Iain Urquhart


On free add-ons…


I’ve made the decision to start charging for my add-ons listed in the software section of this site starting June 10th.

I’m not particularly stoked to be doing it but I can tell you that the whole ‘open’ model in the ExpressionEngine eco-system does not work, here’s why:

ExpressionEngine users are generally less hesitant to pay for commercial add-ons than to give donations for free software. I’d go as far as to say many are scared of free software. Alongside this is the fact that EllisLab ‘Community Partners’ are clambering over themselves to announce anything with a price tag - they pay little attention to open add-ons and their developers.

For these reasons, I’m going to say now - I’m over it.

I thought I’d be retired by now

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t throw add-ons onto GitHub because I expect fame or a flood of cash donations to come rolling in, I’ve done it for this long it to give something back for the help I got when I was learning ExpressionEngine. I was extremely grateful when any of the old-time EE users jumped in and helped me out with my noob question.

I also remember emailing these folks to say thanks after the site launched, and I’d be sure to send a a few bucks out to someone for a few beers in return for their add-on.

It’s not worth it, really, it isn’t

Could be just me and it’s very different for other ‘open’ add-on developers but, there doesn’t appear to be anything but burden for folks crafting add-ons that are not commercial. To throw a big generalisation about the type of support that goes with free add-ons, I can say (in my experience) it’s pretty much noobs to EE that presume a support commitment from the developer for free add-ons. Getting a support request like “It doesn’t work” happens to those offering commercial support too, but for us not receiving anything in return it quickly becomes tiresome.

With one exception

Taxonomy is the one exception to all this, having this module open source has meant I’ve received some great code contributions from the community. I have enough faith here and enough respect for those that have helped along the way to keep it open for them. If you’ve played a part in Taxonomy’s development, you’ll have open access to a private repository on GitHub.

To those who have donated and sent an email to me, I’d like to say thank you to you sir. To everyone else that uses free add-ons and takes them for granted, how about you send a thank you email those developers. Make sure you rate their add-on on Devot:EE and maybe once a month make a point of sending beer money to someone who’s helping out in the community.


If you’re one of the good eggs that does this without thinking (looking at @erikreagan, @onebrightlight (even blimmin’ @max_lazar ffs) then good on you, you’re awesome.

As a side note to this topic, I’d love to know how many add-ons @markhuot has written that have never seen the light of day publicly. If the ‘open’ model worked with ExpressionEngine I’m sure those add-ons would be on GitHub - and a lot more of the community would be spending their evenings forking each-other…

EDIT: Ouch, a bitch slap from @brandonkelly. To be clear, this is a post about making free add-ons and getting to a point where they are not justifying their existance and the next step is to go to a commercial model. It’s not a fuck you for not paying me. It’s a “here’s why I’m doing this” and a note for those that take free add-ons for granted: how about you say thanks / donate / rate them and give those devs a little boost once in a while.

Comments for this entry

2011 06 03

Good on you Iain you have put some top notch add-ons out there in the last little while. I always wondered how you could continue to push them out for free and support them with little to no revenue coming in from them.

Saying that I still believe that there needs to be commercial free addons as they inspire new and existing designers/devs in the community to expand their knowledge and skill of what can be achieved with the platform. Free addons allowed me to to do stuff with a CMS that I never could otherwise. It got me hooked on the platform and then allowed me to see the value of paying for really well made ones.

Taxonmy is standard on most to all the EE sites I create and I will gladly pay for it.


2011 06 03

Good for you Iain, go for it :) I’ve used Taxonomy on a number of projects and it has never failed. As a developer of free plugins myself I know how much time goes into developing new features, giving support etc. Plus, even when it’s free, you still have that urge to give the best support possible, resulting in long days and getting less sleep than you wanted.

If I need any of your add-ons in a future project, I won’t hesitate to shell out a couple of bucks for your efforts!

Wouter Vervloet
2011 06 03

Though I understand where you are coming from and why you are going to charge for your add-ons, I’m keeping my add-ons free (for the moment).

Yes, sometimes I too get these crazy ass support requests which make me doubt my decision of releasing my add-ons to the public at all. But generally the feeling I get of actually helping someone gets me through the day.

