The Biggest Opportunity in WordPress History

At WordCamp Europe in Paris last weekend, there were many inspiring people who have built a thriving business upon WordPress. For each success story, however, there were dozens more attendees scrambling to find their own way, chasing the dream of working for themselves and making a living from WordPress. There was a general sense that many of the most profitable avenues peaked a few years ago, with much discussion about just how screwed the theme market is. The plugin market is even harder to crack, unless you have a particularly useful new idea, but it seems that almost anything that can be done has been done, and now the fight is down to who can market most skillfully and assemble the most financial firepower.
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At WordCamp Europe in Paris last weekend, there were many inspiring people who have built a thriving business upon WordPress. For each success story, however, there were dozens more attendees scrambling to find their own way, chasing the dream of working for themselves and making a living from WordPress.

There was a general sense that many of the most profitable avenues peaked a few years ago, with much discussion about just how screwed the theme market is. The plugin market is even harder to crack, unless you have a particularly useful new idea, but it seems that almost anything that can be done has been done, and now the fight is down to who can market most skillfully and assemble the most financial firepower.

It can be tough for eager new entrepreneurs, to hear the stories of peers who hit upon success just a few years ago, but be told that they are now too late to the party, and that the path to success today might be “something, something, Bitcoin”. Luckily for WordPress, hope springs eternal and these plucky folks keep looking, they keep searching for their own big opportunity.

 

Life Turns When you Least Expect It

Today, without warning, WooCommerce owner Automattic opened the door to what is probably the biggest opportunity for an ambitious new company that I have seen in over 12 years of following WordPress. It presents not only a massive potential market but also, most unusually, the potential to get large customers committed and generating cash from day one.

WooCommerce, the creators of the most popular WordPress eCommerce platform, were acquired two years ago by Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com. The WooCommerce platform is used by millions of ecommerce website owners, all over the world, powering almost half of all ecommerce stores. It makes money by charging for extensions that add functionality to these sites. When you build a website using WooCommerce, and starting using it for real business, you are essentially locked into their platform, the ongoing cost of WooCommerce license renewals becomes simply part of the cost of doing business.

As such, there was outrage four years ago when WooCommerce announced a change to their pricing structure, eliminating the license tier that allowed you to pay more in return for permission to use an extension on an unlimited number of sites. Software providers often soften the blow of such changes by “grandfathering” their existing licenses, meaning that existing sites would have been allowed to continue on under the terms no longer available to new sites, but WooCommerce decided not to extend that courtesy to existing customers, generating considerable bitterness among those who had used the unlimited licenses to build out a large number of sites and were now facing a massive increase in costs.

The general consensus, at that time, was that WooCommerce had taken advantage of their effective lock on existing customers, changing terms that, in the general context of the WordPress market, could reasonably have been expected to remain unchanged. WooCommerce defended the move by claiming that the existing license cost could not possibly fund the ongoing cost of providing support, and many plugin sellers joined them in arguing that it was in everyone’s interests that WooCommerce remain a profitable business.

Many license holders angrily responded that they had hardly ever used support, that the reputation of WooCommerce was, in any case, piss-poor, and that any support was likely to occur early in the life of the license, that someone who had been using a particular extension for more than a few months was unlikely to need any further support. WooCommerce explained that this reality was acknowledged in the fact that annual renewals were only 50% of the original cost of the extension – your subsequent years would cost half as much as your first year.

Even with 50% renewals, people were not happy, and it is fair to say that WooCommerce provided the primary impetus behind the emergence of the dozens of GPL sites that, today, distribute paid GPL plugins and themes for free or for a small monthly fee. Such sites were always theoretically possible – and entirely legal – under the terms of the GPL license, but it was only the 2013 WooCommerce debacle that created a real market for them.

 

History Repeating

Now, today, in 2017, it seems to be happening all over again. With no prior warning and no formal announcement, WooCommerce have once again altered the terms of the deal and renewals will no longer be at 50%, license holders will now have to pay the full current cost of each extension, for each site, every year. This presents all WooCommerce customers with an immediate doubling of their expected costs.

