Business models for Thunderbird

R Kent James kent at
Thu Oct 22 16:39:50 UTC 2015

On 10/22/2015 6:24 AM, Phillip Hallam-Baker wrote:
> One of the main differences between Firefox and Thunderbird is that
> while Firefox has a proven business model, Thunderbird does not. Open
> Source software is good but it costs money to produce really good
> product. So Firefox has a lot of paid developers, Thunderbird does
> not.

Last night I made up a list of my version of the funding model for 
Thunderbird in preparation for our meetings with MoFo in a week. It is a 
critical issue in our relationship with Mozilla, as Thunderbird needs to 
be a public benefit organization to justify coming under the covering of 

Let's understand first what I think are the core principles of who we 
are that affect this:

  * We specifically reject advertising of unrelated products and
    services as a fund raising mechanism. This is THE model of the rest
    of the internet, and not having advertising is a key differentiator
    for Thunderbird.

  * The core Thunderbird itself needs to remain an open-source,
    not-for-profit entity.

Within these constraints, here are some funding possibilities:

1)    Contributions from users. Long-term, we need to develop a strong 
user organization with dues-paying members. Although initially we might 
ask for a pure donation to sustain Thunderbird, I think that we need to 
offer specific benefits to members as well. What those benefits are is a 
separate thread. You may notice comments about registering "Thundernest" 
as a name, this is intended as the name for the user organization (which 
we'll probably just call "The Nest".)

2)    Major donations from organizations supporting the core values that 
Thunderbird promotes, or benefiting from the use or distribution of 

3)    Referral fees for related services. Currently we receive referral 
fees from specific vendors offered as email providers, and we should 
continue and expand this practice.

4)    Addon Marketplace. We really need to work with our addon authors 
to make the development of addons financially viable, by offering pay 
versions of addons. This would benefit not only the addon authors, but 
really help the users by making addons sustainable. Thunderbird could 
also earn a commission as a percentage of those sales. (As a side 
concept, we could offer free access to addons as a Netflix-like benefit 
to members of Thundernest, with a corresponding compensation to addon 
authors from member dues).

5)    [Indirect: Certified support partners offering level 3 support]. 
LibreOffice and their parent TDF have an interesting model, where they 
certify support providers, requiring them to offer "Level 3" support. 
What that means is that certified support providers must provide partial 
funding to a core developer who is capable of fixing the bugs that are 
critical to their customers. Practically that means that the core 
foundation is not responsible for fixing core bugs, they expect that 
from their certified support providers instead. Combining that with the 
idea that their distribution partners (Redhat and Collabora) provide 
most feature development, the core foundation is not primarily 
responsible for moving the code forward! I don't think we can or should 
go quite that far, but we could incorporate some of their ideas.

Of these methods, 3), 4) and 5) are already partially functioning in a 
nascent form, we need though to nurture and formalize them to increase 
their scale. 1) and 2) are the primary goals of the upcoming MoFo meetings.

As usual, comments are welcome. Even more welcome would be offers to 
play a major role in developing any of these areas.


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