How Big Is The Web Publishing Market?

My best guess is $2.6B…

Jason Gowans
Feb 6, 2016 · 7 min read

Disclaimer — I’m a co-founder of Aerobatic, a smart static hosting service, and while I’m interested in understanding the size of the total web publishing market, I also have a natural (and hopefully understandable) bias towards the rapidly growing, but still nascent static website world.

I recently wrote a post about Static Site Generators in contrast to WordPress that generated a lot of interest. Many people agreed and welcomed the alternative point of view, while it also drew some palpable consternation from the WordPress community when I suggested that Static Site Generators could emerge as a major threat to WordPress. “Self-serving” was a term used to describe the post to which I’d simply answer, “guilty as charged!”

Undeterred, I set about trying to understand approximately how big the web publishing market is, including the WordPress hosting business. I thought this would be an easy answer to come by, but my Google searching yielded a surprisingly sparse amount of data on this subject. Therefore, my estimates are below, to which I’d welcome any feedback — the more constructive, the better for all of us trying to understand this market.

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m limiting my set of web publishing technologies to those represented in the w3 techs content management analyses. I understand there’s an adjacent, but distinct, world of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems that the likes of Forrester might cover. Those are not necessarily part of the estimates below.

I also know of at least one report that suggests the total web content management market will be worth $6.85B by 2020. Since it’s behind a paywall and I’m a frugal bootstrapper, what follows are my own educated guesses.

First, some assumptions:

Taken together, these assumptions suggest that Automattic hosts ~32.25MM websites.

To get an estimate of how much revenue Automattic generates, we can turn to a competitor, Wix, that went public last year, and for which we can refer to their investor relations material from January 2016.

A few relevant numbers on Wix:

  • 72.3MM registered users
  • 1.6MM paying customers (implies a 2.2% conversion rate)
  • $171MM annual revenue (implies an avg. $106 annual revenue p/customer)

Automattic is an estimated $75MM business

At one time, Automattic had an estimated 1% conversion rate for paying customers. However, for the sake of argument, if we assume that Automattic is now converting at the same 2.2% rate as Wix, that would suggest that Automattic hosts 709,000 paid sites. Again relying on Wix’s revenue per customer and assuming that 1 site = 1 customer, that would suggest that Automattic’s revenue is in the neighborhood of $75MM, annually. In 2012, its self-reported revenue was $45MM. During 2012, it was estimated that all WordPress sites powered 15.8% of the web, and now power 25.8% of the web, a 63% increase. This would further corroborate a revenue increase from $45MM to ~$75MM, annually.

Based on analysis by W3 techs, Squarespace is estimated to host as many sites as Automattic:

Since Squarespace is still private, revenue and growth numbers are hard to come by. However, Squarespace claims more than 1,000,000 paying customers. If we assume they monetize their customers at roughly the same rate as Wix, that would suggest ~$106MM in annual revenue.

So, now we have 3 companies in Wix, Squarespace, and Automattic collectively generating ~$352MM in annual revenue.

The CMS market is an estimated $1.13B business

That begs the question of what the rest of the CMS market is worth, and what 56.3% of websites that use no CMS are worth.

To recap, based on w3 techs and additional sources:

  • The total world of WordPress powers 25.8% of the web
  • Automattic is estimated to power 50% of all WordPress sites
  • Squarespace is estimated to power 0.4% of the web
  • Wix is estimated to power 0.2% of the web

Those 3 companies therefore power an estimated ~13.5% of the web and ~31% of the CMS world. If we naively assume that the rest of the CMS world (including the likes of Joomla and Drupal hosting providers, as well as many others) monetizes at the same rate as these three, we can assume that the total CMS world is worth ~$1.13B.

Further, if we again naively assume that websites not using a CMS are monetized at roughly the same rate as CMS-based websites (after all, they have to be hosted somewhere), that would suggest a total market size for CMS and non-CMS websites of approximately $2.6B. That’s, in all likelihood, a most optimistic scenario, but it gives us a number from which we can consider additional discount factors. I’ll leave it to others to decide what and how much those discount factors ought to be.

Static Site Generators could be worth $225MM by 2020

Static Site Generators (SSGs) are obviously a tiny part of the static web, but growing. So, what’s the baseline of the current market?

We know that GitHub Pages hosted at least 700K static websites in 2015, or about 2% of what we estimate Automattic hosts. Obviously GitHub Pages provides only basic hosting and is therefore free, but were it to provide sufficiently comprehensive features such as others in the static hosting space provide (like Aerobatic, where I work), we might assume the same 2.2% conversion rate as other providers like Wix et al and therefore, GitHub Pages could be worth $1.6MM in revenue annually to GitHub. This is making the leap that more or less all sites hosted on GitHub Pages are using Jekyll…

At the time of writing, Jekyll itself has 23,657 stars on GitHub. There are a further 24 SSGs with more than 1,000 stars each, for a total of 90,292 stars, and then a much longer tail of SSGs with fewer than 1,000 stars each. Therefore, let’s assume that Jekyll represents ~25% of the SSG “market” and GitHub itself represents most of it, such as it is. Taking our $1.6MM for the current estimated dollar opportunity for hosting Jekyll sites, and applying that across all the other SSGs, we arrive at roughly a $6.4MM annual opportunity. Feel free to bump that number up to account for all other SSG-based sites hosted elsewhere other than GitHub. Still, unsurprisingly tiny. Again, it bears repeating that this is only Static Site Generators, and not all static websites.

Ok, so SSGs are barely a rounding error when compared to CMSs. What about growth though? How fast is this market growing? From 2013–2014, it appears that GitHub Pages grew from ~100K sites to more 200K, and between 2014–2015, GitHub Pages roughly tripled the number of sites it hosted from 200K to more than 600K, and the rate does not appear to be slowing down.

So, given a constant 3x growth rate and a year 0 amount of 700K sites, we’re then looking at 2.1MM, 6.3MM, 18.9MM, and 56.7MM sites in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively. At some point, the growth rate will inevitably slow down from its current 3x rate, but even if it only doubled instead of tripling between 2019 and 2020, we’d still be looking at 100M+ SSG sites and a ~$225MM annual monetization opportunity. Of course, given just how nascent this emerging market is, these numbers are inherently speculative.

Stating the obvious, SSGs are still a developer tool. As of 2015, GitHub had 11MM users and 29.7MM code repositories. Its nearest competitor, Bitbucket, reports more than 4MM users. So, at the moment, as long as SSGs remain a developer tool, we have a natural upper bound of ~15MM potential developers.

As I’ve stated before, for SSGs to go mainstream, they’ll likely need to follow the traditional CMS playbook and create an ecosystem of plugins and templates, not to mention an easy way for non-technical folks to edit content. At that point, the lines begin to blur between what we might currently think of as a SSG and a CMS, and thus the SSG market can transcend its current upper bound of 15MM developers. A big “if”, but what market isn’t in its early days?

So, what do you think? Is the CMS world a $1.13B industry? Is web publishing a $2.6B market? Will Static Site Generators have a potential market opportunity of $225MM by 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

p.s. You may be wondering, since I’m such a proponent of static sites, why would I be publishing on Medium? The answer is simple — for our own blog on Aerobatic.com where we have a ready-made audience, we currently use Jekyll. For my personal blog posts, I mix it up, and when I’m trying to reach a broader audience, I appreciate the superior reach that has so far come built-in with Medium. Horses for courses…

Jason Gowans

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Co-Founder @aerobaticapp