Gobsmacked by WooThemes’ August 1st announcement that they were dramatically raising prices on WooCommerce extensions, plugins, and themes and doing away with lifetime licenses, including those previously purchased by customers. The unlimited site license for extensions and plugins has been replaced by a 25-site license.

Grandfathering

Existing customers (like me) who had purchased lifetime licenses before the price hike would be “grandfathered” with a 2-year cap, after which they would have to renew annually at about 50% of the purchase price. That’s not grandfathering. It’s reneging on terms of purchase.

After the inevitable outrage from customers about unethical behavior, fraud, misrepresentation, and WooScroo of its customer base, WooThemes swallowed a bitter pill and sent out a new announcement yesterday offering existing customers a choice to opt for grandfathering or to support their strategy:

To do right by you, we would now like to give you the option of whether you want to back our strategy for sustainability or whether you would want to stick to the previous terms & conditions that you signed into (which means we’ll grandfather all of your purchases). If you choose the latter, your purchases before 1 August 2013 (that were already unlimited or lifetime) will remain unlimited and lifetime forever.

Of course I want WC to stick to their promises. It’s the right thing to do and it’s to their credit that they backtracked, a wise response to hundreds of negative responses from customers who were betrayed by what felt like a breach of contract. If Woo had not decided to honor prior purchase agreements, I would have had an unsustainable outlay of $1000+ annually for a few clients who expect extensions to be updated and secure.

What rankles is that WC says their Terms & Conditions contains a clause that allows them to change terms at any time. What kind of company boosts sales by promising lifetime updates and then says they won’t honor your sales agreement? If Woo made a mistake with a non-viable business model—and they apparently did just that—people will understand, but change contracts for new purchases and honor prior purchases. Those of us who create sites for others need to be able to inform and negotiate with clients before they sign on with us, not out-of-the-blue afterwards.

New Prices

Since extension and plugin prices have essentially doubled, the annual cost of renewals is about the same as the old purchase price. For example, the Subscriptions extension I purchased last year was $99 before the price hike and $199 now.

Woo’s Theme Club subscriptions have also increased greatly in price. I considered a subscription just before the price change, but decided against it because I couldn’t justify the cost against anticipated usage, now even more so. The Standard subscription (formerly $125 plus $20/month) is now $199 plus $29 per month ($348 per year). The Developer option has increased from $200 plus $25 a month to $299 plus $39 per month ($468 per year).

Single theme purchases no longer have a lifetime update license option. For example, you can buy Canvas for $99 with unlimited domains and one year of support and updates, or a Developer license (with PSD files) for $119 with unlimited domains and one year of support and updates. I have never needed one-on-one support for a theme, preferring to search documentation and forums when I have questions. Updates, on the other hand, are critical. Their argument about user support costing them too much has holes in it big enough to drive a truck through. If they had a decent forum (which is terrible) and a better knowledge base (which is pretty good, but has some holes), highly-paid techs and developers wouldn’t have to deal with a fraction of the support tickets users now generate.

Consequences for Webbish Design

I used WC for the first time last year for two clients. In order to add expected basic functionality and specific features to WooCommerce, I bought eleven extensions and used ten on their final sites. Since a 5-site license was more cost effective than buying two or three individual licenses, I went for that option, with some certainty that I would use them eventually. Total cost of extensions was a whopping $1020.60, plus one third-party extension (another $134).

What Woo doesn’t seem to understand is that WooCommerce needs a minimum of 5 plugins per site for basic functionality and several more for specific features. Planning on ten plugins per site is not an exaggeration. The individuals and very small businesses I work with cannot afford another $500 or more in renewal fees, nor could I absorb $1020 in annual renewals.

There would have to be a compelling reason for me to buy new WooCommerce extensions or plugins. It’s also unlikely that I’ll use Woo themes. Many premium themes issue licenses for a major version, but Woo now requires annual renewals for each theme. $99 per year seems like a lot, even for Canvas, unless it greatly exceeds my expectations. To Woo’s credit, they do have some free themes that work with Woocommerce.

Among Woo’s comments about the pricing change was the assertion that developers are making tons of money off the plugins so they should pay more for them. That’s really not the case. Developers turn over completed sites to clients; clients make the money, not the designer or developer. Most of my clients don’t have enterprises that make big money off their sites. They’re small businesses run by one or a few people. They pay for a website and expect it to work.

I’m a one-person shop and I charge by the project and factor in the cost of plugins and whatnot to simplify things for the client and make sure everything is top-notch. My initial outlay for WC extensions was outrageous, given that some cart plugins (Cart66) have standard features that in WooCommere require an extension.

Nevertheless, WC works well for both admins and users, looks very nice, and the extensions had only a few solvable problems. In spite of that, my personal justification for investing so much of my own money was that the plugins could be kept updated.

As for themes, allowing customers to download updates until a theme is retired (usually in five years) doesn’t cost WC so much. It’s support for the clueless that costs money. Perhaps Woo should have modestly-priced support plans that would help cover their costs instead of punishing everybody for the support drain. Even with new plans, customers should have some access to admin support when they first use a new theme. Forums and documentation can answer most questions if they’re updated regularly.

What seems most curious is that Woo products are high-priced to begin with. For that reason, I never considered using them until last year. What if their themes were priced more on a par with others? Wouldn’t more people buy them? WooCommerce, in spite of protests to the contrary seems to divide WC into a tiny core product and a bazillion extensions in order to jack up the cost of setting up a small eCommerce site. I’d like to continue using it for new clients, but unless they’re willing to shell out $500-$1000 annually for extensions, that’s not likely.

Woo seems to be wooing only top-tier well-heeled enterprise clients in the future. That’s too bad. Unfortunately, they’ve already lost my trust, no matter how awesome WooCommerce is (it is) or how nice and cheerful they are as individuals (they are).

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