Heal Your Church WebSite


Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

What we can learn from MovableType’s new pricing schedule …

… or the importance of understanding your user base.

What happened yesterday, that turned a community of high-tech bloggers from their Snoopy-like loyalty into a pack of ravenous pit bulls when SixApart announced their pricing architecture for their MovableType product? Moreover, what can we learn from this?

GROUND RULES

First, let me say off the bat, MovableType is worth paying for; the question is, how much for which features?

Second, much of what I’m about to write is based upon personal opinions or speculations. My purpose here is NOT to convince SixApart nor the user base that they’re wrong, but rather to learn from a situation where a loyal and friendly association of users turned hostile overnight.

Third, to those who feel MT should be free: get a life. The good people at SixApart are not Satan, nor are they a charity. Any sense of entitlement you have is your fault. It is SixApart’s software they licensed to you after you agreed to their terms. Moreover, it has been known for some time that they would charge for a professional version.

Fouth, SixApart is a business. They have lives to live, rent to pay and mouths to feed. The fact that they’ve let us use their intellectual property for free this long is a testament to their dedication to the product. Especially when you consider the confiscatory regulations and taxes they have to endure as residents of California.

In other words, the issue here isn’t that they’re charging; I’ve got no beef with that. The issue here is how their current pricing structure may have done them as much harm as good. The numbers of sales aren’t in, so again, this is opinion, conjecture and speculation on my part.

ASSUMPTIONS:

I am of the personal belief that the current pricing structure for MovableType is based upon SixApart’s success with TypePad. That is, either the price per feature was derived from TypePad, and/or was created so as not to erode sales of TypePad.

If this is the case, or even partially the case, then I have to assume that there wasn’t much done in the way of determining why an individual might use MovableType over TypePad. While I know of users who’ve employed both, I believe there is a big difference between each core community.

Regardless of the above assumptions, I also have an inkling that SixApart may not have engaged in a thorough enough survey to see what the reaction would be to their current pricing architecture.

One of the primary reasons for MovableType’s success is its extensibility through an open architecture. This in turn has created a large community of technically capable users who have donated quite a bit of time creating plug-ins, patches, tutorials, templates and fixes; myself included.

I also wonder if SixApart surveyed their competitors in great detail.

ASSERTIONS:

Based upon the above assumptions, the problem isn’t that MovableType is now a pay to play product, but rather that SixApart priced their product past the point of customer loyalty.

Ignoring the screeds of the “everything should be free” crowd, there are many of us who are more than willing to pay for MovableType. I’ve been more than ready to plunk down my hard-earned dollars, and over the past few months warned the folks at Mission4Me and Redland Baptist to be prepared to do the same.

However, $69 for a three author, five blog per seat has me saying “I love you guys, but I hope you don’t mind if I shop around first.” Why? Below I’ve enumerated the features that make MovableType more desirable to me than competitive products:

  • create a new blog at will
  • add users at will
  • create plug-ins with relative ease
  • relatively simple template engine
  • huge and highly technical third party user base
  • Perl
  • plug-ins (again!-)

I suspect that the above shopping list may also apply to several others who’ve opted to use MovableType over the likes of TextPattern, WordPress, pMachine, Drupal, Blosxom, Internet > On the Web > Weblogs > Tools > Publishers”>etc …

WHAT NOW?

SixApart has expressed in writing, more than once, that they’re grateful for the input from their user base. Now they need to say this in their pricing architecture.

A portion of their success comes from creative and talented individuals outside of SixApart who have created in the past syndication templates, macros, plug-ins and tutorials. Note: the operative phrase here is creative and talented.

Unfortunately, and again I’m speculating, I think the current pricing structure is too restrictive for those of us who might want to spawn off a new weblog to cover a particular topic for a short period of time, such as a photoblog entitled ‘40 Days of Porpoise.’

They also need to realize that these creative individuals are for the most part, aren’t like their TypePad user base and therefore shouldn’t be charged like them. Instead, they need to visit their competitors and price their product … competitively.

