“Oh I’m a nobody,” Brad Touesnard told me during our phone interview last week. Humble as that statement is, it’s likely to change come April when he will launch WP App Store, a project looking to bring the theme and plugin purchase process into the WordPress dashboard itself. Touesnard (pronounced “two-narr”) partnered with WooThemes’s Adii Pienaar last October, and the new platform is just about ready to roll out.
WP App Store will be a free plugin that will make buying themes and plugins easier for users, and selling them easier for developers who don’t already have a platform. Touesnard hopes the plugin will find a home in the WordPress.org directory, but that if it can’t he’ll host it elsewhere.
As of today WP App Store has just over a dozen major vendors signed on (including WooThemes, rocketgenius, StudioPress, Press75, Modern Tribe, and others) and they expect more to come on board in advance of the official launch.
The back story of “a nobody”
Touesnard is a developer with a bit of an entrepreneurial background. In 2002 he co-founded a web hosting company called Zenutech, and in 2005 he graduated with a degree in Computer Science. His thesis was on, appropriately enough, the installation of web apps.
Later he moved to Australia for a year with his then-girlfriend (now wife). His time in Australia, he said, “forced him” into freelancing due to a law that limited him to working only six months at a time for any individual business.
In mid-2011 Touesnard started brainstorming ways to begin selling a plugin of his own. He made a Flickr importer plugin and wanted to sell it rather than release it for free. He found that there was a lot of work involved in establishing your own sales platform. Also, much of the work he would have to do to get his plugin selling could be useful to other developers too. He began working on what would eventually become the WP App Store as a way to solve his own problems.
If you’d like to learn a lot more about Brad — and why wouldn’t you? — visit his website’s about page for one of the most detailed personal timelines I’ve seen on a website.
In October of 2011 he contacted WooThemes’ Adii Pienaar, who encourages interested entrepreneurs and collaborators to contact him via his personal website. Touesnard said that he wasn’t expecting to hear back, but did, and was excited to have the added legitimacy of working with Pienaar on the project. As you might expect, WooThemes was the first theme vendor to come on board the WP App Store project.
Touesnard worked on WP App Store on nights and weekends when he began, though he is now full-time on the project.
A fresh attempt at a less-than-new idea
“It’s not an original idea,” Touesnard told me, after I brought up that this sort of idea has come up in discussion before. “Lots of people have had the same idea, it’s just no one was executing on it.”
Touesnard said that what encouraged him — aside from hearing largely positive responses since he started sharing it with vendors — were the number of people who said they had the same sort of idea themselves, but just never got around to implementing it. Many of those people were theme and plugin shops, who had little to gain by building a platform to help others sell themes and plugins. Touesnard, however, doesn’t prefer one shop over another; he just wants the sales process to get simpler and easier. Of course, taking a percentage of sales for the effort doesn’t hurt either.
Touesnard told me that vendors will receive 70% of sales made through the WP App Store, while he takes 30% — the same cut that Apple takes in its App Store. There is potential for the WP App Store cut to be slightly lower for some high volume vendors, but for now everything is staying even at 30%. Theme and plugin pricing is left up to the vendors themselves, though I was told many of the vendors will be listing their themes at the same prices they do on their own websites.
Touesnard isn’t wanting to share too much about WP App Store yet. I can’t publish screenshots or video of my time with the WP App Store. But I can tell you about my experience, and give you some idea of what to expect next month.
Hands on with WP App Store
The experience itself is all built into a plugin, so the first thing I did was upload and install it. Touesnard says he hopes that it is able to live on the WordPress.org plugin directory, but that he’s prepared to host the plugin elsewhere if it ends up not being allowed there.
Vendors on board
At the time of this writing, the following vendors are on board for the WP App Store at launch:
- Headway Themes
- Modern Tribe
- Organic Themes
- Crowd Favorite
Upon installation I have a new App Store menu item just below Dashboard in my admin menu. I mentioned my use of Menu Humility to kick all added menus to the bottom of the list, and Touesnard said he already has a new version of the plugin that puts the menu further down the list. Excellent.
Yes, I have a pet peeve or two.
The App Store consists of four screens: App Store (with a selection of both themes and plugins), themes, plugins, and purchases. The top right of the screen includes the prompt to sign in, or create a new account. Creating an account was painless — I was signed in immediately after doing so — and at that point I had options to visit purchases, bonuses (it seems some purchases will award bonus credits), and to edit my profile.
