Web Developer Economics: Monthly Service Costs

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Dave Rupert once asked people on Twitter about all the web services they paid for and it looked like he received a lot of interesting replies. I thought I’d blog mine and get the ball rolling on sharing lists of these services. It’s interesting to consider the apps that have managed to cross our magical barrier to our pocketbooks. Perhaps looking at them as a whole we can see a pattern or at least have better mental grasp on our spending choices as developers. The following is a list of every web developer-y web service I personally pay money for.

The services that are marked with a *, for one reason or another, I don’t actually pay for. But it’s inclusion means I absolutely would pay for it.

GitHub (Small Plan, $12/month)

GitHub hosts git repositories with a bunch of social and issue tracking features. It is free, if all your repos are public and costs money for private repos. We have CodePen on GitHub which isn’t open source at the moment. That’s one of four private repos I have currently, which is enough to fit on their Micro plan, but I like having some breathing room and I’m happy to pay for such an amazingly useful service.

Free alternatives: use all public repos on GitHub / use BitBucket if you need private / host your own git repos (it’s open source).

Vimeo Pro ($199/year)

After weeks of struggle with hosting my own protected HTML5 video for The Lodge, I was pretty darn frustrated. It is not a simple thing to do well. Exporting video in the right codecs is the least of it. After talking with the guys from Kicktastic, I was convinced using Vimeo Pro is the right way to go. It has a nice customizable player, it works on more devices that it would be practical for me to support on my own, and I can lock down the videos to just CSS-Tricks.com. The best part? It’s cheaper than what my self hosting costs would have been anyway.

Free alternatives: Nothing, if you need locked down video / YouTube if you don’t / Self hosting if you’re masochistic

BrowserStack ($19/month)

I don’t run virtual machines or multiple computers anymore for testing. I do it all right through my browser. And you don’t just get screenshots, BrowserStack spins up a VM on their end and allows you to view and interact with it through your browser. Test in multiple versions of Windows (XP, 7, 8), OS X (Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion), as well as a bunch of device emulators for iOS, Android, and Opera Mobile.

Free alternatives: Run your own emulators / VirtualBox / Spoon.net for open source stuff if you’re on Windows

FreshBooks (Seedling, $19.95/month)

When I need to send a quick invoice, I often just log into FreshBooks and shoot one out from there. With FreshBooks I can keep track of paid/unpaid and the invoices have PayPal buttons, which makes it compelling for me to use. I’m not a power user, so I stay on the lowest plan and just delete old “clients” as I need to make room for new people to invoice.

Free alternatives: just make your own invoices / have an editable HTML one

Wufoo* (Bonafide, $29.95/month)

Wufoo helps you build forms on the web you can use anywhere. I used to work there, as you may know, but I was a huge user and fan of Wufoo before that. I have nearly 50 active web forms across various sites powered by Wufoo. It is easily one of the most vital (time-saving) web apps I use.

Free alternatives: Google Docs forms / Just built your own forms (hahahahahha just kidding)

Beanstalk* (Bronze, $15/month)

I like GitHub, but GitHub doesn’t help with deployment. Beanstalk is a Git repository in the cloud just like GitHub but minus the social features and issue tracking and plus deployment. Easy deployment is big for me.

Free alternatives: Capistrano / Dandelion / Nerdy stuff

Media Temple* ($150/month)

Every single website I work on (except CodePen) is hosted by Media Temple servers, and it has been that way for years. a pretty fundamental and vital thing! I have CSS-Tricks on one (dv) and everything else on another. These (dv) servers are so hardcore (and upgradable), pretty much any site will be fine on them forever or until you need something super specialized.

Free alternatives: You can probably find less expensive hosting but I’m not sure I would recommend it and definitely wouldn’t recommend “free” hosting if there is such a thing.

TypeKit* (Portfolio, $49.99/year)

I use custom web fonts on almost every site I work on. CodePen doesn’t just because we need to be really sensitive about performance on an app full of iframes. CSS-Tricks is now using the beta of the HF&J web font service just because I’ve been dying to use Whitney and Gotham for ages on a web site. But every other site uses Typekit and it’s damn fine service. The Portfolio plan at 500,000 pageviews is enough for those other sites.

Free alternatives: Google webfonts / finding fonts with licenses acceptable for @font-face use and Font Squirreling them.

Amazon Web Services (variable, expensive)

CodePen runs on a bunch of different EC2 instances, so that’s variable and we pay for all that. The videos in The Lodge are downloadable, and I host those on S3. I might switch those over to Vimeo since Vimeo Pro does offer direct links to the high quality files. Not sure, always kind of an in-progress thing. I’m lucky enough that IGN hosts the files for the free screencasts CSS-Tricks does, otherwise I’d have to move those to either S3 or Vimeo Pro as well.

