MemberPress and Asking: Is the WordPress Way the Right Way?

Episode 47 April 28, 2022 00:16:30
MemberPress
WP Review
MemberPress and Asking: Is the WordPress Way the Right Way?
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Hosted By

Joe Casabona

Show Notes

MemberPress made some waves this week when it was discovered that they were completely locking out users who had expired license keys. The WordPress way is you get access to the plugin, which you get to keep because it's open source, whether or not you keep paying for the license. Generally, support and updates are the things that you keep paying for. But why is this the case when virtually every other piece of software we use today is based on, "a keep paying for access" model?

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Episode Transcript

MemberPress made some waves this week when it was discovered that they were completely locking out users who had expired license keys. You see? The WordPress way is you get access to the plugin, which you get to keep because it's open-source, whether or not you keep paying for the license key. Generally, support and updates are the things that you keep paying for. But why? Why is this the case when virtually every other piece of software we used today is based on a keep paying for access model? That's what we are going to explore today. Hey, everybody. And welcome to WP Review. A show that provides analysis on what's happening in the WordPress space and what it means for users and business owners in the ecosystem. This podcast is brought to you by GoDaddy. My name is Joe Casabona. And today we're going to take a good hard look at the WordPress way and whether or not that's actually the right way for users, and importantly, for business owners. Hey, real quick before we get started. I want to tell you about my new Creator Toolkits and Newsletter. I want to help you find the right tools to make your personal and business life easier. Anyone can create content anytime, anywhere. But finding the right tools that add more value to your content creation process is hard. From figuring out the best membership plugin to choosing an LMS, the process can be overwhelming. And that's why I've created this very free, very weekly Creator Toolkits Newsletter. Every Wednesday at 7:00 AM Eastern, you will get a tip or tool delivered directly to your inbox. Again, this is completely free to join. You can sign up over at [creatorcourses.com/toolkits]. And as a thank you, you'll get a set of toolkits I've already created as well as a free private podcast. So if you want to find the right tools to make your life easier, especially when you're creating, head on over to [creatorcourses.com/toolkits] and sign up today. I often like to compare software development to jeans. When you buy a pair of jeans, do you expect to have them forever? Do you expect that when they rip, the company will fix them for you for free? If they don't fit you exactly the way you like, do you expect them to support you in making the adjustments? What if you lose or gain weight? Do you expect the company to update or replace those jeans so that you can keep wearing that same pair of jeans? The answer is No. You buy jeans that fit on the day you buy them. On the day you try them on. When you can no longer wear those jeans, the expectation is that you donate them or you throw them away and you buy a new pair of jeans. What about renting an apartment? Do you expect to live there because you paid one month's rent? No. You should expect to get evicted when you stop paying rent. The same thing goes for a mortgage, a financed car, or anything else you make monthly payments on. When you stop paying, you don't get to use that thing anymore. That is the expectation. So why when it was discovered that MemberPress locks people out of their plugin when they stopped paying, is everyone up in arms? Well, it's all about expectations. Let's look at software payment models. When you sign up for a SaaS, it's super clear. You pay some amount of money per month or year for access to a service that helps you do something more efficiently…maybe even something you can't do on your own. The subscription model and software are increasingly popular, and for good reason. It allows developers to continuously update and push out new features without the need to save them for a major version they end up charging again for. In other words, in a subscription model, you get the latest features as they're ready to ship. It also makes for a much more predictable business. The other increasingly less common model is to charge for each major version of the software, issuing new license keys when you move from version x.o to version y.o. So why is WordPress different? It has to do with the WordPress way. Jason Coleman, a friend of mine and owner of MemberPress competitor PaidMembershipsPro or PMPro wrote a piece called “The WordPress Way” where he outlines PM Pro’s mission, and how it aligns with both the GPL and the “WordPress Way”. I won't get deep into the GPL here, but if you're a lawyer who's listening and familiar with the GPL, I'd love to have you on the show. Basically, if you write code for WordPress, it needs to be open source. It needs to be GPL licensed, full stop. But Jason goes on to explain how the WordPress way is more than just the GPL. From his article: “There are basically two reasons why we embrace the GPL: one, we think the GPL license will result in the best code or; two, WordPress uses the GPL and Matt Mullenweg and other WordPress leaders encourage and expect plugins to be GPL” Now in this piece, number one is bolded. And this is obviously what PMPro believes in the subtext. It's not so much subtext is that is what PMPro believes. But the implication is that some companies believe in number two. They're only using the GPL because that's what Matt and other WordPress leaders want. But then he goes on to say, “Basically, what we mean by the WordPress way is that our code UI and UX should be familiar with other WordPress developers and users interacting with our software.” It's really hard to argue with that part. If you're working within an ecosystem, you should work to be part of the ecosystem - meaning that you assimilate to its way of doing things because that's what the user base expects. So if this is the argument, then what's the problem? The problem is that there are other expectations. The problem with the WordPress way, in fact, is the expectation. This episode is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. GoDaddy Pro is an experience tailored specifically to the needs of web designers and developers and helps them more efficiently manage their work and deliver results for their clients. Combining website, client, and project management, GoDaddy Pro is an integrated solution made by and for web professionals. Whether you are new to web