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Why is WordPress Free? What are the Costs? What is the Catch?

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Why is WordPress Free? What are the Costs? What is the Catch?

One of the most often asked question by our users is “Do I have to pay to use WordPress?”. We tell them that WordPress is a free and open source software, which is usually followed by, “Why is WordPress Free?”. In this post, we will discuss why WordPress is free, the costs of running a WordPress site, and what’s the catch?

WordPress is an open source software. It is free in the sense of freedom not in the sense of free beer. You may ask what is the difference between these two? Open Source software comes with freedom for you to use, modify, build upon, and redistribute the software in any way you like. However, there might be costs involved somewhere. We will discuss the cost of using the open source WordPress software later in this article.

Why Don’t They Sell WordPress as a Software?

We often get asked why don’t people and companies behind WordPress sell it? If WordPress is as good as everyone says, then they would obviously make a lot more money by selling it. This statement would make sense, if a single company or individual owned WordPress.

WordPress is an open source community project where tens of thousands of talented people have made contributions to make it into a great software that it is today. There is a core team of developers that lead the project development, but anyone can contribute patches, report bugs, suggest features etc. Furthermore, project leaders change from one version to another. If you get involved into the community, then you can easily become a core contributor of WordPress.

The philosophy behind Open Source software movement is that software are not like other tangible products. Once a software is created, it can be copied many times with little cost. Let’s take example of a toy factory. Each toy manufactured has different parts and each part has a cost. The manufacturing cost of these parts can be calculated by the factory to decide a reasonable profit margin for the product. On the other hand the cost of creating a software and making copies of it is not the same. Some groups believe that with each copy sold, the profit margin of the software becomes more unfair.

To understand more about open source software, check out GNU’s Philosophy.

How do People Make Money with WordPress

The main profitable part of any open source software is by providing products or services based on the same open source software. People often confuse WordPress with WordPress.com. WordPress (often referred to self-hosted WordPress or WordPress.org) is a free blogging platform. Matt Mullenweg, co-founding developer of WordPress, launched a company Automattic which provides “restricted” free blog hosting service at WordPress.com, and you can pay/upgrade to unlock features such as CSS modification etc. However, to get the full power of WordPress.org on WP.com service, you have to spend over $3250 per month for hosting.

Other developers have gone ahead to build successful multi-million dollar businesses around WordPress by creating commercial plugins, commercial themes, and even offering WordPress hosting. An example of a very successful multi-million dollar business around WordPress would be StudioPress. They create beautiful paid WordPress themes. Other multi-million dollar theme companies would include Elegant Themes, WooThemes, iThemes, and more.

Themes are not the only way to make a successful business around WordPress. Tons of great plugin authors have successful businesses as well. Gravity Forms, BackupBuddy, Sucuri, SlideDeck, etc. Another example would be WPEngine, a managed WordPress hosting company that has raised over $1.2 million in funding. They have built a successful business around WordPress.

Good WordPress developers and consultants also make a good full-time income by building custom websites, applications, and plugins around WordPress for their clients. Some of them are doing over six-figures by themselves.

Is WordPress Copyright Free?

No, WordPress is not copyright free. It is licensed in a way that allows everyone to use it, but each contribution made to the software is copyrighted. It is released under GPL, so you are free to use, modify, and redistribute the code. You will have the copyright to modifications you make to the software not the entire code. GPL requires that any derivative work you release or distribute should be licensed under GPL as well. So while you may have the copyright to do anything you like, your derivative work automatically inherits the GPL license so others are free to use, modify, and redistribute your code in any way they choose.

Does this mean that all premium WordPress Themes and Plugins are Licensed GPL?

According to an official blog post on WordPress.org, themes are GPL too. Images, CSS and Javascript used inside themes and plugins can be excluded, but all PHP and HTML parts of themes and plugins extensively use WordPress functionality thus they are a derivative work therefore are licensed under GPL. However, the premium theme and plugin industry has grown a lot stronger and vocal where some folks do not agree with that. However most trusted WordPress businesses follow and abide by the community guidelines.