I’m going to leave this out of the totals since it’s so variable and specific to one app (not part of an overall toolbox).

Dropbox (Pro, $9.99/month)

This used to be more important to me when I used multiple computers, but I’m all consolidated now onto one machine. Still, I keep 90+% of all my files on Dropbox as real time cloud backup which is invaluable. It’s amazing to me how incredibly good Dropbox is and still no big player has had any decent attempt at replicating their offering and pushing them out of the market.

Free alternatives: Google Drive has 5 GB free.

Gmail Extra Storage (80GB, $20.00/year)

I’ve been using Gmail for longer than I’ve been building websites. That’s a lot of email and I think it’s kinda awesome that it’s all in the cloud, backed up, and easily searchable. I give them a few bucks a year starting when I was getting close to maxing out storage on the free account.

NetDNA* (~990 GB, $60/month)

CSS-Tricks uses NetDNA as a CDN. Under 10 TB a month of bandwidth, it costs $0.06 per GB, which adds up to about $60/month. However on their pricing page it says accounts start at $800/month. I think it’s just because NetDNA is their enterprise product and MaxCDN is their normal user product. On MaxCDN, CSS-Tricks would fall into the $39.95/month plan.

Flickr (Pro, $24.95/year)

I like having a dedicated cloud-y home for all my photos. I don’t put everything there, just the most important/shareable ones. Still, there is enough there to require a pro account. Mostly it’s personal, but I also store screenshots of UI work and milestone articles and things like that there so I think it’s relevant to list here.

Free alternatives: Picassa / Facebook / Have few enough photos that you don’t need to be Pro

Dribbble ($19/year)

Similar to Flickr, but more specifically for design work, I think of Dribbble as a sharable archive of things I’ve designed. The pro feature gives me organizational tools I wouldn’t have otherwise.

VaultPress (Premium, $40/month)

I used this on CSS-Tricks to do real-time cloud backup of the files on the site and the database. Absolutely vital to me I have a service I can count on for this that doesn’t require any work from me.

Free alternatives: BackUpWordpress / WP-DB-Backup

Internet Access ($149.95/month)

Comcast – $75/month. I get high speed internet access (only) from them for my home internet.

GoGo – $39.95/month. I fly enough that the least expensive option for in-flight internet (on Delta) is to pay by the month. Too expensive for how unreliable it is, but it’s worth it to me to be able to get stuff done in the air.

AT&T – This post inspired me to look into my bill closer than I usually do. I was accidentally on some weird broken plan that was charging me $220/month. I have it down to $110/month now (iPhone 5 on LTE with tethering)


My monthly costs all totaled up. Yearly services are divided by 12.

Service Monthly Cost
GitHub $12.00
Vimeo $16.58
BrowserStack $19.00
FreshBooks $19.95
Wufoo $29.95
BeanStalk $15.00
MediaTemple $150.00
TypeKit $4.17
Dropbox $9.99
Gmail $1.66
NetDNA $60.00
Flickr $2.08
Dribbble $1.58
VaultPress $40.00
Internet $149.95
Total $531.91

My impression: that’s a decent chunk of change but it doesn’t scare me. Compared to other industries I’d think its lower than average as far as costs for fundamental tools to enable to business. If money got tighter, I’d invest more time in seeking out the cheaper or free alternatives to these things. But at the moment, I’m OK with all this. My most precious resource is time.

It will be interesting to follow this post up with similar tallies for one-time(ish) software and one-time(ish) hardware costs for web developers. That should give us a more complete picture of the costs of being a web developer.

Just Missed

  • Sublime Video – I used to use this for an HTML5 video player before Vimeo Pro.
  • App.net – I paid the $50/year mostly because I’m annoyed there is no perfectly awesome Twitter for Mac app anymore. It’s now $36/year.
  • Netflix / Hulu / iTunes – Too personal for the list, but I give money online to all three of these services.
  • Grooveshark – I was the very first Grooveshark Pro user ever. I don’t use it much just because I’m so ingrained in iTunes land, but it’s a great service. Also too personal for the list.
  • Shoutcast – We use this at ShopTalk to broadcast live. Little too specific to include as generally useful to any web developer.

Also, if I was starting out these days, I’d almost certainly be paying for some learning service like Treehouse, Lynda.com, or Code School (or multiple).

Update: A few other things should have made this list… yearly domain name fees and PayPal fees.


It would be interesting to hear about web services you pay money for. But beyond that, why you pay for it. What are the things that compel you to cross the magical barrier and open your pocketbook?