23 Comments


  1. I agree with you and Curtis, as it might not be possible right *now.*

    However, possibly in a year? Maybe 2?

    Just like you and I talked about being ahead of the curve, maybe it’s not ready to stand on it’s own two feet yet. Check out what Syed had to say in the latest episode.


  2. @Matt – So if all we have to make money is the content, what are the options? Display ads, affiliates, paid reviews, ect.

    I didn’t address this in the main post but it’s important to note that many WordPress companies/services, especially theme and plugin companies don’t need to advertise. For the most part, companies like GravityForms purchase display advertising for the sole purpose of supporting that site, not for the advertising benefits. Affiliate programs provide all of the advertising most of these companies need. So that becomes an issue when the only thing we have to monetize here is the content.

    In the case of wanting the maximum amount of exposure for the content, you can’t put up a paywall or tell people to pay for some sort of membership. So that limits content restriction.

    I guess you could take the content and place it into an ebook but for the most part, news centric websites for WordPress contain a majority of time sensitive information.


  3. @Jeffro – So here’s the thing about the Gravity forms example…

    They don’t need it *now* but someday there may be 1 or 5 serious Gravityform contenders. That’s when the heavy hitters of today will start to see sales drop and look for alternatives to affiliates. Hence look for more areas of advertising and dollars.

    There’s only 1 major WordPress event — WordCamp. In 5 years, there could be 20. Think of all the coverage that would need to be done and sponsorship that goes along with that.

    I’m just throwing out hypotheticals — we’re in the middle of a growth spurt and we don’t know how tall we’re going to be yet.


  4. @Matt – Well, when you put things that way and start talking about the future, I suppose a few more opportunities might show up for sites just trying to survive on their content alone. But man, it’s a tough road to travel down, especially one that’s uphill. But, I would really love to see the future to laid out come to fruition. More events like Pressnomics and more multi-million dollar WordPress businesses.


  5. @Jeffro

    Not sure I agree on the paywall.

    I think there is a subscription model out there where the users pay for WordPress related content, provided that content has an ‘insider’ or time savings value, is realistic. This has been done to great success in other industries.

    In the podcast that Matt had with Jake and Chris, Jake mentioned the 500 or so in the ‘inner circle’ who go to multiple WordCamp events a year and generally talk or listen to each other on social channels like twitter. IMHO, there is a market there for this group.

    I personally do more listening than talking to this group but even following the conversation takes time that sometimes I do not have. I would gladly pay $3-$5 a month to have a resource that succinctly encapsulated that conversation into just a weekly post with analysis and opinion. Would think I am not the only one who feels this way.

    Anyways…great work at the tavern and thanks.

  6. Carl Hancock

    Your opinions are spot on Jeff.

    The core problem is in order to make monetize content you need traffic. Lots of traffic. That is the only real way to make money with both advertising AND a paywall when it comes to content.

    The problem is the type of content that sites like the Tavern, WPDaily, WPCandy, etc. produce is content that only caters to a small niche of readers. WordPress theme and plugin developers, WordPress consultants, etc. Those are the people that visit these sites.

    Yes WordPress itself powers an amazing percentage of all the sites on the internet. But the vast majority of WordPress users don’t care about the type of WordPress related news and content provided by these sites. To them WordPress is just the software that powers their web site.

    While it is possible to monetize a niche, and in some cases catering to a small niche can be a big advantage. But not this particular niche.

    The amount you would have to charge for advertising simply wouldn’t be worth it to the advertisers both because the ROI wouldn’t be worth it. You’d have to have high advertising rates. And because it’s such a small niche the advertisers would balk. Along with that issue these sites are visited daily by the same core group of people… which is why the same recurring faces appear in comments to blog posts, in the forums, etc. So advertising becomes ineffective when your simply reaching the same people over and over again. They already know about you and probably already own your product.

    A paywall also wouldn’t work because the niche is so small for it to be viable you’d also have to charge a lot… because you’d need a high volume in order to charge a little amount. It’s a similar problem to the advertising issue I explained above.

    Content is very hard to monetize. Especially in small niches where it doesn’t involve a very high traffic site.

    Jeff is also correct, we buy advertising for Gravity Forms on sites and podcasts such as the DradCast as well as WordCamps simply to support the community and those projects. Not because we expect a ROI.

    Both both of you are incorrect that affiliate programs are that critical to our business. They were very helpful in the beginning, but not so much anymore now that we are well established. Which is why companies like WooThemes have completely dropped their affiliate programs.

