WP App Store aims to bring the theme and plugin shopping experience into the dashboard

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“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.

Brad’s timeline

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:

  • WooThemes
  • rocketgenius
  • StudioPress
  • Themify
  • Press75
  • AppThemes
  • Headway Themes
  • Scribe
  • Modern Tribe
  • Obox
  • ThemeJam
  • Organic Themes
  • WPML.org
  • 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.

27 thoughts on “WP App Store aims to bring the theme and plugin shopping experience into the dashboard

  1. I tried to convience Matt Mullenweg that this is the way WordPress.org should approach the commercial theme directory at a WordCamp a couple of years ago. It could have been a good source of revenue for the WordPress Foundation.

    I hope Brad does great with the project. Apple rarely has original ideas; they simply execute everything so well that no one cares who thought of it first. This is a great opportunity to take charge in a way that could really imact the WordPress ecosystem.

    Can I sign up?

    • I’m surprised Automattic didn’t try this earlier. It seems like it would be instant gold if they did it, considering their reach. I suppose they still could, even using Jetpack but Matt has only indicated that the commercial theme community is doing a good enough job and that they have no reason to enter the market. I actually hope it stays that way. I would much rather see something like this handled within the community by people like Brad and Adii.

  2. That’s a good list of vendors to start with. My four cents…

    How often does somebody switch themes that it would make their life easier to use a plugin that helps them find/buy a new theme? People aren’t likely to search for a plugin to help them search for themes. Instead, they’ll search for a type of theme itself or a theme provider (and probably end up directly on a shop or marketplace). Installing a plugin to do this is an extra step that few will think of.

    How large of a selection will be necessary for people to make this a “go to” source? There are probably close to 3,000 commercial themes from 150 shops and marketplaces.

    The idea to partner with hosts to get the plugin included with their WordPress auto -installations could be promising. The plugin will have to be rather visible in those installations (like Jetpack).

    I like the reviews idea because you could verify that the reviews/ratings are from actual customers and that would be very useful to people. You’d maybe want to publish these on a site in order to get some organic traffic and thus introduce new people to the plugin.

    • The valuable thing about the WP App Store concept is curation of quality themes and plugins and bringing users a reliable source of commercial themes and plugins without requiring them to brave the wild of Google to find a solution.

      Too many users purchase themes from developers who have no business selling themes. It’s not as big a problem with plugins, due to the size of the market, but it will be as the plugin market matures. There are too many BAD products on the market.

      Right now there is no good single source users can go to in order to explore commercial themes and plugins you can trust. Discovery is a major problem. I think that the WP App Store can help solve this problem.

      As for having to install the plugin… that is certainly a barrier. But barriers are made to be broken and i’m sure there will be some creative ways introduced to get the WP App Store in front of users.

      An app store for self-hosted WordPress installs is LONG OVERDUE and I think it will be a longterm success. It’s something that all of us plugin and theme developers have discussed with each other, and something all of us have wanted to do… but simply don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to it due to the fact we are focused on our existing products.

      I’ll be doing whatever I can to Brad be successful with the WP App Store concept because I think it’s going to bring value to me as a commercial WordPress developer as well as the end users as a reliable resource of commercial themes and plugins.

    • I don’t think it’ll be long before we see this touted as a feature of a web host’s one click WP installer (possibly for a cut of Brad’s 30%)?

      Imagine the scale if DreamHost and/or GoDaddy added this in — thousands of users unwilling or unable to upload a plugin suddenly have a way to one click install WP, browse for a theme, then purchase and install it in a few clicks.

  3. Congrats to Brad on getting so many of the ‘tier 1′ WP vendors on board pre-launch. This app store will live or die based on getting buy in from these guys.

    Second, I do think this has huge potential if executed well. The WordPress ecosystem is crying out for a well executed app store. It’s odd really that this hasn’t happended with the .org project itself – (doesn’t wordpress.com have an app store of sorts for commercial themes??).

    I guess the real trick to gaining mass adoption of this will be get to people to install the App Store plugin – if WordPress came pre-installed with this then it would be a home run.

    Ed

  4. This is great idea, best of luck with the project..can’t wait to see it and use it…

    Great quote, and so true…
    “It’s not an original idea. Lots of people have had it, it’s just no one was executing on it.”

