The cost and challenges of selling WordPress products

Over the past couple years and even more recently we have seen many WordPress business re-evaluating their business models and making changes to the way they sell their products. This is inevitable as businesses grow because maintaining a growing customer base is expensive and time consuming.

We here at WP Ninjas have been thinking about this from day one and although we certainly can’t continue offering unlimited anything for the life of our business we have made it abundantly clear we don’t think the solution is a per product subscription. At least not for the products we offer currently. So in this article I would like to examine the costs of selling WordPress products and some models we’re kicking around to address them. We want to accomplish two things with whatever solution we come to.

  1. Secure a profitable and sustainable future for WP Ninjas
  2. Offer fair pricing that both values the products and services and is affordable for customers

Products not Services

WordPress plugins and themes in my opinion are products. The vast majority of customers buy them for what they do at the moment they purchase them not what they hope they might do in the future. For this reason I like the idea of selling them at a single rate based on how we evaluate their feature set. When you buy the product you’re paying for the work we’ve already invested into it and initial access to the code. That means that a product that sells for $39 is only $39. Nothing else. The product works, do what you want with it.

But what about further development and updates? Great question. Plugins and Themes need to be updated to be compatible with latest versions of WordPress and certainly some more than others.

Further Development and Updates are a Service

Every developer wants to make their products better but it takes an investment of time. And we all know the saying that time is money. Even though that’s the case I don’t know that I like the idea of charging an update fee, even at a small percentage, for every plugin we create. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do so I just don’t want to put that kind of financial burden on our customers. For the hobbyist, the small business owner, or the developer. I want to help them keep their costs down while at the same time growing our own company as well.

Development takes time and updates take bandwidth, whether automatic or manual. So what if we had a subscription for those services? Better yet what if that subscription was based on the type of user you are and not on each and every product you use? A single site user isn’t getting as many updates as a developer might. Why not give them a break on that cost? So an annual subscription might look something like this…

  1. 1 Site = $25.00
  2. 2 – 5 Sites – $50.00
  3. Unlimited = $75.00

These subscriptions would give you updates of the current development on every product that you own. So you pay for your products individually but you pay for updates with a simple flat annual fee. And those using the most resources pay a little more to cover their higher usage.

I feel like this could be a win win for everyone. Customers keep their annual costs to minimum by not paying a per product renewal fee while at the same time investing in the future development of Ninja Forms and the extensions they use.

If you are with me so far you might be wondering about support. I like this one most of all.

Support should be for Everyone but not Necessarily Free

The thing that hurts WordPress business more than anything is the increasing support requests they get because of a growing user-base. It’s definitely a challenge but I don’t think it needs to be as daunting as we make it out to be.

This is absolutely one of those areas where I think people should pay for what they use. Not everyone needs a lot of support and some don’t need any at all. To factor that in across the board so some people are paying for something they never use while others are using way more than their fair share is another one of those things I just think we can do better. I want to do away with support subscriptions altogether.

The challenge here is that everyone needs a place to ask questions from time to time so you need to have a way that can happen in an orderly fashion. And they shouldn’t have to have a support subscription to do it. So we need a system where all questions and support requests can be submitted and filtered. I’m leaning towards a pay-per-ticket model. Thomas Griffin the developer of Soliloquy once used a model similar to this where you buy tokens for priority support. This got me thinking and I want to take it a little further.

The support process would work like this…

  1. User submits a ticket
  2. After Initial review we determine is this request…
    1. A bug – Then we support for free
    2. A chance to improve documentation – then we do and point them to it
    3. Custom help or completely unique case? If so we move on to step three
  3. We quote the support request within the support thread based on the estimated time to assist them
  4. If the user agrees they can pay within their next response seamlessly
  5. We resolve the request

I love this idea because it gives everyone the freedom to make any request they want while allowing us the flexibility to determine if it’s something we just need to fix or something that requires additional cost. Paying-per-ticket can expedite an issue or secure more custom assistance. My favorite part is that people who don’t need it aren’t footing the bill for the people that do.

This may not work for everyone

Not every company can do it this way. I’m not even convinced that it’s the right way for us but I definitely like the idea better than others I’ve seen thus far. Of course this isn’t something we’re implementing tomorrow. This is meant to be a public discussion of a possible option.

We’ve laid out our idea and now we have some questions for you.

  • Past & Potential Customers – What do you think of this model? Is it fair and/or affordable? Do you like it or hate it and why?
  • WordPress Businesses – Do you think this would be sustainable if WP Ninjas was your business? Do you see any pitfalls? Would you improve on this in any way?ย Do you like it or hate it and why?
  • Everyone – Any “gotchas” you think we’re missing or things that we haven’t properly addressed?

Please join the discussion. We would really like to know everyone’s opinion.