7.0: Thoughts on New Pricing


Hi Cory (and everyone)

I was considering Surreal CMS two years ago and briefly discussed pricing with you then via email. My need was to provide editing for a site that I develop and host free of charge (for a charity), so restoring a free tier gets a big thumbs up from me!

However, I do agree with Pat, Michele and others, that the proposed pricing structure would really make the product unaffordable for very small businesses that use the white-label feature. You’d have a situation where a struggling, one-person operation with only a handful of clients is paying the same amount as a big studio. Linking price to the number of sites seems like a fairer approach, because it’s probably your best indicator of how much the customer can actually afford.

If you do offer a free tier, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for it to have reduced features and/or support. Otherwise you may have individuals trying to cheat the system by signing up for multiple free accounts. (I wonder if that was part of the reason you pulled the free tier originally?) There are always going to be a handful of people who believe that free software entitles them to free support… sigh. Let them read the online support docs for themselves or go elsewhere.

I also think it’s very reasonable to include advertising alongside the editing environment in the free version. (Kudos for respecting our privacy and saying no to Google/Facebook tracking.)

So, with those thoughts, I’ll add my pricing ideas to all the others:

Standard options

Up to 5 sites
No source editor
No company branding
No one-on-one support
Advertising (ethical, non-offensive, non-tracking)

Starter $12
All features (no advertising), up to 5 sites

Small $19
All features, up to 10 sites

Medium $29
All features, up to 25 sites

Unlimited $39
All features, unlimited sites

Customizable pricing

Alternatively, you could charge separately for add-ons, and let the client customize their own solution. Something like this perhaps:

Base pricing
Up to 3 sites: free
Up to 10 sites: $10
Up to 25 sites: $20
Unlimited sites: $35

If you want to avoid the ‘cliff edge’ pricing as Mark calls it, you could offer a pricing continuum. To see this done really well, check out this Australian ISP’s pricing page. You’re presented with their standard plans, but if you click on ‘Build your own’ you can move the slider left or right to choose exactly what you need, and the pricing adjusts very sensibly between each standard price point. Nice!

Source editor $4
Remove advertising $5
Company branding (white-label) $6

Examples (assuming no ‘build your own’ plans):

Pat manages two sites and needs ads removed. Pat chooses:
Up to 3 sites: free
Remove advertising $5
Monthly total: $5
Pat is happy to lose the company branding feature and pay half as much before.

Jeremy manages 3 sites for clients. He wants company branding and no advertising. Jeremy chooses:
Up to 3 sites: free
Remove advertising $5
Company branding $6
Monthly total: $11
Jeremy is able to start using the service at only $11 per month, and will probably upgrade to a higher plan soon as he grows his business and gains more clients.

Kylie’s business manages 20 sites. She wants all features, including code editing.
Up to 25 sites: $20
Code editing $4
Remove advertising $5
Company branding $6
Monthly total: $35
Kylie is paying slightly more than before, but she doesn’t care because Kylie has money coming in from 20 clients!

Donald manages 100 sites. Donald can easily afford to pay more than $39 per month!
Unlimited sites: $35
Code editing $4
Remove advertising $5
Company branding $6
Monthly total: $50

Yet another option, to avoid presenting too many price tiers at a time, would be to break them down by type of user, say ‘Individual’, ‘Student’ and ‘Company’. Here’s an example of that approach.

Thanks for listening Cory… and well, thanks for inviting feedback in the first place! I look forward to seeing what you come up with.


Hi Cory

Just to explore further you said:

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.

If the fee was say $2 a month per site, would it end up costing users more? Personally I’d find invoicing my clients would be easier. I would simply pass on the $2 a month to clients.


Hi Cory

This is my experience of using Surreal:

I’m a graphic designer that also designs and builds small ‘brochure’ websites. I have seven clients using Surreal. They all want a CMS, but in practise only use it about four times a year. (They love Surreal)

I have other clients with more extensive requirements, and they use Wordpress.

So I’m in the slightly odd situation that those clients who hardly ever use their CMS are paying a monthly fee. And those who use their CMS a lot, are doing so for free.