Here are some suggestions based on absolutely no metrics at all other than my past experience, reading many of yesterday’s postings about MT’s annoucement and the prices and/or features offered by competitors:

  • $29.95 for a 3 account + 3 blog ( = ‘seat’) license in which seats can be added at $5.95 a piece, or can be upgraded to unlimited seats for an additional $49.95. This is priced low enough to keep single-blog users from migrating over to WordPress and competes nicely with pMachine.
  • $29.95 for an installation on a typical Linux, Apache, MysSQL platform that already has the required Perl Modules and database installed; $79.95 if not.
  • $159.95 for a 5 seat professional version in which seats can be added for $29.95 a piece, or $359.95 for an unlimited version.
  • The purchase of seats can be credited towards unlimited licenses.
  • Create a reseller price so developers can profit modestly from selling, installing, and developing the professional version for their clients.
  • Extend the unlimited seats personal edition to bona fide educational AND 501(c)(3) charities.
  • Offer seats as rewards to third-party developers who make useful contributions.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE?

So how does this relate to the creation of your church or charity’s website? Generally, both organizations have two types of users. Seekers and loyal fans. Make sure you don’t treat them as one in the same.

Don’t put the latter in a situation where you’ve ‘priced yourself’ past their ‘loyalty point’ into shopping around. This means creating user profiles, taking surveys and checking out the competition … thoroughly. Who knows, you may have more than two major classes of users.

If you don’t know how or don’t want to collect such data, then hire (and pay) a professional who does.

QUOTABLES

I’m not entirely alone in thes assumptions and/or opinions. Here are some other intelligent posts on the topic worth your while:

Unfortunately I had high hopes about Movable Type 3.0 in use at Erlanger Health System’s nationally award winning website. It’s not the cost, that makes absolutely no difference, since it’s reasonable and something we can afford. It’s with the “Maximum Weblogs” allowed under their new commercial license. – Michael Kelley

From what I’ve read, most people’s negative reactions were due to the fact that they, like myself, run multiple weblogs for different subjects, or run weblogs with multiple authors, and the pricing structure is, indeed, prohibitively expensive. They, like myself, weren’t expecting this type of pricing structure. We have happily used the easy functionality of MT to create multiple weblogs and add authors never knowing that some day we would be penalized for doing so; that ‘cheaper by the dozen’ may apply to egg rolls, but it sure doesn’t apply to weblogs or authors. – Shelley

This outcry raises a bigger more important point which is the reason for my post. As a developer and one who makes a living writing code, this reaction to Six Apart’s new licensing is really disheartening and on a certain level frustrating to see. I am a firm believer and backer of open source. I’ve personally released quite a bit of open source code myself and will continue to do so. However this apparent expectation of the vocal part of community that it is their right to have all great works of software at no cost is bothersome. If users don’t have the funds or won’t pay on principle for my time, effort or talent – how do I eat? – Timothy Appnel

When Apple was nearing release of Mac OS X, they published a developer’s release. … By putting out a developer’s release, creators of the world’s best add-ons could get their software Mac OS X compatible so that when the first consumer-focused release happened, people could continue to enjoy the things they had in the past while also getting the advantages of the new OS … The Movable Type Developer’s release parallels this quite nicely. – Jay Allen

ASIDE: If my line of thinking and technical approach are what your company needs and if you have a job for me in the Raleigh/Durham/RTP N.C. area, drop me a line … I want to escape from Maryland.

61 Comments

  1. john people say they will stop using MT because noone sticks with a software that is not updated. That’s mostly for security reasons, but also you want to use a software which you are familiar with and that it has a future. For the short term, it doesn’t make much sense to stop using MT, but sooner or later you should better find a better alternative.

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  10. I switched to WordPress from MT and can honestly say I’m extremely happy. PHP is soooo much easier to work with than Perl. You might want to give it a try.

    http://wordpress.org/

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