There are no doubt many WooCommerce customers who have no problem with paying twice as much, for whom license costs are a tiny fraction of what they charge their clients for ecommerce websites. It may also be argued that, even at twice the cost, WooCommerce still represents a better overall value that competing products. It is also likely that this price increase is an almost incidental side-effect of Automattic laying the ground for a future hosted ecommerce service – if they want to charge a set amount per month for a hosted service, they have to first eliminate the loophole of users reducing their longterm costs by using the self-hosted version of WooCommerce and getting those 50% renewals.

What cannot be avoided, however, is that, for most customers, large and small, any trust they ever had in WooCommerce has now been comprehensively trashed. Any notion that, under the benign rule of Automattic, the worst instincts of WooCommerce management, that led them to screw their customers in 2013, would be restrained, that the interests of small businesses would somehow be protected, is now gone.

Again, incredibly, there has been no formal announcement, no blog post, no emailed notification, no tweet. For the vast majority of WooCommerce customers, the first time they will learn about this doubling of their costs is when they go to renew their licenses, increasing the already strong impression that Automattic want to strip away their customers’ options as ruthlessly as possible.

This is an extraordinary way for any company to treat their customers. Is this greed? Or simple stupidity? Or is this a true reflection of how Automattic perceive the world?

 

And there lies the greatest opportunity in WordPress history:

There are millions of ecommerce site owners out there, who have no choice but to keep using WooCommerce, but who have budgeted for the 50% renewal cost. Millions of business people, with money to spend, who are about to discover that their bill has suddenly doubled, and that their supplier cannot be trusted to not do the same thing again, anytime they want, with no warning.

These WooCommerce-based websites are easy to find, the owners are easy to contact. Every human has a sense of what is fair and what is not. No-one likes to be taken hostage. In this unique set of circumstances, many will welcome a credible alternative, and their motivation will be more about principle than money.

 

Grab Your Slice of the Cake

Right now, today, a unique window has opened for any ambitious person who can somehow gather together a small team of smart, hard-working people, to offer the WooCommerce extensions along with comprehensive support, at exactly the 50% cost that millions of customers were expecting to pay.

The GPL license explicitly allows anyone to redistribute code. It was, in fact, specifically designed to reduce lock-in and to discourage vendors from acting abusively towards their customers. It was designed for precisely this calibre of bullshittery.

The provider of such a service would have to go beyond the existing GPL sites and offer proper updating, the ease of updating would have to be as good as WooCommerce offers today, but that is not such a complicated system to set up, several WordPress products already provide that functionality.

More importantly, they would have to deliver support that is at least as good as what WooCommerce provides. Support is never easy, it is something that every paid plugin or theme provider struggles with, and it cannot be faked, the team would have to become intimately familiar with the full range of extensions, and there had better be some good writers on the team. In fact, the quality of support would have to be better than WooCommerce, they can get away with patchy support precisely because they are WooCommerce.

The upside would be worth it, though. This is one of those rare situations in which a major player, with a massive market, grabs for more cake and accidentally knocks a few slices onto the floor. An alternative, fully-supported WooCommerce service would be asking people to spend money they were already going to spend, for a product they already make money from. Those slices are going to be lying there, waiting for someone to pick them up. Such opportunities are rare in any business. If I wasn’t hand-cuffed to this radiator, I would be boarding a plane to Manila myself, to assemble a crack team of support staff.

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34 Responses

  1. As far as I know this as only very recently announced, so kudos for writing this up so quickly.
    A substantial prices increase was recently noted at EDD, too, which makes this article even more accurate.

    1. Well, your years in the market and your good reputation mean that you already have far more credibility than the hypothetical newbie entrepreneur in my article. You are ideally positioned to take advantage of this unusual opportunity.

      You could even test the market by talking to some of your existing customers and asking how they feel about the WooCommerce price increase, and getting their reaction to the idea of switching to non-official support.

  2. That’s an insightful article. As someone who leads WooCommerce support at XLPlugins , it’s the hardest nut to crack. I am sure that some gateway is open but owning a code base is like nurturing a child. It’s just difficult when it’s someone else. Reality would strike when a customer comes back and enthusiastically ask supprort “What’s next?” 🙂

    1. Thank you Daman. Yes, I keep hearing, from my friends with WordPress businesses, about how draining support can be. In fact, I had to cancel my own plans to launch a product earlier this year because I realized that the support burden could easily overwhelm us.

