7.0: Thoughts on New Pricing


#1

Pricing History :mantelpiece_clock:

When Surreal CMS first launched 10 years ago, it started as a freemium service with a pro option. Pricing looked like this:

Free:
  - 3 sites free

Pro:
  - $25/mo for unlimited sites

When 5.0 was released, we moved to a premium-only plan based on the number of sites. This is the current pricing plan we have right now:

Free trial then...
  1-5 sites: $10/mo
  6-10 sites: $20/mo
  11-25 sites: $30/mo
  ...

At the time, there were a number of freemium competitors on the market and we wanted to stand out by providing the best service possible with the best support possible. I think we achieved that.

Since then we’ve acquired our biggest competitor, PageLime, and the rest seem to have completely stopped developing and, in some cases, supporting their service despite having paying customers.

To this day, none of the competitors in our class offer < 24 hour response times nor feature parity with Surreal. I’m very proud of this, but we’ve left a big hole in the market for this type of CMS.

Why Go Back To Freemium? :money_with_wings:

As static websites gain in popularity, I see an opportunity to introduce a lot of new users to Surreal.

Over a year ago, I completely stopped advertising Surreal CMS on AdWords and all other platforms. Every single signup since then has been organic (direct traffic, referrals from blogs, word of mouth, etc.).

I’ve become disenchanted by the idea of tracking users and invading their privacy just to shove an advertisement down their throat. It’s unethical, unwanted, and expensive.

I want users who want to use my service — not users I’ve paid and “stalked” to signup.

That said, freemium is an excellent way to encourage growth organically:

  • At a high level, free users means more users and more brand awareness.
  • Hobbyists, non-profits, and other low-budget users will be able to use the service (more brand awareness).
  • Users who would have otherwise never tried the service will be more willing to try it and, if it’s a good fit, there’s a good chance they’ll upgrade.
  • Users will be able to explore the service freely at their leisure without pressure to make financial decisions before their trial ends.

All in all, the goal is to let more users who want this type of service through the door. Some will decide to upgrade, others won’t. Ultimately, having more people familiar with the platform is a really good thing for you and for Surreal.

Of course, more non-paying users means the cost of support goes up on our end. This can be offset with a good knowledge base and a vibrant community forum. Regardless of what happens, I promise to continue supporting premium users with the same amazing support they’ve always received.

Content Marketing :pencil2:

I hate buzzwords, but content marketing is a great way to introduce new users to a service. Along with the upcoming launch, I’ll be rolling out a new blog full of helpful info and tutorials. Everything from web design tips to how you can do awesome things with Surreal CMS.

These will be thorough tutorials with high-quality content, images, and even videos. I hope to see a lot of organic traffic on the blog from web designers and enthusiasts who have never heard of Surreal CMS before :slight_smile:

Thoughts on New Pricing :dollar:

Nothing is set in stone yet and your feedback is strongly encouraged! That said, what do you think of a pricing structure that looks like this?

Free: 
  - unlimited sites
  - some feature restrictions
  - use edit.surrealcms.com (for brand recognition)
  - ethical advertisements (i.e. non-tracking, privacy friendly, only in the dashboard)

Pro: $19/mo
  - unlimited sites
  - all features
  - no ads

White-label: $39/mo
  - unlimited sites
  - all features
  - no ads
  - your own branding, subdomain, etc.

Please try to be objective with your responses. A change like this will mean some users pay more, some pay less, and some will be able to downgrade to a free plan.

And again, this isn’t set in stone. I’m just trying to feel things out and determine the best cost for value!


#2

Hi Cory
My scenario is I use Surreal on just two web sites (my golf club). I pay $108 / year.

I can’t have ad’s on m,y golf clubs web site, yet pro would cost me more than double at $228.

Unfortunately I can’t justify that amount for such a simple requirement, so I would unfortunately have to cancel my licence and look for an alternative approach to resolve my needs.


#3

Good use case. If ads weren’t shown would using edit.surrealcms.com work for you instead of edit-content.com or clientcms.com, for example?

Would you be opposed to prioritized publishing, where free users would have to wait a few seconds before the content gets published (while pro users get priority and no wait time)?

Just throwing ideas out there to keep things fair. It’s a tricky thing to get right with such a diverse user base. I’m open to other ideas!


#4

I’m not aware of the other two url’s you quotes (unless they are examples of how you would access a lower priority service, should it exist). However,

  1. Yes, I could live with a second class service in terms of publishing
  2. Sitting in my seat (rather than yours), I would see that as “paying the same money as now (if that is what you are suggesting) but getting a poorer service”.

