It's no secret that we used Gumroad to sell Meta Box extensions and then switched to FastSpring a few months ago. Both e-commerce platforms are great and easy to integrate with WordPress. There are some pros and cons of each platform that might be suitable in different cases, which I'm going to reveal in this post.
But the first question is:
Why Gumroad or FastSpring?
That's a fair question. We all know that selling digital products on WordPress can be done easily with WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads. So, why use other e-commerce platforms?
Before answering the question, you should define your goals. What exactly do you need to sell plugins on WordPress? Handling downloads, payments, subscriptions, easy to configure, etc. Without goals, you'll be switching between tools and never be satisfied.
In my case, these were what I was looking for when I started selling premium extensions of Meta Box, sorting from the highest priority to the lowest:
One-click purchase. I didn't like the cart and checkout pages. I wanted a single click on product pages that lets users buy plugins immediately without redirection to another page. As I remembered, it increases the conversion rate. Both WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads didn't (and still don't) have this feature.
Support for credit cards. I'm living in Vietnam and Stripe didn't support Vietnam (it still doesn't now). The only suitable gateway in WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads was 2CheckOut. It was a premium extension in both plugins. At that time, I just started my business and spending money (quite a lot) was not an option. If you choose to go with these plugins, consider other extensions such as Software Licensing and Subscription.
Simple way to manage products. All I needed to manage products were only price and a download file. I always felt lost when editing products in WooCommerce. Easy Digital Downloads seemed better, but still more complicated than it should be.
No database bloated. As the business would continue year after year, I didn't want my database to become gigabytes! If you look at the WooCommerce order item meta table, you'll know what I mean.
Leverage Meta Box. It would be great if I could use Meta Box to handle metadata for products, orders, and settings.
At that time, I didn't think about:
- Managing licenses and updates
- Product bundles
All of that came later when Meta Box grew. I'll talk more about them later in this post.
WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads were great products, but they seemed for everyone and not tailored to my needs. I decided to find another e-commerce platform to sell my plugins.
Two Ways to Use E-commerce Platforms
It's important to know that there are mainly two ways to use e-commerce platforms like Gumroad or FastSpring:
As a Payment Gateway
This is what I've been using them for. Like I said above, there was no Stripe support for Vietnam, and I needed a way to process credit cards.
Using them this way requires you to handle things like:
- Managing products and orders on your website
- Creating accounts when users purchase products (mostly via webhooks) and sending emails with download & account details
- Creating a "My Account" area where users log in to download plugins
- And later managing licenses and updates
These tasks are very similar to what Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) does. I was nearly convinced by EDD, but its lack of one-click purchase made me write my plugin. Of course, my plugin was inspired by EDD (it's different now as I use a simpler and more effective custom table structure to store payments and subscriptions).
Let Them Handle Everything
If you have a single product, then writing a plugin to handle accounts, downloads, and licenses might not worth the effort. It will probably take a week or two to develop the plugin and test everything. Instead of doing it yourself, you should spend this time developing features for your plugins and let platforms like Gumroad or FastSpring handle these tasks for you.
When you let e-commerce platforms handle everything:
- Your website will be a simple landing page. There are no accounts, no "My Account" area, no downloads page, etc.
- Support will be provided publicly (via a Facebook group, Slack, public forums) as there's no way to manage accounts and access levels.
- Updates for plugins are provided via these platforms, users need to download new versions manually.
You still can use these platforms for multiple products, but the effort to manage them will increase a lot as everything is done manually on the platform websites.
In my opinion, it's kind of sell and forget. It might be a good way to validate your idea and get some money when you launch your plugins. It's just not a long-term approach for WordPress plugins because we have to provide support and updates regularly.
Now let's see the pros and cons of each e-commerce platform: Gumroad vs. FastSpring.
When I first saw Gumroad, I knew that it was what I had been looking for. Its checkout popup was beautiful, fast, and simple. Its dashboard to manage products was easy to use. And I decided to go with it immediately.
Beautiful checkout popup. This is the best thing about Gumroad e-commerce platform to sell your WordPress product. You go to a product page, click the Buy Now button and a checkout popup appears almost immediately. Simply enter the email and done. Everything is so simple.
Support for credit cards and Paypal. Users can use credit cards or Paypal to buy the products. If they buy via Paypal, they'll be redirected to Paypal (which is unavoidable) to pay, and then be redirected to a thank you page on your website.
Support downloads. If you sell only a single plugin, this is a great feature. You can upload files to Gumroad and it will let users download files when they completed purchasing.
Sending emails. This is a great feature that I can't find on other platforms (even now). You can send update emails to users to let them know about the changes in products. You can also divide customers into segments by-products to send emails to. It's like a simple implementation of MailChimp inside Gumroad e-commerce platform.
Easy to manage products and coupons. Just select a product type to sell (which is a digital product in my case), set a price, upload a file, and done. Its UI is simple and easy to use. You can set a coupon for a single product or all products.