The Content Published with WordPress also inherits GPL?

No, you are entitled to license your content any way you like. Unless the content you are publishing is actually a derivative work of WordPress or any other GPL licensed work. For example, if you are writing a blog post showing people how to use a WordPress function with examples, then that particular blog post could be licensed differently. But the code used in examples is actually derivative work and automatically inherits the GPL license.

WordPress Trademark

The source of WordPress as a software is released under GPL but the words WordPress, WordCamp, and the WordPress Logo are registered trademarks owned by WordPress Foundation. To distinguish between a site or resource that is official or community run, the foundation asks folks to not use “WordPress” in their domain name. This is the reason why our site is called WPBeginner instead of WordPressBeginner. Any site, training course, or resource that you run across that has WordPress in their domain name is probably being run by someone who does not know enough about WordPress. This means you probably shouldn’t pay them any of your money :)

Most legit businesses built around WordPress are aware of the trademark policies, and they respect the rules.

Cost of using WordPress

WordPress as a software is free for you to download and use. However, to use WordPress on the web, you will need WordPress Hosting. You can use WordPress.com to create a free blog, but be aware that there are some differences – WordPress vs. WordPress.com [infographic]. The cost of using WordPress is relatively minimal and hold true for running any other type of website as well. The only real cost is web hosting and domain. WPBeginner users can get a domain name and web hosting for as low as $3.95/month from BlueHost.

Additional costs would be commercial WordPress themes. However, you are not required to use those. There are 1600+ free WordPress themes that you can use.

People often use commercial plugins, but you are not required to use those as well. There are over 23,000 free WordPress plugins.

So why do people buy paid themes or plugins? Free themes are being used everywhere. To get a little more exclusive design and feel for the site, folks often purchase a commercial “premium” theme. Another reason to purchase a paid theme or a plugin is to get support. Free theme or plugin providers are not required to offer support or updates because it is usually their passion project. However, paid plugin and theme shops offer regular support and updates because it is their business.

We hope that this article answers some questions about WordPress licensing, the costs of running a WordPress site, and the business around WordPress. Please feel free to add your comments, questions and feedback below.


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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  • bri

    excellent explanation…. i didn’t get it til now thanks WPBeginner!!

  • Debra

    I don’t know anything about code or themes or much of anything else you spoke about — GNUs, which I assume aren’t animals, and other acronyms—– I just want to write about what I want to write about and make some honest money as I go. If WordPress has the tools and I can easily understand how to use the tools, and I don’t have to pay a lot of money upfront to use the tools, I’m overjoyed. Somebody told me that if I used web hosting at WordPress, I’d have to shell out a couple thousand dollars a month minimum. I’m guessing now that I have read what you’ve written here and found out that I can understand what in blue blazes you are saying enough to stumble through the process without screwing up too badly, that it really won’t cost be a couple thousand up front to get started?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      The costs of hosting your own WordPress site depend on how popular your site becomes. Hosting could be expansive but there are plenty of options available to choose from. We would recommend you to take a look at our list of recommended WordPress hosting providers.

  • ahsan karim

    You are a great man. bundle of thanks

  • Shane Chambers

    Very helpful article! My concerns have been exploring how viable WordPress would be for an initial startup product. I’d like to potentially take a WordPress Theme, modify it for an initial launch of my web startup, and integrate custom code from there as I go along. I’ve been concerned about scalability, etc. of WP as an overall platform. After reading your article, I’m now concerned about this GPL under GNU. It sounds like any innovations I built on top of a theme or code I inherit from WordPress would not necessarily be protected under my IP? If so, that’s a huge problem for me and would completely rule out me using WP as a platform. What would be the point if my competitors or anyone can just take all the hard work I’ve done and replicate it immediately? Obviously, I need to research this myself.