Given that my clients, on Surreal, don’t use it very often, they may well baulk at any price rise (to cover the free users). And I’d hate to have to stop using it, because Wordpress does my head-in.

Best wishes



If the fee was say $2 a month per site, would it end up costing users more?

The average price per site falls under $2 once you’re on the freelancer plan and it contiues to go down after that (like bulk pricing). At the high end of it, enterprise customers would go from paying $100/mo to several thousand dollars a month.

So I’m in the slightly odd situation that those clients who hardly ever use their CMS are paying a monthly fee. And those who use their CMS a lot, are doing so for free.

This is where my thoughts on a set price came from. A price, for example $19/mo, that never changes can be written off as a fixed cost of business. If the price were tiered, even at $2/site, the cost goes up with every new client that gets acquired and you’re left trying to charge them for it.

Think of cable TV, for example. Whether you only watch the daily news or leave it on 24/7 you pay the same price. Look at Basecamp, who charges $99/mo for unlimited everything and they have small teams to full-blown enterprise users. Fixed pricing seems to be more attractive to prospective users.

At the end of the day, I’m hearing that $19/mo is high for most low frequency users, but it seems reasonable to higher-frequency users. I wonder what happens when low-frequency users commit to using the service at a fixed price — will they be more apt to use the service? I think they will.

I appreciate that low frequency users are comfortable paying a certain price, but I need to steer the ship in such a way that new passengers want to come on board without causing [too many] existing passengers to jump ship.

Perhaps not serving ads on the free plan would make that level more acceptable to low frequency users. Maybe offering N sites free instead is a better choice.



If it helps I think the current pricing is about right.

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

If it were any more I’d struggle to justify it to clients (when I pass on my costs) not because Surreal isn’t brilliant, but simply because my clients don’t tend to need to use a CMS very often.


My main use of Surreal CMS is likely to decrease as the school website I manage is planning to move to another platform. This means that the free option would probably be good enough for me. I’m currently getting a discount for “non-profit” sites, would this discount continue in the new pricing structure?


In my experience, most non-profits would prefer the free plan.


I’ll take that as a no then! Hopefully the free plan will be fine.


6/2/18 AEST - EDIT: Most of what I wrote was incorrect due to misreading Pat’s post. However there are still some ideas in the second paragraph worth voicing, so I will leave this post here.

@Pat_McC & @cory -

Pat - you mentioned you would have a problem with staff seeing Surreal branding. I’m not sure on the reasons behind that, but can I ask - would you have a problem with your staff seeing “Microsoft” on a splash screen as they start up, for example, MS Word? In that regard, “Surreal” is the name of the piece of software being used to maintain your website.

This leads, for example, to another thought about pricing - Cory, when you speak of branding, many websites have a footer “created with XYZ” linking back to the CMS. Perhaps that is something that can be done in multiple versions, say bold with logo by default, but the user can opt to change this to a plain-text line in a grey font (if white footer) without any embellishment to highlight the link text? That would tie in with your goal of increasing the user base organically: “This is a cool website, I wonder what they used to make it? Surreal? Ok. Wow - a free plan that I can try? Click.”

I’ll email you my thoughts on price points shortly.



Hi Chris
I think you misread my post, I actually said I’d have no problem with staff seeing surreal branding - in fact, In my scenario, I’d have no problem with staff seeing appropriate ads either. They guys who edit the sections know I use surreal and have no reason to have a problem with it. I just didn’t want the branding and / or ads to be visible on the actual website to the end users, and Cory has confirmed that wouldn’t be.



You’re right - I did misread that… my apologies!


@cory I’ve yet to use Surreal, because it doesn’t currently play nicely with my server’s FTP requirements, but we’ve been discussing the pricing by email. One concern with all of this is what happens if a designer decides to walk away from web design, either due to retirement or some other issue?

We need a safety net here, because I can imagine some clients becoming very irate if they suddenly found themselves having to take on the licence themselves and paying $19 or possibly $39 per month for a single site. I can imagine some demanding that the designer build them a site for free in Wordpress, then insisting on training etc.


I’ve seen this happen a number of times over the years. For whatever reason, a designer will stop trading, retire, or pursue other opportunities. It’s a natural effect of running a business.