Subscription. Gumroad doesn't have subscriptions. It has membership, but that's a different kind of product. Gumroad membership is more like selling access to a course, a book, or a community. Chris Lema explained quite well the differences between the two on his blog.
When trying to use Gumroad membership for subscriptions of Meta Box plugins, I found that users must register an account on Gumroad! It's ridiculous because I wanted to use Gumroad as a payment gateway only. They should have accounts on my websites instead of on theirs.
Later I discovered that when using a third-party e-commerce platform if users subscribe for a subscription or a membership, they'll be users on these platforms automatically. This is because these platforms act as a reseller of our products.
But forcing users to register accounts on Gumroad before subscribing was a bad experience in my opinion.
Affiliate. It's a pain! Gumroad e-commerce platform doesn't let affiliates redirect users to the author's website. It only provides a link where affiliates put on their websites. Users can buy directly there. While buying action is fast (because the checkout popup appears immediately when clicking the Buy Now button), there's no trust since it's on the affiliate website, not on the author's website.
Besides, there's no way to let users sign up for affiliates. Plugin authors have to manually add them by email.
Gumroad had worked for me well for years. Until recently, when I wanted to switch to the subscription model to reduce troubles renewing licenses. I researched several e-commerce platforms, including FastSpring, Paddle, and Fremius, and finally decided to go with FastSpring.
As you already know, I had a plugin to manage products and orders. When switching to the subscription model, I had to rewrite it. It took me 2-3 months to complete it (I still had development tasks during the time). I'm quite happy with the result as it's flexible enough for me to switch to another platform if I need to. With the new version, I'm handling licenses, updates, payments, subscriptions, and product bundles much better than the previous version.
Back to FastSpring, my needs for selling WordPress products weren't changed. But I wanted to have subscriptions and a better affiliate system, which is where FastSpring shines.
Subscription. It's perfect! You can create as many subscriptions as you want. For each subscription, you can define the price, duration, and even file downloads (Paddle - another popular e-commerce platform, doesn't support file downloads for subscriptions). You can even set free trial days before users are charged, or add a one-time setup fee.
When users subscribe to your products, FastSpring will automatically create accounts for them on FastSpring and the process is transparent (users only receive emails to go to FastSpring to see/manage their subscriptions). That's a better experience than Gumroad membership.
One-time payment product. It's like traditional products in Gumroad. I'm using it for the Lifetime Bundle at Meta Box.
Checkout popup. This feature is similar to Gumroad but not as beautiful as Gumroad in terms of aesthetics. But it's so close. You can see it in action on our pricing page.
Better coupon management. In FastSpring, you can add 1000 coupons at once or set a coupon that expires after a week that you can't do in Gumroad. Last Black Friday, I didn't need to remember to remove coupons when Black Friday ended (they were automatically expired). You can set coupons for a single product/subscription or all.
Webhooks. FastSpring platform has great support for webhooks. Each event has its corresponding webhook like: when a subscription is activated/canceled/deactivated, or when a payment is refunded. I use them a lot to integrate with my plugin.
Affiliate. FastSpring e-commerce platform cooperates with Impact Radius to provide a powerful affiliate system. Impact Radius is a big company in the affiliate field and this brings both systems to a higher level.
Managing multiple stores in one account. I'm managing 3 stores for Meta Box, GretaThemes, and WP Auto Listings in a single account. I still can see orders and reports for each store, but the payments go into one single place. In Gumroad, if you have 2 brands/websites, you have to create 2 accounts for them.
User interface. I wish FastSpring had a more beautiful UI for their checkout popup or the dashboard. It's ok now, but cleaner/simpler is better.
Affiliate. While the system is great, I had trouble setting it up. The steps were quite complicated and buggy. I had to open a support ticket and they've just resolved it recently after 2 months! I'm still working on that right now and hopefully will get it done next week.
Hidden features. Some features are available on their docs, but not available in the dashboard. I had to contact them to enable for me.
Higher commission. FastSpring platform charges 5.9% + $0.75 per sale. It's higher than the premium tier of Gumroad (3.5% + $0.30 per sale + $10/month for the premium tier). It's worth noting that Gumroad fee for the free tier is pretty high: 8.5% + $0.30 per sale.
Despite these things, FastSpring has been working well for me since last October to sell my plugins. Payments, subscriptions, and even refunds work nicely without any trouble.
Choosing an e-commerce platform for a business is not an easy task. And it's not a one-time decision, neither. Things change fast and you need to keep up with them regularly. More importantly, you need to understand what you need and see if any of these e-commerce platforms can work for you.
In this post, I have pointed out some important things that I considered when choosing the two e-Commerce platforms Gumroad and FastSpring as well as when choosing between them and other e-commerce plugins (WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads). There are other platforms like Paddle, Fremius, SendOwl, and more to sell your WordPress products. And I hope you can compare them based on the points in this post. Remember no one is perfect, and you have to choose what is best for you.
Good luck with your choice and let's grow our businesses and get more sales!