Any interactions with the WP App Store itself, like purchasing a theme or editing account information, is handled via a (relatively painless) pop-up window using a secure connection. Most WordPress sites aren’t equipped to properly handle credit card submissions, and this avoids the WordPress install itself entirely.
When browsing themes and plugins from the dashboard, a column on the right allows for filtering the displayed themes by category and publisher. Searching for specific plugin or theme names doesn’t seem to be supported at the moment, though that might show up around launch time.
Individual themes and plugins include a handful of screenshots with links to a demo, version information, and a green button that reads “Buy & Install”. Clicking the button brings up the aforementioned pop-up window, where I enter my billing information and click purchase. The window readers “Thank you for your order! We are now installing your theme in the background window. It is perfectly safe to close this window.” I can pull up past purchases from another menu, and re-download if I need to.
Purchases are not currently one-click, though this is something Touesnard plans to implement in the future.
I don’t mean to offer a review of the plugin here — it’s still early, I’ll hold off on that until the public version is available — but only to share my experiences with it so far. For the average WordPress user, the experience of the WP App Store is worlds better than the alternative of buying, downloading, uploading, then activating. The “Buy & Install” button pretty much says it all.
What makes it tick
The WP App Store itself is built entirely on WordPress. ”I felt that building this from scratch, or even on a framework, would make me a hypocrite,” Touesnard said. “So we actually used WordPress for the whole store, with lots of customizations obviously, but it’s all WordPress. Even the API is using WordPress.”
Vendors on the WP App Store will have access to an API that will give them information about those who have purchased their products in the dashboard. This will allow plugin and theme shops to create support accounts on their respective sites when a new customer purchases in the WP App Store.
During the interview I asked Touesnard about licensing, since it’s a topic bound to come up a lot during discussion of these sorts of ideas. He mentioned no specific licensing requirements at this time, but said that the WP App Store won’t have any part in DRM practices, or limiting how customers can use what they purchase. “That’s not in our DNA at all”, he said.
Big plans beyond 1.0
Most ambitious of all of Touesnard’s future plans is his desire to see the WP App Store included as a default plugin on a number of WordPress hosting providers. Touesnard also hopes to include tracking stats and analytics in the future to help vendors understand just who purchases their products, and why.
“It’s not an original idea. Lots of people have had it, it’s just no one was executing on it.”
Also not available on day one, but something Touesnard is planning to add, are ratings and reviews for products (again similar to the WP App Store). Right now, he said, there is really no unified system for reviews of WordPress software. He thinks seeing them unified in the WP App Store would give new customers some basis for judging the relative quality of products on the market today.
Unlike Apple’s App Store, at least for the foreseeable future, Touesnard doesn’t plan on having any sort of website for browsing included themes and plugins: ”I really want to stress that this is an in-WordPress store, and putting anything on the web might confuse that.”
Though bringing major vendors on board certainly doesn’t hurt his goals, Touesnard said he is most excited about those developers without a platform already in place. Like developers in the same situation he found himself in last year when looking to sell his own plugin, he hopes WP App Store will be a solution they find useful.
Interestingly, he said he doesn’t see marketplaces like ThemeForest and Mojo Themes as his competitors. He recognizes that the WP App Store concept is a marketplace in the more general use of the term, but emphasizes instead that it’s more so a delivery platform than anything else. Touesnard even thinks there could be a time when known theme and plugin marketplaces might list their products within the WP App Store.
Touesnard does recognize that with a name like “WP App Store” he could find himself receiving a polite letter or two from Apple’s legal department. He cited a couple of examples where others have launched their own “Something App Store” without repercussion, though ultimately he’s confident that the service could withstand a rebranding if a situation in the future called for it.
One to pay attention to
Ideas, or rather businesses built on ideas like this one, excite me personally because they speak to the strength of our industry as a whole. We’re seeing SaaS ventures like happytables (and its direct competitor Restaurant Engine I recently learned about, by the way) as well as projects to support the theme and plugin markets like PressTrends and, now, WP App Store.
WP App Store is an ambitious project, though it seems grounded because it was born out of a developer’s own discovered needs. Two things are crucial with a project like this: the involvement of theme and plugin shops and the ease with which users can purchase and install their software. So far, regarding the former, it looks like Touesnard will have an impressive showing come launch day. The latter is yet to be seen, really. But based on what I’ve seen of it so far, I’d say this is one WordPress business to watch in 2012.