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Lessons learnt from monetising my Chrome Extension (mikerogers.io)
168 points by rogem002 on Nov 10, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments



I wrote the extension and this blog post, so I'm happy to answer any follow up questions you might have :)


I'm working on an extension myself so this was a great read!

Did you consider making it a free extension (with enough features to be usable) with in-app payments to unlock more features? You would think that would keep your downloads up and give more people a chance to try it out.

Also, why did you go with a subscription and not a one-off payment? Did you get any user feedback on if this discouraged a purchase?


Awesome! What is your extension?

I did look at in-app payments, but because of how the extension is made to be used (click the button, it starts reloading when required) I couldn't figure out a decent way to ask users to upgrade without being annoying.

I went for subscription because I wanted a low price point (It's a simple extension, anything more then $5 seemed like I'd be asking to much), with the potential of having a passive income. I'd love to experiment with how one-off/monthly changes the amount of sales but for now I'm happy asking people to pay yearly.


> Awesome! What is your extension?

It's still under wraps but I'd be happy to compare experiences when I launch.

> I did look at in-app payments, but because of how the extension is made to be used (click the button, it starts reloading when required) I couldn't figure out a decent way to ask users to upgrade without being annoying.

Hmm, maybe by default when you click the button make it show the config pop-up you have already with an added upgrade banner. You could add an option to not show the config pop-up on click as well.

I have no figures to back this up but unless you're a well known brand I think not having a completely free version to try will turn away a lot of potential sales. You say in your post you had a noticeable drop in the web store charts after making it a paid app.

> I went for subscription because I wanted a low price point (It's a simple extension, anything more then $5 seemed like I'd be asking to much), with the potential of having a passive income. I'd love to experiment with how one-off/monthly changes the amount of sales but for now I'm happy asking people to pay yearly.

I'd avoid equating code complexity with how much you charge. Charge by how much value your extension brings to customers. If it's saving a freelancer X number of hours per month then that's worth something more than the number of lines of code it took to write. Live reload is a big productivity boost.

By the way, did you look into experimenting with price changes? Since I last looked, you can easily change the in-app purchase price but you can't with subscriptions. I think the only option for the latter is to create new subscription IDs for each price.


Regarding the subscription: this would be a huge turn off for me. I guess I disagree with the price model, so I'd only get into a recurring cost for something I deemed essential, whereas I'd be much more likely to pay a (similarly?) small sum as a once off. This isn't criticism, just opening the possibility that sales might be a lot higher as a once off, and if you end up rewriting/adding a tonne of features you could always release V2. I'd be curious how many years an average paying user would actually end up using/paying for with a tool like this.

Obviously this is purely anecdotal, and this extension isn't applicable to me personally anyway.


Thanks for writing the post. It gives a good picture for someone who wants to venture in extension development.

Would you suggest to first make an extension available for free (in order to get a nice install-base) and then offer as an Annual Subscription?

Do you see any practical risk with someone offering a copied version of the extension (with different name) at a slightly lower cost?


I'd 100% push people towards offering an extension for free to build up a good amount of reviews & user base, then switching to any paid model (One off, Monthly Subscription or Annual Subscription). If people are happy to pay for something that was free, it's a good indictor that you've built something decent. I went for Annual Subscription because I felt it offered a fair price point ( < $5 a year per a user ) and it created an incentive for me to keep maintaining the extension. I'd recommend playing around and seeing what works best for your extension.

> Do you see any practical risk with someone offering a copied version of the extension

They're are already a bunch of extensions doing something similar for free. I like to think people have used my extension because I'm never more then an email away if they have any questions. Also as it's paid, I have no incentive to sell it to a 3rd party who might start injecting ads into webpages or something.


> offering an extension for free [...] then switching to any paid model

I find deliberate bait and switch distasteful. It will eventually breed an atmosphere of suspicion tainting the whole system.

(Nothing against an honest "Free for now, will see next year" right upfront)


FWIW, as a developer if I'm willing to break out my credit card to pay $5/year for a tool, I am every bit as willing to pay $20. I would wager you'd get far more than just a 1/4 of your users if you jumped up that price.


That's interesting to hear. I'm thinking about experimenting with different prices next month, I'll make sure to do another write up :)


I agree that if someone has to get out their credit card, they're likely willing to pay more than $5/yr.

The key question here is what percent of the potential purchasers already have a Chrome wallet (or whatever it's called now) and just have to click "buy".

Impulse purchases by these users would be more likely to drop off with a price increase.


On the flip side, the little things do add up. Consider as an example, the cost of a $70 per month cable subscription, versus 5 streaming subscriptions at $15 per month. The developer might not see this, but the accountant should.


Care to share some batshit crazy development environments?


I had one user message me complaining his all of clients websites would lag when he used the extension (It checks for changes to files by crudely polling them every 200ms or so). Turned out the guy was building sites via an FTP editor in a production with all his clients on one server, with a lot of CSS/JS files being included in each page.

After a few emails back and forth, I switched him to WAMP for local development.


Hot damn, that's taking "move fast and break things" to a whole new level. Still, good on you for taking the time to suggest a better way to do things.


Thanks for writing this up! Chrome Extensions have been my go-to playground for many years but, though I looked into it, I never went through with making one a paying one.

A couple of questions:

Were the existing free users grandfathered in? It seems like it from the weekly users.

