Just a little warning: I’m going to make a large speculation, so I have to advise you to stay away unless you are really tired to keep patching. Time is money after all…
@pyer Good point and vaste topic. There is undoubtedly a somewhat large apparatus of literature and theorization about business models for open-source software. The unavoidable reference can be Wikipedia as well as several articles on the subject featured in the OpenSouce website.
The difficulty is that here we are in front of a more complex reality, a distributed networked and quasi-atomic model, with dozens of single entities (plugin developers) orbitating around a driving development core (VCVRack). We have a main open-source host software with its partially independent business model, interrelated with a galaxy of third-party plugin developers. One model (the host) is the scope for the existence and development of the others (the plugins ecosystem), and viceversa, the free access and growth of the plugins ecosystem supports and has immediate positive fallout on the success of the host program.
Technically speaking, this model is working like a charm. Financially speaking, it’s more difficult. In the depicted situation, trying to find solutions inside the boundaries of known and tested business models is hard thing.
Now, I have no special ideas to suggest, because I am far to be less than an expert in monetization affairs… you see, I save on pizza but then spend all my spare money in musical toys. But I share your concern, and this can be a good place to start reasoning and put ideas in line.
Could any existing approach - crowdfunding, patronage, group-buys, partnerships, supporting events or workshops, sponsorization, etc. - be a viable solution? I don’t know, facing this model of atomized development, so successfull till now with regards to the technical results and the quality of software, but so uncertain to account for its profitability and, precisely, for its “sustainability in the long term”. Yet I think most of developers are contributing mainly for passion, but this is another story.
Maybe there could be a subscription model with open-fundings of special or collaborative projects, and maybe I’m only exploring utopias here. Again, there’s a multitude of actors involved, how to take in account for that?
Eventually, the current practice of donations and premium (paid-for) content (modules) is not to be thrown away completely, I guess. Only thing, it has to rely on supporting people, involvement, and good will of users, to keep working, even in a minimal way.