    We spend next to nothing on advertising and our affiliate network isn’t valuable enough it couldn’t be eliminated without seriously impacting our bottom line. In fact we’ve considered eliminating like WooThemes and several others have. Our brand and product is so strong, established and influential that we are able to succeed despite the fact we advertise so little. Our biggest driver of sales? Word of mouth advertising. There’s no better kind. But but in order to get that you have to build a kick ass product and back it up with kick ass support.

    As for competitors to Gravity Forms… there already are many competitors to Gravity Forms. Formidable. Ninja Forms. There are several on CodeCanyon. There are a couple more I know of but can’t think of their names. It seems a new one pops up every few months. They haven’t impacted our sales one bit. In fact our sales and revenue grow month after month. The fact that there have been numerous “competitors” enter the market hasn’t had any impact on our sales or growth.

    The truth is we don’t even view any of the WordPress form plugins as our competition. I’ve said this numerous times. We view SaaS solutions such as Wufoo and Formstack as our competition. We don’t look at the other WordPress form plugins as competition, never have. This isn’t a knock at those plugins, its simply how we’ve always looked at things.

    You’ll see more of the reasoning behind this thinking as we implement more SaaS functionality within Gravity Forms itself.


  7. I think there were ways you could have derived a solid income from the Tavern and I often wondered why, instead of wasting time stressing about lack of money, you didn’t build up some sort of small design shop – I’m certain that you knew more about WordPress than the vast majority of people making a living from it, and you certainly would have had a lot of support, endorsements and referrals from the rest of the community.

    The Tavern’s magic ingredient was the podcast because no-one else was doing a decent WordPress one at the time. Your personality suited the format, playing a friendly “everyman” encouraging guests to explain their work in an accessible way.

    That same approach did not provide a strong enough voice for your written pieces, particularly the long but infrequent posts you seemed to favor – as Twitter was exploding at around the same time, you would have been far better off opting for shorter but far more frequent posts, in the style now adopted by Brian Krogsgard’s PostStat.us, and allowing retweets to drive your growth.

    You could then have flowed that traffic, from both the podcast and the tweets, into your forum and, instead of wasting time painfully formulating those long articles, you could have applied your friendly personality to growing your community.

    A key mistake was forking the discussion, with many of your existing commenters sticking to the WordPress comments, while others stuck to the forum and there did not seem to be much crossover. You should have replaced the comments beneath each news item with a matching forum thread, allowing users to browse the site in either way, but uniting the comments. You needed that momentum because the community-generated content would soon have relieved the pressure on you and you could, perhaps, have recruited enthusiastic members to help you keep the newsfeed fed.

    vBulletin was a bad choice for a forum serving the WordPress community because this was so soon after they had been purchased by those fucking gangsters from Internet Brands, who promptly screwed over their users. Any Open Source alternative would have been better and would have been easier to integrate with WordPress in the way I suggest above but, then again, I can also understand why it seemed like the most professional option at the time, an investment in your business.

    I am grateful for the time and effort you put into serving the community and was delighted when I heard how Matt arrived at the purchase figure – that doesn’t happen very often in business, you should take that as just about the most sincere compliment someone can pay another person and you utterly deserved that gesture, good karma all round!


  8. Sometimes a small group of committed people is all what you need to build a community. I still never understood why you dropped off the paid forum idea that you had. That could’ve easily be turned into a money making platform.

    1. People get to learn from experts and engage with the “cool people” in the community.
    2. You could use it as a Q/A forum as well. Ask the Experts or Learn from the experts.

    You could also launch something like Pro’s which WPCandy did. There are definitely ways to get the ball rolling.

    I agree with Matt. Right now WordPress is just starting to become more mainstream. All the major players like WooThemes, Gravity Forms etc are sitting tight at the top, so they can choose to ignore their affiliate program or advertising budgets. By doing so, you just leave plenty of room for new players, and we’ve already seen new players entering the market.

    For ex. there are bunch of new form plugins that Carl already mentioned above.I see eCommerce area still up for grabs. Sure WooCommerce passed 1M downloads, but that space has a lot of opportunity. It is only going to get bigger. iThemes announced their eCommerce plugin. EDD is holding strong, and I’m sure more will come out.

    What I find to be quite interesting is that some of the bigger companies are dropping their affiliate programs. I personally think that it is a mistake, but only time will tell. Affiliate programs allow you to have a group of “salesman” or “spokesperson” for free. You only pay them a commission if they bring a sale. That eliminates the marketing work for you. From the ROI stand point, it is also the best deal because you only pay an advertising fee when you get a guaranteed customer.

    If affiliate programs were useless, then companies like Amazon, BestBuy etc would have gotten rid of them long time ago. But they don’t because they want to get every possible sale that they can.