Can you have two pricing models for the same extension? Like pay for a lifetime license for $x or $y/year.

Congratulations!


If you've played around with extensions, you should definitely consider making a paid one. The APIs you need to verify payment are pretty interesting.

> Were the existing free users grandfathered in? It seems like it from the weekly users.

All user who had the extension installed when I made the switch were able to keep it for free. This was a little tricky for users who had installed, then uninstalled it. For those ones I just told them to email me for the developer version.

> Can you have two pricing models for the same extension?

You can't easily, but I did consider putting a lifetime version in the store as a separate extension.


Does limited functionality work instead of free trial?

i.e here are 2 out of 5 features. Upgrade to PRO to get the other 3.

The 2 features providing basic functionality.

I realize this is difficult in your situation since it is more a 1 feature extension but I'd be curious if that strategy works.

Thanks


Thanks, good writeup!


Kudos for making it open source.

I wonder if the sales will increase if you make source code unavailable. The reason is that, as you said, it is very easy for people to just run unpacked extensions in dev mode.


I know of a very popular Mac desktop app whose sales dropped by 90% overnight when the author made it open source (but still asked users to pay). The reason I know this is that I was thinking of open sourcing my file manager [1]. I did some research, found the aforementioned Mac app and got in touch with the author who told me how open sourcing had affected sales. It would have made my project unsustainable, so I decided against open source. I ended up choosing a different business strategy [2].

1: https://fman.io 2: https://fman.io/blog/fmans-business-strategy/


Your app looks so much like Sublime Text that it could just follow the same model: paid closed source app + free open source plugins on a repository maintained by you (like Package Control). As far as I know, Sublime Text is doing pretty well.


I use Sublime from time to time and never had to pay for the packages. As far as I am aware of it Sublime has the same business model as WinRAR. Totally free with an annoying popup asking for you to get a license.


Yes, that's pretty much the plan.


I've definitely been curious as to how much the sales would change if I had made it closed sourced.

However I'm happy to take the loss in sales to enable technical enough users to be able to mess with the source code & (hopefully) send some code back to the repo ;)


May not much differences I think. Chrome warns you on each startup for non-store extensions. It's annoying. If they do one more steps, there're some NODEJS tools for them also. So that I think this extension really needs to focus on newbies.


Chrome removed the ability to install third party extensions. You have to install them through the Chrome store, even if you have the source.

It's really stupid. So many of the extensions I use have annoying bugs that I'd totally fix if I was allowed.


You can still do it, you just have to jump through some more hoops. You have to be able to if you think about it, otherwise you couldn't develop an extension

Edit: having done a bit of reading, the above may be incorrect now


Well if I remember correctly, they make it really annoying. Like you can only have one developer extension at a time, and you need to set it up again every time you restart chrome. I doubt most people will bother.


Just did some testing. Chrome stable 54.0.2840.59 on linux. Put on OP's extension from source and an extension of my own that was already in there. No issues. Then I packed both of them and installed them both packed, again no issues.

You're not crazy though, the internet seems to agree that there was an issue.


I believe the restrictions only apply to Windows and Mac builds not Linux.

https://blog.chromium.org/2015/05/continuing-to-protect-chro...


Thanks for writing the post, I built a moderately popular extension in 2012 "Twitcher" for switching between twitter accounts (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/twitcher-twitter-a...).

I've toyed with different monetisation strategies over the last couple of years, I even conducted a 6 month survey of what people would be willing to pay. In the end I decided I couldn't justify charging for it and a few months ago I rolled out a "pay-what-you-want" model like AdBlockPlus, during the A/B test on 20% of users I generated just over $100 dollars in the first 2 weeks, then basically nothing - so the annual/monthly model is attractive!

I like the idea of keeping it open source, then those who don't want to pay can still use it - think I may follow your model :)


Hey I've actually come across this extension before! I think I ruled it out instantly due to the name, I believe I thought it was something to do with the streaming site Twitch rather than anything to do with Twitter.

If it helps any the way I was searching was for keyword (not neccesarily these) twitter account switch, twitter clients, etc and opened up a list of things that matched in tabs to then go on and short list. Ruling this out quickly as it seemed to be something to do with Twitch rather than Twitter.

As an aside I'm sorry to say I wouldn't pay anything for something that's just saving me 3 clicks every so often. Needs more functionality.


I have a similar 'lessons' write-up of a Chrome extension I made a few years ago. I built it to enable safe-search on all the computers in a few schools I was working in and deployed it with Group Policy:

https://brianhenryie.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/enable-safesea...


Isn't this the same as keeping dev tools open with cache disabled? I get more useful debugging information from console this way.


I'm assuming this extension livereloads (ie without a page refresh) the resources when they change on the server. Right?


That's correct, for things like CSS & images it'll reload the asset without a hard reload. For HTML & JS changes it'll do a hard reload.


For some reason, 1 € per month seems cheaper in my mind than 5€ per year.

Perhaps experiment with that :)


I will ;)


There's a bit of a "I'll freely share, if you freely share" about extensions. Isn't it a bad precedent , given how much is freely contributed, to build something monetized on top of that?


For the duration it was open source and free, I saw little to nothing in the way of contributions.

I can totally understand where you're coming from & for the most part I always try to compensate people who contribute for there time.


rqwr




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