      In the case of WooCommerce, what I perceive is that this latest doubling of price creates a lot of room _beneath_ their pricing, financial room in which a competitor charging the old prices could comfortably afford to provide the necessary support.

      What any competitor would be getting for free is the flow of customers already primed to leave WooCommerce if offered a credible alternative. For almost all companies, support is tough, but making customers aware of their product is a more immediate problem. That problem is largely solved in this case.

  3. Dude, bravo on an incredibly well written post 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

    It’s interesting what will happen to people once money is involved. They care less and less about the consumer and more on the bottom line.

    Your points on a woo takeover are stellar. Let’s both get tickets to Manila ASAP.

    1. Thank you Kenny. Yes, I suspect the goals of Automattic, and the vision they have for WooCommerce, may be diverging from what most current WooCommerce customers need. Manila here we come 😀

  4. Alternatively, the reality is that Automatic realized the current pricing model is not sustainable and the increase is justified Supporting old code is very expensive, usually at high multiples of the original development cost. At some point, the technology has changed sufficiently that the code must be re-engineered.

    Most things of lasting value, certainly economic value, have real costs. People making money have to expect costs.

    1. Terrific point Stephen. I have no doubt that WooCommerce would be a real monster to support, and the poor reputation of WooCommerce support certainly indicates that it is something that they themselves have struggled with.

      My hunch is that the old pricing was sufficiently high to leave a profit after the cost of support was subtracted but, yes, it could be the case that, two years in, Automattic have concluded that the cost of providing proper support, which actually solves problems, makes this doubling in renewal cost necessary.

      I agree that things of value have real costs, and I don’t doubt that support is the main one. What is alluring about this situation, however, is that another major issue, that the vast majority of businesses struggle with just as much, is far easier: acquiring paying customers.

      The target market here is website owners who are already paying significant amounts of money for WooCommerce, and who have already built a business upon it. In normal circumstances, no sane business owner would risk switching horses, but this zero-warning price doubling, this ambushing when they go to renew, will undoubtedly upset many, more about the disrespect than the money, and that will make a significant portion receptive to at least think about an alternative provider.

  5. Soo… one of the many conclusions that can be drawn here is that WooCommerce/Automattic can’t compete with Shopify on cost. Woo is now _more_ expensive up front AND more expensive on a recurring basis than Shopify, while also having a poor site owner/service buyer experience.

    I won’t go as far to call that another nail in WP’s coffin, but it’s not good sign for the broader WP ecosystem.

    I think the real opportunity here is to build a breaking fork Woo that fixes the mess. The problem with a SASS that came bundled with “all of WooCommerce’s extensions” is you’d be the one on the hook for support the mess that is WooCommerce extensions.

    1. Good observation Jon. That pricing/value disparity, along with the implicit disdain for their existing customers, makes me wonder whether Automattic are looking for a graceful way to shelve self-hosted WooCommerce so that they can focus that team more fully on a hosted service and Jetpack version. When I think about it, raising prices now is the best way to prepare their captive market for a transition to a hosted service which, obviously, has higher running costs anyway.

      I agree, the general trend seems to be moving away from the self-hosted WordPress and towards hosted services, at least for more complex functionality.

      What I am suggesting is not a fork but a rebranding, along the lines of CentOS. I believe the correct term in the Linux world is that CentOs is a derivative of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. If I happened to be part of an ambitious team, in India or wherever, who were searching for a WordPress product or service to put their efforts behind, or even a team who already have a product but have been unable to capture the interest of paying customers, I believe this current situation represents an unusual opportunity to land paying customers right from the start, but it would only last in the longterm if they really had the ability to consistently deliver better-than-WooCommerce support.

      By the way, it was really good chatting with you in Paris last weekend, I hope we’ll still get to do that interview sometime soon.

    2. Hey, Donnacha!

      You have written an insightful article! I appreciate your candor here, though, somewhere a bit too much of it — but that’s given with a Woo’s current status.