    I guess in our industry, when you are at the top, you get too comfortable with the $$$ you already make, so you don’t want every possible sale that you can get. I do believe that this will change as more competition enters the space.

    I’ll end with this: From within, it seems that the commercial WordPress space is very crowded. However from the outside, it looks like the wild west up for grabs.


  9. @Matt – I agree. We are just ahead of the curve, now. Nevertheless, we have to pay our bills, too! Damn curve!


  10. Paid Content and Paid Reviews are lame, dishonest and self-serving to the people pimping the products.

    If WordPress starts charging to use their software, I’ll quit blogging.

    Blogging is the 6th estate, to stand against the corporate empire. We must remain free.

    Join the revolution.

    -Chuck

  11. Carl Hancock

    @Syed Balkhi – The issue isn’t some of these ideas can’t be used to create a profitable site, the primary issue is the community of people willing to pay for things like this is just very small for this particular niche. WPCandy hasn’t exactly been a financial windfall for Ryan, WPCandy PRO’s was successful in bringing in some revenue when it first launched but it wasn’t a longterm revenue generator.

    We don’t choose to ignore our advertising budget, our product is just very difficult to advertise. The sites such as WPTavern, WPCandy, WPDaily, etc. are visited primarily by people that already know about Gravity Forms. So the paying for advertising to reach the same people over and over again, many of whom already use our product, isn’t a smart business decision. The WordPress news sites are very niche and don’t cater to the mainstream WordPress users, who as I mentioned don’t really care about WordPress news. To them WordPress is just the software that powers their web site. They don’t care about the same things we do.

    As for affiliate programs, we have no plans to end our affiliate program. But it’s not something that would significantly impact our bottom line if we did.

    HOWEVER companies like WooThemes and many of the commercial theme providers who have closed their affiliate systems have not done so because they didn’t generate revenue and they have not done so because they think they are too big for an affiliate program to be helpful in marketing their product. They did so because of RAMPANT and I mean RAMPANT fraud and abuse of the system.

    For some reason the commercial plugin space has not seen the rampant affiliate program fraud and abuse that the commercial theme space has encountered. I’m not quite sure why that is. But the theme companies that have shuttered their affiliate programs have done so because of the fraud, not because they thought they were too big to require offering an affiliate program.

    We haven’t encountered the same issues. So we have no plans to shut ours down. We will be switching to a new affiliate software system as we’ll be moving off of e-junkie, but our affiliate program won’t be going anywhere.

    As I mentioned, i’m not sure why the theme market has seen such fraud and abuse with their affiliate programs but they have… and that is the reason why they have been closing left and right. It has nothing to do with ego or thinking they are so successful and big they don’t need it. Quite the opposite. It’s cost them money and they’ve had to deal with a lot of fraud and abuse. So the negatives they encountered outweighed the benefits the affiliate program was providing them.

    So your comments about people getting too comfortable so they are eliminating things such as their affiliate programs are completely off base, inaccurate and simply untrue.

    Many of these companies, including ours, have grown into real businesses. Not 1-2 man shops or side businesses for a single developer. The bigger players have grown into well established companies with 10, 20, 30+ employees. Offices, employee benefits, etc. The types of business decisions you make in that situation are not the same as you may made when you are a 1-2 man shop.

    Comparing Amazon’s affiliate program to Gravity Forms, WooThemes, etc. is like comparing apples to sea turtles. Amazon has run with a zero profit business strategy almost since it first started. It doesn’t care if it posts a profit or not, it just wants to get as big as it possibly can. Here’s a good article on Amazon:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/01/29/amazon_q4_profits_fall_45_percent.html

    Here’s a great quote:

    “It’s a truly remarkable American success story. But if you own a competing firm, you should be terrified. Competition is always scary, but competition against a juggernaut that seems to have permission from its shareholders to not turn any profits is really frightening.”

    Businesses like WooThemes and our own don’t have that luxury. We don’t have deep pocket venture capital funding keeping us a float when we aren’t turning a profit. We aren’t a public company that can sell shares to raise money to keep us a float.

    If something like the affiliate system is costing is more money in fraud and abuse than it is adding to the bottom line, then it’s not worth doing. WooThemes and others have encountered this and chose to eliminate them exactly because of the negative impact they were having on their bottom line.

    Unlike Amazon, our businesses can’t afford NOT to be profitable. So we make decisions accordingly.


