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Free Google and Bing Maps? Not For Long

Money Map Banner

Store Locator Plus is helping 45,000+ WordPress sites present interactive store locator and directory maps to their customers.   Along the way I have gained the loyalty and trust of thousands of web consulting agencies, design agencies, and website owners from mom-and-pop shops to multinational corporate enterprises.    Part of keeping that loyalty and trust is keeping up with changes in technology and in business.

Over the past month I have been in conversations with both Google and Microsoft regarding their map services.   It is no surprise to anyone that has been paying attention that maps are THE Go To Service for both these companies.     The proliferation of mobile devices and the partnership it brings between  “show me what I want” and “for where I am standing right now” has catapulted mapping services from a “yeah, we have that too” service to a must-have component.

Monetizing The Maps

Based on my recent conversations with both companies it is clear.   Google and Microsoft are the top players in mapping technology and they are going to monetize that technology every way they can.    They are NOT going to leave that money sitting on the table.   If you are a business and are using maps to enhanced your customer experience, the writing is on the wall:

YOUR BUSINESS WILL BE PAYING FOR MAPS.
Period. End of story.

Money Map

Google and Microsoft have all been putting a LOT of work into their map products.  They are both offering paid services for business maps.    They are also putting a lot of pressure on third party service providers, like Charleston Software Associates, to start paying for access to those maps.

It is no longer an option to provide premium map services to your customer base and avoid paying a license fee if there is a map solution involved at any step of the process.   If you do charge for ANYTHING even remotely related to showing a map on a website you need to purchase a map license.   Have a freemium model, like Store Locator Plus, where “all the map goodness” is baked in to the free offering but the “CSS and HTML special sauce” exists in paid add-on packs?  Doesn’t matter, it is tangential to the maps and thus a “premium maps offering”.   If you earn ANY money in ANY way related to a map API you must purchase a license.

How much are those licenses?   Tens-of-thousands of dollars depending on who you talk to.      Have 100,000 visitors looking at your map page in a year?   Try something north of 6-figures.

No wonder Apple decided to contract their own mapping services. Makes complete sense why they stuck with it after the first roll out that was less-than-perfect and current iterations are “not quite right”.   If a small business is paying tens-of-thousands and a big business is paying hundreds-of-thousands, imagine what sort of licensing fees Apple had to be paying.

What This Means For SLP

I have been working the business plan for Charleston Software Associates and trying to justify the nearly $20,000 license fee that Google is charging for an OEM license starting next month.    It is an annual fee that may (and likely will) increase in coming years.   Thankfully I have just enough people buying premium add-on packs to justify the expense.

How does this affect Store Locator Plus?  I plan on providing the same plugins I have provided for the past 2 years.    I hope to continue providing a free base product in the WordPress directory, though that may change.  It is possible that I will need to keep a Google OEM license “locked up” on my servers and make a call-back to my cloud presence before locations can be geocoded.  I am still working out the legal and technical details on that aspect with Google.   Hopefully things can remain as they are with only improvements and “no additional middle-men” in the process between your website and the Google servers.

 

Store Locator Plus Home Page

For the foreseeable future everything will remain as it is.  This puts a significant amount of added pressure on Store Locator Plus to generate revenue.   Based on the current install base that should not be a problem. Sadly less than 10% of the 45,000 installed sites purchase ANYTHING from Charleston Software Associates.   More than 41,000 sites use the free product with zero contribution toward its development and support.

One thing is certain, starting in July I am locked into the Google Maps program for at least a year.   That means SLP and the add-on packs will be around until at least August 2015.      The best way to ensure SLP is around much longer than that is for users to support the endeavor by purchasing a Premier Subscription.  The recurring annual or monthly revenue helps offset the costs of the Google OEM license.

