WordPress.com, one of the internet’s leading purveyors of blog infrastructure and hosting, has taken a step toward making blogging more sustainable by allowing sites to easily accept recurring payments. Think: subscriptions. The tool will be available to anyone with a paid WordPress site and to sites that use the company’s Jetpack toolkit.
Blogging has been declining in popularity from its heyday in the aughts, when you could make enough money to live on just from maintaining your site. Blogging isn’t dead — because “that is not dead which can eternal lie,” to quote the famously racist H.P. Lovecraft — but it is absolutely on life support, and difficulty making money is among the reasons why. (See: the death of personal bloggers, and the untimely, unfair demise of Gawker and Deadspin.)
“Especially from a small publisher, small business, sustainability perspective, subscriptions and memberships are such a key foundational element to monetizing your site in 2019,” says Mark Armstrong, the founder of Longreads and an editor at Automattic (WordPress.com’s parent company). The idea was to build something simple that could be integrated relatively easily, so that sites could immediately begin collecting revenue from their audiences. Armstrong said that an early version of the product was first tested at Longreads.
“We provided a lot of feedback in terms of the things that we had seen,” says Armstrong. “We’ve had a membership and subscription for Longreads, going back to 2011. So about eight years of experience working with memberships and subscriptions.”
The new Recurring Payments feature also includes pay-what-you-want options, which was something we learned from @Longreads: Some people who really love your site will contribute more than you expect.— Mark Armstrong (@markarms) November 12, 2019
The thing about this product, though, is that it does duplicate some functionality — like, say, with PayPal’s WordPress plug-in. This fits into a broader trend of enabling creators to accept payments and build communities in easy ways. If it’s not a Patreon competitor, it’s definitely influenced by the site.
But Armstrong doesn’t see it as a conflict. “I think we’re all supportive of all of the other products that exist within the WordPress ecosystem,” he says. “Patreon, Memberful, WooCommerce — which is part of our own company, so they have a memberships and subscriptions extension as well.” Those other products serve a slightly different need, and are available to all WordPress blogs — not just the ones that are paid.
Armstrong says which service people choose really just comes down to what individual users need. He says WordPress’ new recurring payments feature would work for local organizations trying to start a fundraising membership program; or maybe a podcaster that’s just getting off the ground. “Recurring payments are critical for pretty much any small business. And that’s really at the core of our user base.”
Armstrong says that the company is always working on its e-commerce offerings. “So I would expect to see a lot more of that in the future.”