How developers should and should not monetize browser extensions

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 11, 2014
Updated • Apr 11, 2014

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Closing Words

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.

What's your take on this?


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  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

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