But…. happiness doesn’t pay the rent or buy me beverages. Then what does? The people that come to me with projects because they’ve heard of me because of my add-ons or actually used them themselves. So for me, my free add-ons are a vital part in my marketing and a big part of my personal brand.

All that said, your add-ons are of a high enough quality to actually be paid for.


Paul Frost
2011 06 03

When I first started using EE back in 2006 the thing that stood out was the community.
The forums seamed to comprise of professional people asking sensible questions and getting good support from other users. The licence fee was a barrier to entry and it kept out the casual user, and I thought that was a good thing and worth the $99.

I spent hours surfing the forums for useful tips and as I got more experienced I offered help to others. The free/donation model for addons fitted well with that audience, as the balance of “givers” and “takers” was closer.

The launch of EE2 seemed to throw a switch.
Developers were “encouraged” to leave the EE forums.
The re-organization of the forums.
A massive influx of new users.

Now there were lots of “takers” asking too many questions that were not thought out, and the “givers” had moved out to Devot-ee or their own sites for support. So you no longer got tips on getting more out of addons etc.

So I understand that supporting an addon is now a massive undertaking and needs financing.

Curtis Blackwell
2011 06 04

I appreciate the work you’ve done for free in the past and will mos def pay for your products in the future.

Tony Mosley
2011 06 04

I don’t actually use EE… I have 3 licences in waiting, so feel free to dismiss what i’m abotu to write as ignorant.

I have always wondered why certain third party plugins weren’t bought and integrated into the core EE package. it seemed some time back that ‘playa’ (i think that’s the name) was nearly essential to make EE useable. Or that to have a decent drag and drop interface for the pages not there by was odd.

While i appreciate that the core was required to be light and agile etc, the fact that by default the majority of users were installing these modules/extensions/plugins by default seemed wierd.

SO.. my actual point.

couldn’t Ellis have bought these plugins and paid a chunk of cash to reward the developer, making it a win - win - win situation.

And also if you are afraid of the community suffering from lack of “free” stuff, couldn’t Ellis commsion people who pitched a cool idea to develop it to a usable state and pay the developer an agreed rate?

I think these are workable, and resolve the starved developer issue.

Derek Hogue
2011 06 04

I suppose people release add-ons for different reasons. For me, it has less to do with EE specifically and more to do with the web development community overall.

Over the past 10 years, freely-licensed code has been invaluable to me as a developer (saving me time, and helping me learn), and to my clients (who are often those with very limited resources). WordPress and jQuery are two huge examples that have been a boon for web development. Both have large communities of people sharing plugins and code simply because they’re excited about solving problems and helping others who might have faced the same challenges as them.

Commercial add-ons definitely have their place, but personally, I write add-ons to solve problems I encounter as a developer, and release them for free because I like helping other people solve problems too. “Giving back”, and all that.

From my experience, the “open” model works great in EE, if by “works” you mean people use your add-ons and appreciate them. Feedback on my add-ons has been kind, constructive, and gratifying. I don’t see how charging for them would make this any better.

That’s just my take regardless!

2011 06 07

Being new to the EE community, I quickly realized that add-ons were a big part of what made this community tick. They are an essential part of EE development that is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you get a massive library of extended functionality at a very reasonable price. A curse because addon updates are annoying to deploy, sometimes cause conflicts, and managing licenses are a total PITA.

After purchasing and using both Structure and Nav-ee, I ended up sticking with Taxonomy. It does exactly what I want, works with the native Pages module, killer support and it’s one less license to manage.

I very much support your choice to charge for this excellent addon, you deserve it. I do however hope you consider adding a developer license—similar to what Brian Litzinger and a few others have started to do. Cheers!


2011 06 07

Iain, I felt Wouter gives a picture above which is perhaps most closely and sensibly matched to the environment.

And in that picture, it’s likely you’re to the point of development and trust where reasonable pricing is a good fit.

One thing I might say is that in encountering your work, a lot of it has had a ‘you could contribute, or why not purchase Introvert’ label.  So, when I started trying out Taxonomy, and in general sense for the cause, I did that. Perhaps this has something to do with your low rate of direct contribute conversion.

From my own point of view, any site I put items on, I would purchase or contribute as appropriate. I appreciate where sensible day-to-day prices apply, and may develop with functionality, as for example CE Images. I do have questions about the big bux for some add-ins, definitely.