So, from my perspective, if you are looking to fund new feature development, I would prefer to see feature based pricing.

e.g.

  1. For the features in the current system, pay the current price. (The current features are fine for my needs)
  2. For future features, whatever they may be, sell a Surreal Pro licence that includes access to the current features PLUS the new features.

You could have a number of Licence variants e.g. Standard, Pro, Pro Plus, etc as you continue to develop the product, without ‘cutting off’ the current loyal users who don’t need a top level feature rich product.


#5

To clarify, I meant to describe those URLs as branded vs. unbranded.

So, from my perspective, if you are looking to fund new feature development, I would prefer to see feature based pricing.

This makes sense, but if the service is going to have a freemium option there needs to be some way to differentiate free vs. pro. Keeping the same price for existing features ignores what a free option would offer, but I appreciate that you’re at a comfortable price point and prefer a certain quality for that price vs. a lower quality free option.

Maybe the solution is a limit on the number of sites like we have in the beginning. I’m still not sure, which is why I’m reaching out :slight_smile:


#6

Regarding the proposed free level - where would the adverts go: on my client’s websites or on the Surreal CMS https://edit-content.com website? What would the adverts advertise?

Personally I wouldn’t want ads appearing on my website or my clients websites. I can’t imagine that anyone would. So I’m really not sure that the free level would do very well. It feels a bit tacky, invasive and ugly.

I don’t charge my clients a monthly maintenance fee, so I struggle to know how to cover my Surreal CMS costs. It would be a lot easier for me and my clients if it were a one off fee of say $50 per site. Similiar to Perch CMS.

Or to attract more customers could you do the following (I’m sure there are a lot people who only need one site) and would be happy to pay a modest amount per month):

1 sites: $3/mo
2-5 sites: $10/mo
6-10 sites: $20/mo
11-25 sites: $30/mo


#7

Ah, branding. Ok. Well, for me personally, whilst having any form of Ad visible to our web site end users (golf club members and customers in my case) is a big no no, I have no problem at all with any staff member who edits the content being exposed to Surreal Branding, now or in the future.

Hope this helps

Pat


#8

Regarding the proposed free level - where would the adverts go: on my client’s websites or on the Surreal CMS https://edit-content.com website? What would the adverts advertise?

I would never put ads or any other undesired content on your websites. I don’t like the idea, but if it turned out to be the right choice there would be a single, unanimated, ethical, privacy-friendly ad in the sidebar and maybe one during publishing. Again, this isn’t my first choice, just an option.

It would be a lot easier for me and my clients if it were a one off fee of say $50 per site.

I still have users who signed up during the first year (10 years ago). Churn is low because people love using the service, so a one-off price would inevitably bankrupt the service, which wouldn’t be good for any of us.

Of course, there are also recurring hosting/infrastructure costs which a lot of SaaS businesses seem to inflate. In Surreal’s case, these are increasing because 7.0 introduces static includes. (Instead of publishing a single file when you save, we’ll be publishing to all files that have those includes automatically.) I expect this to be a popular feature, but it does require more network and more CPU than the current infrastructure will allow.

The bottom line is that no SaaS can operate longterm under a completely free or completely flat-pricing model — at least not without making YOU the product, which I find entirely unacceptable.


#9

Hi Cory, I have only one site runnning for a client. And i pay the service myself and make the money with content editing, updates etc. I am planning to pass him the fee, but for this I have to manage that he can add editable-content himself. Not sure if I can do this with the mentioned “block” feature in the next release, but looking forward to this. Passing him the bill for 19$ is difficult, passing the bill for 39$ is impossible. For me it would mean nearly four times more! From $ 120 to to $ 468. The only way I could manage this is changing to Pro. This would double my spending, doesn’t sound so great for me. The surreal Brand-recognition in the Backend is no problem for me as i am transparent with my client. In the Frontend it is a no-way.


#10

Makes sense. Branding would never be on the front-end, only in the dashboard.

It sounds like you might be a good candidate for the free option. If Surreal branding isn’t problematic, I’m wondering if there’s anything else discouraging you from considering the free plan.

Remember, this is about finding a balance for as many users as possible, keeping revenue consistent on our end, and growing the community organically in a fair, ethical way.

I’m trying to be as open as possible so I can make the right decision moving forward :slight_smile:


#12

Feature restriction and advertises are a no-way for me.


#13

Hi Cory,

I’ve been lurking around Surreal CMS for sometime and don’t actually have a paid account yet. I think I first discovered Surreal CMS back in 2014 but possibly earlier.

I plan on using Surreal CMS in websites that I build for clients. I personally think that the current pricing is fine.

That said, I understand that you want to grow the platform and introduce new features (which I’m not against) that will require changes to pricing.

Let me explain my proposed use of Surreal CMS.
(I’m still in the early stages of getting clients)

I live in Australia and the exchange rate between AUD and USD is not the best. I always try to find affordable services that have clear and transparent pricing (like Surreal CMS). Although I would favour services that use the Australian currency, I often have to use overseas services. When this happens, I try to keep costs as low as possible due to the unpredictable exchange rate.

The web hosting package that I am offering new clients is the following.

  • Web Hosting

  • Content Management System (Surreal CMS but could be anything depending on site)

  • Matomo Analytics

All of these services that I bundle with Web Hosting cost money in some way or another. I plan on charging clients $30 AUD per month per site for these services. My costs should be under $15 AUD per month per site for Web Hosting and related services. This leaves me with $15 AUD per month in profit. However this profit will be used to pay me for managing the Web Hosting and providing support to the client.

Depending on the client, their budget and what features that site has, the price could be slightly higher or lower.

The cost for Surreal CMS per month per site at the moment is the following:
10 / 5 = 2 USD

If the current Australia exchange rate is 1 USD buys 1.38 AUD then this is what it would cost me to use Surreal CMS:

10 * 1.38 = 13.80 AUD

13.80 / 5 = 2.76 AUD

As you can see, Surreal CMS is affordable currently for Australians despite the bad exchange rate.

However if Surreal CMS was to increase pricing and limited certain features to certain more expensive plans, it would greatly affect those just starting their web development business - like me!

White labeling the CMS is a rather big feature and is considered a deal breaker for me.
If clients know that I’m selling Surreal CMS to them when they could have it for free, then I would lose the ability to sell the software.

A startup web development business cannot justify spending $39 USD per month if they only have one or two client websites.

The solution?

I propose the following pricing for Surreal CMS.

Free:

  • One site only
  • Some feature restrictions
  • No white labeling
  • Ethical advertising
  • Attribution link in the footer to Surreal CMS
  • Slower page publishing
  • Limited support with a strong focus on community support

Pro: $12/mo

  • 5 sites included (additional sites $3)
  • All core features
  • White labeling
  • No ads or attribution
  • Support from Surreal CMS

Agency: $39/mo (addon)

  • Unlimited sites
  • All core features and premium extensions
  • Advanced White labeling (custom dashboard themes with ability to change CSS styling)
  • Prioritised feature requests
  • Support from Surreal CMS

The Agency addon would require the Pro plan as well. That means the total cost would be $51 per month which is pretty good for unlimited sites.

Premium extensions would allow web developers to enable certain features in the CMS that not every site would need. These extensions could be sold for an additional price to free and pro users (like $1 per month per site). Extensions could include CDN support, events management, form submissions, password protected pages, eCommerce etc.

The agency plan would include all premium extensions for all sites.

This is just my idea of what Surreal CMS pricing and features could look like and I’m not a huge fan of the free plan with advertisements as it would probably make Surreal CMS look tacky. I like the idea of per site pricing and perhaps those who only require one site could pay a slightly higher fee for one site with all core features included.

You could also encrypt the source code to Surreal CMS and sell it as a self hosted CMS solution. This would appeal to larger agencies and would mean that the only cost to you is supporting them and development costs.

As for marketing, Surreal CMS could have live chat on the main website. When a visitor goes to the site, they could use the live chat to ask questions. I often use live chat on websites that I visit if I have questions and sometimes I have brought the product/service because I was able to get an immediate answer from the product/service support team through live chat.

I’m planning on using Crisp chat on my website.

https://crisp.chat/

Another way that Surreal CMS could increase customers is by sponsoring open source projects, especially frameworks like Bootstrap and Bulma. Developers who use these frameworks would see you sponsoring them and then possibly check out your service.

If Surreal CMS used a service like Cloudflare, then the cost of bandwidth and resources would go down as Cloudflare would handle it. It would also improve the speed of Surreal CMS which currently takes several seconds to load in Australia.

Sorry for the long reply. I hope I have been helpful. Looking forward to Surreal CMS 7.0!

Jeremy


#14

Hi Cory.
I’m not clear where the proposed adverts would go. Would they just go in the CMS dashboard (or my clients website)? And would they just advertise Surreal CMS (or would it be something like Google Ads)?

If it were just Surreal CMS ads and only in the dashboard, then that sounds okay. I wouldn’t mind clients knowing that they are using Surreal.

