With the monetization of mobile apps being so popular, I'm surprised that extension developers are still mostly relying on donations as their primary form of compensation for their software.

While this is, of course, not a problem, I find myself wondering why browser extensions and plugins are generally exempt from monetization unlike plugins designed for software like Visual Studio and Photoshop are very often available only with purchase.

What makes broswer extensions different, and has anyone had any success charging for a browser extension?

Relevant: http://www.quora.com/Monetization/How-do-browser-extensions-monetize

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    Have you looked to see if there actually are browser extensions that must be paid for? I've heard they do exist, though they tend to be extremely niche and industry-specific. Usually used in conjunction with some other application (often from the same vendor as the plugin)... but I've never seen them myself, only heard tales! – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 26 '11 at 16:14
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    What should a browser extension do for you to think it reasonable to pay for it? – user1249 May 26 '11 at 16:18
  • The most relevant article I've found thusfar: chrisfinke.com/2010/09/13/… – Cody Sand May 26 '11 at 16:22
  • @Thorbjørn: Tough to say. Everyone is different, and I think that extensions like LeechBlock could've been monetized from the start, although it is probably too late to go back, now. If something improved my browsing experience enough, I'd definitely throw a few dollars at it. – Cody Sand May 26 '11 at 16:24
  • E.g. XMarks has a Premium version which costs money. – Péter Török May 26 '11 at 16:26

It's probably largely historical.

Most apps for most phones were distributed primarily via carriers for quite a while, and they've monetized virtually everything since day one. Even most ring-tones cost money (often twice over -- pay once for the ring-tone proper, and again for downloading it).

Contrariwise, pretty much since Microsoft decided to start giving away copies of IE, all browsers on PCs have been free, and (to be honest) most have been working hard to maintain market share even though they are free. Extensions have been seen by many as a way of "selling" the browser itself, and were largely given away to help gain market share for the developer's preferred browser(s).

That leads to a lot of inertia as well. Given the large (huge?) number of really good extensions that are already free, I suspect the number of users who'd even consider paying for extensions is pretty small. The field is already pretty crowded, so you'd need to do something quite spectacular to justify any higher price.

I believe the Google app store (for one example) already supports a pay model at least in theory; given the number and quality of free extensions, however, it's hard to imagine an extension gaining many customers at a higher price.

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  • Opera stayed payware for very long. It was Google funding that allowed them to go free. – user1249 May 4 '12 at 11:18

I think the main reason is that browser extensions aren't monetised. That means that people dont expect to pay for their browser extensions and so they aren't likely to want to.

For a browser extension to be worth money, it would have to be better than any free equivalent in it's particular domain. I can't think of many regular extensions that I would want to pay for ( Firebug, maybe, at a push ) and if there were some I might decide to use a more basic free equivalent or just not do the thing the extension facilitates. How many extensions are really critical to your use of a browser?

Given that people expect their browsers to be free, I don't think there is a great perceived value to extensions to those browsers.

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    Linux isn't necessarily monetized. Nor is the Android OS, yet developers have used it as a platform to develop clever apps that can generate significant income. We pay for phones like we pay for PCs. Why are consumers willing to pay $0.99 for a "Fart" app but not $0.99 for an extension. UserScripts/GreaseMonkey scripts can do great things, sometimes even increasing the usability of certain websites. Why do developers insist on giving it away? – Cody Sand May 26 '11 at 16:29
  • I don't think you can compare Linux or Android with a browser. OSes don't provide for you everything required to use them productively, but rather provide the base system in which to build productivity apps on. A browser on the other hand is a productivity app and needs be competitive from the get-go. If you are to compare Browsers to OSes then the applications are websites rather than extensions. Extensions would be system tools rather than applications, and then fairly minor system tools. – mlk May 26 '11 at 17:23
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    I do not think it would be unreasonable to release a pay-for extension, I also don't think it would do well in the market place as users now expect them to be free, the amount you can change is generally fairly limited and it would likely face free competition. --- Developer focused (or other niche markets) are a slightly different thing and could do well as pay-for extensions. – mlk May 26 '11 at 17:26
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    @Cody I think you're incorrect to conflate browsers with operating systems - that hasn't happened yet. Notice you say some extensions can increase the usability of certain websites. That's great, but if I had a choice between paying for increased usability or having the same data for free, I probably choose the latter. The perception I get is that content is worth paying for, the platform is worth paying for, the window between the platform and the content? Usually that is part of the platform, not a separate payment. – glenatron May 27 '11 at 10:50

I think it has a lot to do with payments infrastructure.

Apple's iStore has a well set up near monopoly on iPhone app delivery. Its slick has lots of high value desirable items like tunes and movies as well as applications and the consumer only has to go through the pain of registration and credit card details once.

Apple accounts for the vast majority of paid for phone apps 99% according to this

For web plugins here is no equivalent of iStore or Amazon. I.E. a trusted retailer who you don't mind giving your credit card details to, and, who you are likely to use again so its worth registering with.

Also while plugins are great for developers I cannot think of a use for a plugin app that would be attractive enough to an ordinary consumer that would have them reaching for their credit card.

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    +1 The infrastructure is lacking and there is therefore no viable way to enforce a monopoly the way Apple or the carriers do it. – Christoffer Soop May 4 '12 at 11:32

I believe this is due to developers writing the extension for themselves and felt generous enough to place it online. The donations would simply be icing on the cake.

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Most of the answers here relate to the direct monetization of add-ons where the end user is asked to pay for the service. But there are some add-ons (and mobile apps for that matter) that monetize indirectly either by placing advertising on their thank you pages or through direct monetization of their users through affiliate links.

For many of the reasons stated already, I don't believe anyone's quite figured out how to get end users to pay for an add-on or BHO. But I have seen services like After Download that can help developers with really popular add-ons place ads on their thank you pages. You can earn a few easy bucks that way.

I also know there are price comparison/shopping add-ons that are naturally monetized, meaning that its core service is to display coupons, deals, and offers where user clicks generate revenue. The company I work for, Superfish, happens to have such a product and we also offer our service as a "white label" product for add-on developers. That is, we work with developers who simply inject our javascript through their add-on and they automatically get our functionality and monetization. And if you have a relatively large user base, the revenue generated can be quite significant.

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  • I've seen this sort of thing with some browser-based videoconferencing software. The extension/plugin itself was free, but the service it coupled to was very expensive (but at least worked damn well). – Donal Fellows May 4 '12 at 12:55

Another point, a lot of popular extensions are there to view content. And while the plugins to view this content are gratis, the programs to create this content are often not.

If you want to sell a lot of the content-creating software, you have to make sure that all the customers of your customers can view this content. That's why they don't charge for viewers.

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    Exactly. I think this is pretty well explained in depth on Joel's blog. – back2dos Aug 1 '13 at 14:40
  • Similarly, the content itself might be monetized. If you run a search with your free copy of Google Chrome, Google will show you ads. – Brian Aug 1 '13 at 17:06

It depends on what you mean by "monetized".

I use the NoScript extension for Firefox. While this is free (as in beer) software, the author solicits donations and has links on his product site from project sponsors.

OTOH, the Firefox Add-ons site doesn't provide any obvious way to buy browser add-ons, so that is clearly an impediment for folks who would wish to sell them ...

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