In general, priced add-ons tilt for me to the high side of reasonable in many cases, and some are just plain egregious, at high and also at ‘buy each tidbit’ ends of the scale—caveat emptor for value, definitely.

On the another axis, many put out very fine real extensions to the EE model for free, out of kindness, community sense, and/or on a path to gaining their own credibility.

I really appreciate what the solid and developing contributors such as yourself are making, and have the good feeling towards paying fairly for it, so I think you’re much on the right track, Iain, and at a point in the journey.



2011 06 07

@everyone: cheers for chiming in

@clive: The “thank you” model by buying an add-on was a 2nd attempt at getting ‘something’ as the number of add-ons I’ve made available have increased and my free time has decreased.

The donation model does not work, the ‘donate by buying something’ model also doesn’t work, and I believe @litzinger even tried a ‘donate any amount to access add-ons’ and that didn’t work either.

The (broad) bottom line is folks are happy to pay, but not to donate.

Saying that, I’m not going to be charging for *everything*. Catshit for example is no more than half a dozen lines of code (even though I spent a day pulling my hair out b/c of the cp js :)

Certainly anything that’s been more than a day in development is more than likely to cost a few dollars going forward.

@nuno I’m still undecided about developer licenses and how much I would charge for them. I think things are going to be played by ear once I make the switch.

2011 06 07

It is a shame to see this, but i can understand where you are coming from. I love the idea of open addons, people can use them, improve them, give feedback and donations… but i guess not everyone does.
And the sudden influx of people to EE2 - with non developers seeming to be the new croud, i guess this makes it harder for you.

I wish you luck, i will certainly keep getting your bits regardless.

2011 06 08

Iain, do agree there is some problem with the ‘donate’ approach. I just kept erasing what I wrote about it.

I think there is something basic about the psychology that doesn’t work.

It may be that in a world that over-emphasizes competition, and has nearly everyone wondering how to regenerate a comfortable status, that ‘donate’ hits a button about ‘well, I could use a donation too…’. Whereas ‘here’s a fair price’ speaks ‘I am serious about this, intend to support it, and offer this exchange instead of asking you to support me.’

Anyway, that’s the best I can get at what seems to affect me also.

Take care, and charge fairly as I know you will, Iain. You’re a sincere guy, and you work the tough bits out. Also, I like that you’ve got solid UI presentation under these things, which will also let them improve as you discover.


2011 06 10

Hey guys, I’ve just flipped the switch on Taxonomy at GitHub and Devot:ee. Taxonomy is now available for $25USD.

As promised, the following users who contributed code will hopefully have a purchase of taxonomy show up in their account at Devot:ee some time in the next few days. This isn’t a free single license, it’s permission for you to use it and any future versions I develop for free.

Profiles/folks are:
fcco, Nuno, nevsie and Todd Perkins

I’ve literally just emailed ryan to see if this is possible so I’ve got my fingers crossed it’s all doable at his end. If it’s not possible I’ll be in touch about how I can get you guys free access to the module.

If I’ve missed peeps please let me know, it’s been over a year building this now and I can’t remember everyone :)


2011 06 15

Awesome man, really appreciate it. :)

Todd Perkins
2011 06 21

Hey man, keep up the great work.  Hell of an add-on you got, and you deserve every penny you make off of it.  Thanks for the license too =)  Much appreciated!


Che Tamahori
2011 07 01

Good on you, Iain. 

You provide excellent service on your plugins, and $25 is very cheap for the elegant enhancement that Taxonomy provides EE users.  I hope I had a wee bit of influence on the Taxonomy idea with on old, mishappen extension of mine ;-)  But I’ll gladly pay to add Taxonomy to future projects.

For better or worse, the EE community is built around a low-cost, commercial CMS. It’s natural that there should be low-cost, commercial plug-ins. 

I tend to think of EE as a CMS that costs about $500, once you bundle together the EE license, and the half dozen or so “essential” paid plugins that you need to make it sing.  That’s still cheap, measured in chargeable hours.

And wonderfully, one person’s essential plugin isn’t another’s. Some will choose Structure, and some will choose Taxonomy—and that’s what makes EE a great platform.

So don’t take any crap for going commercial—just keep releasing great plugins.


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