Woltlab Attempting to Milk New Branding Free Customers

TrixieTang

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I've been out of the admin scene for about 5 years now, but I recently came back as I'm planning on launching a new forum. My options for software were XenForo and Woltlab, and one thing that I was planning on getting eventually was the Branding Free option.

After taking a closer look at both and bitching at both companies for various reasons like I always do, I came across something that pretty much made up my mind on which software to use.

BrandingNotSoFree.png

Renewals? For Branding Free? I had never realized before that Woltlab's Branding Free option operated like that.

Well, it turns out I wasn't wrong. It actually didn't operate like that until they snuck it in with their announcement for the pricing of WBB 5.4

2. Why do new Branding Free licenses now require renewal?

The so-called branding is an important advertisement for us and provides a not insignificant part in the acquisition of new customers. Thanks to this branding, our customers benefit from overall lower prices for licenses. However, the removal of the branding for an ongoing period causes a persistent reduction for us, which is why we would like to partially compensate for this by requiring the new Branding Free licenses to be renewed in the same intervals.


Note: The change has no effect on existing Branding Free licenses, which continue to be valid indefinitely.

So what does this mean? It means that you can no longer purchase the Branding Free option for Woltlab Suite. Instead, you now have to rent the Branding Free option because Woltlab believe that they're entitled to milk you for a constant stream of cash even after you pay them € 249.99 for Branding Free. I don't see dollar prices listed anywhere on the site, so let's go to The Google to see how much that is for us Yanks.

1649370933529.png

About $272. That seems like an acceptable price for Branding Free. But how much will these yearly "renewal" extortion fees be?

1649371079429.png

Yep, that's right. Now you have to pay the full price for branding free just so you can pay it again every two years after that. The good news is, if you bought Branding Free prior to the announcement in July, 2021, then you don't have to pay these new extortion fees. Oh, but if this announcement blindsided you and you were, let's say... waiting to buy the Branding Free option, then screw you, my friend. :D

I'm sure that you're probably wondering how in the world they intend to enforce this new system, and that's pretty simple. If you, let's say, forget to "renew" your branding free option then that means that you are in violation of the license agreement and they can shut you down at any time. Yes, because people who've already paid you $300+ for your software and the ability to remove a single line of text definitely love being treated just like those dirty pirates who pay nothing and run nulled software. đź‘Ź

All that said, let's take a closer look at Woltlab's supposed reasoning for this change...

The so-called branding is an important advertisement for us and provides a not insignificant part in the acquisition of new customers. Thanks to this branding, our customers benefit from overall lower prices for licenses. However, the removal of the branding for an ongoing period causes a persistent reduction for us, which is why we would like to partially compensate for this by requiring the new Branding Free licenses to be renewed in the same intervals.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up some of the largest forums that use Woltlab. I found one that actually has the Branding Free option, and they aren't going to be paying a cent more since they already had the Branding Free option and won't be subject to the yearly extortion fees. Even the O-Game forums don't have the Branding Free option and they're probably the largest WBB forums out there.

It almost seems like Woltlab made this change not because they were missing out on revenue, but because they want to milk money out of new corporate customers. The problem with this logic... only a few corporate customers actually even purchase Branding Free, and the rest of Branding Free customers are just simple hobbyist forums that want to remove the footer text just to make their forum feel more like their own.

In short, I suggest that no one should purchase the Branding Free option from Woltlab anymore. And anyone who needs the Branding Free option would be far better off going with XenForo or any other option, really. Woltlab still has about three months left to admit that this is a horrible idea and scrap it, but I'm not exactly holding my breath. I also find this a huge shame considering that they, for a long time, seemed like one of the few companies that would not pull stuff like this.
 

zappaDPJ

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Economically, that doesn't make much sense to me and it wouldn't surprise me if it proves to be a loss financially. A couple of the forums I maintain are run without branding and while the owners in both cases happily paid the one off fee, I highly doubt either would be so happy about an additional a yearly fee.
 