DIY Maps?  Not So Fast

In case you are thinking “no big deal if SLP were to go away, we will just put Google or Bing Maps into our site directly”, not so quick.    If your business is getting more than a few-thousand visits to your map you are going to get a call.  It is only a matter of time.  When you do the conversation goes something like this “Are you running a business that benefits in any way from having the map on your site?  Yes?   Here is your $20,000 bill.” .  The only way out of it will be having a registered OEM licensed product such as Store Locator Plus.

“If SLP goes away there are other WordPress locator plugins on the market.” True.  For today.   They are all “getting the call” over the next few months.    By this time next year there will be only TWO types of WordPress map plugins on the market.  Premium with support and free but in constant danger of becoming outdated, unsupported, and abandoned.

Getting A Deal On Map Licenses

How can you get the best deal for your Google Maps license?  Buy a Premier Subscription.  It is FAR cheaper than getting a license directly.    CSA is taking the “up front hit” on the license fee which is then distributed among all users.    When Google starts fine-tuning the Geocoding and map presentation service to more closely monitor per-site user stats, Premier Subscribers will be the first to have unrestricted access and higher data caps.

Paying For Good Things

I can’t say I blame Google of Microsoft.   They have a great product that they have been letting businesses use at no charge for a very long time.  They have poured millions of dollars into the acquisition of intellectual property and millions more into the research and development of the products.

I have no issue with paying for the services that enable my customers to provide a better experience for their users.

For Store Locator Plus, I have elected to continue to support Google.  I’ve been a long-time fan of Google. I am an investor in Google stocks since the early days and have been a paid Google Business services user for nearly as long.   I like the company, the culture, and their positive impact on the technology landscape.  Plus they just seemed more interested in my business and helping me out.    I also think it is the best option for my users that have been “with Google” through Store Locator Plus for that past few years.

Improved Offerings

One of the immediate benefits is that  I will have access to the Google Enterprise development team, apparently including someone into extreme skiing.  More important, however, they can help advise on how to better implement the technology.

Google Enterprise
Google Enterprise staff will be available to CSA for advice.

In addition the new license allows for much higher data caps and throughput than the base product.  I am planning several new service options to increase map throughput.     One of the top items on that list is a paid bulk upload service that will allow larger sites to geocode up to 100,000 locations daily.

I have a lot of locator coding in front of me over the next few months and will be bringing some new coders up-to-speed to help get it done.  In the meantime I ask for your patience and support as I navigate the changing landscape of mapping solutions.  I hope that I can remain a loyal and trustworthy guide for my customers.

Thank you for your continue support of Store Locator Plus!

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License & Refund Policy

CSA has a number of premium WordPress plugins, add-ons, and other “gadgets” that help make your WordPress site a better place for your visitors.  When I took over the Cyber Sprocket plugins I made multiple changes to the way products are licensed.   I have carried over the same attitude toward plugin licensing and have been continually working toward removing license keys from all of the products, instead providing separate GPL-licensed zip file install packages for the premium add-on packs.

Licensing For Multiple Sites

One question that comes up often is about licensing for multiple sites. As you may have already found out, there is nothing in the licensing system to keep you from using the same license key over & over. I’d rather keep the license part of the code light so that your server spends more time on the important stuff than checking to make sure you are in compliance. I’d rather have a system where you are happy with the product and WANT to pay me to continue development versus forcing your hand.

That being said, here is the general rule of thumb:
Install one license PER BUSINESS.

If you happen to run several sites for yourself, go ahead and install the plugin on the other sites. If you want to buy a license for each I’d love that since add-on packs are the only way I earn a living.   However if you’re not earning much money at those sites then keep the money and use it to make your business stronger.  You need to put  food on the table too and I hope the plugins help you do that.

If you are a consultant and are installing this plugin on your customer sites then I’d really like to see each site have a license.   When I worked at Cyber Sprocket I learned very quickly that the companies that were hiring me often had a lot more funding and much bigger budgets than we did.   Whenever we used premium plugins from other authors on the site we passed it along to our customer as an add-on charge.  It helps to make it clear at the start you are doing time & materials based billing or at least “fixed price for the consult PLUS software purchase expenses”.  Fixed price contracts with no flexibility never worked well unless we had HUGE (50%+ margins).