      I also happen to strongly agree with Jon on this one.

      Here’s a fact! I spent an entire month, back at the end of 2015 — reviewing a possibility of WooCommerce’s SaaS. I did a lot of research. What I had in mind was a WooCommerce fork (hint: not all PHP but a little help from NodeJS and serverless framework obv. to reduce the cost and deliver a better exp.), after the ideation phase, and discussion with a few industry veterans, — the thought of investors and partnerships came to mind.

      But all of that ended with the cost of supporting such tech. That’s where it all broke apart, and I never really pursued the eCommerce niche.

      Probably, the same issues at that time — though it might be a bit worse this time.

      Safe to say, the initial business learning curve for a team is way too much for new or even existing businesses! As they say “That’s where the gold is!”

      Anywho, it was a good read! I read a few comments and will keep a keen eye on what happens after this move from Automattic.

      Cheers!

      1. Hi Ahmad, thanks for adding your insights on this.

        Yes, the feedback I’m getting, from all the various discussions that have sprung up around my suggestion, is that the support factor is what makes it untenable.

        My initial presumption was that the new, higher pricing would create ample room underneath for a competitor to provide good support and still profit, but the consensus is that it would be damn near impossible to pull off.

        Cheers Ahmad 🙂

  6. Well said Donnacha.

    I seriously wish this was being talked about more. I hate that it’s going hit unsuspecting store owners with a surprise right hook.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no issues if they need to change their model (even if I don’t agree with it), however they shouldn’t be attempting to change the purchase agreements for established customers. Grandfather them in.

    The 0 warning that this was coming (no emails, blog posts, tweets, etc.) is what really grinds my gears. The attempt to sneak it in on unsuspecting customers who have auto-renew turned on makes my blood boil. Woo/Automattic could put someone in a serious credit card crunch if all of a sudden they get an auto-renew for say $1000 that they weren’t expecting; depending on the amount of plugin renewals.

    To me this is not only unethical and unprofessional but possibly illegal, as they’re attempting to change established purchase agreements; similar to the 2013 fiasco. They were wrong then and had to backtrack and they’re wrong now.

    This just further tarnishes an already poor reputation.

    I’m not going to lie, this has me seriously considering using something like GPL Vault for my personal sites. I’m cancelling all my auto-renews. I rarely, if ever, need support and most of the time when I contact Woo about a plugin it’s to submit bug reports.

    Their current support is abhorrent and I don’t believe this change is going to fix that; that’s what the 2013 change was supposed to do. Doesn’t seem like much really happened on that front so I’m not expecting miracles here.

    I’m currently in the middle of an on-going support ticket with them about this issue. Warren is now offering to honour my 2 most recent renewals but “all other licenses going forward will renew at 100%” because I’ve been a long-term customer.

    Seriously, it’s like a slap in the face and rage is real.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience here Syrehn. As a customer who does not use much support and, in fact, even takes the time to submit bug reports, it seems insane that they are not embarrassed when you had to contact them to ask why they charged you twice what was agreed.

      I mean, that’s nice that they decided to give you the discount on those two renewals but, in a way, it almost makes it worse, makes it seem as if they are doing you a favor.

      The more I hear individual stories about how WooCommerce customers have been treated, the more I think that Automattic are burning up precious goodwill that they will probably need in their upcoming fight with Shopify, Square, Wix and all the other hosted ecommerce options. Their own transition to the SaaS model would be a lot easier if, instead of repeatedly forcing their customers to bend over, they had happy customers evangelizing the wonders of WooCommerce.

    1. I’ve always found it hard to understand what Automattic are thinking, they seem to waste a lot of obvious opportunities. In this case, it does seem crazy to burn up the goodwill of their existing customers right before they try to expand into the hosted ecommerce market. Then again, they are a multi-billion dollar company and I’m not, so, hey, perhaps there is some grander strategy behind all this.

  7. Awesome. We really need to kill the “Split GPL” licensing that so many companies are doing these days. If Automattic does this with WooCommerce then we’re all screwed.

    1. I expect the greater danger is that we will see an increasing amount of development focused on the hosted version of WooCommerce which, because it is not distributed beyond their own servers, is not subject to the GPL anyway.

