There are a lot of scenarios in which a membership site would benefit from using a WP Multisite install. Sometimes administrators want to allow members to create their own child sites within the same WordPress installation, while other times it’s beneficial to allow users to share an account among child sites. For example, take this scenario that a site administrator laid out for a project:

I’d like users to be able to sign up for one account, then have access to content on all child sites. For example, if they sign up for a tutorials account, they have access to a child site devoted to guitar tutorials (with different access levels for tutorial types – beginner, advanced, etc). Then they can purchase access to other child sites, such as piano tutorials, though I’d like the option to allow same access rules to apply to all of the child sites (i.e., for selling access as a beginner “bundle”).

There are a lot of interesting setups that you can use with a membership plugin for WordPress multisite, but finding the exact functionality you want can be challenging. There three major membership plugins that provide full multisite support: Memberships by WPMUdev, Paid Memberships Pro, and S2Member Pro. All of them have been around for quite some time (Membership is the newest, yet was launched in 2010), so they’ve matured and had time to work out kinks in multisite support. They could also serve as a starting point for a customized solution.

Memberships by WPMUdev

Memberships allows users to create child sites by signing up for your membership – the flagship example for this is Edublogs.org. You can charge members for access to their own child site, or allow members to create sites for free, then charge for other access rules. You could also create a paid social network, as Memberships supports BuddyPress.

As for user accounts across all child sites, I couldn’t find concrete help on this (I haven’t used Memberships myself). I do think you could allow access to child sites based on a customer account at the parent site based on this thread. Looks like it may take a very slight amount of tweaking, but will be able to achieve this structure.

The plugin is $19, and support / updates are included in the plugin purchase for one month (you’ll need a WPMUdev membership for more support).

Paid Memberships Pro

Paid Memberships Pro is free (we have a full review of Paid Memberships Pro for more info), and while it doesn’t support multisite in the core plugin, there are add-ons to make PMPro multisite compatible.

The Network Membership add-on allows restriction for an account across child sites, which allows user to share credentials among your child sites. If you want to allow users to create their own child sites or blogs, then you’ll want to check out the Network/Multisite Membership add-on.

There’s also a free add-on to add bbPress compatibility so that your membership site can have private forums.

While add-ons are free, support is not included with add-ons or the core plugin, but is available for $97 per year.

S2Member Pro

To the best of my knowledge, S2Member Pro probably won’t work for users that want to share one user account across multiple child sites, as it requires a separate installation on each child site. This item from their specs page provides more detail on this:

Compatible with WordPress Multisite Networking (optional). *Note: Users/Members are NOT shared across the Network. Each child blog or sub-site in a Network runs its own instance of s2Member.

However, S2Member can allow members to create their own child sites or blogs. You can control the number of child-sites created by each user, and you can limit access to child sites for each account. For example, you could allow free users to have access to your parent site, but only allow paid users to create a child site or blog. S2Member Pro also fully supports BuddyPress and bbPress.

S2Member requires a one-time purchase of $129 for an unlimited license to be used on a multisite install, and includes updates and support for life.

My Thoughts

Of these three, Paid Memberships Pro is my favorite to work with, as you’ll probably need support or will be working with a developer anyway for a setup like this, and it’s very extensible and flexible. Site administration and usage with the plugin (i.e., setting up dripping with the series add-on) is fairly easy as well.

There are other platforms that are working on this currently (such as WooCommerce, MemberMouse, and MemberPress – aff links), but I don’t believe any of them have the multisite compatibility fully ready to go yet. MemberMouse has said they’re working on this still (we have a full review on this as well), I know WooCommerce has a multisite-plugin on the roadmap, and the grapevine says that MemberPress is working on this, too.


Want to read more about Multisite? Checkout this full guide from Mashable.

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Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.

13 Comments

  1. Hey guys. I’ve got easy digital downloads running with restrict content pro on a a few multisite installations. It works very well and you will not find a developer that is more responsive and supportive of his plugins than pippin. They have an extension that allows you to set the settings network wide too. Works well.