There are no legal ramifications of this. I am not going to chase you down if you don’t do it this way. It’s just what I think is fair. Now that you know my thoughts, you should do whatever you think is fair for you.

Money Back Guarantee

With ALL my premium add-on products, I offer a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.  We only ask two things:

1) You request the refund within 30 days of purchase.

2) You ask us for a refund via the contact us form instead of doing a PayPal dispute (that is a lot of extra work for us for the same end result for you).

DO NOT do a credit card chargeback, this costs me a lot of extra money (your refund PLUS and extra $25-$50 chargeback fee).    If you do a chargeback you go on my “wall of shame” on the article about this topic.

I hope you enjoy my plugins & wish you success in your business!

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Licensing Online Music : ASCAP

One of our current labs projects deals with streaming music online.  During our research into setting up a proper streaming media service we stumbled upon something that is almost as complex as the technology platforms that make this online audio work.   Music licensing.

If you are planning to do online streaming you need to think about licensing.  It can account for up to HALF of your expenses.   If you are conducting any sort of “public performance”, and the agencies consider streaming audio across the Internet a public performance, you must have a license.

To get started you need to speak to ALL of the FOUR licensing agencies:  SoundExchange, SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI.

In part 1 of our 4-part series we will take a brief look at the ASCAP license maze.

ASCAP Licensing

Here is the quote from ASCAP on public licensing:

A public performance is one that occurs either in a public place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family or social acquaintances). A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public, for example, radio or TV broadcasts, and via the Internet.

ASCAP

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
www.ascap.com

ASCAP represents 8.5 million songs and collects the “pay to play” licenses for these people.

Step 1: Select Your License Category

ASCAP has several license categories available including:

  • General
  • Television
  • Cable & Satellite
  • Radio
  • New Media & Internet
For our online endeavors the New Media & Internet category is most appropriate though there are enough gray areas that this may not always be the case.

Step 2: Select Your License Type

Now that we’ve selected the general license category we need to select the right license type.  There are THREE options here:
  • Non-Interactive Services
  • Interactive Services
  • Multiple Sites and Services
Which license depends on the type of service.  If users can select the songs being played you must have an Interactive Services license or Multiple Site license.   Regardless of the license type you choose you will always select from one of two ways to “count their money”: by service revenue (who much you make) or by service sessions (how many visitors you have).

Non-Interactive Services

Users cannot interact with the music stream.
Minimum Fee: $280.00 annually.

Interactive Services

Users interact with the music stream.
Minimum Fee: $340.00 annually. 

Multi-Site

This is a custom blended rate that is negotiated with ASCAP.

Step 3: Select Your Rate Schedule

OK, you’ve selected your license category and your license type, now you need to select your rate schedule:

Rate Schedule “A”

The broadest rate schedule is geared toward music-intensive services.  Your business must qualify for these rates based on total service revenue and/or service sessions.   The lowest of the thee rates.

Rate Schedule “B”

For diverse content beyond music (news, live broadcasts, etc.) .  Fee is revenue based and adjusted to count ONLY music revenue.     Must be able to track music-only plays on the station.

Rate Schedule “C”

Like schedule B, the license fee is based on revenue generated from music only and even further refines this model down to paying ONLY for ASCAP members.  This requires extremely accurate reporting of music plays to identify not just that you played music but you know the artists & title and can compare it to the ASAP members list.

Summary

As noted in the sidebar commentary, licensing music can be quite complex.   This is only one of the FOUR agencies you need to deal with.   Look for our follow up articles on the other three agencies to be published soon.

Sidebar Commentary

In an effort to stem the erosion of their extremely profitable music licenses that were lost when music CDs went the way of the dodo bird, the industry has managed to form a byzantine maze of license contracts backed by US Government legislation thanks to years of lobbying.    To keep it “fun”, there are dozens of license models that have evolved at EACH agency in order to protect the long-standing traditional broadcast radio allies while levying the maximum possible fees on Internet broadcasters.   There are also several license agencies involved, each vying for a piece of the same pie; and inevitably double-dipping forcing online broadcasters to pay 2 or 3x  for the same music play.