  8. Wonderful article. I own several of those unlimited site licenses and like you mentioned plus others with a yearly renewal and on the rare occasions I asked for support it totally sucked and lasted weeks. That is why others have built businesses around support for woo like https://woobetter.com/ and wooguru.net.

    Yesterday, in a private Facebook group we were having this very discussion. I lamented the fact that Woocommerce needed a competitor to either force them to do better or to stop their tyrannical ways.

    1. Thank you, Melanie, for the kind words, and for pointing out those services, very interesting, that suggests that the market was already diverging.

      Your experience of the official WooCommerce support seems to be echoed by everyone who has expressed an opinion so far in the various discussions that have sprung up. Perhaps the complexity of the product makes it impossible to support properly, or perhaps the price rises are partly an acknowledgement that they have to spend a lot more to provide real support.

      I have a hunch that, looking at the competition from Shopify and others at the low-end, Automattic have decided that their longterm future lies at the top-end, much the same as their VIP hosting product. Perhaps a complex, highly-customizable ecommerce product cannot, ultimately, compete head-to-head with the more standardized hosted services.

    1. The use of extensions is good if you run a self-hosted store and want a lot of freedom in how your store functions. Some companies, particularly larger ones, prefer to self-host because they want to retain full control over the core functionality of their business, and they don’t want anyone else to have access to their stats.

      Hosted services, such as ECWID, are certainly becoming more sophisticated and represent a real threat to WooCommerce at the low-end. Very interesting to watch this sector evolve as it becomes more competitive.

  9. I almost never use support and find most answers with a Google search.

    I would like to see a new model where you split the price of a plugin. A lower price for the plugin only (no support) and a separate price for a support package.

    1. That seems to be what is, effectively, already happening. The majority of the millions of WooCommerce sites online are using unlicensed extensions from the GPL sites. Some are buying their support from services such as the ones that Melanie mentioned earlier in these comments.

      One GPL-licensed product that is explicitly splitting off support is Jomres, which I consider to be the best booking plugin for hotels and vacation rentals. They sell 6 months of updates, for unlimited websites, for €79, but the same six months would be €199 if you also want support. They call the non-support package “Zero” and it has been popular, the main problem is that they have to be rock solid about not giving support to customers who buy it but still expect hand-holding.

  10. Donnacha, I understand your feelings, and frustration with what’s happening overall. I personally was one of those grand-fathered account owner who used to have lifetime update and support type account at *WooThemes*. They gave us 2 year to breathe, now all removed. This sudden and not well-communicated decision will put a lot of people in a lot of stress. WooCommerce is cheaper than its alternative, still its one of the most costly niche in WordPress, and I have seen, heard and experienced, WooCommerce is not very affordable for many many people already. And this increase will going to hurt them even harder.

    But, here is my issue with your suggestion – even when you could do this very legally within GPL, but still this is very wrong. If I am a developer of something (plugin or a sub-system like WooCommerce itself), as I could release it for free in GPL, again I have the right to make it cost like $1M for say for a single domain license. I have that freedom as a developer. If I created this, it does not matter how many normal people need this for free or this might come handy to save their life, If I want I could choose to make it cost how much I want. Sure that will be hard for a lot of people, and they can’t get benefit from that code, but maybe I don’t care. That makes me a different person, but not wrong.
    Many people pirates software or song or movie, saying they can’t afford the price. But see its very wrong base of logic. Maybe that product worth that much to the developer.
    Forking a product, and claiming to become their official support is wrong.
    I think the main wrong doing is done by Automattic here is increasing existing user’s price. This is very wrong. If I brought a product and signed up a renewal subscription at 50% price, I agreed on that 50%, I clicked “I Agree” for that, now you can’t change that. When you go ahead, and keep things in your detail terms, like you could change your price anytime and put that in effects, you are just as shitty a company like many of those Silicon Valley venture backed, where you main matrix is ARR, and how much return you are generating for your investor, without considering customer satisfaction.

    1. Asif, thank you for your detailed thoughts on this.

      The GPL exists to protect software users from abusive vendors. A complex platform such as WooCommerce gains a natural lock-in once a site owner decides to build his business upon it. This creates an imbalance of power which means that WooCommerce does not need to treat its existing users fairly.