TrixieTang

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Economically, that doesn't make much sense to me and it wouldn't surprise me if it proves to be a loss financially. A couple of the forums I maintain are run without branding and while the owners in both cases happily paid the one off fee, I highly doubt either would be so happy about an additional a yearly fee.

They either didn't think this through or they're betting that they can get enough enterprise clients to go for this (which is a dumb bet).

That is an exorbitant amount of money for removing branding.

Invision charges $500 for it these days, but at least that's just a one time fee. One of the few things I can actually commend Invision on about their prices these days.

I'd have no issue with Woltlab raising the price of Branding Free a reasonable amount, but when they try to turn it into a subscription model and pretty much screw over new customers in the process that's where I draw the line.
 

Avery

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Remember, that if you live outside of the EU the prices are actually cheaper than shown on their website (Germany law requires all prices are shown with VAT - which isn't applicable if you live in the US, for example).

I do believe that them having branding free being a renewal required option, make little sense - but looking at their forum growth (and the growth of other forum softwares) I can see why. It's not so much about milking more money out, but more of getting their brand name across and out there. I state this because beforehand, Burning Board was honestly really just a German forum (and their lack of English support, or English translations on their website showed that). But as more and more people started to use their software, more and more non-EU websites were popping up with their name being spread.

Would I buy branding free if it is tied to a renewal? No. But then again, does having a link in the footer really mean that much overall in terms of backlinks off of my community (or trying to find where to place it style wise)? I don't personally think so either.
 

Oldsmoboi

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They either didn't think this through or they're betting that they can get enough enterprise clients to go for this (which is a dumb bet).



Invision charges $500 for it these days, but at least that's just a one time fee. One of the few things I can actually commend Invision on about their prices these days.

I'd have no issue with Woltlab raising the price of Branding Free a reasonable amount, but when they try to turn it into a subscription model and pretty much screw over new customers in the process that's where I draw the line.

For a one time fee, yeah, I wouldn’t mind it. I don’t have a need for it, but I think a one time fee is fine. But a recurring fee that high? No.

And I’d have to ask: Does branding bring any more actual business? Or does a refusal to remove branding without exorbitant pricing just turn off customers? Is IPS really losing $500 in advertising by having a forum run unbranded? It’s 2003 era thinking regarding back links.
 

TrixieTang

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For a one time fee, yeah, I wouldn’t mind it. I don’t have a need for it, but I think a one time fee is fine. But a recurring fee that high? No.

And I’d have to ask: Does branding bring any more actual business? Or does a refusal to remove branding without exorbitant pricing just turn off customers? Is IPS really losing $500 in advertising by having a forum run unbranded? It’s 2003 era thinking regarding back links.

Every forum software company seems to say that the link brings them traffic and new customers, but I think they all try to play it up.
 

truthingtotruth

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Not that my opinion should matter so much, but that is some fine work TrixieTang. Really neat to not only see somebody who has done the proper studying of an issue, but then shares the results with others. Excellent. Yep, excellent!
 

truthingtotruth

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It might be interesting to see if this Community has any influence that could cause executives in that company to post an explanation here as to what's up. And to answer the views that seem majority views within this Community that those executives are being - - - what would be the proper vocabulary? Being impolite to their customers. That vocabulary "impolite" doesn't quite fit, does it? But using bad language, as any sort of character attacking sort of language wouldn't be proper for this case. Obviously, they are using an economic model that seems inappropriate to many of you, and I think I agree with you.

What vocabulary would best describe why an executive from there should come here to explain things?

Of course, I'm the dreamer and it is extremely unlikely any of them would do as I am sort of asking them to do.

Then again, is it wise for them to ignore the members of this Community? Maybe not.
 

Pete

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dtdesign might have some thoughts to share.

Though honestly, this is one of those things that culturally I think is very specific to audience and attitudes; this is just less of a cause of drama in Europe in general.
 

dtdesign

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Thank you for your feedback! You are correct that this makes the "Branding Free" option less attractive for privately run forums, it does add a premium to your yearly expenses of keeping everything up to date and running. Personally, I have never considered this to be an option for a privately run forum. Back in the days I used to run quite a few forums, but since I paid everything out of my own pockets, there were always other things that felt way more important to me. But to be fair I was much younger and my budget was severely constrained, so these decisions felt much easier.