The system of music licensing is overly complex due primarily to what we view as corporate greed on behalf of the royalty and licensing agencies.   We are all for artists being paid.  We encourage that. We want that.   But the numbers don’t lie, the licensing agencies that claim to be acting on behalf of “the artists and record labels” leave very little at the end of the day to give back to the artists even after charging 3x for the same song play.   The general consensus is that less than 10% of the revenue generated by licensing actually ends up in the hands of the original artist.

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WordPress Plugins – Is Charging A Fee GPL Compliant?

According to WordPress, asking for a fee in order to make a plugin easier to use is not GPL compliant. At least that is what we are being told with regard to our plugins and being de-listed from the official WordPress Plugins Directory. We can still sell our plugins directly via other venues and they will be fully functional within WordPress. However not being listed in the directory has two significant impacts on our business:

1) The WordPress Plugin Directory sends us 90+% of our sales leads. Without those leads we sell 90% less product. The volume of sales, not the price, is what makes it viable for us to continue to provide updates and support.

2) Without a listing in the WordPress Plugin Directory, existing users will not be automatically notified of updates. They will also not be able to click the “update” link for the plugin, thus requiring a manual download and installation of our .zip file for the plugins which makes their life more difficult.

Neither of these situations are good for us or our clients. The sad part of this whole thing is that we embrace GPL and want to be good members of the WordPress community.

However, based on the tone of the messages posted by the WordPress Plugin Czars, they don’t want anyone pushing people to pay for plugins. They want it to be a 100% pure “from the good of my heart I’ll give you money” donation based system.  We know from experience that people simply will not donate.   Our first plugins generated ZERO donations.    The very same plugins, after adding the “license fee”, generated a dozen sales the first PARTIAL month with no other code changes in place.  Same plugin, infinitely better results.   The general mantra for most plugin users is “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”.

Until and unless we can get this issue resolved with the powers-that-be over at WordPress, we are going to be left with some very difficult decisions.  One of the options, and the one we like the least, is to drop WordPress plugin offerings completely. If we remove the fee and are allowed to be put back on the WordPress directory as a donation-only system, the support requests from non-paying users becomes overwhelming and kills our daily productivity.   As such the most likely option is that we will need to pull the plugin products from the directory completely, in which case we may as well leave the fee in place and remain de-listed.

WordPress Assertions Are WRONG

However, we feel as though this entire situation should never have come up in the first place. WordPress has stated that we have been removed for creating our own license (a false assertion) and seem to indicate that we must remove our request for a fee in order to be GPL compliant (an incorrect interpretation of GPL).   Here is the letter from a WordPress representative to us regarding the de-listing of Store Locator Plus:

Hi,

You wrote your own licensing terms.

All plugins must be GPL or compatible.

I can see other plugins of yours are doing the same.

This is not permitted.

1. All plugins must be released under the GPL or compatible. This must be stated in the plugin download.

2. A fee to ‘unlock’ is not permitted

3. A fee to in any other way alter the plugin is not permitted

A plugin must be fully functional, not a trial, free and the user must be allowed to change the plugin code if they wish.

If you can change all your plugins that need this without delay then this plugin can be replaced and others not withdrawn.

Thanks

Mark

This is blatantly wrong on several counts, we’ll visit each one below.

“You wrote your own licensing terms.”

This is a combination of statements that all combine to make this argument including:

“You wrote your own licensing terms.

All plugins must be GPL or compatible.

I can see other plugins of yours are doing the same.

This is not permitted.

1. All plugins must be released under the GPL or compatible. This must be stated in the plugin download.”

We wrote our own licensing terms?  Really?  Where?  It is clearly stated throughout that we are licensed under GPL.   The plugin IS GPL COMPABTIBLE. You must be GPL compatible to be listed.  We are.   That point is a non-start and frankly quite ridiculous.