My advice in this scenario is to introduce existing clients to a new designer that’s a good for then, and one who is willing to take over the relationship. This is the responsible thing to do when you’re shutting down — give your clients enough time and a possible exit path and let them decide what to do.


I came across a relevant Oatmeal comic this morning:






I appreciate that some users are sensitive about pricing, but even at $19/mo we’re not talking a huge amount considering:

  • This is a great value you’re adding to your business
  • As a business expense, the full amount is tax deductible
  • Most people have a larger personal budget for coffee each month

Most of the adversity appears to be coming from low frequency users who would probably fit better under a free plan, and that makes sense. Maybe I can shift the plans/features around a bit so it’s more comfortable for everyone. I’ll keep playing with ideas.

One thing I hate hearing is “why should I pay for Surreal when WordPress is free?”

Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s better. I don’t consider WordPress to be a direct competitor of Surreal. Of course there are some parallels, but the two are different applications designed for different purposes.

But I’ll humor the crowd for a moment. WordPress is free, right? Sure, if you host it yourself, which has its own intrinsic costs including web hosting, maintenance, fixing hacked sites, et al.).

Here’s how much you’ll pay per site to have WordPress host it for you:

Note that the free plan is limited, contains ads, and doesn’t let you use your own domain. Aside from that, the cheapest plan is $5/mo for a single site. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad price and, for literally the price of a large coffee, I don’t think any business will have a problem paying it.

Just for fun, let’s also take a look at Ghost, another popular publishing platform (with less features than WordPress). They also offer a free, DIY option, but to have them host it you’ll pay:


All of their revenue metrics are public, so we know that Ghost is doing pretty well.

People also mention SquareSpace, which I think is silly because they market directly to small businesses and cut out the designer:

And Wix, who also market directly to small businesses and cut out designers:

Every one of these platforms has been remarkably successful at these price points because people find value in them. I’m losing track of how many years in a row Wix has paid to run Super Bowl commercials.

Some might argue that Wix and SquareSpace are website builders so their pricing reflects that. Ok, but you’re still paying the same price each month to host it even if you only “build” the website once. :man_shrugging:

Again, I don’t consider these direct competitors with Surreal1, but this certainly debunks the argument that clients aren’t willing to pay a negligible amount each month to host/manage their website.

[1] Surreal is unique in that it gives you the ability to:

  • Build websites using the tools you want (e.g. by hang or using an app such as RapidWeaver, Blocs app, etc.)
  • Easily integrate with existing websites or HTML templates (i.e. just add class="editable")
  • Use your own web host
  • Use your client’s web host (if they’re stubborn and don’t want to switch)
  • Host static websites on Amazon S3
  • Manage them all in once place


This pricing is pretty good actually.

Although I think advertising should be removed when you start paying for any feature.

Would add-ons be per website? If so, the pricing should be less.

Donald should probably just use this plan (see below) as it includes everything and is much cheaper.

I would probably just get the $12 plan and not worry about saving $1 but I like the idea of building my own plan.

Kal, you must be an Australian. You seem to know Aussie Broadband.


This is exactly why I plan on using Surreal CMS. A client that I had (left before I could complete the website and didn’t give me all the info) had a hacked WordPress website. Surreal CMS pays for itself when you don’t have to make an entire WordPress theme or buy a plugin just to add a contact form. Even though Surreal CMS doesn’t have plugins or handles contact form submissions, it does allow you to integrate website features yourself as it doesn’t dictate how you build your site (to some extent).

You’ll end up paying more for a “free” WordPress site in the long run. WordPress is built on the business model of a free CMS that is extendable through free and paid plugins. Developers won’t always update their plugin and soon you’ll have to pay for “WordPress Security” from some third party provider.

Surprisingly, there is some agency in my town that builds website for clients using SquareSpace. Either they build the website using SquareSpace or they integrate a custom theme into it.

That’s the cool thing about Surreal CMS. You are able to cancel your subscription when you don’t need it and your website will still work.

