Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm.

WordPress Is Now A ~$50 Million Business, But It Still Won’t Take My Money

Hey, look at that. WordPress is becoming a decent business. But it’s still passing up an important segment of the market — sites like this one.

Here’s All Things D’s Liz Gannes on Automattic, the WordPress parent company:

The company is profitable, and expects to bring in $45 million in revenue this year, according to CEO Toni Schneider and founder Matt Mullenweg.

The majority of Automattic revenue comes from premium subscription services, and that’s supplemented by a “VIP” enterprise publisher business — in total, there are half a million paying customers — as well as a recently launched advertising revenue-sharing network.

That’s pretty solid growth from a couple of years ago, when WordPress was supposedly only doing about $10 million in sales. So, bravo to the WordPress team.

But here’s my problem with WordPress. I want to pay Automattic a nice amount of money every month to host my “pro” site(s) on real, official WordPress infrastructure. But they won’t let me.

I’ve been using WordPress blogging software for almost a year now for SplatF, and for about 7 years for other sites. It’s a pretty solid content management system, though it hasn’t really evolved very much over the years, and there are some features it could do much better. But whatever, no big deal. It gets the job done.

The problem is that there’s no middle ground in WordPress’s hosting business for sites like SplatF: “Pro” sites that aim to be commercial enterprises, but aren’t run by big companies with money to spend on “VIP”-level service.

Today, I could host SplatF on WordPress’s own “WordPress.Com” infrastructure for free, plus about $100 per year in premium add-ons. But then I couldn’t run ads on it, or make money off it, unless I used WordPress’s very limited ad-rev-share program. That’s a non-starter.

But WordPress “VIP” — which would allow me to run ads, and currently powers sites like TechCrunch and GigaOM — starts at $3,750 per month(!). That’s crazy! Even in a few years, I wouldn’t want to spend that much per month on hosting. Not for a simple site like this one.

There’s no middle ground with WordPress. This means the only option is to host elsewhere.

Today, I spend about $50-$100 per month to host SplatF at Dreamhost. (I’m also spending $15/month for WordPress’s “VaultPress” backup system, $10/month for a new caching service called CloudFlare, and $5/month for Amazon’s CloudFront CDN service.)

This is okay, not great. There has been some downtime at Dreamhost; a lot, recently. It could be much faster. I’ve had security problems in the past. It’s just not solid enough. I’m considering switching to WP Engine, which seems to be faster and more reliable, but will be a bit more expensive and has drawbacks.

But what I’d really like to do is pay WordPress-the-company that $80-$130 per month to host SplatF and let me run my own ads on it. I don’t want VIP phone support or white-glove treatment. I just want to pay WordPress a reasonable amount of money for a reasonable level of commercial service. And it makes me sad that I can’t.

Now, maybe there’s a good reason for this. Maybe WordPress thinks/knows that $1,000-$1,500 per year in revenue isn’t enough per customer to make a profit, when infrastructure and support costs are figured in. Maybe it’s trying to keep its paid-hosting customer base low and focus on VIP clients that can spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Maybe my slice of the market is smaller than I think it is. Or maybe WordPress just hasn’t gotten around to designing a mid-range product.

But whatever the reason, I’m still forced to spend my money elsewhere. And that’s too bad.

Earlier: Adventures In Self-Publishing: SplatF’s Six-Month Checkup