Value of an App Store

I’ve been thinking and writing about the idea of an “App Store” for WordPress for a few years now and the time is feeling increasingly right for it to happen.

For creators, the folks building on WordPress, WordPress today no longer “just works”. Our once famous 5-minute install leaves creators with more questions than answers as they navigate the volume of plugins, themes, and blocks available to them.

For extenders, the product makers and service providers building their businesses around creators, compatibility issues are becoming more rampant as well as the general challenges of doing business in a decentralized ecosystem.

And for hosting providers, support costs are going up as margins shrink, especially when compared to the proprietary platforms.

Hosting Providers

An app store, as I envision it, is the ideal construct to thread the needle between creators, extenders, and hosting providers to provide a solution that aligns incentives for each. And hosting providers in particular are key to making an app store, a shared marketplace, work across the WordPress ecosystem.

Imagine what’s possible for the customer of a hosting provider. They start WordPress and, instead of being faced with unlimited options, have a solution within minutes that just works, optimized for their needs. Like the blogging experience that catapulted WordPress to its original success, they’re able to go from idea to live and build from there, staying focused on the content.

For a hosting provider offering WordPress, customer’s having success in WordPress is what matters most and is the ideal focus of any interests to improve the WordPress experience.

The Value

For hosting providers an app store as I’m envisioning provides value in two key ways:

  1. Reducing Costs – WordPress as a product skews towards a high support cost for a range of reasons. Reducing those costs makes WordPress more attractive as an offering.
  2. Increasing Lifetime Value – Hosting is a subscription business and the longer a customer subscribes and adds to their subscription, the greater the lifetime value.

Let’s take a look at the “how” of each.

Reducing Costs

WordPress’ decentralized nature offers clear benefits and tradeoffs for hosting providers. Customers are able to “own” the software, have unlimited flexibility for customization, and can tap into a vast ecosystem of products and service providers. This comes at a high cost for hosting providers, though, who end up supporting the endless combinations of plugins and themes their customers assemble.

An app store for the customers of hosting providers would, as I envision it, reduce hosting provider costs by:

  1. Filtering problematic options – Hide or flag plugins, themes, and blocks with known problems, especially those incompatible with customer’s existing choices. Products, by default, shouldn’t be able to break a site, which is a key step in reducing support costs.
  2. Guiding towards better decisions – With problematic options removed, introduce better options (often premium, though not necessarily) and let the app store guide customers towards them through curation and recommendations. These options, by design, would skew towards better user experiences, higher performance standards, etc., all contributing to reduced support costs.
  3. Standardizing and streamlining support – With extenders enrolled in an app store, we have an opportunity to standardize and streamline both support expectations and the support process, reducing the overall demand on hosting support and reducing the cost per ticket.

Increasing Lifetime Value

Most hosting providers think about their customers as subscribers and the general goals of a subscription business are to keep customers happy and, when value aligns, increase their spend.

An app store would focus on increasing lifetime value by:

  1. Reducing churn – The more we can do to guide a creator towards success, the less likely they are to leave. Offering better options and simplifying decisions helps increase the likelihood of success and reduce the risk of churn.
  2. Facilitating add-on revenue – Premium plugins, themes, blocks, SaaS integrations, and services all offer additional sources of usage-based and recurring revenue that an app store would share, increasing the lifetime value of each customer.
  3. Sharing network revenue – Indirect monetization, particularly through customer-centric matchmaking (i.e. no unwanted advertising), offers a hosting provider a path to capitalize on the size of their customer base as a whole and further boost the lifetime value of an individual customer.

Challenging Value

When I like a concept, I stress test it. If I’m feeling particularly persuaded to go a given direction, I find it helpful to challenge the direction directly.

While the app store is at it’s core a fairly simple concept, with well established precedents to draw from, it’s not trivial to create and not something I have any interest in doing half-heartedly. Accordingly, even as my interest has grown in the concept over the past few years, I’ve worked to challenge the value.

We don’t have to do anything about these concepts. WordPress continues to grow and it would take a lot to kill it.

I’m not happy with the status quo, though. WordPress feels as a product feels tired and in need of refreshed energy and resources, which I see as a direct result of aligning interests.

The app store as a concept is the clearest path I see to aligning interests in a way that helps creators, extenders, and hosting providers win together.

In my mind, then, the value is clear. For those of you reading and considering this, though, please – challenge these concepts. I’m certainly missing things! I’d love perspective on what I haven’t considered, on challenges I haven’t foreseen. Much of my work on creating a guild for product businesses, for instance, has influenced my thinking on the app store, especially around topics like governance. I want to add more depth and dimension to my considerations.

Meanwhile, I’m moving forward.

Building the App Store

With the value clear, the next step is to design the app store. To support that effort, my focus has been on identifying and clarifying design principles that we can use as a basis for discussion and decision making. I’ve got the list started and am planning for that to be my next topic on the subject.

If you’re interested in providing input, giving feedback, or just being a part of what we build, let me know. I look forward to hearing from you!