design or looking to grow your business, you'll find the tools, products, guidance, and support to help you deliver results for clients. At the heart of GoDaddy pro is the hub. From one intuitive dashboard, the hub seamlessly brings your sites, clients, and projects together. Manage and monitor all of your client's WordPress sites from a single place. No more juggling multiple client passwords. With one click, perform bulk updates, backups, and security checks no matter where your client's sites are hosted. You will save time and free up your day. Integrated Project Management makes it easier to keep track of your client communications and deliver projects on time. Electronically sign, notarize, and store documents. You can create a visual timeline to break down projects into smaller tasks, to stay on track, and on time. Access all of your client accounts with a single sign-on through their tailored shopping experience by-products to help clients grow their business like powerful e-commerce stores using Woocommerce. You can always reach dedicated and knowledgeable customer support 24/7. On top of that, you'll find a thriving community of web designers and developers who share advice, insights, and learning opportunities. GoDaddy Pro is free to join. Head over to [go.me/wpreview] to get started. That's [go.me/wpreview]. At the beginning of this episode, we talked about expectations. You don't expect to own jeans forever, just like you don't expect to live in an apartment rent-free. When you buy a house, the house isn't yours until you pay the bank back, then you own it. The same thing goes with a car that you financed. The problem with GPL software and the WordPress way is we're stuck between renting and owning. Plugin developers, approach this from a “renting” perspective. I'm letting you use my software. I will continue to add features, update, maintain, and support them. And for that, you will continue to pay me. But users, especially users deeply embedded in the WordPress space expect that they are renting to own. I've paid you once for the code base and I will continue to pay you if I need updates and support. Otherwise, the code is mine and I can do what I want. This is a terrible business model. And maybe MemberPress determined too many people churn while expecting to keep using the plugin. Maybe they noticed that people buy the plugin, download the code, and then ask for a refund. Maybe too many of those scam sites who sell a bunch of plugins for $5 distribute MemberPress. MemberPress is not getting any money in that case and all of the strife, and they are too common and technically legal because of the GPL. The open-source world is nice, but it's not always kind to small business owners. So I understand why MemberPress would want to try to mitigate the problem of people downloading their code and then never paying them again for it. And by the way, most of these plugins are priced between $49 and $299. It's not like they're charging thousands of dollars per month to use this plugin. So how do we fix it? We need to change expectations. I obviously don't have all the answers. Is MemberPress right in their action to lock down the admin? Perhaps not. Perhaps they should have done what the OptinMonster did and moved completely to a SaaS if they want to charge directly for access. That's what Memberful does, after all. And they have a WordPress plugin for integrating. Or maybe they should do what Elementor is doing and keep the plugin, but offer a SaaS as well. Maybe the fact that the admin is going to get locked down if you stop paying, should be completely clear upfront when you buy the plugin that you'll lose access to it if you stop paying. But ultimately, we as users need to change expectations in the WordPress space. In order to get something good, you need to pay for it. We need to tell ourselves, “I am buying this because there is value. As long as it continues to deliver value, I need to keep paying for it.” It's an ethos that exists nearly everywhere else, so why not here? Well, open-source has a bit to do with it. Most people associate open source with free. It's the same reason Android apps don't make as much money as iOS apps. But the hours to develop something are the same amount of hours, whether it's open-source code or not. So is there another problem? I think there is. I think it's the mindset put forth by leaders and longtime members of the WordPress community. It's the people who are deeply engrossed in “The WordPress Way” When the ethos of the WordPress space is that we should give away our time to contribute to this massive project and that the ethos is people should make free quality learning experiences. And when Matt Mullenweg asks Elon Musk on Twitter to make SpaceX and Tesla source code open source, we have a problem. Because all of these things devalue the work. When you have speakers speaking for free at WordCamps and basically any event associated with WordPress, it devalues the work. Giving away time for free is a cyanide pill for small business owners. And the expectations in the WordPress space can dictate that time doesn't matter. If you do something, everyone should be privy to it. This change in mindset should start at the top. Leaders and longtime community members should encourage us to continuously charge for continuously delivering value. Moves like MemberPress seem crappy now. But nearly 20 years into WordPress, there are going to be some growing pains. I like Jason's definition of “The WordPress Way”. As I said, it's hard to argue with the fact that if you're going to do something in WordPress UI, and UX should align with the expectations of users. But I think there's another darker avenue to the WordPress way. This is the WordPress way that is sparking outrage against MemberPress. This is the WordPress way that sparked outrage against Delicious Brains for asking people to pay for support. It's the, “How dare you charge us when we want it for free?” MemberPress and Delicious Brains are big enough to weather the storm. But I fear we may lose the next great WordPress business because they won't have a chance to weather the storm. They'll be expected to deliver labor for free. And that, as I said, is a small business cyanide pill. As always, I'd love to know what you think. You can head over to [wpreview.io] to subscribe and to get all of the show notes. And you can find me on Twitter @jcasabona. Thanks so much for listening. To get even more WordPress insights and subscribe to this show, head over to [wpreview.io]. You can find all of the show notes there as well. If you liked this episode, share it with a friend. If you hated this episode, share it with a friend and tell people how wrong you think I am. Thanks to GoDaddy Pro for sponsoring. Until next time. I'm Joe Casabona, and I'll see you out there.

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