Here is a review to clarify certain recurring questions.
In April 2019 I will have worked at PrestaShop for a full year. Among other things, I manage relations with developers, the expertise in open source governance, and, more recently, the forum.
During my discussions with the community at events, on the forum, and on social networks, I discovered that there is confusion among the PrestaShop community between free and open-source software, between the company and the project, and between the project and the products. There are a lot of preconceived notions that need clarifying.
About free and open-source software
- Open-source software can indeed be sold, and Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project, sold copies of Emacs to fund them. What is important is access to the source code and the four fundamental rights for users that go with it.
- You can create products and services based on open-source software. It’s the very idea behind “open source”. Choose your favorite business approach: “I want to sell free software” versus “I want to sell open source software”. For example,
- RHEL is a commercial distribution of the GNU/Linux project marketed by Redhat with signed binaries, technical and legal support, services, etc.
- Wordpress.com is an easy-to-use SaaS version of the open source Wordpress project managed by Automattic
- PhoneGap is a commercial solution from Adobe based on Apache Cordova open source project to make mobile applications
- Mind-mapping software Xmind is based on the open source platform Eclipse
- There are many more examples, just ask!
- You should distinguish between the open-source project and company PrestaShop, even if they share the same name. The open-source project PrestaShop can be downloaded freely and includes many features by default. It’s a collaborative project whose main contributors are the employees of the company PrestaShop, but they are not the only ones.
- Using the PrestaShop project isn't really free. There are minimum costs such as a server, a domain name, a payment solution, and setup time (catalog, customization, learning, etc.). However, you could not be a customer of the PrestaShop company at all. You can go it alone and/or use the services of a multitude of service providers, freelancers, agencies, and web hosts.
- PrestaShop Ready is an example of a product based on the PrestaShop project managed by the company PrestaShop. Agencies and freelancers also create solutions for their clients that can be custom-made or packaged solutions. A seller who creates their store by themselves by combining plugins and a theme makes a unique product that they maintain independently.
- PrestaShop is also an ecosystem. For the developer, there are lots of services that the company has set up such as the forum or the Addons marketplace. The company also promotes the open-source project with help from partners thanks to a sizeable communication budget used to fund events, videos, and lots of other content.
- Many independent module and theme developers have chosen to work with the Addons marketplace which provides guarantees like most marketplaces do, such as visibility, the role of a trusted third party, technical validation, the guarantee of an original copy of the code, and a period of support, among others.
- All PrestaShop modules on the Addons marketplace are open source as are the modules for Wordpress and Drupal on their respective websites. As I explained earlier, you can buy and sell open-source software.
The module and theme economy is particularly interesting and worth taking a look at. Their development costs are spread among all clients for a reasonable price, which allows developers to maintain them over time and customers to get a good price compared to custom developments. In spite of this, e-commerce modules are regularly criticized for being more expensive than those for CMSes. It is interesting to understand why:
- E-commerce is a field where financial transactions are key whereas content publishing has few technical stakes. This is why the daily rate for an e-commerce developer is often higher.
- A failure on an e-commerce site for a few minutes or hours does not have the same impact as for a content website. Therefore, in principle, developing for an e-commerce solution requires more attention and tests than in other fields. This takes time and increases the cost.
- There are many more content sites than e-commerce sites. This means fewer potential customers to spread the costs to develop and maintain an e-commerce module.
- If the development cost ratio is higher/fewer customers, the sales price is higher.
About the total “cost” of a PrestaShop installation
- It can cost very little if you are content with the strict minimum as seen at the start of the article and if you have time.
- It can cost a few well-chosen modules and a good server, which is very reasonable if you compare it to the price of a day’s custom development or agency support.
- You can also choose to concentrate on your role as a seller, shipping, store content, etc. and subcontract the technical side of your online store to a service provider. This is managing expenses and revenue, to be seen as a way to optimize time.
- And it can also be a great investment (not just a cost, since the goal is a return on investment) if you need a lot of custom features, online synchronization with an information system or logistics solution, or other “business” adjustments.
By speaking with agencies and big sellers, you can see the hidden side of certain stores based on PrestaShop, and they are true jewels of technologies developed and maintained by teams of experts. This is a far cry from a basic store.
PrestaShop can provide for both of these extreme cases and many shades between. You can start simply and grow, or start with a big project from the get-go and add features as your needs change.
- Projects, products, services, and companies are all different, complementary things.
- Everyone working in open source software is here to make a living, and this is particularly true in e-commerce and the PrestaShop ecosystem, from the e-seller to the module vendor and service providers. No one truly works “for free” in the open source ecosystem. Everyone finds something in it for them, be it financial or otherwise. At the end of the day, everyone has rent and bills to pay ;-)
To find out more, here are two resources: