WordPress.com launched a new website building service today with prices starting at $4,900. Automattic has been beta testing the service since the last quarter of 2020. The product announcement invites customers to let WordPress.com’s professional team “translate your vision into a compelling and modern website” but does not specify pricing for more customized websites:
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Initial reactions from the WordPress developer and freelance community were mixed. Some see the competition as good and others perceived it as a threat to WordPress consultants and small agencies, because a product from WordPress.com carries the full weight of the official WordPress brand.
“Whether this succeeds or not there are a lot of folks with a sick stomach today because of it,” WordPress developer Chris Wiegman said.
Automattic stepping into the $5k website market came as a surprise to many, after years of keeping to the enterprise space with its WordPress.com VIP service. (Sometime in 2019 the service started going by “WordPress VIP” without the “.com” appended to it.) Freelancers haven’t had to worry too much about competing against a large company like Automattic when trying to attract clients. It’s also an interesting move because the company seemed stretched thin when it came to maintaining plugins used by VIP clients in 2019, despite seeing “demand for WordPress in the enterprise market like never before,” according to Nick Gernert, head of VIP.
“Can’t say I’m surprised by this announcement, but it doesn’t bode well for the community, to be honest,” WordPress consultant Joshua Nelson said. “Freelancers will be hurt the most. A for instance: My custom built sites start at $3k. Once you factor in a designer that $4.9k rate looks very competitive.”
In response to community concerns on Twitter, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said the product is targeted at people who have a difficult time getting started with WordPress.
“I would be extremely surprised if this impacts anyone’s consulting business, if you do have a current or potential client leave for it please let me know — it should be all new-to-WP users who wouldn’t have been successful getting started,” Mullenweg said. He also confirmed that the new service was set up for “referring business out” and referenced a previous experiment in 2018 where WordPress.com partnered with Upwork to refer clients for custom development.
The product launch lacked this information and some noted the copy was confusing with phrases like “Built by us” and “Our experts can build it for you.”
WordPress professionals took to Post Status‘ Slack to discuss the implications of Automattic’s new offering. Mullenweg responded to them, saying he is “100% certain this will drive more up-market consulting in the future” to consultants who handle larger projects and potentially bring more business to plugin and theme developers. He also noted that Bluehost’s full service product is a similar solution and that services like Web.com have been competing in this space for awhile.
“Typically these are called DIFM (do it for me) vs DIY (do it yourself),” he said.
Automattic must be witnessing a strong demand for DIFM, as participants in the discussion at Post Status referenced Mullenweg’s comments on the topic during his most recent State of the Word address delivered in December 2020:
Lots of people lost their jobs. Lots of people were looking to supplement their income. This drove an incredible amount of entrepreneurship, so people who were looking for people who knew WordPress. And on the other side of that, normal folks who knew or learned WordPress found that they had a lot to demand for their work, so they were able to supplement or replace their income, essentially for folks who have a do it for me mentality, so someone who is looking for someone else to build a website. It’s never been a better time to learn and invest in improving your WordPress skills.
The idea behind this product is to help those who get stuck with WordPress before they turn to competitors that market website creation to beginners. It indicates that WordPress still has a long road ahead before it is truly an approachable tool for beginners embarking on their first site building experience.
Automattic has not published a pricing structure for the features included in a basic $4900 website. Based on images on the landing page, the sites do not seem extensively customized beyond what existing themes offer. It seems like more of a website setup service and does not explicitly promise custom development.
When asked how agencies can apply to be put into the pipeline for referrals from WordPress.com’s new service, Mullenweg indicated that the product is still in the experimental stage.
“It’s unclear if anyone wants this yet, so for this experiment don’t have that yet,” Mullenweg said. “If it works then definitely we will try to open it up.”