    Marios

  5. I’m agreed this is a great idea and the implementation seems good from what was explained above.

    I’d like to throw in an idea here regarding current affiliates for these vendors. As a company who performs regular client work, I would be happy to include this app store as a feature in my setups. I use many of the plugins and themes from these vendors and pass those costs to clients.

    I also regularly promote many of these products as an affiliate and would love the opportunity to continue to do this within the WP App Store plugin.

    Imagine you build a client site and include one or two of these products in the project. Now imagine you include the WP App Store plugin as a feature so clients are able to purchase additional plugins and theme on their own in the future. Now imagine that the WP App Store offers the ability for users like me to include our affiliate IDs for any/all of the vendors included in the plugin.

    More opportunity for revenue for the affiliate, more opportunity for affiliate users like me to promote the WP App Store plugin…and the cycle continues.

    I’d love to hear some thoughts from Brad and other here…

    • As a WP developer, I never really took advantage of the vendor affiliate programs, so this is really helpful. Would it be better for you if the WP App Store had its own affiliate program instead of having an affiliate account at each vendor?

      • Hey Brad,

        I can weigh in on the affiliate concept. Personally, I like the idea of a single account to minimise management overhead of having multiple accounts. This is how themeforest works and it works reasonably well. As someone who is also a product developer I would also like visibility of the sources of affiliate sales too.

        Ed

      • I’m agreed with Ed that having a single WP App Store affiliate option would be easier, but the question then comes to percentages.

        It will have to make sense for your business model to offer a commission on your 30% mentioned above, but still be enough benefit for affiliates to promote.

        If a user were able to put in their affiliate ID per vendor, then the question becomes one of who’s getting the commission…WP App Store or the affiliate who’s link is there. Is it possible to split these commissions if this model is used…probably difficult with each vendor using their own affiliate management and tracking services and code.

        Here’s food for thought using StudioPress as an example:
        As an affiliate, I currently make 35% of sales.

        What would be the incentive for me to instead make, say, 10% of your 30% from StudioPress? Perhaps the incentive would be the potential long term reach of WP App Store? If I’ve installed this on a one time client site two years ago, and they make a purchase today, I still make 10% that I would have otherwise not made (assuming that they didn’t come to my site to click an aff. link). So I suppose that would be a benefit and incentive for me to promote.

        Another would be if I run my own network of sites using Multisite, where I allow others to sign up and host their sites. If each user were given access to purchase and install plugins on their individual sites, that would be another chance at revenue. However, I could just as easily offer these same users the option to “upgrade” their accounts and simply activate a premium plugin or theme that I have already purchased a developer license too.

        As I talk through this, it’s obvious there are some loopholes and hurdles, and who knows, it may not be something that really has any value for you or us potential affiliates.

        I’d love for others to chime in here and give some opinions, and if you’d like to contact me personally, please feel free to shoot me a contact through my site linked in my sig above:)

        Adam

  6. This is really cool. I am very excited to see this come to fruition.

    Just wondering. Is there an approval process? How did you decide what plugins were initially added? How can we get our plugin on here?

  7. I tried to get something like this going at WPMU DEV while I was there. Didn’t happen though so glad to see this.

    However, Brad *will* get a letter from Apple and will have to change the name unless he had the money to fight Apple over their trademark…

  8. This is certainly a great effort however I think this should be adapted into the CORE itself. The commercial market in WordPress is too big to be ignored. Just like WordPress.org accepts free plugins, it should have the ability to accept paid plugins (to ensure quality CODE and ethics).

    Often we see new users falling victim to SCAMMY free plugins and themes. For this we advise them to avoid third party sources and go straight to WordPress.org extend because it is a trusted source.

    There is a huge need for this in the commercial sphere as well. I would hope that Matt and the team adapt this Apple Concept (just like Windows and others did). It works and it is much needed!

    • Bottom line: no.

      Everything on WordPress.org is free, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Nothing wrong with selling stuff, but you can sell stuff on your own site, somewhere else.

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  10. Solid! Kudos for the execution and great partner list. We have been prototyping a product in the of same mold but unfortunately have not given it the time it needed to come to market in a timely fashion.

    I wish you guys the best of luck, this looks like a winner.

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