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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 article, we will discuss why is WordPress free, what’s the cost of running a WordPress site, and what’s the catch?

WordPress is free

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 the freedom for you to use, modify, build upon, and redistribute the software in any way you like without paying any fees.

However, there might be costs involved in other areas. 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 an 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, fix bugs, make features, suggest features, etc.

Furthermore, project leaders change from one version to another. If you get deeply involved in the community, then you can become a core contributor to WordPress as well.

The Philosophy behind Open Source Software

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 the 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 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 ideals, check out GNU’s Philosophy.

How Do People Make Money with WordPress?

The two main profitable parts of any open source software are products and services based on the same open source software.

People often confuse WordPress with WordPress.com, but they’re actually two different things. WordPress (often referred to self-hosted WordPress or WordPress.org) is a free blogging platform and website builder.

Matt Mullenweg, co-founding developer of WordPress, launched a company called Automattic which provides “restricted” free blog hosting service at WordPress.com, and you can pay / upgrade to unlock features and remove ads.

However, to unlock all the features of WordPress, you’d need to upgrade to a paid plan. For example, you can’t start an online store with WordPress.com unless you pay for the eCommerce plan which starts at $45 per month.

Automattic has raised a over $985M in funding. (Source)

Other developers have also gone ahead to build successful multi-million dollar businesses around WordPress by creating commercial plugins, commercial themes, and even offering WordPress hosting.

Some examples of successful multi-million dollar WordPress companies are:

Related: See our list of 20 top WordPress companies.

Good WordPress developers and consultants also make a comfortable full-time income by building custom websites, applications, and plugins around WordPress for their clients. A lot of them are making over six-figures in annual earnings 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. 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.

While some folks do not agree with that, 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 sharing your articles, photos, or any other artwork on your blog, then you own full copyrights of it.

However, 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. The code used in examples is actually derivative work and automatically inherits the GPL license.

The WordPress Trademark

The code of WordPress as a software is released under GPL but the words WordPress, WordCamp, and the WordPress logo are registered trademarks owned by the 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 website, training course, or resource that you see has WordPress in their domain name is probably being run by someone who doesn’t 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. See our comparison of WordPress.com vs WordPress.org for more details.

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 ($7.99 per month) and domain name ($14 / year).

However WPBeginner users can get a free domain name and 60% off web hosting from Bluehost which means you can start a website for as low as $2.75 per month. Bluehost is an officially recommended WordPress hosting provider.

Related: How to Start a WordPress Blog (Ultimate Guide)

Additional costs could be commercial WordPress themes also known as premium WordPress themes. However, you are not required to use those because there are over 9,500+ free WordPress themes that you can use.

People often use commercial plugins, but you are not required to use those as well because there are over 59,000+ free WordPress plugins available.

We have created a detailed guide on how much does it really cost to build a WordPress website with instructions on how to start a website on a budget and save money.

We hope that this article answered your questions about WordPress licensing, the costs of running a WordPress site, and the business around WordPress. You may also want to see our list of easy to start online business ideas that actually make money.

If you liked this article, then please subscribe to our YouTube Channel for WordPress video tutorials. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Reader Interactions

130 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. Thank you for this information! I just started my own WP blog and this filled in many gaps of my knowledge that I didn’t find in my initial research of blogging platforms. This is definitely a great reference to pass along to others!

  2. I really learned alot from this website today and it is not the first time I wanted to compare WP.org and WP.com…I really liked everything about WP.org but my question is that what are host payment methods, im from south Africa PayPal and other methods are not easy for me…but bitcoins are always easy and cheap, is there any bitcoins payment method?

  3. Hello, I’m sorry to bug you with this question, but I tried asking it on the WP forums and got no response. Since this post mentions the costs of having a WP account, I hope this is an ok place to ask this.

    I currently have a free wordpress.com account. I simply want the .wordpress gone from my domain name.

    Every place I look in the help docs or forums, it states to look at the plan pricing, and of course, when you look at the plans, you see that a custom domain is free with any plan. Ok, got it.

    However, this is why I’m confused. The site lets me go in and add a custom domain and private domain registration to my cart for $18/year and $8/year respectively. So $26/year total. It says nothing about having to buy a plan.

    Now, if you stop and think about this for a sec, it doesn’t make sense. If you MUST have a plan in order to have a custom domain, and if a custom domain is FREE with a plan, then why would the system show pricing for a custom domain? See how that doesn’t make sense?

    Essentially, I’m not brave enough (yet) to just say screw it and try to pay the $26 bucks and see what happens. I just wondered if anyone here knows. Any time pricing and such is mentioned on the WP forums, the same link to the plans is given and that’s the end of the conversation.

    Thanks in advance!

  4. Thank you so much for this information.
    I have a query.I am meaning to shift from wordpress.com to wordpress.org in order to run an e-commerce store.I already had bought the personal plan from wordpress.com.While exporting,will my plan and the subsequent amount go down the drain?

    Regards

    • Plans and other purchases on WordPress.com can be canceled and refunded with in 30days of purchase. Domain registrations can be canceled and refunded during 48 hours after purchase. Please contact WordPress.com support for more help.

