In the premium plugin license space, it's incredibly common for plugin licensing fees to require renewals every year (or month, for those paying monthly) in order to continue receiving updates & support. Let's take a look at why renewal fees exist and why the ongoing cost should be factored into any plugin purchasing decision.
Why do premium plugins require renewals?
When you make the decision to purchase a premium plugin, you're not just buying the ability to leverage the plugin's current features. You're also buying access to the plugin's support team and joining a community of users who are contributing to a plugin's ability to grow.
WordPress is a constantly evolving CMS and plugins need to be able to evolve with it. Recurring fees create a revenue stream that plugin authors can turn around and reinvest in additional plugin features and improvements. WordPress recently shifted to the new Gutenberg editor and some premium plugins like Gravity Forms, for example, can dive in and add Gutenberg block support in response.
If licensing was always a one-off fee, it would severely limit the resources available for plugin improvements, as well as a plugin's ability to staff support teams and offer a premium level of service.
The importance of renewals
In addition to contributing to funds that allow a premium plugin to keep growing, it's important to renew licenses to continue receiving updates and being able to access support.
Plugin updates can occur to fix bugs, improve security, maintain compatibility with WordPress and improve or build upon existing features. Cutting off the ability to access these updates by not renewing your license is a risk. Especially if you continue to update WordPress core, you're moving the backbone CMS forward while freezing another part of your site in time. Compatibility between the two is not going to be guaranteed forever.
Additionally, the support aspect of premium plugins is an invaluable asset in working with a plugin. Have you ever tried to get assistance on the WordPress.org forums for a free plugin? Sure, there are some plugins that do offer frequent support responses there and major kudos to those unicorns. On a lot of free plugins, though, it can feel a bit like shouting into a void. This is understandable as there shouldn't be an expectation of responsive support for a free tool. These authors have already essentially donated time to the community in creating & offering the plugin for free. There's only so much that should be reasonably expected for nothing in return.
However, premium plugins frequently have priority support access as a feature of their plugin and put forth a much higher level of effort to respond to queries from their customers in a timely fashion. They also typically have dedicated support teams to accomplish this, funded in part by the plugin renewal stream. Renewing plugins ensures plugins can continue to offer quality customer support. It also makes sure you always have a place to turn for plugin issues and aren't left trying to Google your problem away or forced to hire someone to sort it out.
Factor in ongoing costs before making a plugin decision
All this being said, we strongly encourage people to go in with the expectation of fielding all ongoing costs of renewal licensing for the duration you'll be using a premium plugin. This recurring expense should be factored into any plugin purchasing decision. Some plugins do offer discounted renewals (it's even a search criteria option in our plugin database!) so you can investigate that. However, even full-priced renewals are beyond worth the investment cost, in our opinion.