The branding does help us a lot and contrary to the common misconception this has nothing to do with SEO, in fact, we even mark the links explicitly as `rel="nofollow"`. It's a subtle link at the end of the page, but people click on it more often that you might think. I guess this is a bit harder to grasp for the same reason that I use an ad blocker on most sites (most ads really got out of hand!), just to learn that I'm actually among a minority of people that use ad blockers.
 

TrixieTang

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You are correct that this makes the "Branding Free" option less attractive for privately run forums, it does add a premium to your yearly expenses of keeping everything up to date and running.

Actually it doesn't add anything to my yearly expenses since it's made me decide to never touch Woltlab again if this change actually stands. And I'm guessing I'm probably not the only one who feels that way.

The problem here is that you all shot yourselves in the foot with this change. XenForo and Invision have both increased the price of their Branding Free option over the years. I believe XenForo increased it from about $250 to $300, so about a $50 increase. And I believe Invision increased it from about $250 to $500, so about a $250 increase.

I don't like that either of those companies raised the price, but I can understand why they did it. In the case of Woltlab though... no, I can not understand who ever thought it would be a good idea to turn the Branding Free option into an overpriced subscription model. You're not going to be making more money off it and you're going to be losing new and existing customers because of it.

Personally, I have never considered this to be an option for a privately run forum. Back in the days I used to run quite a few forums, but since I paid everything out of my own pockets, there were always other things that felt way more important to me. But to be fair I was much younger and my budget was severely constrained, so these decisions felt much easier.

It always was still is an option for personal forums. It's just that now it's only an option if you choose to go with XenForo, Invision, vBulletin, or even UBB. It's certainly not an option with Woltlab anymore unless you go out of your way to find someone selling a second hand license that had Branding Free purchased prior to July, 2021.

The branding does help us a lot and contrary to the common misconception this has nothing to do with SEO, in fact, we even mark the links explicitly as `rel="nofollow"`. It's a subtle link at the end of the page, but people click on it more often that you might think.

Most people who pay nearly $300 just to remove some text from their footer probably wouldn't ever pay that much if they weren't a fan of the software itself. You know, the type of fans who are more likely to suggest the software to others even if they choose not to have the link/copyright text on the footer of their own site.
 

Pete

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Most people who pay nearly $300 just to remove some text from their footer probably wouldn't ever pay that much if they weren't a fan of the software itself.
Actually most people who pay the branding free fee aren’t recommending the software to anyone, in practice. They’re almost always doing it for branding compliance, and couldnt care less who knows what software they’re using, or not.

Because the surprisingly majority of those paying such fees aren’t the hobbyist market in the first place, and TAZ is oddly overrepresentactive of said hobbyist market, which is why all the doom and gloom prophecies about how changes like this will kill software have mostly turned out to be wrong, because the “experts” here aren’t experts in the entire forum market, but one specific corner of it only.
 

TrixieTang

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TAZ is oddly overrepresentactive of said hobbyist market

It's almost as if most forums are run by hobbyists, isn't it? Even most of the big boards that you'll see are run by people who either started out as, or still are, hobbyists. Even companies like Internet Brands and Vertical Scope only got to where they are by buying out hobbyist forums. So yeah, that might be a large part of the reason why TAZ is, and has always been, comprised mostly of hobbyists.

Actually most people who pay the branding free fee aren’t recommending the software to anyone, in practice. They’re almost always doing it for branding compliance, and couldnt care less who knows what software they’re using, or not.

I've seen tons of forums run by big companies that never even bother with Branding Free. Take a look at any list of big boards and you'll find that the majority don't even bother even if they are huge sites and even if they do care about their branding. I even came across one that has XenForo's Branding Free option but still has several Add-ons for XenForo copyrights in the footer (stuff like Dragonbyte and 8wayrun).

