What are you doing, WordPress.com?

Credit: Jason Blackeye/Unsplash

Be sure to check out the update at the bottom.

I recently wrote that I’ve stuck with WordPress.com for so long, for all its purported limitations, because its features fully suffice the committed blogger whose content is textual for the most part and because the company behind WordPress.com is running a good business, with the right ideals. (To the uninitiated, here’s an explanation of the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.) But in the last two or three days, WordPress.com has jolted both these beliefs with a surprisingly wide-ranging rejig of its paid plans.

Earlier, there were five plans: free, personal, premium, business and e-commerce. The free plan came with no custom domain and 3 GB of storage – which is great for people looking to just write and publish and because WordPress.com subdomains had tenancy: it kept them alive even if the blogs at those locations had long died and it didn’t, and still doesn’t, allow people to register a subdomain that used to be owned by someone else and has since been deleted.

But at some point late last week, WordPress replaced all of the paid plans with a single ‘Pro’ plan and reduced the storage on the free plan 6x, from 3 GB to 500 MB. It also imposed a traffic ceiling on both plans where none existed: 10,000 visits a month and 100,000 visits a month (and it hasn’t said anything about overages – so far). As these changes were rolled out to user dashboards over the weekend, many users have also reported that the changes had been imposed on their old blogs as well, whereas the norm is to grandfather old user accounts with preexisting subscriptions (i.e. allowing them to continue on those plans and restricting the new plans to new users). There hasn’t been any official announcement from WordPress.com either about what we’re seeing, whether these users’ experiences are the exceptions or the rules, or anything else.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we should have seen this coming: the new full-site editing option has rendered premium themes, and thus the premium and business plans redundant; the Gutenberg upgrade allowed users on free as well as personal plans to do some of the things that were previously only possible with premium or business plans. But to be honest, the hindsight doesn’t explain why WordPress.com – whose free plan, pro-open-source stance and focus on making publishing technology more democratic made it many a modern (non-technical) blogger’s host of choice – would pull the rug out like this.

I for one am particularly bummed because neither the storage space nor the traffic cap on the free plan work for me. The Pro plan currently has only an annual payment option (the older plans had monthly options) and it costs Rs 13,800 a year. I could arrange to spare this much money every year, sure, but it’s a ridiculous amount to pay for WordPress.com’s features – especially those I will really need to use.

Imagine looking for a good-quality surgical mask to wear in a park but finding out that the most reliable vendor in town has suddenly decided to sell only chemical safety masks. The next-best thing for me to do right now is to find and move to a well-reputed, reliable managed hosting provider, but there’s a reason this wasn’t the best option to begin with, which is what we stand to lose right now: WordPress.com “being there” for bloggers who just want to blog, without being in need of any of the complicated features that businesses seem to need, and WordPress.com being both a good-spirited technology company (unlike, say, Medium or Wix) out there whose prices were entirely reasonable.

On a related note, I’m also frustrated because WordPress.com had recently reduced its paid plans’ rates for the Indian market. For example, the business plan of old cost around Rs 7,400 a year whereas the new Pro plan, which matches the business plan feature for feature (plus an e-commerce option), costs Rs 13,800 a year, i.e. effectively going from $8.x a month to $180 a year. Again, this may be great for businesses – but it’s a shit move for bloggers. Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, recently said in an interview: “I’ll tell you a stat most people don’t realize. Half of all users who sign up for WordPress.com every day are there to blog.” I’ll tell you that for all of these people as well as the people who are using WordPress.com to blog (including me), the new plan is a betrayal of our interests.

Update, April 3, 2022, 7:46 pm: WP.com CEO Dave Martin responded to this blog post after it went big on Hacker News (thanks!) here. Gist: traffic limits based on honour system, region-specific plans en route (vis-à-vis the separate rates in India), à la carte options on free plan coming soon, and communication wasn’t great. I already feel a bit better than when I wrote this post. I’ve also asked Dave to adapt his reply on HN for an update on the WP.com blog – I’ve been checking it regularly for an announcement on the Pro plan and I’m sure others have been as well.