Podcast Episode

426 – How Can WordPress Be Free?


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

Dummy Images provides functionality for generating image placeholders which can be used for various purposes – set temporary feature images, filling blank spots, test and play around with different image sizes and etc.

How Can WordPress Be Free?

In today’s episode we talk about how WordPress can be free what the hidden costs are and how you can make money with this free software.

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

On today’s episode, we are going to talk about how WordPress can be free, how this software can change millions of lives and generate so much income, but it’s completely free. We’re gonna talk about that, right here on Your Website Engineer podcast episode No. 426.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer podcast. My name’s Dustin Hartzler. I’m excited to be here with you today because we’re gonna be talking about something that I don’t get questions a lot via email because everybody listening to this show is very interested or they know kind of how WordPress works. But when I tell people I help people build WordPress websites, and when I explain it a little bit, how does that free software, how does that translate? Why is it free, and how can it – there’s just so many questions around it. So, I wanted to debunk some of those things, and we’ll talk about that today.

The first thing in the announcements that I want to share with you is WordPress 5.1 Beta 3 is now available. It’s still in development, and we’ll continue to get these update cycles. It isn’t going to be released ‘til February 21st, so just three weeks from now or so. And that’s kind of what’s going on in this space.

There have been some changes. A few things have been pulled out and moved to 5.2 release because it was gonna slow down this next release, but they’ve been doing a lot of things, working with TinyMCE making that Classic Editor work a lot better. Some of the block editors have some bugs that have been fixed. There have been some differences between behavior of Classic Block and the Classic Editor that’s been fixed, and there’s a bunch of things for the developers as well.

So, if you are interested in updating or running this Beta software to make sure your themes and plugins and everything’s gonna work perfectly with 5.1, you can do that. You can find the Beta over there on the WordPress.org/news. You can get a link to it there, or you can use the download of Beta Tester plugin, and you can automatically update your site from there.

So, that is the only news that I have. It’s kind of a slow week when it comes to news. There are a few WordCamps here that are happening, but not much else happening in the WordPress space.

The other thing that I want to share with you is the plugin for the week. And this one’s really cool. It’s a brand-new plugin. But I thought it was really neat, and it’s a good way to start building out a website. And it’s called Dummy Images. And Dummy Images provides a functionality for generating image placeholders which can be used for various purposes like setting temporary featured images or filling blank spots, test content in layout to see what it looks like with different images. Maybe you want to add an image, or some social media icons, or something on a widget or a sidebar or somewhere, and you just don’t want to generate those images yourself. Well, you can use a plugin called Dummy Images, and it’ll do exactly that.

There are some settings in there that you can change. The different images sizes, you can generate different image sizes. You can have different color background of these images. And they just say, “Hello,” in WordPress and Dummy Image or the size dimensions, and then you can set those up, and you can see that. And it kind of helps you mock up and try to figure out what your website’s gonna look like with images and pictures. So, that’s Dummy Images. I thought it was kinda neat and wanted to highlight it here on today’s show.

All right, let’s go ahead and talk about how WordPress can be free. What does that mean, and is it really free? Are there any catches and whatnot? And so, like I said at the beginning of the show, I do get questions a lot, especially when talking to people in real life, not necessarily online or exchanging emails back and forth. But the big thing is, do you have to pay to use the WordPress software? And you tell them, “It’s free. It’s open-source.” And, “It’s what? It’s free? What does open-source mean?”

And so, let’s go ahead and talk about that, and let’s just talk about some of the cost running a WordPress site and if there’s any catches with running this free WordPress software.

So, WordPress is an open-source software, like I said. It’s free in the sense of freedom, not in the sense of free like a free beer or a free sticker or whatnot. What’s the difference, you may ask? Open-source software comes with the freedom to use, modify, build upon, and redistribute the software in any way that you would like without paying any fees. But there may be costs involved in other areas, and we’ll discuss those as we go through this episode today.

So, we sometimes get asked, especially with WooCommerce or WordPress itself, why don’t companies charge for this software? And if the software’s as good as people say, if there’s so many people using WordPress, why wouldn’t it make sense to actually pay or have somebody have to pay to use WordPress? And the statement makes a lot of sense if a single company owned WordPress or if there was an individual that was behind it. Or you think about these plugins. BackupBuddy. There’s a company behind BackupBuddy, and that’s why they charge for it. OptinMonster. There’s a company behind it, and that’s why they charge for it.