    More details: my startup is initially building a niche job board with all the modern features (profile, job match, applicant mgmt., social integration/authentication, xml job pull, etc.), and eventually integrating future innovations which might include things like integrating another open source functionality like CRM or recruitment tech. Having “open source” availability is important to me so that I can modify algorithms if need be (such as the job matching), integrate new code features as I scale, and so I can have access to the underlying customer database for analytics, etc.

    I would appreciate any helpful feedback. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you!!

  • Jessica Santos

    Editorial Staff,

    I’m currently using Blogger right now but I have recently been informed that the material I submit onto my current blog is not neccessarily mine. I have read that WordPress is a better site for a blog because it is not only free but I have full ownership and full abilitiy of what to do with the material published on my blog. However, I am still questioning whether or not it is safe for me to post/submit my work onto a blog from WordPress. I am a writer, poet and photographer and I would not appreciate the knowledge of someone, even a blog site, to take my material from me, alter it or claim it as their own. Do I have full ownership? If so can I post/submit material/content with reassurance that it will not be taken and considered someone elses or considered to belong to WordPress?

    Jessica

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      Content you create on your website, on your own, is yours and you have complete ownership of it. However, if the content you are posting is someone else’s work then they can claim the copyright infringement. In that case they can file a complaint with search engines to deIndex your content, or contact your web hosting service provider to take down infringing material.

  • chris

    im none the wiser-what a load of waffle.is it free or not????

    its still impossible to know how to log in to word press and impossible to get help. i have no time to spend days siftting through hours of forums to find out hhow to sign in or some other stupid simple thing

    is this the level of inane stupidity humanity bhas come to? Everyones time is being stolen by computer inanitys. Everyone reading this would be far better off going out and buying a typewriter. Within second syour awy- no impossibly complicated systems,silly anal codes or password-just words on a page. Better still, pick up a pen and write on a piece of paper

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      Yes it is free. However, WordPress needs WordPress hosting service, like a typewriter needs paper, a desk, and ink. You can always pick up a pen and paper, but it will not make your written word instantly accessible to everyone in the world. Signing in to WordPress is not difficult type your website address with a /wp-admin to access the adminstration area. Like if your web address is example.com you would go to http://www.example.com/wp-admin to login. As for help, you can search WPBeginner Archives for help and you are always welcome to post your questions here. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter and ask your questions there.

  • Grace

    Great post! I arrived at this article after reading a comment you made elsewhere on the site that you don’t recommend Themeforest because they “do not follow the spirit of GPL”. Could you explain what you mean? I thought reading this post might help me understand what you meant, but it didn’t.

    So happy I discovered your site, Syed!

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Grace,

      Up until recently, Themeforest forced their authors to sell their themes under a proprietary license. I’m not going to explain what GPL is, you can read about it on GNU Public License page. But long story short, Themeforest has recently gave their authors the freedom to sell their work under the GPL license.

      However that wasn’t the only reason I don’t recommend them. The quality of most themes there are not very good (at least from the best practices standpoint). The themes might look great aesthetically, but usually cause a lot of bugs with numerous plugins.

      -Syed

  • Adrian

    Many thanks for this article Syed – incredibly useful. I’ve been using Weebly Pro for a good year now and, while there have certainly been benefits for me in terms of time to launch, I have always found it very restrictive, sometimes painful and invariably I’ve ended up having to massage the code anyway – although the “free” hosting certainly helps (and it’s great for very small businesses to launch quickly).

    I’ve been planning to make the jump to WP for some time now, and you article has inspired me to finally put some time into it -especially as I am confined to bed for the next 10 days – perfect opportunity.

    Thanks again, please keep up the great work!

    - A

  • Ian Dunn

    “WordPress is an open source software. It is free in the sense of freedom not in the sense of free beer.”

