That sort of information isn't generally available even to most employees of a company.
I have to say, Adobe has done a terrible job of making basic (and/or enticing) information about their ecosystem available to developers. I can't find anything useful.
I don't know any company that would disclose such info. Why should they? It would only give competitors info about the companies overall sales, which for all intents and purposes is the best kept secret of any business. Otherwise this whole discussion is pretty much nonsense - if you can't justify the development effort to yourself and are just after a quick buck, then the plug-in is probably not worth it to begin with. A good plug-in will sell itself, a crappy or mediocre one won't. It's up to you to make your own market research and evaluate the potential, everything else really is beside the point. The availability of tutorials for specific plug-ins and specific questions posted on forums should provide enough of an overview of what's hot and what's not, for everything else you can always inquire discretely with people that may know...
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There are a number of companies built around creating plugins for After Effects such as Zaxwerks, Trapcode (it's been somewhat recently acquired by Red Giant Software), Red Giant Software (mostly AE), and others. Also ParticleIllusion, makers of a great standalone particle generator, found it necessary to create an AE plugin version of their software because otherwise they couldn't compete.
So, no solid numbers, but dude, look at the market. If you have a good plugin, you'll have plenty of buyers. And pretty soon you'll see your plugin being used across the entire industry like Peder Norby of Trapcode.
Thank you for the replies. I apologize if the wording of my original post was a bit harsh, I was honestly quite frustrated.
I would like to take a moment to comment on the notion that these types of numbers are seldom released for fear of competitive disadvantage. Firstly, I strongly believe that this is an outdated business tactic. Look at vibrant ecosystems like salesforce.com, the iPhone, and even Microsoft Windows. Figures related to the size and growth of these platforms can be found almost instantly. Not only is this not a competitive disadvantage, it actually encourages developers to contribute time and money into the space, increasing the value for businesses and users alike.
It is quite literally in Adobe's best interest to attract developers to their various platforms by offering pertinent information to potential developers. I'm not talking about confidential information, but at least a compelling overview that serves to invigorate interested parties.
Figures related to the size and growth of these platforms can be found almost instantly.
But they come from external analysts and are not "official" numbers, either? There is no verifiable info provided by any of these companies themselves about how many copies of Windows or whatever have been sold/ are sold in a given timeframe other than some grandiose marketing statements and those extrapolated, crude external guesstimates. I really don't see your point. Success of a specific tool is dependent on more than sheer numbers. True, statistically there is a greater likelihood that 1% of 1 million users may buy something than there is that 3% of 10000 users buy something, but does it say anything about a developers motivation or whether or not a tool will be successful?
I really think you have wrong priorities here. For a tool to be successful, you have to understand your users, that's all it comes down to. You could be a programming genius and produce a plug-in that you think is cool, but users must not accept it. I'm maintaining my plug-in guide and thus I know a few of the developers, but know what? Some tools just don't sell, no matter what the developers do or how sophisticated they are. And as another point, the price must be right, too. You might have the best tools on the planet one day, but if they are overpriced, noone will buy them. That's what for instance happened to Algolith - best resizer algorithm on the planet eva, but outrageous pricing and the plug-ins were so unstable and slow, it simply wasn't worth putting up with all the trouble. Now they are gone, baby gone...
And to return to the numbers argument - you are trying to compare apples and oranges. Of course, given current trends for mobile internet, cloud computing and what have you, some of those tools you mentioned grow exponentially by a few hundred or thousand percent a year. Anyone not developing an app and taking the skim would be stupid. But that's not what we are talking about. The numbers for media creation tools are much, much lower and changes do happen very slowly. For years the numbers of users of 3D programs do not change that much nor do they for editing programs. If Apple hadn't come up with FCP at some point, Avid would still have their monopoly there. Just to give you an idea: About a year ago, info leaked from an internal Autodesk presentation saying something like 50000 users of 3DS MAX were on subscription, meaning those were using the latest version and actualyl sending money. Now you can add to that perhaps just as many users using older versions legally, and another huge chunk using pirated versions, but in the end, you will not have more than half a million overall users and if you are a plug-in vendor, your target demographic will be those first 50000 because you never know whether those otehr 50000 will ever upgrade or a few of the pirates get legal.
So in the end, you are still stuck with my original point: If your market research does not indicate it would be worthwile or you generally do not understand your potential user base, you will probably waste your time turning this into a comemrcial venture. That doesn't preclude you can still do it to satisfy your own needs, though.
Heh. I googled "how many copies of after effects" on whim and was amused but unsurprised by this thread.