Over the weekend, a post about unannounced WordPress.com pricing changes went viral on Hacker News. In an article titled “What are you doing, WordPress.com? a user identified as “VM” expressed concern over the price, which was reduced from five plans to two plans, and reduced storage on the free tier from 3GB to 500MB.
“Sometime late last week, WordPress replaced all paid plans with a single ‘Pro’ plan and reduced storage on the free plan 6x, from 3GB to 500MB,” VM wrote. “He also imposed a traffic cap on both plans where none existed: 10,000 visits per month and 100,000 visits per month (and he said nothing about overages – until now) .”
Other WordPress.com users have taken to the forums to express their frustration with the new pricing. Although WordPress.com representatives have confirmed that storage and traffic limits should only affect new sites, many long-time users have reported that their storage has been reduced to 500MB. This may be a bug in the rollout, but at the time of publication, WordPress.com has not released a public notice of the price changes beyond the updated pricing page.
With no communication about the change, VM speculated that it could be a cascading effect of the block editor changing how trading themes can be monetized:
In hindsight, perhaps we should have seen this coming: the site’s new full editing option made premium themes, and therefore premium and business plans redundant; the Gutenberg upgrade allowed users on the free and personal plans to do some of the things that were previously only possible with the premium or business plans. But to be honest, hindsight doesn’t explain why WordPress.com – whose free plan, pro-open-source stance, and focus on democratizing publishing technology has made it the host of choice for many modern (non-technical) bloggers – would pull the rug like that.
WordPress.com CEO Dave Martin addressed these concerns on Hacker News, apologizing for the lack of communication during the rollout:
You are right to call us. I did poorly to share the context on why we’re making the changes, so I can see how they might come as a shock. I am sorry! It’s on me.
Yes, since this week we have gone from 5 plans to only 2. That said, we are not done making changes. It was the first of two phases of change.
Those 5 older plans you mentioned were the culmination of 10 years of plans and features randomly added to WordPress.com without any real strategy. With these older plans, it was really hard for customers to see at a glance why they should choose one plan over another.
Martin said that WordPress.com usually adjusts the pricing of its subscription plan to make it affordable in different regions around the world, but neglected to do so for the new Pro plan. The company is working on updating it.
He also said traffic limits “will only be enforced on the honor system.” Users who consistently exceed the monthly cap will be pressured to pay more, but their sites will not be shut down.
“The Pro plan you see now (at $15/month) is essentially the same plan as the old Business plan (which was $25/month),” Martin said. “The only difference being the default storage available and a cost savings for customers of $10/month.” This plan currently has no monthly billing option.
Cost savings only apply to users who were already paying. New users on the free plan will need to work within the 500MB storage limit or pay $180/year to upgrade. This is surprising, given how many people use WordPress.com simply to blog without commercial interest.
“Again, this may be great for business – but it’s a crap move for bloggers,” VM said in his post. “Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, recently said in an interview, “I’ll tell you a stat that most people don’t realize. Half of all users who register on WordPress.com every day are there to blog.’ I’ll tell you that for everything these people as well as people who use WordPress.com to blog (including me), the new plan is a betrayal of our interests.
A Hacker News commenter @username223 noted how easy it will be for users to max out the free tier in a short time:
Cutting the free tier from 3GB to 500MB makes it useless for a lot of people: that’s 500 images with decent resolution, and a lot of people like to put photos on their blogs. And 300 “hits” (page hits?) per day is almost as bad, because an out of control crawler or a slight spike in interest can explode in no time.
I walked away from WP.com when they started putting ads on the free tier. I thought their business model was incentivizing some people to sell, so monetizing the free version seemed crummy. The fact that they cripple the free version makes me even happier to have moved on.
Martin said WordPress.com plans to offer a la carte features that could help new free users avoid having to pay $180/year just to increase storage.
“We will be announcing affordable add-ons for the Free plan and Pro plan to expand both your traffic and storage as needed,” Martin said. “In fact, we’re also planning to add a handful of affordable add-ons to the Free plan to make it easy for customers to choose the extra features they want, without needing to upgrade to the Pro plan.”
Martin’s responses reassured some users, including the author of the original post. Others found the changes to the free plan disheartening, saying the “internet has become gentrified.” The comments on the Hacker News post are a goldmine of feedback from a demographic that has developed high expectations for free blogging.
“The point here is that ‘just here to blog’ bloggers like me were able to pay WP to have a custom domain, storage, SEO, and WP-managed SM tools — and nothing else,” the blogger said. user panicpanicpanic. “But now, to point a custom domain to my WP site, I have to pay $180/year. It’s not just the free plan that shrinks further, a fact you comment on, but the only alternative plan shrinks is at the other extreme.
It’s not yet clear whether WordPress.com will offer custom domains as an addition to the free plan or force users to upgrade to the Pro plan. At the time of publication, no public announcement has been made regarding the full range of add-ons that will be available. WordPress.com has posted a page on its support forums with an FAQ regarding price feedback. The post says an announcement could be coming in the next few days after the team has had a chance to fix any remaining issues.