Why I Think WordPress.com Made a Mistake with the Starter Plan

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This is kind of old news by now, as it was in early April that WordPress.com announced it was changing up the plan options, and it was in late May that they added the Starter plan option. However, it came up for me this week as my friend Andy of Eden in Babylon decided to step away from blogging because there wasn’t an affordable way to get rid of ads. Huw also wrote about this issue a few days ago. In this post, I’ll look at why I think this was a bad business decision on WP’s part.

I get that WP decided it was time to increase prices. Of course people paying for services aren’t going to like it, but it’s the way of the world that prices go up (although for people like me who were on the Business plan and could now downgrade to the Pro plan, there was actually a substantial cost savings). I doubt that WordPress.com is generating enough revenue from ads to fully cover the cost of hosting so many free blogs, so I suspect they might be taking a bit of a loss on free sites in order to draw in more people who will become paying customers. However, I think these recent changes will actually reduce the number of people who will become paying customers, which is why I think WP.com is shooting themselves in the foot.

In a post on the WordPress.com blog on April 4/22, they announced that they’d just be offering two plans for new people signing up: the free plan and the pro plan for 15 USD per month. There probably aren’t many hobby bloggers who are willing to pay $15/month, and in setting that as a minimum price point, they were making themselves inaccessible to all of the people who would be willing to pay something, but not that much. There was a lot of negative feedback left in the comments on that blog post.

On May 25, they announced that they were adding a Starter plan for 5 USD per month. It seems like they came up with it as a knee-jerk reaction to the negative feedback on Pro being the only non-free option. According to the WordPress.com pricing page, the Starter plan includes your own domain name, 6GB of storage, the ability to collect payments, and the ability to integrate with Google Analytics. They said that they would be coming out with Γ  la carte add-on options, but they haven’t announced what those will be or when that might happen. One crucial bit is that the Starter plan doesn’t remove ads from your site.

i highly doubt that many people are willing to pay for a blog that has advertising on it (unless they have control over that advertising and can generate income from it). The idea of paying for an online service to get rid of ads is something that’s familiar to people; paying to still get ads is not. I suspect that WP.com won’t get many people signing up for the Starter plan, and most of the people who sign up will do so without realizing that ads won’t be removed. If you’re not already on a legacy Personal or Premium plan, the only way to get rid of ads on a WordPress.com site now is to pay $15 per month for the Pro plan. For people who don’t need any other Pro plan features, paying $15 per month just to remove ads is ridiculous.

This is bad for bloggers, but from a business perspective, it seems like this change will probably decrease the revenue that WP.com is bringing in. A big chunk of those people who would have been willing to spend $5 a month are probably going to choose not to if it means not getting rid of ads. Those people might stick with a free blog, or if they’re really anti-ad, they’re faced with going self-hosted or switching to a platform like Blogger. None of that is good for WordPress.com’s business.

I do think WP.com will realize at some point that people just aren’t signing up for the Starter plan, and they’ll rejig it somehow. Hopefully they’ll also realize that if they were to kick people off their current legacy plans at some point, that would end up cutting their revenue. It surprises me, though, that they haven’t thought this through better, because it really does seem abundantly clear that this is not a good financial decision for them.

What do you think of WordPress’s decision not to offer a reasonably-priced way to remove ads from blogs?

Update

Since I initially published this, I discovered that there is a way to go ad-free without signing up for a plan. WordPress talks about it on this support page, although I’m not sure why they’re not shouting this from the rooftops. People who are on the free plan or the Starter plan can buy the “No Ads add-on”.

You can find this by going to My Sites > Tools > Marketing Tools. The Canadian price is CAD 36 per year, so the US price is probably about USD 30 per year.

screenshot of No Ads add-on in My Sites > Tools > Marketing Tools

The people spoke, and WordPress listened. On July 21, they announced on their blog that they’re going back to the old plan structure.

Blogging toolbox: graphics of toolbox and wordpress logo

The blogging toolbox series has tips to support you in your blogging journey. It includes these posts:

41 thoughts on “Why I Think WordPress.com Made a Mistake with the Starter Plan”

  1. I’m one of the people for whom fifteen a month is too far. I was going to bite the bullet, however, they grandfathered my bare-bones annual plan, so, I suspect your analysis is correct πŸ’–

  2. There has to be a well thought out approach to charging people to use the platform. And, as you pointed out, it doesn’t seem like there was. Especially as the ads remain on a starter account, that you’ve paid for. Hopefully, WP will get it right!

  3. I expect WordPress having a loss of income and for the changes this year, even further loss.
    I feel there are less people blogging. My inbox isn’t to whar it used to be so I will be checking to see when their last posts were, as I unfollow if 6 months have passed, unless they state in a blog post when they could be back.

    I have no intention to come back to WordPress now. Even if something was to happen to Blogger, I won’t be back.

    1. It really does seem like there are fewer people blogging. I’m spending a lot less time reading blogs than I used to.

      I wonder if Google will end up doing away with Blogger at some point. Or maybe with WordPress making bad decisions, Blogger will just get more popular.

  4. I am on the grandfathered minimum feature plan. I have no plans to change. You are correct that WP may not benefit from their new pricing model as much as they had hoped.

  5. I am fortunate to be on a legacy plan, the personal plan. But if I weren’t I doubt I would be a paying customer. Especially if ad removal isn’t available at a low rate. Having found out that my theme is retired, which is different from expired, has put a kink in my plans to continue blogging. I do have to say that if I didn’t blog on WP, I wouldn’t blog elsewhere.

