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Which Pricing Model Do You Prefer: One-Time or Recurring?

Which Pricing Model Do You Prefer: One-Time or Recurring?

For a long time, premium WordPress plugins and themes were sold as a one-time payment. So for example, if you wanted to buy a new WordPress theme, you would make a single purchase and own the theme indefinitely, with no future payments due. Then somewhere along the way, a recurring pricing model became popular. These days, it is very common for themes and plugins to be sold via recurring payment scheme. So for example, if you want to use some awesome pro plugin or theme, you pay an annual or in some cases monthly fee.

Different Pricing Models

For WordPress products, like plugins and themes, there are myriad pricing models available:

  • Free — no purchase required, use product indefinitely
  • Freemium — free for basic features, pay to unlock more
  • Trial-Based — free to use for limited time, then time to pay
  • One-time Payment — pay once and own/use the product indefinitely
  • Recurring Payment — pay every year, month, or other interval

You can find examples of each of these pricing models by simply shopping around for plugins and themes. The same thing is true for software and digital products outside of the WordPress marketplace. For example, a few years ago Adobe switched from one-time payment to a subscription-based plan, where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to use Photoshop, Illustrator, et al.

There also is a more subtle, sort of middle-of-the-road pricing model: one-time payments for a specific version of the software. For example, if you purchase apps like MAMP Pro, 1Password, Carbon Copy Cloner (a few examples that come readily to mind), the initial purchase is one-time, non-recurring. But you only get updates for one or two major versions. So if you purchased MAMP Pro version 4.0, you get free updates for all version-4 releases, like 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, etc. But then you have to pay again for version 5.0 and beyond.

Regardless of which pricing model you’re talking about, ultimately it comes down to either paying only once or paying multiple times.

So my question for you: what is the BEST pricing model for WordPress plugins and themes?

As some of you may know, I strongly prefer to own the plugins that are used on my sites. I do not like the idea of having to pay more every year. It’s probably because I am such an “old school” developer who is accustomed to one-time, flat-fee payments for scripts, plugins, and themes. In fact, I sell my own premium WordPress plugins using the one-time (non-recurring) pricing model.

Most if not all of my direct competitors sell their plugins using the recurring payments model. So users will have to pay more every year just to continue receiving updates and so forth. In my mind, this benefits the seller more than the customer. Whereas one-time purchases tend to benefit the customer more than the seller. But this is my own biased opinion, so I want to ask..

What do YOU think?

I think the most popular/no-brainer answer is that “there is no “best” pricing model” that applies to all products. Rather it depends on the nature of the product, scope of functionality, and other variables. Everything has to be factored in: development, support, marketing, the whole nine yards.

What do YOU think? Do you like paying more every year or month for plugins and scripts? Should plugins be considered more of a SaaS type deal? Is there a happy middle ground? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

18 responses

  1. I prefer a one time payment, with a reduced upgrade price everytime there is a significant upgrade. Not happy to pay an annual subscription fee, I feel the customer is screwed over on that model. Just my opinion though. The most popular page builder plugin even goes so far as to not allow you to download your outdated theme, if you don’t renew…..criminal.

  2. The single payment model is great for the consumer. It only works for the business if the business keeps coming out with new products it can sell. In other words, you can’t come up with one great product and sustain the business with a one-time payment model.

    The recurring payment plan is great for the business. It generates ongoing cash flow which is necessary for the business to survive long-term. I can’t count the number of plugins/themes I’ve bought on a “lifetime” deal, i.e. one-time payment, that have since disappeared because the model was unsustainable.

    If the business offers a one-time payment at launch and later switches to recurring payments, that’s a reasonable compromise, IMO. The launch payment helps fund development.

    I also am okay with recurring payments that are discounted from the first payment, if the discount is deep enough. Not thrilled paying the same amount year after year. The only exception to that is if the plugin/theme is one that I consider truly exceptional and mandatory for my business.

  3. I prefer one payment, of course, everybody does. But I understand paying on a yearly basis for plugin support. I also understand that the effort put in optimizing the plugin/theme deserve to be paid. So I understand that the updates are only available for a limiter period of time. One year seems fair. What I don’t understand is sudden price raise from one year to another. I will not drop names but I’ve seen this recently and that’s extremely unpleasant.

