How developers should and should not monetize browser extensions
At least two popular browser extensions for the Google Chrome web browser have been turned into paid subscription-based services this month, and at least one company, Web of Trust, is experimenting with monetizing their extension as well.
This appears to be a trend fueled by Google's Chrome Web Store update to support paid extensions and themes in the store.
This is an interesting opportunity for developers who up until now did not really have many options in this regard. If you look over to Mozilla Firefox, donations seem to be the prime source of income if you can call it that for add-on authors.
There is obviously nothing wrong with wanting to monetize a browser extension, even though it has not really be done until now in large scale.
The two extensions that switched to a paid subscription-based offer on the other hand made several mistakes which turned into negative publicity.
What not to do
So what should you avoid when you plan to release a commercial version of your browser extension?
- Make the switch without public announcement. Both extensions in question have switched the extension to a commercial offering without informing users about it in advance. The first time users got note of the change was when they were asked to pay money to continue using it.
- Sell it at an unrealistic price point. Media Hint wants $3.95 per month for the extension, and YouTube Options $1.99 of which half goes to charity. Now, the $1.99 is the lowest tier in the store which explains why the latter may have selected that amount but it is a lot if you ask for monthly payments.
- Make it subscription-based. The real issue for many users was that the developers wanted the $1.99 per month instead of a one-time payment or once a year payment.
- Discontinue the free version. Users of the extension can either pay up and use it, or uninstall the extension as they cannot use it anymore. That's recipe for negative store reviews, and that is exactly what happened.
What you may want to do
Here are a few tips to avoid a publicity disaster.
- If you plan to monetize your extension, be open about it. Don't just turn on the paid option with the next update, but inform users about it on your website or social accounts. Make sure you provide an explanation for why this is the way to go.
- Keep offering a free version. By keeping the free version alive, you ensure that you do not get bombarded with negative press and low ratings in the web store.
- Provide additional features or services for the paid version. You can offer premium support for example, or additional features that are only available to paid users. If you take Media Hint, you could create a custom version that enables services or countries that the free version does not support.
- Consider one-time payments instead of subscriptions. If your extension is unique, you may have success using a subscription-based payment model. You may also be successful if it is clear to the user that the service has running costs and money needs to come in to cover that. YouTube Options on the other hand is not unique and neither is Media Hint. Both extensions face strong opposition from free extensions, and unless all of those become paid or subscription-based in the near future as well, most users may switch instead.
This is new territory for extension developers and companies, and currently limited to the Google Chrome web browser. It is likely that this will turn out to be just fine in the long run, probably similar to how free and paid apps are handled on Google Play.
The main problem that developers who want to monetize their extension face right now is that there are free alternatives available.
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