  12. I think people are dancing around the central problem with charging for news alone: it just doesn’t work. This is the debate ongoing among news professionals, discouraged that commercial journalism is not sustainable without great effort. When access to news was limited to the local newspaper, a few television stations and some scratchy AM radio broadcasts, advertising paid the freight of a news operation. The internet completely destroyed that. To get people ‘into the tent’ many news operations dropped all payments, making the audience used to the idea that news was free.

    In the media, there is the ‘three-legged stool’ of revenue: providing news is not among the three options. Either you have a huge audience to make banner ads feasible, you institute a pay-wall, which will drive a certain percentage of your audience to free alternatives, or you offer for-fee services on top of your commoditized news. GigaOM, for example, is celebrating its 7th anniversary, largely because it created a premium service that offers expert analysts. Others, such as the Atlantic, offer advertising interspersed with their content, a new way to provide ads that both will be seen by readers and gets advertisers closer to the news content.

    A second path – and one my company is exploring – is as a nonprofit. WordPress news could be seen as a service. Obtain funding grants from the WordPress foundation and other companies wishing to see WordPress flourish. Then concentrate on producing content. Otherwise, all the enthusiasm in the world will not pay your light bill.

    A fatal mistake often made by news sites is picturing their target audience as the readers, the users. Wrong. To be successful (and fiscally afloat) you must see your audience as your advertisers, the companies looking to reach the users.


  13. I think there are two separate ideas here.

    The first is whether or not WordPress news content and information can be monetized. To this, I say, absolutely. I don’t know how big the potential market is, but I do think that the success of the commercial theme, plugin and services markets indicates that there are plenty of opportunities to successfully monetize a news and community focused publication about WordPress that isn’t just a side project for a larger more sustainable business like consulting or theme development.

    I’m not saying its easy (successful content creation is not easy, it’s just not), but I certainly think it is possible.

    The second issue is understanding what it would take to make such a site — or any niche news site or blog — a success. And to me, that’s the crux. It’s not just about selling ads and doing affiliate links — though that can be a good start, it’s about looking at the business aspect of the creative process too.

    One of my best friends is Dan Benjamin — who runs 5by5.tv. Dan started 5by5 in early 2010 as a niche podcast network focused on web developers, designers and people who like to stay on top of tech and tech related stuff. It’s a niche audience. His most popular shows get a few hundred thousand downloads. This isn’t mainstream stuff. Yes Dan makes it work and is successful at it.

    That’s because in addition to creating the content, he also understands and is willing to run the business.

    I totally understand not being interested in dealing with advertising and affiliates and reviews and sponsorships as a way to make money. I totally understand that all of those things impede with the actual act of creating content.

    But that’s what it takes to make something a financial success.

    I’ve often thought about trying to make a living just on my own writing for my own properties — a la John Gruber or Shawn Blanc. While I’d be OK with selling sponsorships and doing the other stuff that would be required to make that work, I’m realistic enough to know that even if I were successful, it would be difficult for me to make as much as I make as a salaried journalist. I fully understand not wanting to embark on those types of decisions because I do it myself — Mashable takes care of the business stuff, I focus on writing my own content.

    And fortunately for you, that’s what you get to do now too. What you created WAS deemed important enough to be worthwhile and of value to continue to exist.

    But make no mistake, just because you weren’t interested in making WPTavern a business, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened or that it can’t happen for others. In fact, the content creator who is also adept at wearing the business hat is rare — which is why in the media world we keep them separate (or at least, try to). In a perfect world, WPTavern would have hired or partnered with someone to think about all the business and advertising logistics about making money and you could have focused on content.

    Not being able to do both parts doesn’t make someone a failure — but both parts are almost always necessary for success.


  14. @donnacha and @Christina Warren have hit the nail on the head here IMO.

    This should be doable, you just need to be more aggressive and target things better than has been done in the past. I don’t think it would be a good way to make a living though. It seems kinda risky and I doubt the return would be very big.

  15. Ted Clayton

    Given the boundless dedication, the work without end, and the Faith unto our Lord who art in Heaven, we too can (at least metaphorically) be the 3rd-string quarterback for the New England Patriots.

    So what’s our problem? The blind navigate the length of the Yukon River. The legless run marathons. Octogenarians ascend Mount Everest.

    You absolutely can, indeed, make a commercial go of a WordPress news website, such as WPTavern. You could … if, given, thus and therefore.

    Just like you could reprise the accomplishments of Tim Tebow.
    =====

    The hold-up on a lot of these things that potentially or theoretically ‘could’ be, is of course that they’re in competition for the available dedication, work & faith, with other alternative venues & avenues … which our judgment & circumspection tell us will yield a richer harvest, for the talents & gifts we have to put into our chosen undertaking.

