In 2018, WordPress hit 32% market share. By 2019, WordPress powered 43% of the web, according to Kinsta, so somewhere in that year, WordPress zoomed past one-third of the web on its way to nearly half of all the CMS-based websites in the universe.
Among key competitors in this space, Joomla was at 3.1% in 2018 and 2.9% in 2019. Drupal went from 2.2% to 1.9%.
Wix and Squarespace both grew their market share in those years, but by 2019 they hit just 1.1% and 1.5%, respectively.
WordPress had clearly become the most popular website platform, and its market share has only grown since then.
In terms of Economics, what does this popularity mean? As WordPress sought to democratize publishing, making it easier than ever before to build highly functional websites, it opened doors to the online economy for millions of people. Barriers to entry fell for e-commerce, monetized blogging, lead generation, brand awareness websites, and many more creative opportunities.
In 2018 and 2019, traditional hand-coded websites were still in the majority, but by 2021 WordPress surpassed them. In 2018-2019, as is still true now, the use of WordPress dwarfed the use of all other content management systems combined. According to WPEngine’s Study of the WordPress Economy, the WordPress-enabled economy reached $596.7 billion early in 2021.
“If WordPress were a country,” the WPEngine report claims, “its economy would rank 39th in the world.”
In a podcast, Josepha listed five groups of people in the WordPress ecosystem:
- Visitors to websites
- Users of websites, including site owners and builders
- Extenders, including plugin and theme builders
- Contributors to WordPress
- Leaders of WordPress
Agencies, web hosts (which Matt identifies as the group that benefits the most financially from WordPress), and infrastructure suppliers, are also included in the WordPress economy.
Each member of these groups plays an essential role in the ecosystem as well as the economy.
Topher DeRosia of HeroPress curates stories about people who have entered the WordPress economy and improved their lives. Sometimes they have made the world a better place as well. These WordPress heroes are part of the people economy of WordPress – the human beings who use WordPress for their livelihoods.
From all over the world, people have shared their inspiring stories. Nigel Rodgers of Zimbabwe tells how WordPress community involvement made him a global citizen. Devin Maeztri of Indonesia tells how she found a place in the community without being a developer. Marieke van de Rakt of the Netherlands wrote about finding her place in a welcoming community. Gobinda Tarafdar from Bangladesh enlarged her life experience by making friends worldwide.
Many of the essays center on a sentiment similar to this line from Michelle Schulp of Minnesota: “WordPress has changed my career. It has helped me achieve financial and personal independence.”
Often, they elaborate that they are women, older people, people with parenting responsibilities that limited their options, people with disabilities, or people who are marginalized in their cultures — in short, they were conscious of obstacles to their economic progress and fulfillment.
WordPress changed that reality for them. Many essays speak of how “WordPress transformed my life.”
These and countless similar stories combined with the statistics prove that WordPress has remarkably impacted the global economy.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy gave a lecture on the WordPress economy in an economics class at Hendrix College. She mentioned the size of the WordPress economy in dollars, but she also took a different approach. As an open source Project with many volunteer contributors, WordPress is unlike other big tech projects.
WordPress users in a survey estimated that, on average, 25% to 48% of their incomes were directly attributable to WordPress. WordPress.org doesn’t charge for the use of the software or of any other tools or resources. It is possible to use WordPress as the basis of a business without giving anything at all to WordPress.
But WordPress asks for a 5% give-back contribution in the Five for the Future (5ftF) project. That contribution might be in the form of time, money, or a combination of the two. It might be a matter of volunteering to work on the software, donating a team member’s time to work on core, organizing WordCamps or Meetup events, or engaging with the community in marketing, translation, or any number of other activities voluntarily.
Josepha brought up the concept of “free riders.”
There’s an economic theory about those who don’t contribute but reap the rewards. It’s called the “free rider” problem. The metaphor comes from people riding a bus without buying a ticket. As long as plenty of people buy tickets, a few can ride for free without any consequences: the supply of seats is adequate and their choice to pay or not to pay has no effect on the bus schedule.
Economics theory tells us, though, that there is a tipping point. If there are too many free riders, the system breaks down.
Imagine a bus with riders paying for their rides — except for a few people who jump on the back without paying.
That’s no problem as long as enough people pay for their tickets. The free riders don’t slow down the bus or create problems by catching a ride. But if there are more free riders than paying customers, at some point the bus line can’t afford to run their buses anymore.
This is the conundrum with free riders.
There were many responses to the idea that WordPress could face a free rider problem. A small proportion of the users of WordPress contribute to the Project. WordPress relies heavily on those contributions.
The conversation about free riders quickly began to sound like a conversation about freeloaders – a completely different situation.
The free rider metaphor works for resources that don’t get used up, as Josepha pointed out in a blog post. “No matter how many new sites are launched using WordPress, the core software does not become any worse for wear, and there is no end to the available ‘seats.’ Access to and use of the software is wholly unconstrained and any advancement to the software benefits everyone equally regardless of the size of their company or contribution.”
“How can we rebalance the tenacious need for contribution with the immense benefit WordPress brings to everyone, including our free riders and contributors?” she asked.
Commenters suggested including funding tools in WordPress and combining all the smaller contributors into a single identity but also asked for an end to “disparaging” free riders and compassion for those organizations that couldn’t “overcome the obstacles” to contribution.
WordPress established the Five for the Future project in 2014. In 2018, Andrea Middleton wrote a proposal for a Five for the Future acknowledgment page. The idea was to acknowledge companies that supported the effort and to motivate more companies to join.
Contributions have more than quadrupled in that time. WordPress.org has a Pledges page that shows numerous organizations that have pledged, from a handful of organizations pledging one hour each week to Automattic’s 4,069 hours a week.
This section of the website also points out the benefits of contributing:
- Training opportunities
- Contributing to the future of WordPress
- Staying up to date on the WordPress platform
- Working with talented individuals
- Opportunities to identify and hire talented people
- The chance to represent individual or client concerns
There has been some controversy around the program, including questions about whether core contributions and ecosystem contributions are equally important, whether it’s right to acknowledge companies or if it amounts to “toxic score-keeping,” and whether activities like building WordPress websites count as 5ftF contributions (officially, no).
Contributors can add their contributions to their profiles, and a special web page for the project was added in 2019. In 2022, Josepha spoke of “a culture of generosity” and proposed a set of questions to guide future acknowledgment of contributions.
The program continues to evolve and develop, and the contributions of volunteers continue to be central to the WordPress economy. The most recent contributor days brought skyrocketing numbers: 800 in Porto for WordCamp Europe 2022 and more than 630 in Bangkok for WordCamp Asia 2023.