When a plugin is acquired and monetized, what’s the best way to avoid the problems ProfilePress ran into this week?

WP Avatar Users reacted when the free plugin became a freemium product rebranded as ProfilePress by its new owner.

This week the WP User Avatar plugin (with an install base of around 400,000 sites) rebranded as ProfilePress. ProfilePress is still free, but it’s not longer a simple, single-purpose plugin. As part of the rebranding, ProfilePress now offers a much larger set of features. It’s now a user registration, profile, and membership management plugin that offers a paid upgrade to the pro version.

As you can imagine, many WP User Avatar users were not happy about this change. Many of them downrated the plugin on the WordPress.org repo in response. On Tuesday, Dan Maby brought the situation to broader attention on Twitter. Other developers and companies jumped in quickly to provide alternatives to people already using WP User Avatar.

There are two sides to every plugin story…

It’s easy to make a negative judgement on a story like this, but there is always another side. Collins Agbonghama, the founder of ProfilePress, acquired WP User Avatar last year. He explained his actions in the comment scrum that emerged over the story at WP Tavern. It’s worth reading Matt Medeiros‘ interview with Collins and his thoughts about the community’s reaction.

You can draw your own conclusions, but this stuck with me from Collins’ take:

Maintaining free plugins is evidently unpaid labour but surprisingly, very demanding. You get droves of users demanding help… And as soon as you offer say a paid version to help offset the cost of development and maintenance of the free version, you get criticized.

Collins Agbonghama @ The WP Minute

Free plugins can be a labor of love or a thankless job. Sometimes both.

ProfilePress could have handled its business, brand, and feature transition differently. It could have been done in ways that would minimize the disruption and angry reactions. But there always are those reactions no matter what. And at the end of the day, plugin businesses are people who are trying to make a living.

Perhaps it’s up to the WordPress community to educate developers better about marketing communications and business transitions. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It won’t be the last.

While we hear a lot about big acquisitions, even small companies and single developers are getting making them. New plugin owners usually do aim to monetize the software they’ve acquired and invested in. And they want to add value that builds their customer base. That’s always a difficult needle to thread, but it could be easier for new WordPress businesses to learn to do. It’s a win for everyone if new owners preserve the goodwill of existing users. ?