    We could bear down and create more commercial WP news sites. But for the same investment, more of us will achieve more and go farther (and better serve our Higher Power), by devoting ourselves to one or another of the non-commercial approaches.


  16. I think I commented there. I am going to repeat myself here and summarize what I told Jeff throughout the years.

    1) You should of made WPTavern T-shirts. I said this 80% of my communication with Jeff.
    2) I will never EVER pay for a paywall. Why would I pay to read an article as WordPress 3.6 is out when I can read it for free other places and Twitter?

    3) You can’t be a one trick pony.
    There has been some times where I wanted a second opinion. I thought of Jeff. Yes Jeff, I thought of contacting you. I would of paid hourly fee. Either you invoice me for hours at end of month or I pre-pay let’s say 25 hours.

    4) Shop – Theme/plugins/consultation.

    5) Shop – t-shirts/dolls/etc…Woo themes has a ninja.

    6) I will admit, sometimes there are features that I try to avoid, customers who want e-commerce for example. Other times I am so busy that I can’t take new clients and I will forward them to someone I trust.

    DO NOT DO PAID REVIEWS. I will be the first person to challenge the integrity of the review.

    Reviewing Xbox One that Microsoft sends you to review would be a grey area.

    Also, why not open up to other people write articles, not just you.


  17. There are a lot of people that said Jeff should have done this or Jeff could have done that. I’m aware of everything I could have done to make money but didn’t. Because I didn’t want to. Yes I wanted to make this thing self-sustainable while helping me to pay the bills but the ways in which I tried to do that didn’t work. However, after everything is said and done, the best outcome that could have ever happened to me, did. Someone is paying me to do what I enjoy without ever having to worry about advertising or generating that next buck. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. However, I also find my situation to be extremely lucky as this sort of thing doesn’t happen to very many people.

    As I mentioned in my interview, I had some ideas around a WP type magazine but it certainly wasn’t going to be in print but Ryan proved there was demand for it. He also shocked me by creating a WPCandy specific iPhone app which people paid for. He was definitely more outgoing and bit of a risk taker than I was. There is a huge difference between idea and reality. I was pretty good in the idea department but terrible when it came to reality.


  18. @Jeffro -Well said. It’s just like that. The best outcome that could have ever happened to you. Congrats! Enjoy your job, now! :)


  19. RE: “… pretty good in the idea department but terrible when it came to reality.”

    This was the situation when it came to many journalists, tossed from their print jobs, who looked to create another career by starting an online venture. The key is to find someone with business acumen, if you don’t already possess it. It is easier to create a profitable publishing site (no matter the subject matter) if you begin with a business emphasis, then pick up some editorial employees. It looks like this is the route WPCandy took.

    Either way, I’m glad you found the funding to continue. The WordPress community needs a news site that goes beyond self-serving product promotions or journalistically-challenged coverage of the world’s most-used online publishing platform.


  20. When things at the Tavern began to slow down, I really, wanted to tell everyone about what was going on in my personal life that was dragging me away from the Tavern so much but I never did because I thought nobody wanted to read that stuff on a site devoted to WordPress. Shortly after the peak of WPTavern, my father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer only it was in his system for so long, we discovered that it had metastasized into his bones. I helped my wife, (at the time fiancee) take care of her father, drive him to appointments and lift him up and down stairs. At about this time, I discovered they owned a second home which was rented out to a guy who damn near ruined the place.

    I spent a ton of time over at this other house to clean it up because at the time, we thought this was going to be the house we would move into. But in 2010 he passed away. This left my fiancee and her sister by themselves with two houses to take care of. Needless to say, I didn’t have much of a chance with the Tavern after that. I had no money to hire writers and I couldn’t spend hours in front of the PC anymore.

    I’m not sure how much longer I could have chugged along trying to make money here and there with WordPress but the personal stuff certainly ruined my momentum and any chance I had at taking the site to the next level. Once the Tavern slowed way down, that is when WPCandy hit its stride and became the cool place.


  21. @Jeffro -Wow. What a story! I feel bad for you and for your father-in-law. F***ing cancer! :(. After all, there are always real people with real lives (and real problems) behind websites.

    You did well, Jeffro! I wish you luck with you new (maybe not-so-new) job! :)


  22. @Joan – Thanks Joan. Cancer does suck. I’m pretty happy that all of those experiences have lead me to where I’m at today.


  23. First of all I’m glad things are working out fine for Jeff and we once again have an active WP Tavern. This site together with WP Candy was one of my inspirations when I started WP Mayor. For what it’s worth, sites like WP Mayor and WP Lift are being monetized in various ways, although both don’t deal exclusively with WP news.

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