I've also seen plenty of smaller forums that have purchased the Branding Free option just because they feel that it makes their site look more professional and feel more like their own.

Also, a lot of the enterprise level software (Jive, Lithium, Vanilla's enterprise level SaaS, etc.) actually seem like they may even require that their branding be visible from what I can gather of them. So obviously a lot of big companies don't actually have any policy in place saying that they need to go Branding Free.
 

Pete

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Well done for missing the point.

Just because TAZ is heavily biased towards hobbyists, does not mean the forum market actually is as a whole - even if it was once, there's certainly no guarantee it is now. And even if there is a hobbyist segment of the market, they're not necessarily playing in the same segment of the market - as the continued usage of the free platforms shows. Nor does it mean that the views of the hobbyists are as representative of the whole as are implied, especially when the market segment is premium forum software.

All the people complaining about the IPS price hike and how it will kill IPS for hobbyists... might be right - but it's clearly not hurting IPS's bottom line to go that way, and it's clearly where *their* market is.

And 'a lot of' is not the same as 'all of'. You'd be surprised how finicky - or surprisingly not - big companies can get. Some are super controlling, some don't care. And if branding-free is a requirement, they'll not use Jive/Lithium/whatever, there's no shortage of options in the market for every customer.

I'd also point out that even the free platforms have restrictions; until 2011 running SMF without the footer was a DMCA takedown offense with hosting companies unless you paid $150/year. After 2011, SMF asks for footer copyright and will refuse support if you don't have their footer notice. I believe phpBB and MyBB also reserve the right to refuse service if you don't have their footer copyright present.
 

TrixieTang

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All the people complaining about the IPS price hike and how it will kill IPS for hobbyists... might be right - but it's clearly not hurting IPS's bottom line to go that way, and it's clearly where *their* market is.

It pretty much has killed IPS for hobbyists. Yeah, it's still an option for companies and that's clearly who they're targeting these days. I used to use IPB, but these days I wouldn't even consider it. They've shown that I'm not their target market, and they've pretty much alienated a lot of hobbyists who had used IPB for their forums.

The difference, however, is that IPS had been primarily targeting corporate customers for years. Even back in the IPB 2.x days they were often courting larger customers while vBulletin catered more to the average person who just wanted to start a forum. I hadn't gotten the same impression from Woltlab until recently.
 

eva2000

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In short, I suggest that no one should purchase the Branding Free option from Woltlab anymore. And anyone who needs the Branding Free option would be far better off going with XenForo or any other option

Well from your own words, not many folks buy branding free option to begin with so shouldn't be an issue I don't think. I've never bought branding free for anything. It's well known that copyright/branding displayed on forums does subsidize the cost customers pay. But if it was really just a money grab, then the maths wouldn't add up as it would be better to raise the general price of the product by a few % which would be more than a brand free renewal introduction.
 
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Taylor J

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Well from your own words, not many folks buy branding free option to begin with so shouldn't be an issue I don't think.
This.

I'm not sure why someone/anyone would feel slighted by this if they were never planning on purchasing that option anyways. Can't really milk customers that weren't going to pay for branding fee.
 

TrixieTang

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Well from your own words, not many folks buy branding free option to begin with so shouldn't be an issue I don't think. I've never bought branding free for anything. It's well known that copyright/branding displayed on forums does subsidize the cost customers pay. But if it was really just a money grab, then the maths wouldn't add up as it would be better to raise the general price of the product by a few % which would be more than a brand free renewal introduction.

People obviously do purchase it. And as I've said, there seem to be two types who do purchase it:

  1. Companies and organizations that are either required to remove it or who do it it to protect their branding.
  2. Hobbyists who just want to make their forum feel more professional/unique.

The problem is that they've just made the option pretty much inaccessible for the second group now.

This.

I'm not sure why someone/anyone would feel slighted by this if they were never planning on purchasing that option anyways. Can't really milk customers that weren't going to pay for branding fee.

I was planning on getting Branding Free. I would have paid for it.

But as things currently stand, I'm going to be paying XenForo for it.
 
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