WordSesh Returns Wednesday, July 25, Experiments with Charging Attendees for Tickets

WordSesh, a virtual conference dedicated to WordPress topics, is returning for a 5th edition on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Scott Basgaard, the original organizer of the event, has passed the torch this year to Brian Richards, who has co-organized previous WordSesh events.

The online-only event will feature 12 hours of sessions on a variety of tech and business topics, including e-commerce, freelancing, and security. In the past, WordSesh has been a marathon 24-hour event, but Richards decided to pare it down to 12 hours this year in order to organize the details quickly and get the next event on the calendar as soon as possible.

WordSesh Experiments with Charging Attendees for Tickets, Adds Real-Time Transcription

For the first time in WordSesh history, the event is charging attendees for tickets (rather than making it free for everyone as in years past). Richards is using the ticket money to pay speakers and have every video professionally transcribed in real-time. He has received some pushback on the decision but wants to see how things fare with this arrangement.

“I thought the community might get behind that so we can stop asking speakers to completely volunteer their time, and the transcriptions are a huge accessibility bonus for non-native English speakers as well as the hard of hearing,” Richards said. “There have been just a few people pipe up to voice their distaste that I converted a free event to a paid event, which suggests there are many others stewing about it quietly, and I’m guessing it’s because they don’t realize where the money’s going (not that it should matter in either case).”

Richards said tickets are dynamically priced to be the operational equivalent of $25 USD in every person’s home country. In India, for example, the ticket price is closer to $9 USD. He has kept quiet about the tech until now because he didn’t want people gaming the system but has since decided that it’s not a major concern.

“The site accounts for purchase power parity so that the cost is not more than a couple of billable hours (or, ideally, much less) for everyone,” Richards said. “And for people whom the cost of a ticket is still a stretch, well, that’s where the scholarships come in.”

WordSesh still has 18 donated scholarships to give away but Richards said he is struggling to find people willing to apply to watch the event for free. Prospective attendees can apply for a scholarship or nominate others to receive one.

A ticket to the event grants attendees access to the sessions, both live and after it has been recorded. Attendees will also receive virtual swag. A few samples include:

  • A steep discount on WPSessions annual memberships (33%)
  • Stripe is providing an exclusive link to skip the invitation process on their Atlas program and cover the cost for processing their first $5k of payments
  • CorgiBytes is offering a $1k discount (~20%) on their code auditing services

Previous WordSesh events averaged 1,000 online attendees and a good portion of them showed up the same day the events aired. This year there are approximately 400 registered so far. Richards said he won’t rule out the possibility of making the event free again for the next edition.

“Asking more from sponsors could make a free event possible again without paying for everything personally (right now I’m still about $1000 in the red), but I really want to put the onus on the community at large,” Richard said. “Quality events take a lot of time and effort to accomplish, and most of that cost is on the backs of the organizers, speakers, and sponsors rather than attendees (at least in the WP community). Having been in all of those seats I’d really like to see more responsibility shift to the attendees. I would personally be happy to pay more for an event and be glad knowing that both speakers and organizers weren’t burning all this time in hopes of a return.”

Virtual conferences have started gaining more traction in the global WordPress community after the success of previous WordSesh events. WordPress educator Zac Gordon recently hosted more than 1,000 attendees at his free JavaScript for WordPress conference in June. The Polyglots’ virtual Global WordPress Translation day has also attracted hundreds of participants at each event (448 attendees in April 2016, 780 attendees in November 2016, and 1,300 local event RSVPs in September 2017).

Virtual events often reach far more people than an average local WordCamp, and many also inspire in-person meetups. Watch parties for WordSesh’s 5th edition are happening in cities across the globe, including Antwerp, Lagos, Minneapolis, Mumbai, and Bar Harbor (Maine).

“I’ve always enjoyed seeing people pour in to the event each year, and there was a delightful hum throughout the WordPress community every time a WordSesh took place,” Richards said.

WordSesh has been a valuable addition to the virtual event space around WordPress, and attendee numbers at the upcoming event will be important for measuring how much traction the event can retain with its conversion to a paid event. Richards says he is committed to keeping the event alive and hopes to host it two times per year, which is one of the reasons for cutting it back to 12 hours.

“I’m already excited for the next event,” Richards said. “I’m a little concerned at the moment, only because I don’t expect this one will sell enough tickets to break even, but I’m absolutely committed to hosting WordSesh again in the future. I’m more interested in hosting an incredible event and providing a ton of value to attendees than I am in breaking even this time around.”