WordPress Gutenberg — the $500 MILLION cost to business

There’s an elephant in the room. He’s big, he’s trumpeting, he’s staring right at you and he’s waving a gigantic sign.

Note to the reader: Is this the first you’ve heard of Gutenberg? Visit ClassicPress to find out more.

Photo credit: Harvey Sapir

He’s clearly trying to tell us something, yet most people in the room are completely oblivious to his presence. What does the sign say?

“Gutenberg is going to cost businesses over 500 MILLION DOLLARS”.

Now what on earth is the elephant talking about? Let’s put things into perspective. I run around 50 websites that are powered by WordPress. The majority of these websites have at least one person on the customer’s end that keeps it updated.

Over the years I’ve spent time with these clients to ensure they are comfortable with the WordPress editing experience. On average, the support / training time spent with each client is estimated to be one business day.

Let’s assume I make the switch from the current WordPress editing process to the Gutenberg way. At the very minimum I’m going to have to spend another business day with each customer retraining them. How did I get to this figure? At the very minimum, we will:

  • send out communications about the upcoming changes
  • make phone calls to arrange training sessions
  • perform the training session itself (which may or may not be at their offices — we won’t be including travel costs in the 500 million dollar estimate)
  • be on hand to answer follow up support questions
  • fix things that customers break

Our lower-end day rate is £450 (~$580). If we do a simple calculation, we’re looking at 50 x $580 = $29,000 in non-billable hours. I say non-billable because there’s no way we would be able to charge the end customer for forcing a new editing experience on them.

At this point I can hear the people in the room scream “You lunatic, just use the Classic Editor plugin”.

To those people I say: this is just kicking the can down the road. Gutenberg is going to be expanding to the rest of the WordPress back-end and front-end over the coming months and years. At some point the Classic Editor plugin is no longer going to be a solution.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen

As Morten Rand-Hendriksen so eloquently framed it: “Classic Editor is a bit like using a band-aid to plug a hole in a balloon as you are inflating it. It may work right now, but as the balloon continues to grow, the band-aid not only won’t do its job, it will actively harm the balloon itself. Gutenberg as an editor replacement is just the first step for the WordPress Next project. The next step for Gutenberg is to migrate to the Customizer, at which point blocks move out of the editor and into other interfaces and displayed spaces in WordPress. Which means the Classic Editor can’t do its job and another patch plugin needs to be introduced. It does not require a lot of imagination to see how this solution is not scaleable.

With that out the way, let’s continue our hypothetical scenario. At the time of writing WordPress powers 31.7% of websites that use a content management system. According to some estimates, this translates to around 27 million websites. Now, I’m going to be conservative here and assume that only 1% of these websites were created and managed by agencies similar to us. This leaves us with an estimated 270,000 websites worldwide that will need their users retrained.

Let’s also be conservative with the average day rate an agency charges, putting it at $250. Our simple arithmetic tells us that 270,000 x 250 = $67,500,000 in lost revenue. A cool $67.5 million? Not too bad I suppose for such a revolutionary change. Now let’s presume that in the next few years there is going to be just one more fundamental change to the WordPress editing experience — it’s fair to say this will happen with the WordPress Next project. As a result, this training cycle will need to happen a second time.

Our running total is $135,000,000. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Let’s now spare a moment for the people that have made WordPress the powerhouse it is today — those wonderful plugin and theme developers. These are the folks who are going to have to make sure that not only is their plugin or theme compatible with each iteration of Gutenberg, they’re going to need to make sure that their work is compatible with those who are using the Classic Editor as well as those running older versions of WordPress.

As of writing, there are 56,203 plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. Let’s make some more assumptions and say that of these only 40% will need to be updated to be compatible with Gutenberg. Let’s also assume that over the next 2 years they’re going to need to spend a very conservative 5 days of their time making sure their plugin/theme is bug free for those in the previous scenarios.

Let’s further assume that their day rate is $150. Our trusty calculator tells us this is a cost of 67,443 developer days with a total cost of $10,116,540. Peanuts I hear you cry!

Running total: $145,116,540

But hold on a minute, we’re missing a key demographic — EVERYBODY ELSE!

There are millions of WordPress powered websites that are managed in-house by marketing teams, communications teams and the “managing director’s son who knows how to build a website because they’re always on Instagram”. These people are going to be the biggest victims of the changes that Gutenberg will bring.

They will have to teach themselves how to use Gutenberg. They will have to spend time grappling with upcoming changes. Changes that will confuse them, scare them, and most importantly — take them away from other work which the business needs them to do. Opportunity cost anyone?

Let’s make some more assumptions (I bet you’re all loving this game by now!). Over the next 2 years each business running a self-managed WordPress website is going to need to spend at least 2 days learning how to use this new method of publishing content.

Let’s assume that the average employee who works on the website earns $25,000/year. Without including all the additional costs involved with employing a person (pensions, bonuses, hr etc), we can make the assumption that these 2 days will cost a business, on average, around $192. Let’s now assume that there are 2 million businesses worldwide in this position.

Fantastic! Another $384,000,000 has been added.

Our running total is now $529 million dollars in lost revenue due to Gutenberg

Now do you see why the elephant is so agitated? Why has nobody stopped to think about the cost of Gutenberg to the global community. Let’s take a step away from what Gutenberg actually does and look at how it will impact the world from a financial perspective.

Yes, my numbers might be way off (in either direction) but the fact still remains: Gutenberg is a major shift and it is going to cost businesses a LOT of money.