    1. Ah good to know, thanks Craig! Haven’t heard much about RCP being used in a multisite environment, but always good to know there are more options. I’m a big fan of Pippin’s work as well 🙂

  2. Thanks for this breakdown, Beka. I wish I’d found it a month ago! I’ve been trying to get MemberMouse up on a multi-site environment, and when I had no luck and contacted support they literally said “we can’t help you with that.”

    That $97 price point for support is still better than all of the other membership solutions, as long as it’s not a pain to get support (if their docs are good, then that shouldn’t be an issue).

    Thanks again!
    -jason

  3. Hi, I just wanted to point out one error with this. You mentioned Memberships by WPMUdev as an option for creating child sites and said they use that for Edublogs.org. You’ve mixed up their plugins. They have one that does that, but it’s not Membership, it’s “Pro Sites”.

    Membership only lets you give access to content. It’s multisite compatible but that’s more for allowing child sites to have their own membership areas.

    Pro Sites is the one that lets you create child sites and that they use for Edublogs.

    I just thought this might help if someone is looking for that. I’ve used Pro Sites and I feel it’s missing a lot of essential features that their customers have been requesting for years, so I was disappointed by it, but there aren’t many options for this.

    One other option is Gravity Forms + the User Registration add-on to create site in a multisite environment.

    Todd

    1. Hey Todd, thanks so much for the clarification here! I’m not as familiar with WPMUdev plugins as I am with others, so great to hear from someone that’s used them and has more insight. Will check out Pro Sites for more info — if you don’t mind sharing, where did it fall short for you?

      Thanks again Todd!

  4. Sure, I’d be glad to expand on that. There are quite a few areas, actually.

    In theory the plugin sounds great. It allows you to offer either free or paid sites, with multiple levels of paid sites. The free sites can contain ads if you want and all kinds of restrictions, such as only certain plugins and themes. Different levels can get access to specific plugins, email support, etc. It sounds great. But when you try to start using it, it feels like no one has ever actually used it because many features that seem obvious have been overlooked.

    If your goal is to sell websites, the signup process is clunky and awkward. It uses the built-in WP signup process, so on the first page the user enters their desired username and email address and there is the option for “Gimme a site” or ‘Just a username’ (I forget the exact wording). That’s not generally ideal if you’re selling sites. Then on the next page it has options for your site, like site title, etc. There is no mention at this point about paying. After clicking to create your site, you get a message that tells your site name and gives you a link to log in. Again, no mention of paying. When you click the login link, I would expect it to be set up where you’re automatically logged in, but no, you have to manually log in. Once you log in for the first time, then you’re presented with the option to upgrade to paid or keep a free site. On edublogs.com, they do not use this setup. They have a customized signup process. And for anyone needing it for more commercial applications, it just doesn’t make sense.

    Another issue I have with it is the lack of options for payment gateways. For years the only options are PayPal and Stripe. I actually really like Stripe, but for a long time I wanted to use a different gateway (Clickbank). Many, many members requested it as well but the developers never said anything about whether it would be added. Other customers have requested other gateways and for years nothing ever happens with it. It’s stayed exactly the same. What I don’t understand is that some of their other plugins support other gateways, like Authorize.net, but not this one.

    One thing I don’t like is that the plugins don’t integrate well with other, third party plugins. They pretty much only integrate with other plugins they make, and not very well at that.

    For example, I wanted to integrate it with their Affiliates plugin, which it says it does, so affiliates can refer customers to me and make a commission. Even though the Pro Sites plugin lets you set different levels that cost different amounts, the Affiliates plugin only allows you to set one flat amount for commission. So you can’t give affiliates more for customers who pay more.

    They also make the “Memberships” plugin you referenced. I would have though these would integrate together where I could not only sell websites, but also have a members area that my paying customers could get access to. But they don’t work together like that. In fact, they don’t even support the same payment gateways. So if I wanted to use Stripe with Pro Sites, that wasn’t an option with the membership plugin, which doesn’t make sense to me. If it was a short term oversight it would be one thing, but it’s been that way for years.