Just a thought about the pricing:

What about X $ a month per site?

Where X might be $2 a month say. So if I only have one site it is a very very cheap service. And if I have 20 sites I pay $40 - we’re paying for what we use.

This would be attractive to new customers starting out with Surreal and covers your costs per site. It makes the pricing really simple. And it removes the current ‘cliff edge’ pricing, where if you go from 5 to 6 sites the price doubles. And it would make costs for my clients really simple as well. I recently went from 5 to 6 sites and realised I wasn’t charging enough to cover the doubling in price. Some clients were grumpy about suddenly having to pay twice the amount.

This also keeps the features really really simple. Everyone has the same features. Regardless of whether you have one site or 100.

I guess you would have to charge on a monthly basis, as sometimes someone might have 4 sites one month, 8 the next and then 7 the month after.


#15

Further musings on pricing:

If there was a free level of service I would be concerned that you would get a lot more customers. Not only would these be a lot more customers to support, but they could also be the sort of customers, who need a lot more support. And hence you wouldn’t practically be able to provide the same brilliant level of support that you currently do.

I’d also be concerned that those of us who pay for the service, would end up paying more, to cover the costs of the free customers.

How confident are you that free customers would up-grade to the paid for service? You could end up with a lot of customers, that never up-grade. That could be very costly.

I suspect that paying for a service (and receiving support, up-dates, not having to worry about security etc) is actually a big selling point. It is for me.

I like Surreal because it is super easy. I suggest the pricing is super easy. Everyone get the same features and it is $X a month, per site. Couldn’t be simplier.


#16

I’m not sure I like the idea of every plan having unlimited sites. I really like the model now where more sites cost more. Since I’m passing the additional fee onto each client individually, it seems fair that the price would only increase with more sites.

I think you could get away with just a Free and White-Label plan, with the Free plan being restricted to just 1 site, but allowing packages to add-on additional sites that still have ads on the dashboard.

Whitelabeling is the most important feature that I use, but until my client base grows larger I can’t afford $39/month. On the other side, when my client base does grow, I’d be happy to pay more than that.


#17

Thanks for your insight, Jeremy!

I agree.

As for marketing, Surreal CMS could have live chat on the main website.

I tried this a few years ago. I spent more time helping existing users than on-boarding new ones. Believe it or not, this actually takes longer than email because I have to determine who they are and verify their account before being able to actually help them.

If Surreal CMS used a service like Cloudflare, then the cost of bandwidth and resources would go down as Cloudflare would handle it.

The problem isn’t with load, but with the processing that happens on the backend. We’ll be publishing hundreds to thousands of files via FTP/SFTP/S3/WebDAV so that’s something we can’t offload to a CDN. I do plan to have the front-end running off a CDN, though.

Thanks again for your input!


#18

Hi… I’ve only two clients that are using Surreal CMS and they use it only 3/4 times yearly so $108 it’s enough for me and the white label is absolutely necessary for my business.

Moreover, the new price of $468 it doesn’t make sense… +333,3% !!!

If you really want to increase prices, do it but only for new customers… your loyal customers deserve confidence in these years of economic crisis … remember that not everyone lives in the rich USA.


#19

They would go only in the dashboard and would be for approved products/services that are relevant to Surreal’s users. I don’t believe in ads that track you, so I wouldn’t be comfortable putting AdWords on the site.

What about X $ a month per site?

This would end up costing users a lot more and it makes revenue (for me) and invoices (for you) less preditacable. This is especially true for agencies with multiple admins.

And you’re right, billing would need to be done monthtly because annual prorations would be quite significant. With the current tiers (which are bracketed) this has only been a problem for a handful of users.


#20

Bringing in more users is a good thing, but you’re right — support costs would increase and the cost of hosting would also increase. However, the conversation rate of free to pro users will offset the cost of hosting.

The bigger cost is support, which could be reduced with an extensive knowledge base and/or limiting top-tier support to premium users.

I like Surreal because it is super easy. I suggest the pricing is super easy.

Me too. This is why pricing is something I always think of last, and simplifying it has been on my radar for awhile. Unfortunately, with such a diverse user base, it’s difficult to find a price that fits within everyone’s budget.

I’ll keep trying though!


#21

Thanks, Michele. Keep in mind this isn’t set in stone. I’m just trying to gather feedback.

Under the proposed structure, a lot of users would probably fit into the free plan. The idea is that infrequent users wouldn’t have to pay, but finding the right balance is tricky.

I appreciate your feedback, and I’ll try to accommodate as many users as possible with whatever pricing we end up with.