Paid Content Host SubHub Pivots To Be A Drupal ‘App Store’


Credit: Burning Red

SubHub, whose web hosting and content management service is aimed at small publishers who want to charge for their content, is making a “complete change” to its business model.

Instead of charging customers its £50 monthly subscription for use of its hosted publishing software, developed in-house, SubHub is now becoming a re-seller of the popular Drupal CMS, for which it is introducing a paid “app store”.

Basic SubHub hosting will become free; customers will be charged for use of “modules” on a per-module basis. A selection of free modules will be available but others will cost $29 per month.

SubHub says it will share revenue with developers of modules that its customers subscribe to. Drupal, which is open-source, has a loyal community of volunteer developers, which has written thousands of custom modules; the move may prove controversial in some quarters of the community.

The Drupal community is split about having an app store,” SubHub co-founder Miles Galliford concedes to paidContent:UK. “The pure open source crowd don’t like the idea, but the majority believe WordPress’ success has happened since Matt Mullenweg launched Automattic (the commercial arm which commercialises deployment of the blog software).

“We have discussed what we are doing with many of the big hitters in the Drupal community including (original developer) Dries Buyeart and they are very supportive of what we are doing. Indeed, Dries has launched Drupal Gardens, which is also a software-as-a-service version of Drupal.”

SubHub publishing clients who charge for access to their writing include InsideBeer and The Drum Channel. In 2009, SubHub took funding that brought its total up to around $1.2 million.

Trying to shoehorn its way to becoming to Drupal what Automattic is to WordPress, or what Red Hat is to Linux, all while also continuing to be a paid content host itself, is certainly interesting. Aside from just its own hosted sites, SubHub claims to have developed an API that sits between remote installations of the Drupal CMS and available modules, allowing them to be charged for.

“Most of our competitors like SquareSpace still charge for packages of functionality – Bronze, Silver, Gold – based on bandwidth, disk space and features,” Galliford says. “We think this model is broken as it charges people for stuff they don’t want or need. It is like going to a restaurant and being forced to pay for a whole meal when you just want a starter.”


Evan Rudowski

Hi Greg,

I think these are two separate issues. 

What we have built at SubHub is a bit like — it’s for end users. Downloading and installing WordPress is for developers. Same with Drupal. 

SubHub is not likely to ever be a place where core Drupal developments are exclusively introduced. It’s not an alternative to Drupal. Our “app store” is merely a place where Drupal modules can be offered to end users who wish to enable certain capabilities for their sites. On our platform a Drupal module is referred to as an app and gets a wrapper via our API that makes it easy for the end user to plug in and integrate. 

Drupal is almost invisible to our target audience at SubHub. It’s the power under the hood but it’s not the main attraction — unlike Drupal Gardens which is targeted at developers who want to use Drupal. Our end users just want to create a great website with great functionality. Drupal powers that, and our app store enables the ease of integration of modules and the opportunity to charge the end user.
So, Drupal Gardens for site builder types, SubHub for end users or “noobs.”

Best wishes,

Greg Harvey

I don’t see how ‘Drupal as a service’ justifies monthly payments for individual modules. My fear is if you give developers a choice – host code on or host code on SubHub, which is a potential revenue stream – then they’ll do the latter. Which might be great for some people for a little while, but ultimately will deprive Drupal of readily available components and cause long term licensing problems.

For example, what if the Drupal Views module were released via SubHub? Earl would probably make a pot of money, but Drupal as a product would be much further behind than it is now, because Views was a real game-changer – had it not been freely available then Drupal would not have benefitted as widely from its existence. Same with CCK, which has subsequently become largely core. What happens if core wants to adopt a SubHub module?

I just can’t shake the feeling this is a bad, bad idea. I totally get Drupal as a service, I think Drupal Gardens is a great idea, but this? Nah.

Greg Golebiewski @znakit

“We think this model is broken as it charges people for stuff they don’t want or need. It is like going to a restaurant and being forced to pay for a whole meal when you just want a starter.”

Exactly. The future is in the on-demand or pay-as-you-go services. Better yet, if payment systems are platform agnostic — so that users can have a starter from one restaurant and a dessert from another, but pay for them with one simple transaction…

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