AnselTaft.com
Entrepreneur, WordPress integrator, SEO strategist, and a not-so-horrible writer

A New, Sustainable WooThemes

The Announcement

Woothemes announced today that it will significantly change the way it licenses and supports its products. Which is a good thing. Their original business model was unsustainable, as are all WordPress-based businesses with lifetime support and updates models. Formidable, I love you so, but for your own sake I hope you see the writing on the wall as well. (Edit: After I wrote this I checked Formidable's site and low and behold they switched to one year of support.)

As I read through the announcement I wondered how folks like me, existing license holders, would fit into the business model reboot. Then I spotted it:

What about my previous purchases?

Any purchase made before today will be grandfather-ed into the new system with access to support and updates for 2 years.

All theme purchases will also now have a license, which you’ll be able to use with the WooThemes Updater once all themes have been updated.

How WooThemes Got It Wrong

One could say that I'm instantly bitter that I will no longer get free things from Woo. I can see that argument. But that's not it.

You see, what WooThemes did is ignore the promises they made and forgot about all the folks who supported them along the way. Folks like me, folks like Chris Lema (who seems to be fine with it), and thousands of other folks from the WordPress community. Woo decided the old licensees are inconvenient to their bottom line and *poof!* change made, problem solved. Lifetime licenses are going the way of the dodo. The problem is, that's not what they sold me.

The Woo Rub

WooThemes sold me, and thousands of other people, lifetime licenses. While it was supposed to come with lifetime support, personally I could care less about that part. WooTheme's products are generally well coded and reliable. I reckon I only opened one support ticket in the [almost] four years since my first purchase. Hardly a drain on the system, right? But I paid for a lifetime license so I could receive lifetime updates. And that, for me, is the rub.

WooThemes isn't the first to migrate to annually renewed licenses; they certainly won't be the last. The WordPress community has witnessed transitions made by Gravity Forms, Headway, Toolset, Pagelines, Soliloquy, Foobox, and Formidable, to name a few. Frankly I'm waiting for Catalyst (now: Dynamik Website Builder for Genesis), Genesis, and a few others to follow suit. But I believe there is a right way to make the jump, and a less than ideal way.

Community Standards

What do the seven companies I just mentioned have in common? When they switched licensing, they honored the way their product was sold in the past. From Gravity Forms to Formidable, each recognized certain promises were made, it fueled their growth, and it would be unfair to punish their early adopters. The community standard, until now, has been to honor prior commitments. WooThemes, broke the community standard today.

A Modest Recommendation

On behalf of the WordPress community and the thousand upon thousands of folks who purchased lifetime licenses over the past five years, I ask WooThemes to please do the right thing and follow through with half your commitment. Please switch back to lifetime updates for existing lifetime license holders. As a business decision it makes sense: bandwidth is relatively inexpensive; it would cost pennies per download. On the flip side the true cost driver, support, could be contained by keeping the annually renewed model announced today.

Is this a win-win proposal? Not exactly. More like compromise-compromise. But it's far better than win-lose feeling WooTheme's existing lifetime licensees likely felt after today's one-sided concessions. So in the end, I hope WooThemes will seriously consider this proposal and consider the community standard.

Update

I really, really enjoyed Tung Do's take on the WooThemes' announcement. I feel he captured the essence of my arguments, as well as captured the language of my thoughts three days later. Which is to say I am even more annoyed now than when I wrote this.

It would seem WooThemes has heard the community's outcry and responded. We might consider this matter closed were it not the third time they've behaved badly. Not sure what I mean? Please check out this link, the comments here, and all the comments here. This is a company, in my estimation, with little if no business ethics so starting today, I am done with them. Three strikes and you're out.

6 Responses to A New, Sustainable WooThemes

  1. I’m with you Ansel! I firmly believe all current license holders should be grandfathered in and receive lifetime updates. But I also believe they should receive lifetime support. That’s what they were sold and promise and it’s what they should be given.

    I’m not a Woo customer, but as a client/customer of many others, this is what I’ve received and expect. Not because of entitlement, but because it’s what I paid for and all businesses should honour their transactions.

  2. I pretty much agree with the entirety of this post and I only own once extension for WooCommerce so this change doesn’t affect me that much. I agree that if support is the drain on the business find a better way to monetize that, even for past customers, instead of going back on a stated agreement completely.

    Were they wrong to use this model in the beginning? I don’t think so. I think that it helped them get to where they are today. Did they continue with that model too long until it possibly jeopardized the companies existence? It appears so.

    I think the whole thing could have been handled very differently and in a way that kept Woo strong and growing, the vast majority of the their user-base happy and even advocating the change, and criticisms to a minimum.

    A change had to take place just unfortunate for every one, including WooThemes, that it went down like it did.

  3. Well said Ansel. I think that was their biggest problem, the lack of honoring previous agreements and even a lack of notice. I have no problem with their business decision, it won’t really affect me either way and will probably make for a great (or even better) and strong Woo going forwards. But some of the wording in their announcement post was terrible and it has been a little badly handled (imho).

    I too feel the right thing to do would be to keep the lifetime updates but not lifetime support, but who am I to judge, I don’t run their business. It just seems their punishing people for supporting them and using them.

    [P.S – By the way after your “fewer” and “less” post the other week, your use of “could care less” instead of “couldn’t care less” is one that drives me a little mad. Unless you meant that of course 😉 ]

  4. Spot on! Woo fcked us hard when they grandfather-ed us in and (only) gave us an extra year, adding to the one year of updates and support being offered now.

    For me, and for you from what I read above, the support option is secondary. I worry instead about the future updates to the systems of my own and the ones I have set up for clients.

    Now we have to find an alternative solution within two years or pay the renewal fees. And how am I supposed to explain to a client that the software I used then now comes with a renewal fee?

    Woo made me look like a fool in the eyes of some of my clients (or perhaps it was me myself that was a fool in the first place for not being able to forsee this change?).

    I am one of the annoyed Woo customers that will try to find alternative solutions for some of my online projects, since some does not even generate a reveneue, thus making it hard to argue for paying for a renewal license. Especially since I bought the item for its lifetime updates option in the first place…

    On a side note: I am a WooCommerce contributor and think Woo has made a very nice job with WC, so I am not just your regular Joe that is crying his eyes out over a price hike 🙂

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