    I don’t mean to be bashing wpmudev, they have a few plugins that are well-designed and work the way you’d expect. But they have others that are just not thought through completely and, worst of all, are not getting better. It seems like they don’t implement many of their customers’ good ideas. I’ve seen many really disgruntled customers in their forums. I’ve actually been using them for over 7 years because there are certain plugins they make that no one else does, and certain ones work really well. I really wanted to like them and use their stuff, but every time I try I get really frustrated and sometimes lose weeks of productivity because once I get into a project I realize their stuff just doesn’t work right and I have to come up with a different solution. I’ve kept coming back to them over the years, hoping things have improved, but so far they haven’t. I hope for their sake they start listening more to their customers because, if they don’t, eventually a competitor will, and could likely put them out of business.

    At the moment, I’ve lost almost a month of productivity because of trying to use Pro Sites. Far into the project I realized it’s just not going to work no matter how much I force it and I’m going to have to abandon that route and try another one.

    1. Hey Todd, thanks so much for sharing this! Really interesting to hear about the sign up process for customers, that’s definitely a killer if it’s not streamlined / transparent. (Also probably not something you’d notice immediately while playing with the plugin in the admin!) It’s always so helpful to hear from someone that’s spent some extensive time using something, as they typically catch things you don’t think of at first.

      Thanks again for sharing this! The insight here should be really helpful to others looking into this solution 🙂 .

      1. I just wanted to follow up and say thanks for this article. Previously I only knew of “Pro Sites” by WPMUDEV to accomplish this which, as I mentioned, I was very dissatisfied with. However, I hadn’t heard of Paid Membership Pro, or if I had, didn’t realize it could provide the multi-site/network functionality I was looking for. But after reading this article I decided to look them up and do some research. After contacting them with some questions and determining it could do what I wanted, I gave it a try. So far I’m really happy.

        It didn’t do everything I wanted out of the box, but it’s flexible enough that it could be adjusted with a combination of freely-available code on PMPro’s site and some custom coding provided by Jason from PMPro. I bought their consultation package, which isn’t small change at around $300, but was well worth it. Jason wrote some custom code for me while we were on the call and answered questions and helped me get it set up the way I wanted, and then has been answering a couple followup questions in the forums.

        To do everything exactly the way I wanted, as far as what users have access to on their own sites, I had to use a couple other plugins as well, but I’m fine with that as everything works together well and is flexible, which has been the case.

        So far everything is looking great. The setup I have now is way better and more flexible than what I would have had with Pro Sites. After fighting with Pro Sites for 4 weeks and not getting anywhere, I went with Paid Membership Pro and have it up and running in about 1 week. And I’m much happier with the end result than I would have been even if I had gotten the other route to work. I have much more control over everything and customize it the way I want.

        I just wanted to say thanks for your recommendation because I wouldn’t have heard about them otherwise.

        Thanks,
        Todd

        1. Hey Todd, you’re very welcome! Great to hear you’ve got a system in place thats working for you, and thanks for sharing the experience in setting up PMPro. It’s definitely one of the more flexible solutions out there and can occasionally require some custom code to be up and running, but it sounds like it was well worth it in this case 🙂 .

  5. This is a good primer Beka.

    If you don’t mind me asking – what are your thoughts about how to accomplish charging on a per user basis within a particular site, and possibly prorated?

    For example, you run Test.com as a multisite. Example.com is a member of your multisite network. Example.com admin can add or remove additional users/admins under their account, and are charged appropriately on a monthly basis. $1 per month per user under Example.com, 10 users, $10 per month. Then Example.com adds 1 user 15-days into their current billing cycle, which makes next month $10.50 per month.

    I could see this being used if you wanted to use WordPress as a SaaS.

    1. Hey Sam, I don’t know of a plugin that will let you create this kind of system. I believe site admins for a multisite installation cannot create or delete users, so you’d have to (a) add the capability to do so, (b) trigger an action that notifies the super admin / billing system if this occurs, and then (c) charge based on the single site’s user total. This would be entirely outside of the billing system / any proration or other billing features themselves, so while I think it would probably be possible, you’d need a pretty complex plugin to do so, and it would then need to integrate with your billing system of choice.

  6. Thank you so much for this article! I plan to create a multi-site system on area3(.ml) as a fun project I decided to start today 🙂 This article was a really big help and I’ve bookmarked it so I can come back to it for refference .

    1. you’re welcome 🙂

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