So the real question is if Envato will accept an exclusive item that has already been distributed elsewhere. I think it depends on the type of distribution, if you gave away a few copies to your friends or if you shared it on torrents, there is a big difference. Then there is the question if that distribution is still ongoing when you submit that item for review. There is too many nuances to find a clear answer around here – unless any sharing whatsoever is prohibited. So I think you need to ask support and explain your case in detail.
If they will not allow you then its wrong as themeforest have publicly announced the sale of WooThemes templates which are sold elsewhere first.
The problem you will have is when you come to sell it and they say its not exclusive.
Even if you take it down from your site where you are giving it for free, there will be leachers who have downloaded your file and have it on their sites for download, as it was for free to start with, I am not sure you have the right to ask them to take it down, even if its your copyright, you would of licensed it under a GPL or a MIT which lets anyone publicly share your items for free.
Would this not mean it is exclusive?
There are many products now available exclusively on the Envato marketplaces that have been given away and sold elsewhere previously – they are just not given away or for sale while now being exclusive on an Envato marketplace – therefore this cannot be an issue or they would have to remove a lot of products from all the marketplaces
I think the most elegant and effective way for this kind of promotion is labeling your pre-release as ‘lite version’ or ‘free version’, while the pro / premium version sold exclusively on Envato marketplace..
In the future, the lite version of the plugin might be updated too, but limited only to maintain compatibility with the latest technology. New features will not be added to the lite version.. and support only available for the pro / premium version.
I see this is such a common practice in selling digital products.. And the good thing is: the promotion effect will be longer than just pre-release..
Just an idea …