First off — I’ve read a countless number of these posts before and they’re all couched in evasive, annoying language. It’s very annoying! So let me get a few things out of the way:

  1. Buttondown’s shifting from a two-tiered pricing model (pay for your subscriber count, and then also pay $29/mo for fancy features) to a more traditional model (pay $9/mo, $29/mo, or $79/mo.)
  2. There’s a very good likelihood you’ll be paying less.
  3. If you’re currently paying for Buttondown, you’ll be migrated to the new billing system at your current price at a legacy discount.
  4. I’m doing this for three reasons: a) simplify the billing code b) simplify Buttondown’s value proposition c) slightly shift Buttondown’s clientele away from free users.

Okay! That’s the spark notes version. Now let’s get on to the meat of the matter, which I’ll express — out of equal parts rhetorical laziness and a distaste for hackneyed marketing speak — in Q&A form.

Okay, so, what’s the new pricing structure?

Check out the new pricing page!

If you’ve paid for software on the internet before, it might look familiar: this is what we technologists call a “SaaS pricing grid.”

Buttondown offers four tiers, based on the features you’re looking for and the number of active subscribers you have:

Uh, what was the old pricing structure again?

The old pricing structure was two-track:

  1. Pay $5/month for every thousand subscribers you have (except for your first thousand, which is free.)
  2. Pay $29/month for a bunch of “power user” features (custom domains, API support, that sort of thing.)

What does this mean for my paid subscriptions?

Before the pricing change, Buttondown took zero percent of your paid subscriptions revenue. After the pricing change…. Buttondown takes zero percent of your paid subscriptions revenue.

You’ll likely note that paid subscriptions as a feature has gone from being gratis to being locked behind the Basic plan ($9/month.)

You used to talk a big game about costing less than your competitors. Is that still true?

Yup, yup it is. There are edge cases (if you’re just using Substack without any paid subscriptions functionality, for instance), but Buttondown’s still pretty dang cheap for what you’re getting.

That being said — I want folks to pay for Buttondown not because it’s the cheapest option but because it’s the best. If I’m going to lose you as a customer because a competing tool is going to save you three dollars every month, I’m more okay with that now than I was in 2016 when I cooked up these prices.

What do you mean I could be paying less?

Let’s say you have 3,500 subscribers and you’re a Buttondown for Professionals user because you’d like to host your archives on a custom domain. You’re currently paying me $49/mo — $29/mo for Buttondown for Professionals, and $20/mo for those 3,500 subscribers.

You’re now just on the hook for $29/mo. That’s a saving of $20/mo!

What if I’m gonna have to pay more?

Yeah, the above is a cherry-picked example! Let’s say you have 3,500 subscribers and you’re not using Buttondown for Professionals — you’re getting bumped up from $20/month to $29/month.

Theoretically, at least. Like I led with — I’m honoring everyone’s current rates with a legacy discount, and am more than happy to grant you a $9/month coupon. Email me and I’ll cut you a discount!

What happens if I get migrated into a legacy rate but then get so many subscribers that I get bumped into a new plan?

Your rate only applies to the current plan that you’re slotted into — so in the above example where you’re getting $9/month off, as soon as you either upgrade to a new subscription (by breaking 5,000 subscribers) or downgrade to the lightweight Basic subscription that legacy discount is null and void.

Does this mean you’re finally offering annual discounts?

Yes! Buy a year, get two months free.

You said “simplify Buttondown’s value proposition” and that sounds awfully like marketing talk.

I mean it! Do you know how many emails I’ve had to answer from folks rightfully confused about how much I’m going to charge them when they migrate onto Buttondown?

I really liked the two-tier pricing structure I came up with back in 2016. I thought it was clever. I have learned, in the past six years, that it is more important to be clear than to be clever. (In most cases, but especially when it comes to charging people money over the internet.)

It’s now much easier for someone to visit Buttondown and understand how much they’re going to have to spend to use it — moreover, I think that number makes more sense to me as well.

You said “shifting Buttondown’s clientele away from free users” and I’m a free user.

I’m sorry! I really am.

I won’t sugarcoat it — Buttondown’s free tier is shrinking pretty significantly, from a thousand subscribers to a mere hundred.

Buttondown has grown a lot over the past few years; when I added the generous free tier back in 2016 I imagined a few friends using the platform, not tens of thousands of accounts sending millions of emails every month (and sending me thousands of questions & feature requests.)

I’ve noticed two motifs alongside this growth:

  1. Around 85% of the time I spend helping folks out is time spent with folks who are not paying for Buttondown.
  2. Many of these folks say something along the lines of “I wish my newsletter was large enough that I could pay you for your help!”

It’s not feasible for me to continue supporting it in its current fashion: I am spending more time answering questions about setting up DNS and debugging CSS issues than I am spending time making it a better tool.

This change is a bet that folks are willing to put their money where their mouth is and pay for software they find useful. It might be a mistake!

But the alternative is doing a lot of things that take me away from Buttondown — hiring customer service folks, charging more for already-profitable customers, et cetera. And that feels worse.

I’ve got more than ten thousand subscribers.

We’ve probably already been in touch to discuss your new pricing plan, but email me!

What’s the timeline for all of this?

If you’re reading this essay, then the new pricing changes are live — any new accounts registered are subject to them.

If you’re interested in getting the legacy discount for your existing account, I’m going to leave that option open through the end of the year — at which point I’ll be migrating folks who haven’t reached out to the new pricing and unshipping the old billing engine. So email me!

I have a question that wasn’t answered here.

Great! Email me.

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