From the plugin itself:

/*
Plugin Name: Store Locator Plus
Plugin URI: /products/store-locator-plus/
Description: Store Locator Plus is based on the popular Google Maps Store Locator with a few customizations we needed for our clients. Hopefully other WordPress users will find our additions useful.
Version: 1.9
Author: Cyber Sprocket Labs
Author URI: /
License: GPL3

Copyright 2010  Cyber Sprocket Labs (info@cybersprocket.com)

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation; either version 3 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software
Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA  02110-1301  USA

*/

A Fee To Unlock Is Not Permitted

This is a statement that wraps these comments together as they all speak to that point:

2. A fee to ‘unlock’ is not permitted

3. A fee to in any other way alter the plugin is not permitted

A plugin must be fully functional, not a trial, free and the user must be allowed to change the plugin code if they wish.

A Fee To Unlock Is Not Permitted

OK, we agree that having to enter a “license key” (or a “donation key” if you prefer) does “unlock” certain features.  But that is a gray area in-and-of-itself.  First of all the plugin is 100% functional as presented.   We have simply hooked into the shortcode processor so that you must be logged in as a user with admin privileges for the shortcodes to render on pages.  That means visitors won’t see the shortcode output.   You have two options, edit the line in the code that checks the key was entered or send us a donation and put the key in the web based entry box on the admin panel and everything renders to visitors as well as admin users.

Second, and MOST IMPORTANT, where is this policy stated? We sure as heck couldn’t find it.  In fact this quote is directly from the WordPress Developer Center where you register for plugins:

There are only a few restrictions

  1. Your plugin must be GPLv2 Compatible.
  2. The plugin most not do anything illegal, or be morally offensive (that’s subjective, we know).
  3. You have to actually use the subversion repository we give you in order for your plugin to show up on this site. The WordPress Plugins Directory is a hosting site, not a listing site.
  4. The plugin must not embed external links on the public site (like a “powered by” link) without explicitly asking the user’s permission.
  5. If you don’t specify a v2-compatible license, what you check in is explicitly GPLv2

That’s it in its entirety.  Where does is say ANYTHING about “fee to unlock is not permitted”.   We’ve searched the forums, the entire developer directory, the FAQs.  NOWHERE is this policy stated.  When did this become an issue?

A Fee To In Any Way Alter…

The plugin is not altered in any way.

 

A plugin must be … not a trial… free… allowed to change….

The multi-part comment regarding this point:

A plugin must be fully functional, not a trial, free and the user must be allowed to change the plugin code if they wish.

Let’s start with the easy ones:

Not a trail.
Definitely Not.

Fully functional.
It is.  All the features work and none are missing.  Yes, you can only see certain output as an administrator before you enter a donation fee, but is that non-functional?   Absolutely not.  There are dozens of plugins and built-in WordPress functionality that restricts what people see based on their role.  In fact, the WP3.0+ builds do that very thing.  Admins see a menu bar on the pages while logged in and browsing, but visitors do not.  Is that not fully functional because visitors can’t see some content?

No, we are not being intentionally naive here.   We know that entering the code you get after sending in a payment changes how the plugin works.  However we are not ADDING anything or removing anything.  All the pieces are there.  Don’t want to pay?  Simply edit the one-line of code that checks the donation code was entered.    Everything is there.

By the same token, what about the thousands of plugins that have add-ons?   Those plugins are purposefully nutered when put on the WordPress directory.  You must pay to get feature X or feature Y.   So it is OK to ask for money so you can download the other pieces that make the plugins complete?   If you ask us, THAT is truly not fully functional.  You can’t even turn on those features if you wanted to because you don’t have the CODE.

We give EVERYONE ALL THE CODE UP FRONT whether or not they pay us.   Seems like a better way of doing this to us, but  unless the WordPress people simply missed those 5,000+ plugins that do the limited features/pay us for the extras, it would appear they prefer we send crippled, half-there products and ask for an “add on” fee instead.

