Recently there have been a lot of changes in the WordPress theme scene. A little over a year ago it was hard to find quality themes anywhere, so that is what started the Premium Theme market. Brian Gardner started this trend with his very popular Revolution Theme.
Why did they become popular?
It was very hard to find high quality themes as there was no longer a central theme directory. What was available had no standards for quality, and also themes often included hidden links, or backdoors into your WordPress blog. All things to be avoided.
With premium themes people no longer had to worry about the quality, and the $30-80 people would usually pay was a small price for the level of code they were receiving.
Are they here to stay?
After talking with Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp Utah a few weeks ago, I think they will die out. With the new theme directory we have standards that themes have to meet, and a blog designer can now go to one central location and know that every theme they are looking at is high quality. This takes the hassle out of it since someone else (who is usually more qualified) has already proofed the code, so now you don’t have to. And you are getting this quality for free.
Are free themes sustainable for developers?
The big question is how will these developers who were/are selling premium themes going to still make their money? It will definitely take some more innovation, but I believe it is possible. Take a look at WordPress, it is distributed for free, but is also quite profitable. There is plenty of money to be made off of blog ads, theme customization, and support.
Another example of giving themes away for free is Small Potato’s site WP Designer. He gave away a lot of great themes, and in turn it increased his site traffic (which he turned around and sold for a lot of money).
There are many ways to give themes away and still make money off of them. Maybe you are always being asked to customize certain themes, you can charge for this and make quite a lot. It all depends on what your specific community is looking for.
The largest news in the premium theme world is that Brian Gardner (the founder of premium themes) is now switching all of this themes to open source. He obviously found a way to make this new business model profitable, so it shouldn’t be too hard for others to follow him.
For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to decide whether to release several themes open source or as premium themes. Last week after talking to Matt I decided on open source, but was still writing this post (Brian, I have been working on this post since before you made your big announcement!) so I hadn’t announced anything yet. In the next week or so look for several new theme releases including a never before created knowledgebase theme.
My thoughts on the entire premium vs. open source is summed up here:
Everything changes very quickly on the web. You always have to be ready to adapt the new markets and the desires of your community.
Will other premium theme providers follow?