      Admin

  5. There are wordpress free themes, I want to know that how much permission are we having to use them freely

  6. True beginner, semi-luddite here. I thought I had things figured out but now I’m confused again. I started a blog through WordPress and I’m assuming it was wordpress.com. I bought my domain name, so does that mean I’m self hosted? If I upgrade my blog to a Genesis or Headway site, how does that change how I’m hosted, or does it? Your site has been very helpful thus far, thanks for all your work.

  7. Nice read. I am currently a duda pro but costs are becoming too high. I have 30 websites and pay £330 per month to duda. I do charge my clients a monthly fee but would rather keep the £330 by using wordpress instead. Can even use that saving for themes or plugins.

    Am i correct in thinking that I can construct 30 websites on wordpress and host it with godaddy for around £6per month? Or am I missing something?

    Unfortunately we cannot transfer websites from duda to another platform but where there’s a will there’s a way??

  8. Great article! Thanks for helping me understand some of the things to consider. The article on the differences between wordpress.com and wordpress.org was good too.

  9. Great and useful post. I found this very enlightening. It’s cleared most of my misconceptions.

  10. very informative post. It’s helps me to understand the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org.

  11. I am about to head off on an amazing holiday overseas & wish to keep a blog to email to family & friends of all the highlights & experiences of our trip. WordPress was recommended by a friend who has a blog through you. I just wanted to double check that what I set up will be free, that I will be able to email what I write & that I can do all this from the Macbook Air (running Mac OSX 10.9.5) that we will take with us? Thanks.

  12. Tell me about famous e-commerce websites using wordpress. I am a web designer using wordpress, and i want to convince my customers that wordpress is good enough to have your online store running perfectly.

  13. I am starting a blog and was wondering if it is a good idea to start with the free WordPress as I gradually add content. Right now I have zero content.

    Since it is possible to transfer to WordPress.org in the future, is it worth it to take advantage of the traffic that the free WordPress provides in the meantime? Or would it be too much of a hassle/inconvenience to my future readers to transfer over?

    I read that WordPress.org does not help you gain traffic… what do you suggest? I want to do everything right from the beginning so I can establish a good foundation for my blog/business. Please help! Thank you!

  14. Thank you so much for this great article. I need to ask, is WordPress plugin author (free plugin those available on wordpress.org) also consider as WordPress contributor or not ? Actually you didn’t mention about those in article as a contributor.

    • Basically anyone working and sharing the work with rest of the WordPress community is considered a contributor. One can contribute by answering support requests on forum, helping with documentation, organizing WordPress meetups and WordCamps, and so on. However, only those users who contribute to the development of the WordPress core are credited as core contributors.

      Admin

  15. I am a beginner. I created my site in hubpages few days ago. Now I am bit confused. I want to know which is profitable wrt making money online. It’s self hosted(myname.com) or like the one I am currently having.
    Secondly, if I create a website in WordPress(myname.com) will It be entirely self hosted by me or will that be hosted by others and not me?
    Can you plz suggest which one I need to create? How much I need to pay yearly fee? Also, can you plz provide link to create?

  16. this is best site for information about WordPress..I want your advice about my plan that is I wanted to run a video site not self hosting and which Host is best for me in low Cost..
    Thanks

  17. Hey WPBeginner guys,

    Now I know what involves to run a self-hosted WordPress blog.

    No doubt this is the best blogging open-source software who gets contribution from hundreds of developers who are good at making WordPress a free software for the people like me.

    Being said, I love it over any other software that give ability to run a blog or a forum. And being free is just our good luck. :)

    Thank you once again!

    ~ Adeel Sami

  18. Hey WPBeginner, thanks a ton for sharing such insightful information about WordPress guidelines.

  19. How will other people be able to see my blog??Can I use facebook to attract traffic for my blog?Is it allowed? If no then can u suggest otjer ways to attract readers for my wp blog??please help i am totally a newbie

    • Facebook does allow promotion of your blog using your Facebook page. But it also limits the reach of your page’s posts so you will have to boost each post for more reach. You can also use Twitter and other social platforms to promote your blog.

      Admin

      • Hi I am very new to blogging not new to writing but the entire blog thing. I successfully downloaded the android version of wordpress to my note 3 but I wanted it on my laptop. I downloaded wordpress from wordpress.com to my laptop and opened up a plethora of malware and other applications that obviously weren’t expected. I finally cleaned my pc of the infection but still really want to find the safest wordpress app to run on my laptop. Can you let me know where I can find such an app or from the correct website to find the true free uncompromised version? Just the application not the extra apps that came tumbling down like before. I would greatly appreciate

  20. Help! I just paid $18 on WordPress.com for my own domain thinking I was self-hosting. After reading this article…apparently I am not. How do i self-host even i’ve already bought my domain on WordPress.com?

  21. I am a learner about wordpress. But dont know lots of places to learn about it. Here i found just a discussion about it. Anyone know where should i begin?

  22. 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?

    • 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.

      Admin

  23. 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!!

  24. 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

    • 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.

      Admin

  25. 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

    • 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.

      Admin

  26. 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!

    • 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

      Admin

  27. 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

  28. “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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

    • 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.

      Admin

  32. 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

  33. 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 :-)

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