James Crook, web geek ++

Drupal App Store

26 Jan 2011

There's been some chatter recently about creating a "Drupal App Store" where developers could sell modules in a similar way to the WordPress App Store.

Personally, I don't think this will ever become a large part of the wider Drupal community, which has grown due to the open and free nature it provides in both the software and the community. I also don't think that I personally would use an App Store as a vendor, at least not without rethinking how my current business model works.

But let's face it, developers need to eat.

For some freelance developers, in certain situations, I think a Drupal App Store would enable them to make money out of development. It could become just another channel of potential income, with the market controlling what kind of development would happen best under this model.

But my approval comes with a couple of caveats.

Firstly, I don't think a paid App Store should be part of the 'official' community at drupal.org. Drupal.org is built to be free and open and the community depends on that.

Secondly, I feel there are other ways that developers might get paid more easily than through an App Store that would fulfil the need of making money in a better way.

Having said that, I think there are good reasons that an App Store approach could work.

People already pay

For current Drupal developers downloading and using it is free, and I think a large part of the backlash to the App Store suggestion is that these people can't imagine having to pay for something that is currently gratis as well as libre. But what they forget is that many people already do pay for Drupal.

At Drupal Downunder recently I was struck by Dries' comment that Drupal has succeeded in large part because people can and do make money from it.

  • People currently pay for custom development. As a studio using Drupal, almost every project we create has some custom code in it that the client pays for. In some cases we have custom modules that we use on more than one site. Currently, in essence, we are selling modules but as part of a complete website package that includes design, development and setup. An app store would essentially just allow developers like us to separate out one part of this package and sell it through another channel.
  • People pay for support. Support is available free in the forums, IRC and other channels, yet there is a viable business model in providing paid, professional support. Could paid development also exist in the same way through an App Store?
  • People pay for themes. There's already several places that sell downloadable Drupal themes online, with varying quality and success.

Cases where it could work

Drupal App Store graphThere are at least two specific cases I can think of where an App Store could work.

  • A developer is asked for a specific feature by a client that can't afford to fund the whole project. The ability to resell the module would give the developer an extra funding source.
  • A feature is needed badly by only a few people. There are some problems that are difficult to solve but only needed by a few people, and these are the problems that are least likely to be solved by the community. An App Store could give developers the extra incentive (and food-money) needed.

I drew the quick graph on the right to try and illustrate the last point.

The more complex a programming task, the more people will have to need it, and more badly, for it to be solved by the community.

Very complex modules like Views, CCK, and UberCart are buoyed by their popularity. Some simple modules are also very popular. But modules that are only needed by a few people and require a complex solution are where community developers can't easily operate. Their time is better spent developing solutions that will be enjoyed by more people and where the rewards of 'community karma' will be greater.

An example would be something that integrates an online eCommerce store with in-house accounting software, like connecting Ubercart to MYOB or QuickBooks. I have been asked by a couple of clients about this possibility and at the moment there's no real solution available. To create one would cost these (small) clients more than they can afford, as it's quite complex for a one-off module. But it's not so obscure that others wouldn't use it - in fact I'm sure if it was available more people would. A module like this is a good candidate for sale on an App Store, especially due to its inherently commercial nature.

However, although there is a need for a better way to raise funding for these modules, maybe an App Store is not the only model we should consider.

What do you think?



26 Jan 2011

The Wordpress app store has a checkbox next to each paid download where for $3/month, you get access to the premium support forums. This seems like a simple model to give software vendors motivation to tend to their forums and impart value to them for their efforts.

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