I think the issue is that Surreal CMS users are not charging their clients enough for the service. You need to charge enough to cover your expenses and make some money. When Surreal CMS pricing changes and it is time to bill your client, you simply charge the client a little extra (or less) to match the new pricing and your profit margin. It seems that pricing only changes when Surreal CMS is updated with new features. The client will probably notice improvements in the CMS and hopefully won’t mind paying extra (or less :slight_smile:)


Thanks Jeremy. I put quite a bit of time and thought into it. Glad someone finally commented on it. :slight_smile:

Oh I absolutely agree. (Edit: Wait, now I’m confusing myself. The way I proposed it under ‘Customizable pricing’ is that the customer could conceivably pay for many sites and still see advertising if they didn’t want to pay for the ‘Remove advertising’ feature. So I guess I don’t agree? :thinking: Well, I suppose it would be up to the individual user. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. :slightly_smiling_face:)

No, with customizable pricing the idea was to just add the cost of add-ons to the base price. It’s only the base price that varies depending on the number sites.

That’s true. I was actually proposing two completely different pricing structures—‘Standard options’ (no custom add-ons) OR ‘Customizable pricing’. I didn’t mean to suggest that both should be offered.

I like the customisable (slipping back into Australian spelling there :wink: ) option. I think it gives users the most flexibility, makes it super affordable for those with humble requirements (like Pat), and I do like that a rich custard like Donald ends up paying more. :wink: But it does add some complexity, and it sounds like Cory is wanting to simplify the pricing by offering less options, not more.

Yeah, you’d arguably be better off under the standard pricing suggestion. (It’s just a proof of concept though. All the prices could certainly be tweaked.)

Indeed! And I just recently went ISP shopping, which is how I came across that pricing page.


Yes, the Oatmeal comic is very true! :laughing: Sigh. :pensive: A big part of the problem is that people don’t see the value in digital content, and a lot of people seem to have no problem stealing it. (Think illegal music and movie downloads.) The fact that someone isn’t getting paid for their creative work doesn’t seem to enter the equation. There also seems to be an unspoken lack of respect for creatives generally. No one would ask the cafe owner if they would consider giving them a branded cup of coffee each morning for ‘exposure’ and to get their name ‘out there’. Over 20 years in my industry, I’ve seen it go from where people value the designer-client relationship and are prepared to invest in it, to where people will sooner jump on 99designs and pay a pittance for a logo that looks pretty much like everything else Google Images turns up within seconds.

All that said… I don’t agree with your rationale for charging a minimum of $19 per month for all features, and an additional $20 just for company branding.

You’re certainly not comparing apples with apples when you compare the prices charged by all those publishing platforms. Surreal CMS (as great as it is for what it does) does not create websites and it does not host websites. Whether you use Surreal or not, you still have to pay for those things. Surreal is a very nice tool to have, but it’s not essential. Those other things are absolutely essential. You illustrate the point yourself by listing Surreal’s unique qualities. Every one of those points is about using someone else’s service!

Even less essential is the white-label feature. Nice yes, but what’s the perceived value of this? What’s the real value? I can’t imagine many would consider it to be worth $20 a month by any measure—certainly not when you only have a handful of people seeing it each month. I could be wrong of course, but with that proposed price structure, I predict that you would end up just cannibalising your profits form existing customers as they drop back to a cheaper (or free) plan. And those on the $19 plan (some of whom are currently paying more) will feel annoyed that they have lost a feature they used to enjoy. Will new (paying) customers make up the difference? I guess that’s the gamble you’re taking.

There’s an old marketing adage which is worth considering perhaps… that it’s much cheaper to keep your existing customers than to obtain new ones. Your existing customers who love the product and feel like they’re getting value for money are one of your most valuable assets aren’t they? Perhaps it’s worth listening to them when say they can’t justify paying $20–$40 a month? I don’t hear anyone saying they don’t like Surreal CMS (quite the opposite), but they do seem to have a different sense of the product’s value.


I wasn’t trying to infer that it justifies a specific price. It does, however, provide evidence that clients are willing to pay residually for tools to host/maintain their website, which is a common argument.

This has been our most popular feature since we launched. I’ve never separated it out before so I’m not sure what sort of dollar value most users will place on it. That’s why I’m reaching out :slight_smile:


:+1: I’d love to see you get the pricing right—for happy customers and the success of your excellent app.