      Marketing and selling a product by featuring a 50% renewal discount, with no indication that his might be a temporary discount, means that buyers made their decision to buy WooCommerce on the basis of those ongoing costs.

      It would be bad enough if they had once again, just like in 2013, published an announcement that they were going to renege on the deal under which they sold their product to you and all the other lifetime license holders. This time, however, they did not even bother to tell anyone, their customers only found out when their cards had already been charged double the expected amount. This is shameful and, yes, it is an abuse of the power that they have over their locked-in customers.

      As a business decision, sure, it is a winning move. They will lose a few customers but the majority will have no choice, they will once again bend over and take it. Automattic will pretty much double their WooCommerce earnings. They are also already being applauded by many in the plugin selling community, who are always eager to hear of new ways to increase the bottomline.

      What Automattic loses, however, when they blatantly renege on the deal under which they sold so many licenses, and when they hold their paying customers in such contempt that they don’t even bother to let them know that they are about to be charged double, what they lose is the right, going forward, to pretend that they have any sense of decency.

      Asif, you used the word “shitty”. Yeah. That’s about right.

  11. Anyone who follows your plan will soon learn what Woo is discovering: support for self-hosted ecommerce software is expensive.

    What’s an edge case bug and what is user error?

    When do you log in to the user’s site and when do you send instructions?

    Users have their own custom setup, which is hard to support in a way that scales. And a problem means less sales every minute, so every support ticket is an emergency.

    The opportunity here is to build a new ecommerce plugin.

    1. I agree, Hashim, that supporting a platform as complex as WooCommerce would be a hugely difficult task. That factor is pinpointed by almost everyone in all the various discussions that this article sparked around the Web.

      It is also worthing noting, however, the comments of people who have experienced official WooCommerce support. They all describe long waits, sometimes of several weeks, even when the issue is “an emergency”, and very rarely receiving an actual solution even after all that time. They describe having bug reports treated as feature requests that are “not currently on the roadmap”. They note that WooCommerce support are very quick to wash their hands of a problem on the basis that it may be due to something else in that particular site’s setup.

      It would appear that WooCommerce have shunted much of the support burden back onto the individual developers, that spending large amounts of time trouble-shooting problems is something that an integrator must build into what he charges his clients, on top of what they pay for their WooCommerce licenses.

      Some clients even hire specialist agencies, such as WooBetter, to deal with their WooCommerce problems, starting at $2,388 per site per year. Again, that is in addition to what they already pay for their WooCommerce licenses.

      Bear in mind, too, that the vast majority of the millions of WooCommerce-based sites out there are not licensed and not, therefore, using WooCommerce support. Clearly, they have found some alternative that, on balance, is better for them.

      While many WooCommerce customers praised the actual platform, and are grateful that it provides them with a way to make a living, not one person said that they found WooCommerce support useful.

      As you say, support for self-hosted ecommerce is expensive, and it will be expensive whoever does it, but it is still a big opportunity as this is an area in which people are willing to spend money, because it is an area in which they make money. The GPL opens the door for derivative products that approach the problem from different angles.

      For instance, a hosted service could eliminate the complicating factor of users having an infinite variety of custom server setups, reducing the overall complexity of support. That is just an example off the top of my head, I have no doubt that hungry and smart WordPress entrepreneurs could find other ways to address a market that is already offended and open to alternatives.

      Writing a new ecommerce platform from scratch, that is a lot of work before you even get to support your first customer, and the support burden for a new set of extensions is likely to be far higher than for a relatively mature platform such as WooCommerce. Any new plugin might be an opportunity, but I am saying that the biggest opportunity right now is to adopt, from the Linux world, the model of derivative products and address a market that already exists, that is already feeling trapped.

  12. Donnacha,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I should have read the other replies first – many are saying the same thing but better.

    Let me add – self hosted by not be the answer. Salesforce is self hosted but it’s still “consultingware”, software so complicated you need a consultant to customize the way you like.

    I don’t have answers to the problem.