Well, nobody really owns WordPress. It’s an open-source community project where tens of thousands of talented people have made contributions to make it great software. And that’s going all the way back to 2013. And there have just been people that have spent time in fixing bugs, or writing core updates, or writing documentation, or doing all kinds of things. It’s a community-led initiative.

There is a team of core developers that lead the project, but anybody can contribute to the patching bugs, fixing bugs, and making features, suggesting features, etc. Plus, project leaders can change from one version to another. So, if you get deeply involved in the WordPress community, then you can be a core contributor to WordPress as well. And core contributors, there’s only a handful of them. They have very, let’s say, very high powers, if you will. So, that means they can take code and merge it to the core WordPress functionality.

Now, you may have heard a few episodes ago, I talked about the ClassicPress. This came out in December, I believe, of 2018. And ClassicPress was a spinoff of WordPress. And they basically didn’t want the Gutenberg, or the Bock Editor, everything we’ve talked about in the last month, they didn’t want that functionality in their WordPress, so they’re calling themselves ClassicPress. And they’ve basically taken all the code and they’ve got their own lead developers, and they’re modifying it and they’re making it work exactly how they want it to. And it’s completely a legit excuse or a legit way to use open-source software.

The philosophy behind open-source software is that software is not like other tangible products. Once software’s created, it can be copied many times with little cost. So, it’s very different than, like, a toy in a factory. Each toy is manufactured, has a different part, and each part has a cost. The manufacturing of these parts can be calculated by the factory to decide the actual cost and what the profit margin is for the product.

But when you create software – and making copies of it is not the same. You make it once, and then you don’t have any other costs involved with, let’s say, selling the product, if you will. Everything can be automated, if you will.

So, that’s kind of the thought process behind open-source. So, we’ve got hundreds of people, hundreds, even thousands of people, working on the software, making it right and making it how it is today. And then you don’t have to worry about like, oh, well, if somebody downloads that, it takes a little bit of server resources, it takes a little bit of bandwidth and whatnot. But you don’t have a lot of costs sunk into that they need to recoup on every version that’s being downloaded.

Now, if WordPress was out on floppy discs or CDs or zip drives or whatever, then I can see there being a little bit of a cost to buy the software or buy the media that the software’s on so that you can have the software. Luckily, 2019, we’re in the technology phase of we rarely ever have to go to the store to buy software. You get most things from the app store, or you can download it right from the software developer’s license. And so, we don’t have to deal with that type of issue or that kind of cost when it comes to WordPress.

So, even though WordPress is free – this is one of my favorite things about WordPress. WordPress is completely free, but yet so many people make their full-time living with this free software. And so, it’s awesome that people – and usually, people fall into a couple camps when it comes to that. So, they’re using the free software to build their own profitable website. So, they have a website. Maybe they’ve installed WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads, and they are allowing people to purchase things through their website. So, they’ve got free software, but yet they’re bringing money into their store because they’re using the free software.

Another way people use WordPress to make money is they actually build websites for other people. So, they take this free software, they make it exactly like what somebody else wants, and then they get paid for their services. So, that’s another way that you can make money from WordPress.

Another way you can make money from WordPress is you can work at full-time support or full-time for a plugin developer like I do. I work for Automatic, and I get paid a full-time salary to help other people understand and use the platform or WordPress or WooCommerce or Jetpack. You could also make money with the free software to create paid plugins or paid themes so that people can buy the theme or the plugin to add that extra functionality or those extra visuals to their site.

So, people make money in various different ways of WordPress. We have other people that are actually kind of branching off WordPress and being graphic designers, or SEO consultants, or social media evangelists and helping people use their WordPress site to garnish these other communities, or continue to build that community draw, or work with their social platforms, or do cool social branding or whatnot. So, that’s other ways that people make money with WordPress.

There’s tons of different ways that people can make lots of money. And there are multi-million-dollar WordPress companies like WP Engine. That’s a hosting company. Them and Flywheel and SiteGround and all of those companies that dedicate their time and effort and energy to building the platform so that WordPress can run smoothly on their hosting sites. There is Yoast and Elegant Themes and Awesome Motive and all kinds of companies out there that are making tons of money with this free software.

