Mark of Approval Web & Marketing

Free Alternative To Wishlist Member

Revised for July 2022.

We all know my stance on licensed software for WordPress (one of the reasons I moved away from Joomla). In the context of my business, it’s not something I’d use because it restricts the freedom of the end user and limits what he can do with his site.

Now just to be clear, I am fine with paying for support and licensing of the software. But I become concerned when the software developers create a co-dependency – whereby if you stop using the software you lose all data or major functionality that cannot be replaced.

Naturally this is a concern when it comes to membership sites and member data.

When I wrote this post many years ago, WishList Member was the go to software. At the time, they had made the code impossible to read so you could not create extensions and all third party development was impossible.

Since then Wishlist Member has, I believed, stopped scrambling the code.

And since then, other plugins have come on the market such as MemberPress and Restrict Content Pro.

For purposes of the archives, I am going to leave the review I did of S2Member which was a very powerful piece of software back in the day – but possibly a little over the head of most people from a tech point of view.

So let’s dive back to the past.

An overview of S2Member

When I first found S2Member I was overjoyed. How could such a promising plugin be free. I must admit, there is a pro version for extra payment gateways, but for a start, the free version offers immense value. The smile was, however, wiped off my face when I found out its complexity.

Since that time, I have been learning more about it and perfecting my skill. And I like what I’m learning.

Wishlist, on the other hand, was a little simpler but by that same token; didn’t appear to have as much flexibility. S2Member offers much more at a deeper level including many goodies for developers.

If you can tame S2Member, you will be in for a real treat.

Membership Setup

I found Wishlist to use a lot of informal mechanisms for achieving its outcome. By this I mean it is all based around the membership level model. If you want to drip content, you have to create as many membership levels as content to be dripped. I would like to have seen a way for the same membership level to release its content based on the amount of time the user had been part of that level. On a good note, Wishlist does allow multiple memberships per user.

S2, on the contrary, takes advantages of WordPress’s native functionality. Not only can you have up to 4 membership levels for free, you have great control over what a member can do within that membership via use of capabilities. Capabilities are really easy to set up. Simply put, you can have a user with a level 1 membership meaning he’s a paid member. However, he may only be able to access a product within that level based on the capability.

The capability is a real neat feature when it comes to selling separate products within a single membership.

Content Protection

Both systems do really well at protecting your content. Both are restricted to where the page goes when a user tries to access a page they don’t have access to. However, you can decorate this with buy buttons and a polite sales pitch. In essence, monetising your \”Keep Out\” page.

Content dripping is a lot easier with Wishlist than it is with S2Member. Wishlist allows that clunky ability to graduate from one membership into another. Whereas with S2Member, you will need to tap into the code via the API. There is probably some plugin to do this. I haven’t checked.

Because of its capability functionality, I find S2Member works nicely with other plugins that editor the users capabilities. I have created an entire system around this combing the user role editor plugin with S2Member.

Developer Perks

S2 and WL are choc bloc full of hooks and filters. That means a developer can write extensions to the code without touching the code. Good for non destructive updates. This is a strong point of both these plugins. It also gives the freedom to market your own extensions. In the case of Wishlist, you could potentially offer a plugin alongside your affiliate link for the prospect to buy it. But it’s unlikely you’d buy a plugin for a product you don’t have yet just to buy the product to try it!

You will find many S2Member extension-plugins on Sadly, many of them are not starred very high but don’t let that discourage you.


The greatest benefit of having a free to begin membership plugin is that you can test the waters and scale up as you want. Sure, Wishlist might have a money back guarantee but they don’t – to my knowledge – have a trial where your wallet stays in your pocket.

At the time this post was originally created in 2014, I made it clear that my preference is S2Member. You could even write your own plugins if you were so inclined and make it your own. Unfortunately, with Wishlist, you are restricted to the domain and enforced via a license check.

But a lot has changed and I am sure both of these plugins have evolved.

Thinking about Setting up a Membership Site?

We now work with Restrict Content Pro. This is a highly flexible plugin and Mark of Approval is actively producing in-house extensions to super power our clients’ sites so they can have the custom experience they want and their members’ deserve. Get in contact with us if you want to discuss how this works.

2 thoughts on “Free Alternative To Wishlist Member”

  1. Avatar

    I’d like to gamify my course – essentially give ‘stars’ to my students for completing components of my course. I would also like to know which students are getting them so I can call them out to rest of the class. I wondered if you knew of anything like this?

    1. Avatar

      Hi John, that’s a good question since gamification increases engagement rate. Otherwise, not many people finish courses.

      Have you tried learndash?
      You can find it here:

      It’s not a free plugin but it does award the users badges for completing courses. If you are looking for something to try for free, you could look into
      Let me know if you have any further questions. I have tried both the above plugins myself.


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