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Last Tuesday, iThemes announced it had acquired the Restrict Content Pro plugin from Sandhills Development. iThemes is part of the Liquid Web family of brands. Pippin Williamson, Managing Director at Sandhills, said the company had no intention of selling the plugin last October when talks of the acquisition began. However, moving forward has created some opportunities for his company and narrowed its focus to its existing products.

Restrict Content Pro will remain an independent product with its own website. However, iThemes will include it as part of its Plugin Suite and Toolkit product bundles from the iThemes website. The Plugin Suite bundle runs at $249 per year, which is the same as the regular Restrict Content Pro price. However, the bundle includes other products such as the company’s popular BackupBuddy plugin. The Toolkit bundle runs between $700 and $997 per year. It includes the Plugin Suite, a themes package, training, and more.

This structuring of product sites falls directly within the company’s long-term plans. “Earlier this year we actually started down a number of avenues experimenting with moving some of our products off ithemes.com and over to their own sites,” said AJ Morris, the Product Innovation and Marketing Manager at iThemes. “When COVID became a pandemic, we paused a lot of those projects to provide relief and help to the WordPress community. Now that things have calmed down for us a bit, we’re going to continue on that path.”

Outside of the change of ownership, end-users should not see much change with the plugin or the site. Users should expect some admin-side changes in the future as the new development team refreshes the plugin.

The Membership Plugin Space

Membership plugins represent a slice of the overall WordPress market that still has no true dominant player. There are several solutions out there, but it is still an emerging area that any company can dive into and see returns on with a solid product. It is a niche that will undoubtedly continue growing along with WordPress and has plenty of untrodden ground just waiting for the right people to take their first steps across. There will always be a need for more fine-tuned control over users and permissions than what WordPress offers out of the box.

“We are always in the market looking at other plugins that make sense for our business,” said Morris of why they made the acquisition. “Our audience is primarily freelance developers that are building a wide range of sites for clients. Over the years, we’ve focused on a number of non-utility products (like iThemes Exchange) and we learned a lot during that time. We’ve also learned a lot over the years of running our own membership site. For us looking at a membership plugin played with into the iThemes strategy and really the Liquid Web strategy as a whole.”

I spent nine years developing and maintaining a membership-related plugin but sold it in 2019. If there is one lesson I learned during that time, it’s that no two sites have the exact same membership needs. There is always room for individual companies to build a product that meets specific user needs in the membership space.

“What I feel like is everyone is currently trying to create the best Swiss Army knife,” said Morris. “I don’t think that anyone sets out saying I want to be good at all things, but when you’re developing a plugin that has so much possibilities for the market it serves, you have to feel out where you want to play and claim stake to that area. You become the best you can in that area and work at making sure you succeed there. Then you can start to properly branch out to other segments of the space that are within close proximity to where your core is.”

iThemes is stepping into the game at an ideal time. Restrict Content Pro is currently a $500,000+ per year product, according to Williamson. In the right hands and with continued growth, it could become the go-to solution for memberships in the WordPress ecosystem. iThemes has a solid history in the plugin space. This is a good opportunity to see where they take the project.

The Future of Restrict Content Pro

Morris said that Sandhills Dev already had a solid short to mid-term plan for the plugin. These plans are providing iThemes with a head-start on features and ideas, some of which are already in progress. The team’s plan is to continue down this path, which matches some of the areas the company wanted to address.

“After that, we’ve got some ideas, but we also want to get to know the community around Restrict Content Pro,” said Morris. “[Matt Danner] has mentioned in several places that the RCP community is more developer-centric while the iThemes community is historically not. Right now we’re in listening mode. We’re starting conversations all over the web with RCP customers to get a sense of what they are looking at and apply those learnings with where we want to take RCP in the membership space. Right now, I think it’s a bit premature to talk about specific features we’re including or what direction we’re fully going.”

The one area that is currently lacking is the free Restrict Content plugin. Its user base is still relatively small (10,000 active installs). Its average 3.7 star-rating from end-users does not spell confidence, but it could be brought up with some active work.

Restrict Content Pro has long had the benefit of being associated with Williamson and Sandhills Development’s other products like Easy Digital Downloads and AffiliateWP. All of these projects fit well together — often a user of one plugin needs at least one of the others. The pro plugin has likely not relied on the traffic from WordPress.org for success. However, it would not hurt to bring those numbers up. While the install count from the free version does not always directly correlate to success with commercial versions, it is usually a good indicator. Putting some resources behind beefing up the free plugin could translate to better returns in the long term.

Morris said that iThemes will be sharing news about the free Restrict Content plugin soon. However, he is remaining tight-lipped about what those plans are for now.