It must be free.
What?!?!?!? Who says?

Certainly not GPL.   And DEFINITELY not the guys that started WordPress.   Even Matt Mullenweg, the guy who basically started it all, does not think that add-ons to WordPress should be free. There are multiple recorded conversations about this topic and how people should be allowed to profit on their work based on WordPress extensions including themes and plugins.  The transcript from the Thesis “battle” is just one of many references to this topic.

GPL clearly states that you CAN CHARGE for products licensed under GPL.   Excerpts from the GPL Preamble (the plain speak summary of the legal-speak to come later in the document):

When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for them if you wish)…

Many people that read the GPL simply do not get it. They always equate the word free to the monetary value of something, in essence what you pay to obtain it.   Thus too many people read the GPL and immediately start jumping up & down and waving their fists in the air saying “YOU CANNOT CHARGE MONEY FOR THIS!!! IT IS GPL!!!!”.    That, quite frankly, is an imbecile in action.   READ THE GPL.  Read it carefully.  UNDERSTAND THE GPL.   And if necessary, get a clue.

Benefit Of The Doubt

For now we are going to give the guys that are playing god over at the WordPress Plugin Directory the benefit of the doubt.   We’ll assume that maybe they have a policy that you absolutely cannot charge for a plugin or that you cannot have a role-restricted section of the plugin.   If this is the case then WordPress needs to update their plugin listing requirements before other developers spend countless hours like we did writing code only to be banned shortly after they put them online.

Hopefully they did not do what a lot of other clueless GPL Must Be Free flag-waving idiots do, and equate the term “free” in the GPL with “you cannot charge a price”.   Given the WordPress founder’s obvious affinity for upholding and promoting GPL as “how things should be done” would truly be a sad declaration.   His own minions don’t get it.

Tell Us What You Think

So what do YOU think? Is our position wrong?   Should we just be giving away all our work for free; allowing unfettered access to everything we do and HOPE for donations?   If so, what fixes do you suggest for getting people to actually send in donations?  There are thousands, literally thousands, of ex-WordPress plugin developers littering the WordPress landscape for one sole reason: the donation system failed them. If you’ve got the magic panacea please share so everyone can discuss.

If you agree with us, then let the people at WordPress know.  Write to the plugin people at plugins@wordpress.org or ping Matt Mullenweg via his blog contact form.

If you know someone at WordPress who might listen to our viewpoint and possibly be willing to work with us to keep us listed, please let us know.

Update

We just learned that the person that kicked us off the WordPress listing is the very same person that did this a year ago.   He is also the very same guy that got ahold of one of our requests for a new plugin namespace,  before we had ANY information other than a short description of what it would do, and held up the request for 3 weeks (it normally takes 24-48 hours).   We got someone else at WordPress involved both times & they made things right.

If anyone knows Mark Riley please try to talk to him. If you don’t know him please ping him at his blog or via email and ask him to please support plugin developers that are trying to play by the rules.

Mark Riley
aka “Romantic Robot”
aka “Podz”

Leicester UK
d/o/b: June 5th, ????

http://wordpress.org/support/profile/podz
http://www.tamba2.org.uk/
http://romanticrobot.net/

Mark Responds

We finally got a response from Mark.   Our only question is where is this “if it isn’t free it can’t be listed in the directory” rule posted?  It certainly isn’t on the requirements to be listed page.  At least not today, yesterday, or any day in the past 18 months.

Here is Mark’s response as posted on the WordPress Forums thread (http://wordpress.org/support/topic/disappearing-plugin-listings?replies=9#post-2114268)

Anyone can charge for plugins, or themes, or other code. There are lots of people doing this very successfully for people who use WordPress. But no theme or plugin that wants to charge can be listed in the directory.

If you want to offer the plugins free and without conditions that would be great and they will be re-included after you have made the changes to the readme.txt
If you would prefer to ask for the fee then they cannot be re-included.

It’s that simple.