Now, let’s talk a little bit more of the technical stuff about the copyright, or the GPL, or the license and all that kind of stuff. What does all that mean? Because a lot of times, you hear that it’s open-source and its GPL-compliant and yada, yada, yada, and you don’t know exactly what that is until it’s really broken down. So, let’s talk about, is WordPress copyright-free? No, WordPress is not copyright-free. It’s licensed in a way that allows everyone to use it, but each contribution made to the software is copyrighted. It’s released under the GPL, so you are free to use, modify, and redistribute the code.

You will have copyright to modifications that you make to the software, not the entire code. So, if you go in and you’ve changed it from WordPress to ClassicPress, you now have copyrights on everything that you’ve created, not the original code that comes from WordPress. GPL requires that any derivative work that you release or distribute should be licensed under the GPL as well. And you may have the copyright do anything that you do. So, any of your derivative work automatically inherits the GPL license so that others are free to use, modify, and redistribute your code any way they see fit.

I guess I should also describe or explain what GPL actually means, and it stands for General Public License. And it guarantees the end users the freedom to run, study and share and modify the software. It was originally written for Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation and grants recipients of computer programs the rights for the free software definition. And so, we use the term a lot, GPL, GPL, GPL. But it just basically means that users that are using the software have the ability to run, study, share, and modify the code. So, that’s what I mean when I’m saying GPL. What is this GPL thing?

Let’s see what else there is. The WordPress trademark usually falls into this category as well. What is the WordPress trademark? And the code of WordPress software is released under the GPL, the General Public License, but the words WordPress, WordCamp, and the WordPress logo are registered trademarks owned by the WordPress Foundation. To distinguish between a site or a research that is official community run, the foundation were asked not to use the WordPress name in their domain name.

And that is why, way back when, when I started yourwebsiteengine.com, I was gonna be called the WordPress Engineer. And after the first episode, I realized that I wasn’t doing it right, and the WordPress Foundation would have taken me down. So, after Episode 1, you can go back and listen to Episode 2 and you hear this story. But basically, I rebranded to yourwebsiteengineer.com, and that way I don’t have to worry about WordPress, the foundation, getting upset because using WordPress in the name.

And that’s why a lot of WordPress resources, WPBeginner, WP Chick, WP101, a lot of those sites that are out there, are all WP because it stands for WordPress, but it gets around that trademark of the WordPress name in a domain name.

Okay, Dustin, now, you’ve said that using WordPress is free, but is it really free? And so, it really depends. So, there’s a couple of different ways to actually using this WordPress software. And we all know this, but I just wanted to kind of brush over this just to make sure that we’re all on the same page. You can use WordPress 100% free, no strings attached, by going to WordPress.com and signing up for a free account. You can do that, and you’ll have WordPress.com in the name. So, it may be, like, DustinHartzler.WordPress.com, or whatever you want the domain name to be. And you can go ahead, and you can start using WordPress.

Now, you’re gonna be using kind of a stripped-down version of WordPress. You need to pay WordPress.com to unlock some of the features and add some of that functionality. And that’s just one of the ways that Automatic makes money and can continue to pay people to support WordPress.com and to pay people to help develop the WordPress software and whatnot.

Now, so, that’s the WordPress.com ecosphere. And with WordPress.com, there are different plans. You can pay up to, I think it’s $300.00 per year to have the business plan. And then with the business plan, you can have unlimited themes, or you can put your own theme on there. You can have plugins and whatnot. And you don’t have to worry about managing any hosting, and we take care of that all for you over on WordPress.com.

The other way to do it is running a self-hosted version of WordPress, and this is sometimes called WordPress.org. But it’s basically taking the software of WordPress, that free software, and installing it on a paid server that you have somewhere. Folks can use SiteGround or WPEngine. There are hundreds of different WordPress hosting sites that are out there, Bluehost, HostGator, all these different things. And you can start for about anywhere between $5.00 to $10.00 per month. And then a lot of those will include a domain name for a year, or sometimes you have to pay for a domain name for $15.00 a year or whatnot.

So, usually, in general, you can get started for about $100.00 or so, or under $100.00 if you pay for the whole year up front. And so, that’s kind of where some of the cost involves. And then once you’ve paid for that – now, that’s basically, you’re paying a company to have a space on a computer somewhere out there in the world that’s accessible by the Internet, or somebody that can go and they can access your website by going to your domain name on the Internet.

