Justin Tadlock

Screw the premium theme market.

Why we need to rethink how we monetize WordPress themes

For that matter, let’s stop using the word “premium.” Let’s label it for what it is — pay-for-use.

I was surprised annoyed when I read a post covering 100 premium WordPress themes at the Outlaw Design Blog. I was well aware there were more and more pay-for-use themes coming out but had no idea that someone could actually write a post about 100 of them. And no, that’s not all of them.

Ian Stewart got it right when he said, “The Premium WordPress Theme phenomenon has approximately one year left before collapsing entirely,” in his post about the future of premium WordPress themes. I don’t think he’s right because he said my Options theme was the premium-theme killer but because the market is already becoming saturated. It has only been three months since that post. I can’t imagine what the market will look like in another nine.

Some theme developers will continue to lead the market because they hopped in at opportune times, are good designers, and have built a nice following, such as Brian Gardner and Jason Schuller. They’ll continue to profit from this business much longer than many. Plus, they still do give plenty back to the community through free downloads and quite simply, innovation.

I’m sicked and tired.

WordPress was built from a community of people willing to share freely. Yes, even themes. What? Yes, themes were free at one point. Good Great themes were free at one point.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here — stop releasing pay-for-use themes.

Sure, there’s a market there, but I don’t want to see every single mediocre theme have a price tag attached to it. Just because it’s a magazine-type theme doesn’t mean it’s a premium theme, or that it’s worth some form of funds anyway.

If you’re going to release a theme and call it premium, then you need to — in the words of a high school cheerleader — “bring it.”

I don’t have a problem with people releasing themes for money. It’s something I’ve considered on several occasions. What I do have a problem with is users getting screwed out of $100, $50, or even $30 because they bought a theme that’s mediocre at best, a theme that has invalid code, or don’t get the support they need for using the theme.

I could go on and on about why I think the pay-for-use market is hurting the WordPress community, but I’d rather hear your thoughts on this.

Project M is coming soon.

Yes, the long-awaited secret WordPress project I’ve mentioned a few times.

You might ask what Project M has to do with the premium theme market. Let me state this clearly before moving on — I am not entering that market.

Project M will be a project that involves free WordPress themes. I will be incorporating a monetary aspect of it, but my main theme downloads and support forums will remain free. The reason I’ve added this to a post about the pay-for-use market is because I will be competing against all these new “premium” sites popping up. I don’t plan to go up directly against the big boys because I think there’s still a need for their innovation and their corner of the theme market.

I do hope to help weed out some of these sites that are releasing themes solely for making a quick buck.

I love the WordPress community.

I’m also sure many premium theme authors feel the same way.

We’re heading in the wrong direction though.

I’d like to see more innovation with business models and ways to make money without sacrificing what WordPress is all about.

Small disclaimer: Since I know quite a few people might be a bit angered by this post, I want to say a couple of things. I know a lot of premium theme authors on more personal levels. I also feel that many developers are doing a good job with their theme businesses. I don’t aim to offend those that do right by their clients/customers. I just wanted to point out some things that I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the direction of WordPress themes.

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