  4. I prefer one time. I bought some of your plugins because your one time fee and your great support, some of them are used in 2-3 sites but I choose the unlimited sites plan anyway. No problem to pay that extra for good development and quality stuff.

  5. The new WordPress client would know from these times that now the plugins are kept with a monthly payment, those who are accustomed to a single payment for life this sounds scary.

    But times change, I liked the idea of one of the commentators here that after the first recurring payment there is a considerable discount, with this they could change things.

  6. So this is a difficult question.

    Some plugins I prefer one time flat fee, because I’m using them only once for a limited time (a site for an event for example), Others I use on many sites (Duplicator Pro, W3 total Cache etc..)

    For the small plugin with a limited scope in time I obviously prefer a one-time payment,

    For the ones I install on every site, and will keep on using for several years, i want the developers to be able to continue development, and so recurring payment is a good way to support that.

    What bugs me in recurring payments however is the recurrence with no warning and bad references to plugin names

    Say I purchased a plugin via Paypal, and the Paypal payment is set for happening once a year.

    At some point I see a Paypal payment for ‘Coders Inc.’ for $150. Last year I purchased ‘AwesomePlugin’ from ‘Coders Inc.’ Well I very may well remember the name of the plugin but I get confused with the PayPal statement : who the hell is coder’s inc. and what did I purchase from them last year ? And also were do i go to get the invoice for my accountant ?

    Some companies do that properly :
    – they mail you a renewal warning at 30, 15, and 3 days in advance containing their name, the name of the plugin you purchased and a link for a possible cancellation, and after you let it renew they mail you the invoice. Others not so much and you discover that you payed for another year of ‘AwesomePlugin’ even though the site were it was installed has now been retired. The latter case is when I get annoyed with recurring payments :)

    Also for heaven’s sake have an ‘Agency’ fee (wink wink codecanyon), with a possible installation of your plugin on an unlimited number of sites. If I use you plugin extensively I’d rather pay more for that with a yearly renewal than having to keep track of different expiration dates of the licenses of your plugin across a (not to mention ending up paying more, I’m cheap ;) )

  7. One time is much better, in my opinion. Having to submit billing notices to Finance yearly – or worse – monthly is a pain. Or even worse yet, not seeing the billing notification and the plugin going down.

    I’m fine with larger upgrades looking for extra $$, but those are usually few and far between. Just charge me a fee to cover the upgrades provided up-front. A good plugin is usually well worth the cost over custom development time (internal dev work) + money (outside dev help).

  8. One time payment. I like the way themes and plugins are sold on themeforest.

  9. I prefer, like most, a one-time fee for any theme or plugin. However, I do think that a developer should be able to charge a recurring fee for continued updates and support. Say after a major update or once a year for ongoing support.

  10. I preferred one time but unlimited website use, Because it’s easy for me.

  11. There is one model missing IMO, the customized one, say, user can customize the service and pay only what they need instead of a pricing tier. Of course, this will fits if a plugin offers various features.

  12. Hello,

    I am with those who prefer a onetime payment. Which does not mean, that an app or a service should be free forever. If substantial changes were necessary or improvements made I am totally for the option to choose between paying for the upgrade – or to skip a version and upgrade later. With some subscriptions you are forced to upgrade or to lose the apps functionality completely. And that is IMHO unacceptable.


  13. I think it entirely depends on the category of the product we want to sell. If we are going to offer continuous maintenance, then Recurring works well. The subscription fee should be reasonable.

    Onetime fits well for most of the products that we sell now a days. If we have few more product launches in the pipeline, then onetime works well and giving maintenance as optional does help to retain customers.


  14. As someone running a website business, I usually try to do free plugins. But when I do need a reliable, full featured advanced plugin, I am OK with paying a fair price to get stability and updates over a longer period of time.

    What should be asked along with this question is, “How many of you actually buy plugins?”.

    BTW Found your blog when looking for info on adding admin notices – your post was great! Thanks :)

  15. Thanks for the brief description of the different pricing models. I suggest the single payment model for consumers as it works well. By providing better maintenance it highly helps to retain the customers. On the other hand, the recurring payment plan serves great for the long-term business plan.

  16. I prefer Recurring Payment as sometimes i cant afford the whole price to pay at once but such micro payments provided in Recurring terms can give me the choice to use the product without time wasting on money saving

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