Now, you can set up your own server in your house and then pay for the electricity and do all the server maintenance and whatnot. But I find that’s very cumbersome, and it’s kind of a pain to make sure that your website’s up and running. It’s usually worth a few bucks a month to have somebody that’s dedicated to doing that, having backups, and they have multiple server configurations so if one server goes down, they can go ahead and move your site to another server or whatnot. So, that’s where some cost comes in with WordPress.

So, you can pay that $100.00 per month or $100.00 per year or whatever and have a full-functioning website. You can use tons of free plugins, you can find a free theme, and you can get your site up and running and you can build exactly what you want.

But then there’s also ways to add more costs if you want to. You can always add more costs. That’s kind of the base line. You can go free if you want to. But then if you wanted to have maybe a backup service or a backup plugin or a premium plugin to do a certain thing, then that’s where you’re gonna start incruing some cost. When you think about running a WooCommerce cite – again, WooCommerce is a free software that you can put on top of WordPress. So, you can run a store completely for free with either Paypal or Stripe or the Square payment gateway.

But if you need something specific, maybe you need to generate live shipping rates for USPS or UPS or FedEx, or maybe you need to have the ability to conditionally show different shipping options, or maybe you need to use Authorize.net because that’s what your in-store, your brick-and-mortar store’s using, then you’ll be paying a one-time fee each year to have access to plugins so that you can get support and updates as well. And so, that’s where some cost’s involved with WordPress.

But it’s very possible to go in and – in theory, you could go and build a website for somebody, maybe quote them it’s gonna cost them $5,000.00. You get them set up for $100.00 per year on a host, and you use WordPress free. You use a free theme, and you use a couple of free plugins, and you can get them all up and running without any additional costs. And then you could profit $4,900.00 for everything except for the hosting.

And so, you could do it that way, but I find that a lot of people will invest some money in plugins because it just makes their lives easier, makes it a little bit faster and more economical to run. You’re building a website for your business, and I think it makes a lot of sense to spend a little money, to invest in it. And then that way, you’ve got a little skin in the game. I find that whenever you pay for something, you spend a little bit more time watching it, or you spend a little bit more time making sure it’s working right.

But if you have this free website out there and you have nothing invested in it, then it’s just like, “Oh, it’s just this other thing that I’ll get around to, I’ll get around to, I’ll get around to,” and I never actually get around to it. It’s similar to using an email newsletter subscriber, like a service to provide emails to your customers or your list. If you’re paying a lot of money for it, you tend to send a few more emails than if you’re not really paying much money for it.

So, that’s where some of the cost’s involved in WordPress. So, WordPress software, like I said, is completely free. There’s no cost for WordPress. There’s more than 50,000 plugins in the repository that are completely free as well. My guess is you can find some plugins that are very similar to the premium plugins that will do most of what you need for completely free. So, I just want to kinda highlight and share where some of those things come from. Where’s the money and the traffic generated when the software’s completely free?

And I think it’d be really interesting to see from Matt Mullenweg’s perspective, being one of the co-founders of WordPress, and now running this very successful company at Automatic, just to take a step back and look at what the free software – these big software companies like to lockdown their software. They make sure that, “Oh, well, you can’t edit that. We’re gonna release this, but if there’s bugs or whatever, you have to submit them to us, and then we’ll fix them and then patch them.” Whereas with WordPress, everything is open, and everybody can see anything that they want, and they can fix and change and modify and delete and do things with this core software that’s completely free.

But look how many thousands of people make full-time livings. Look at how many thousands of people run their business from this free software. Look at just how much money is being generated in the economy because of this free software. So, I think that’s a really neat perspective to think about, and how to really think that through. So, that’s what I want to share with you this week, just kinda talking through what it looks like and how WordPress “makes its money.”

There are some folks that do make money that are paid from companies. There are different web agencies that will pay a full-time person just to contribute to WordPress code. I believe like with GoDaddy and Bluehost, there are some people on those hosting platforms as well that dedicate full-time work back to the WordPress community. So, not everybody’s just a volunteer. It’s not that nobody gets paid to work on WordPress. But there are some companies that are funding a few people’s salaries to work on the software.

So, in general, it’s still completely free software, and nobody’s directly getting compensated for, oh, they made ten contributions, or ten code commits to WordPress, then they get paid for that. No, nobody directly gets paid from WordPress itself or the WordPress Foundation.

Next week, we’ll get back into the technical things of WordPress and talking about how to do specific things. Until then, take care, and we’ll talk to you then. Bye-bye.