It seems a year can’t go by without the pesky lifetime WordPress license topic popping up to spice up the holiday conversation.
A struggle dating back 7 years ago to the month when Jeff Chandler covered, now defunct, Sidekick.pro where then owner Ben Fox shared his pricing experiments.
When Brad Touesnard purchased Advanced Custom Fields back in June, he was swiftly reminded how hard lifetime license pricing really is. I mean, he did his due diligence, he knew what he was getting into. But the lifetime license woes lingered well before the new owners arrived. Elliot Condon wrestled with it, “get it all for one price forever” that is, until he finally revised pricing for 2020 to build the business a better runway.
Amidst a fumbled start, Brad, did bless all lifetime license holders with access — forever. It’s on Twitter, so it’s permanent in my book.
This isn’t the first pricing rodeo for Brad and company.
When asked about lessons learned with pricing in a 2018 interview with Joe Howard on the WPMRR podcast, Brad had this to say:
“I think the biggest thing that people don’t do is experiment with their pricing.
When I launched Migrate DB Pro, I think the developer license was, $99 per year.
In December of that year, I doubled the pricing. Which would have been totally uncontroversial, except that I changed all the prices for the existing customers as well. I didn’t grandfather it.
And there was definitely quite a bit of blowback. I’d regret doing it because I feel like at that point, it wouldn’t have hurt us to like grandfather those people in but I don’t believe really in grandfathering people in forever.
That’s the same aversion I have to like unlimited things and “lifetime this and that.”Brad Touesnard
Pricing is challenging, no doubt, and lot has already been said about lifetime licenses.
Should you offer them as a product owner? Clearly the data (and the community) is pointing to a firm “no” at this point. Should the customer expect that a lifetime license actually means a lifetime of free…everything? Read Chris Lema’s take, On Lifetime Licenses.
WordPress, the only billion dollar software industry that has us begging for money
Paul Charlton of WPTuts posted a reaction video to a recent e-mail sent from Delicious Brains, the new owners of Advanced Custom Fields. In the video, Paul shares his frustration with the ask of lifetime license holders to “pitch in” to keep the development of the popular plugin alive.
Paul was one of the first in line to question what would happen to lifetime license holders when Delicious Brains acquired ACF back in June.
From the current events: Agency Principal, Alex J Vasquez doesn’t seem to have an issue with the ask, stating “ Could this have been said differently? Sure, a better crafted msg would go a long way but I have zero issues with the ask.”
Where for folks like Charlton, it “sticks in his throat” that customers are almost feeling guilted into supporting the product. Charlton has no problem if users want to support their favorite software, but is not entirely thrilled when a brand requests it.
When the dust settles
After reaching out to Paul for a post-publishing lay of the land, he responded:
“My biggest takeaway is the complete silence from them to be honest. They’ve been tagged in many replies and spin off comments and nothing at all has come back from them. As for learning anything new, it’s pretty much radio silence across the board. Just speculation and frustration from most commenters.”
UPDATE: An updated quote from Paul after the recent ACF tweet
It’s good to hear Delicious Brains are going to honour the LTD, but maybe it would be a good idea to run future emails through a competent PR company first to avoid confusion.
“Lifetime license customers: We are still firmly committed to honoring lifetime licenses and all future emails. We will reaffirm this commitment. So there is no confusion. Signed, Brad Touesnard.”
When I asked Brad for a comment, that was the tweet he shared and pointed to his previous thread, posted back in June.
Some of our WP Minute Producers have expressed their thoughts in our Discord server:
“Well, Brad is in a tough spot here—there are a ton of these “lifetime deals” with ACF that he inherited and their something of a liability from a business perspective.”Dave Rodenbaugh
“Brad should save himself a lot of LTD headache in the long term and just stop supporting them.”Joe Casabona
“I think it would be very bad form for Delicious Brains to abandon lifetime license holders without some kind of very sweet yearly deal (maybe like 75% off for the first three years.)”Liam Dempsey
“I think it’s great that they still /are/ honoring the lifetime deals, they’re just asking if anybody would like to offer additional support, so I think they’re toeing the line the best they can.”Keanan Koppenhaver
Arpad Szucs, A WPTuts viewer, suggests the following:
“they should have suggest one-off donations instead of recurring payments, with a marketing copy something like:
“Thank you for being an early adopter! As an LTD license holder you will NEVER need to pay again for ACF PRO, however if you’d like to continue supporting us, buy us a coffee. We would really appreciate it (you know developers run on coffee right?). ”
The challenge ahead for all of us
To be clear, Delicious Brains — the company — is a few orders of magnitude larger than a single Elliot Condon, who founded the ACF plugin.
Does a company that spans across five very popular products require a donation approach, to keep a product like A CF, afloat?
If so, we better start getting better at pricing and voting with our dollars.
Reading into the email sent over one of the largest holiday sales of the year: Maybe this was all just bad marketing copy gone wrong.
We know lifetime deals are (mostly) bad for product owners. It rarely spells “sustainable” for most. As consumers, we want what we were paid for and for brands to honor their promises.
Imagine if coca-cola asked you to donate to them “just cuz you like it.” Or if Comcast came knocked on your door with a tin cup in hand saying, “don’t ya just love the internet?”
I say this with half my foot in my mouth seeing as I run a content site that relies, partly, on donations. But hey, if only I could start a business with SaaS-like margins…we’d be in a different boat.
Maybe selling some merchandise or premium support would have been a better route.
Either way, expecting lifetime updates for one price coupled with a part-time donation strategy, is bad for both the consumer and the business. I don’t see any other major markets operating this way, but if you know of one, please let me know.
In the end, WordPress might be the only multi-billion dollar industry that plays the tune of a poor freelancer, the supporting donor, and pioneering capitalist all at the same time.
Unfortunately, only one can prevail.