      1. No, because I enjoy it too much. And correction, I am on the premium plan, for what it’s worth. I will be able to keep my theme, however, there will be no updates to it which inevitably will cause problems later down the road. I have time to choose another theme but I haven’t found one I like enough to do it now. Maybe you’ll create one similar πŸ˜‰

  6. πŸ€” I have come to the conclusion that Automattic does not really care about personal bloggers (Unless they are the kind of people with deep pockets).

    The Starter Plan is not all that great; advertisements will still be displayed on it.

    As someone who is on the Free Plan, I have noticed nine advertisements from the OutBrain service on each blog post on my blog (And the same thing is probably happening on the blogs of those people who are on the Starter Plan).

    It looks as though Automattic has signed some sort of deal with OutBrain.

    If WordPress is making money by displaying advertisements on both the Free Plan and the Starter Plan, they are probably raking in a much larger revenue from advertisements than ever before.

    1. I agree that Automattic doesn’t care about personal bloggers. I’m not sure if they’ll make more ad revenue off the Starter plan because I just don’t see anyone signing up for the Started plan with it being the way it currently is.

  7. I’m not sure what I pay on the legacy personal plan, but I have felt a resistance to signing up for a new pro plan, because it will certainly be more expensive, although it also should include some features that I could not use on the personal plan (like video embedding). I didn’t switch to business because it was too high a cost.

    To be honest, I’m not really sure why they’d change the system. If they’d want higher prices, I assume they could just increase subscription costs?

  8. I struggled with the decision, to stay with Premium or upgrade/downgrade. But what bothered me was that you do not gain more space when you renew without an upgrade. This affects people who like to use pictures and so, I’m on a train of thought here that I may not stick around with WP if they don’t make things more attractive for so-called hobby bloggers. (And we all know they probably/likely won’t.)

    Meh. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to stay with Premium but simultaneously didn’t have time to spend hours looking at options.

      1. What are the greener pastures? I used Blogger one year before WP 17+years ago and have zero desire to go there ahain. Jonathan says Squarespace is the best platform (and he knows it from the programmer’s insights) but it’s expensive, so no.

        Anyway, I don’t know. I do appreciate you taking the time to research things. Very illuminating and helpful.

  9. Actually there IS a way to remove those annoying ads. It’s just not through WordPress. I paid (before the price thing was an issue) for the cheapest of the ‘pay plans’ and I’ve been grandfathered in to continue with it. It’s $4/mo which I can afford. So I blog ad-free. But I’m bombarded with unwanted ads on others’ sites (not judging, it’s difficult to choose what to do sometimes) and so I got AdBlocker through Google. It’s free, I simple have to click on the ad riddled site and poof. Gone. If one doesn’t use Google as their browser (can’t blame them, Google like the rest has gone nuts about money). It is really counter-productive (IMO) of WP to insist on that “all or nothing” option for new bloggers. I’d be interested in how their enrollment stats are looking now.

    1. I’ve never tried an ad blocker because I generally stay away from sites with lots of ads, and I do my blog reading in the WP Reader, but it’s definitely good to have that option.

      I would also be interested in knowing how many new sign-ups WP is getting. People have a lot of options, and I ‘m guessing blogging on WordPress is likely declining in popularity.

      1. I’ve always used an ad blocker on principle, because I hate ads anywhere. I still want to blog on WP, but am curious about other options. I bet other options wouldn’t be free though.

  10. I was just reading your post and the comments Ashley, and it sort of made sense why some very very weird boxes have appeared at the end of my posts – with the trashiest sort of stories. Although I am not impressed that they have littered my posts with junk…I still think that most bloggers use Reader, and don’t visit sites all that often. 95% of the time, it is only Song Lyric Sunday that is the reason I will visit other bloggers actual sites. WP Reader is a wonderful thing.

  11. It’s a horrible idea. Nobody expects to still see ads when they pay for an upgrade. And WordPress is annoyingly aggressive about it. I have nine ads in a grid beneath each of my posts, often taking more space on the screen than my actual post does. Not to mention I don’t endorse the ads, which sometimes directly contradict the statements I am trying to make in my posts. WordPress is clearly playing hardball. They’re trying to annoy their customers so much that we’ll give up and pay for ad removal. It kinda makes me nauseous.

    1. Someone else mentioned in the comments that WordPress seems to have struck some sort of deal with Outbrain, which is the company that’s serving up that big block of 9 trashy ads. It’s yucky, and to expect people to pay and still put up with those ads is extra-yucky.

  12. I had a free plan on WordPress and I was totally annoyed when one day I logged in there was a ad. I certainly wasn’t going to pay whatever insane price WordPress wanted. So I deleted my site and moved back to Blogger/Blogspot. If Google should pull the plug on it I’ll just stop blogging. I’m not a fan of Automaticc anyway. But I love WordPress reader. I learn so much whenever I’m on it. πŸ’ΏπŸ“€

  13. I signed up for the Starter Plan, after my legacy plan lapsed, not realising how limited it was. I’ve lost the theme (that I paid for), I can’t edit the CSS, and having ads makes it untenable. I’ve contacted them and unless they reinstate my legacy plan, I’m gone. I’m not paying to have ads on my blog, and I’m not willing to pay them an extra Β£22 a year for that.

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