    Actually, WordPress is free-as-in-speech AND free-as-in-beer. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Free doesn’t refer to the price, it refers to freedom. You can read more about it here:

      http://codex.wordpress.org/License

      • Ian Dunn

        Free can refer to both the price and freedom, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_libre. When you say that “WordPress is not free in the sense of free beer”, you’re implying that people have to pay in order to obtain a copy of WordPress, which isn’t true. WordPress is free-as-in-speech because the GPL gives you the freedom to modify it, but it’s also free-as-in-beer because you don’t have to pay for it.

        • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

          Thanks for the clarification. I went and re-read the entire article to make sure that it reflects an accurate meaning and it does. It says there might be costs involved somewhere while using WordPress, and there is. We never implied that you have to pay for WordPress. If you read the whole article, then you will see under the section Costs of using WordPress, it says “WordPress as a software is free for you to download and use. However, to use WordPress on the web, you will need WordPress Hosting.” << which costs money.

        • Ian Dunn

          I think maybe the problem is just in the way that sentence was phrased.

          “WordPress is an open source software. It is free in the sense of freedom not in the sense of free beer.”

          I’m guessing you meant to say something like, “WordPress is an open source software, which means that it is free. ‘Free’ primarily refers to freedom to modify the software, as opposed to obtaining the software without payment, although it is also free in that sense.”

          But the way it was worded, it literally says that WordPress is not free-as-in-beer: “…not in the sense of free beer.”

          And that’s where the problem is. WordPress IS free-as-in-beer, in addition to being free-as-in-speech.

  • Antonio Casella

    How refreshing to find a person actually replying. That’s certainly a plus. I also like the philosophy/ethics that appears to be behind the WordPress concept. Thanks, Syed, for posting the training video above. I’m about to launch into the blog/website, partly to promote my novels. I’ll start with the free package at first to see how it works out.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Let us know if we could be of any help in your journey with WordPress :)

  • Keller Coleman

    Great post, I love my WordPress site

  • Igor P.

    It is great to know that such an open community like WordPress powers millions of sites and feeds thousands of professionals. According to the WP survey conducted in 2012, around 74% of respondents where making their living from WordPress. It is noble what this open source software can offer.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Yes Igor, it is truly remarkable what WordPress has done for so many.

  • Caspar Hübinger

    This article gives a great overview on the monetary costs to run a WordPress site and on why and how WordPress as a software can be used free of charge.

    There is, however, a “hidden” cost implied in running a WordPress powered site successfully, and that would be the gaining of knowledge (resp. the time and energy required to gain knowledge).

    As with all great tools, WordPress won’t do the magic for you alone. You will have to learn how to use it right. Which themes and plugins are safe to use and abide the WordPress Coding Standards, so they won’t mess up your installation? How to test new plugins to make sure they behave well? (Ever tried WP_DEBUG true in a test environment?) How to backup your site and restore it from a backup if something went wrong.

    All of that could be named a cost, too, because in order to succeed you will either have to do it yourself, or hire an expert (or service) to do it for you.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Caspar, you are correct. Time is very valuable, and you can/should put a dollar value on it. Despite the learning curve, anyone with dedication and motivation can totally accomplish what they need to do without spending $$$ on someone. There are sites like WPBeginner here to help. There are tons of amazing folks in the forums who are answering questions on a regular basis. WordPress StackExchange also has a great community.

      Rest assured, experience is one of those things that you cannot buy. Gotta play the game like the rest of us.

  • Paul

    Excellent post. This should be required reading for anyone who is considering or has already started a wordpress.org blog or site. The question about why wp is free was always in the back of my thoughts? Now I know.
    Paul

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Thanks Paul. Glad this article was able to help. It is making the rounds in social media. Share it with your audience and spread the knowledge :)

  • Austin Gunter

    Great post. I get a lot of questions from larger companies who are using WordPress for their sites, and still more who are doing research into whether they should be using WordPress or another CMS. Having this post as a resource will help answer their questions :-)

  • Imran Hunzai

    Hala GPL! Hala WordPress!

  • Haseeb Ahmad Ayazi

    These were also in my mind. Thanks to Syed Balkhi for this great information