ClassicPress forum debates paid model


ClassicPress was set up as a British non-profit organization. Now, some American people are coming to the forum and suggesting a fee of US$100/yr to ensure it remains viable long-term and to instil confidence in business users. Exactly what that fee would get you is unsure, but is more than I pay for my reseller account, that hosts all my websites.

Most people are aware that WordPress comes in two versions, the self-hosted and the cloud-based which offers paid plans. Automatiic, the commercial side of WordPress, gets its money from the latter and uses unpaid developers to create plugins.

The recent debacle over the release of Gutenberg, put the governance of WordPress firmly in the spotlight and led Morten Rand-Hendriksen to create the WordPress Governance Project. As WP moves to 5.1, it is becoming clear that the target user is not the average Mum and Dad, but businesses.

ClassicPress has released its RC1 version and the first stable release of 1.0.0 should follow around a week later on the 26th of February. This is an important milestone, because it moves it out of Beta and can be marketed as a solid and viable product.

CP is promoted as a Gutenberg-free, non-profit, business-focused CMS. As with any new venture, it takes time to gain traction. The old saying, “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work when it comes to the internet. Getting a product known is hard enough. Getting businesses to choose it over a proven system is something else altogether.

Understandably, people have come to the CP forum and voiced their concern about switching to an unproven CMS. One of the main things that worries them is plugin compatibility. Another is what assurance is there that CP will still be here in say 5 years time, yet alone 10 or 20?

To ensure these things happen, involves a lot of work and dedication. If it falls to a small team of volunteers, can they be relied on long-term? Should they be paid for their effort? If so, where is the money for that going to come from? It is easy to see the temptation to move from donations to a fee for users.

Let’s take a short diversion and look at how Linux works. Apart from a few companies such as Red Hat, who has been bought out by IBM, most versions of the operating system are provided for free and maintained by volunteer developers. The only way any of these get paid is through donations. But that hasn’t stopped literally hundreds of Linux distributions being developed and offered for free.

Despite the massive infrastructure of Microsoft and Apple, Linux has grown steadily since it was first released in the early 1990’s. While it will probably never be the first choice for most users, it shows that non-profit, open-source products can survive.

To me, ClassicPress is “Linux” and WordPress is “Microsoft/Apple”. It may never be the first choice for any user, personal or business, but it has the underlying principle of being a non-profit product, as is Linux.

Just as Linux offers software that is almost fully compatible with Windows software, CP may have to find or make plugins that work almost the same as WP ones.

So, we get back to the original problems. Will CP be around long-term and how will it pay its team members and infrastructure costs? The two are sort of inter-dependent. Neither will exist without the other. Non-profit, by definition, means the money going out equals the money coming in. So the bar is much lower than for a commercial entity.

Charging $100 for each user would bring in 10 million dollars a year with 100,000 users. That sort of figure is far too exorbitant. While a business wouldn’t think twice about paying that sort of fee, I certainly would. If CP intends to focus on business customers, at the expense of users like me, then they will have a problem growing the user base and gaining public recognition.

There are various models being considered, such as premium email support vs forum-only support or premium services such as cloud hosting. This sounds eerily similar to the vs structure. As I have said, this is so Automatiic can make a profit, which CP is not designed to do.

We all know the saying, “Money is the root of all evil”. Why? Because it puts profit before service. I’m not saying that the core team members behind CP don’t have the right to be financially compensated for their effort. But that must not come through making CP a user-pay CMS. If it does, then there will be far less users who will be there to pay!

Strangely, Scott Bowler, the man behind CP has not made any comments on this so far. Whether he is off the radar for some personal reason, I don’t know. It would be useful for him to make his thoughts clear. After all, it was his idea to register CP as a non-profit organization in the first place.

Whichever way CP goes with its attempts to fund its operational costs, there will still be people who are reluctant to use it, especially for business. That is just the way it is, people need to see results before they will consider switching and if people don’t take the risk, there will be no results to see. It’s the classic “Chicken and egg” problem all new ventures face.

I hope they can take a leaf out of the Linux community’s book and come up with a system that puts the user first and not money.



One Reply to “ClassicPress forum debates paid model”

  1. Since this article was written, the committee has clarified their view on the subject in several subsequent forum posts, and it is plain that there is no support for going down this road.

    Several committee members have stated it goes against the principles of ClassicPress. While anyone is welcome to voice their ideas in the forum, without censorship, there is a process that needs to occur before anything is changed and that is the petition process.

    This was set up exactly for reasons such as this. Any new idea has to first gain 50 votes before it is even considered. It is then put to the wider community for a vote. This ensures that users have a say in how ClassicPress is run, but no one person can force a change.

    This is democracy at its best and should ensure the project doesn’t get derailed by a tempting idea that most people don’t want. If WordPress had done this with Gutenberg, it may well have become simply an optional plugin, as most people preferred.

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