forgotten license keys. How many of us keep track of every single plugin license we buy? This decentralized, largely manual process is annoying for end users — and even though it seems beneficial to developers in the short run, it ultimately increases their churn rate because it makes the renewal process so cumbersome for their customers.

One of my whiteboard visions for WP Wallet is building a simple, centralized place for users to buy plugins, for developers to get paid (without unfair Apple-esque fees), and for everybody to keep their purchases organized, as automatically as possible. My team gently reminds me that this is not a reasonable goal for the minimum viable product, but we are still headed in that direction. With smart software and a fair cost structure, I believe a centralized marketplace can pay for itself many times over by reducing churn for plugin creators and dramatically simplifying the license-key busywork that frustrates so many WordPress freelancers and agency employees.

Check out the full article on Post Status. Enjoy!

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Rob is the CEO of HDC and the Publisher of MasterWP.

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