  13. First off, great article Donnacha. I fully agree that there is an opportunity for a business to come in. I’d also argue that the market needs it as WooCommerce has a monopoly now and the sheer number of themes and plugins available for WooCommerce means that shop owners are unlikely to use alternatives.

    I posted a long comment the other day after you first published this, but looks like my phone didn’t submit the comment correctly. Hopefully I’m not too late to the discussion now 🙂

    I think you summed this whole thing up when you said it was history is repeating itself.

    From a business point of view, WooCommerce have never did anything wrong. From an ethical point of view, they have been acting like assholes since day one (I’m trying to think of a more polite way to put this, but I can’t think of one).

    The plugin started off by ripping off JigoShop and stealing their developers. They did not add anything to JigoShop and simply used their market position to promote the plugin more effectively.

    WooThemes, who are now WooCommerce, decided that lifetime commissions were not suitable for them, so just closed down their affiliate program without warning. This resulted in them screwing over people like myself who had been promoting them for years. I lost thousands of dollars over this decision (possibly more) and the way they handled it all was poor to say the least.

    It’s not like customers have had an easy journey either. WooThemes customers who had purchased unlimited licenses were told that there licenses were in fact extremely limited and they had to pony up more cash to continue to use the products they had paid for. Once again, it was handled badly with customers never being consulted over it.

    The justification over the decisions to raise prices again and again is always support. They stress that support is expensive yadda yadda yadda. However, if you look at the comments on WP Tavern regarding the latest news of them doubling renewal costs, there is a large number of people stating that they need to wait three or four days for tickets to be responded to, so it is hard to justify additional fees when existing support is so bad.

    I had a short discussion about this whole thing with Syed from WP Beginner on Twitter.

    He said “Every SaaS product you use have normal renewals … if the ROI doesn’t justify the regular price of an addon then idk what to say.” and then noted that “prices should be based on value”. (see the original tweet at https://twitter.com/syedbalkhi/status/879441932484845568).

    This whole viewpoint is based on the assumption that every shop owner generates millions in sales every year. That is simply not the case.

    Value is subjective.

    If you run a large store, then WooCommerce plugin fees may only represent 0.5% of your total expenses. Seeing prices double isn’t going to be a big concern for you.

    If you run a small shop, then this latest price hike could kill your business.

    Your shop may only generate $10,000 per year so seeing your total costs go from $500 to $1,000 is a big deal. Particularly when you are getting the same sub-par support for it.

    With regards to how Automattic takes WooCommerce forward, I suspect it will be more of the same. We have seen renewal costs go from 50% to 100%. What’s stopping them raising prices again next year by 10% or 25% or even 50%. If there are no other options for shop owners, people would be forced to pay them.

    We can complain and complain, but until there are alternatives for shop owners, they are going to have to do as they are told.

    Perhaps a large company needs to fork WooCommerce. Perhaps someone just needs to fork their most popular WooCommerce extensions.

    Or perhaps the WordPress community needs to start actively supporting other shopping plugins.

    Developers will continue to develop themes and plugins for WooCommerce because so many people use the plugin. This leads to WooCommerce getting a larger market share and subsequently more people tying themselves to WooCommerce.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know that we can continue to complain about all of this until we are blue in the face and Automattic won’t change their strategy for WooCommerce.

    Stuff it, let’s start supporting those GPL club websites that offer premium plugins of others at a reduced cost 🙂

  14. If I were to setup a competing shop, I’d have *higher* prices than WooCommerce. Would try to sell on premium support to attract customers who knows their shit, instead of those ITDOESNTWORKYOUBROKEMYSITEWHAAAA when what happened is their hosting company but them on a .NET plan instead of PHP.

    Oh, and I would try to find a way to pass down a fair share of the income to the developers, since my business would be built upon their work and my future would highly depend on them maintaining the software.

  15. I read this article 7 days ago. 48 hours later I had completed our website. And now I am off to Manilla to assemble a crack team of WooCommerce Support Staff. Great idea! If you ever need a job, drop me an email…

    Oh and btw; Totally not joking here… Seriously! I am literally doing this right now. I had some free time on my hands and thought why the heck not! Manilla here I come! 🙂

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