WordPress Hacks was one of only 3-4 “WordPress” niche blogs that existed prior to the creation of the Premium WordPress themes market. As I sit back and reflect on the early days of the premium WordPress themes market, when Solostream’s themes were first being converted to premium, and Revolution (now StudioPress) was being launched, each existing WordPress blog was faced with a choice. Do we promote these themes? After all, WordPress was founded on open source, and each of us (WordPress founders, plugin/theme authors, and WordPress bloggers) were contributing our time and energy to improving the WordPress community without any compensation. Should these people be paid for what we do for free?

Some blogs ending up promoting them, while other blogs did not. I personally ended up making the decision that I would promote premium themes on this blog because I felt that they would help improve WordPress, and to this day I really think that they really have. Many of these authors are making so much money that they are able to make (and support) their themes as a full time job, which I think is pretty sweet. It also comes with a lot of responsibility, and the money allows these authors to truly focus, innovate, and make their themes more advanced, which advances WordPress as a whole. The bar gets set and all new themes are measured against them. It forces continued functionality and innovation. I truly believe that if the ability to monetize these themes didn’t exist for most of these authors, the quality of themes out there would be much lower because it wouldn’t be worth their time to try to raise the bar. Would we even have CMS themes for WordPress yet?

We also need to remember that this isn’t really any different than doing custom WordPress themes for people (such as Unique Blog Designs).  Premium WordPress themes have made it so people can afford a custom quality theme (in most cases) from an affordable price for a blogger or small business.  People with high income blogs can still afford to get there theme custom made.

One point I would also like to make is that I do think that people with WordPress blogs have an obligation to only promote products they do use or would use if the need for it presented itself. I’ve always made sure to be selective and only promote themes or plugins that I felt were truly of premium quality. I also try to only promote ones that are well supported by their authors. I can think of at least 20 that I’ve chosen not to promote here because of a number of reasons (invalid code, I felt wasn’t premium quality, etc.).

Anyway, regardless of my opinion of them, over the last 8 months premium WordPress themes have really found a home in the WordPress community, and I’ve even noticed that blogs have been created strictly for the purpose of promoting these themes. From the people I’ve talked to, the opinions of this market are mixed.

One person firmly against the premium themes market as a whole is Justin Tadlock, who recently wrote a post titled Screw the WordPress Themes Market. Justin is someone that I’ve been following for quite awhile now and have a huge respect for his opinions on all things WordPress. He releases a lot of great free WordPress themes, free WordPress plugins, and also blogs regularly about WordPress. Here is an excerpt from his post:

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.

Reading Justin’s post actually reminded me of what I was saying when I wrote the post Premium WordPress Theme Responsibilities a couple months ago. To many people are releasing average themes and charging for them.

It seems everyone has an opinion about premium themes, and I’d love to hear yours. What is your opinion of premium WordPress themes?

Kyle Eslick is WordPress enthusiast who took his passion for WordPress to the next level in 2007 by launching WPHacks.com as a place to share hacks, tutorials, etc. Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleEslick!

  1. Richard H says:

    Kyle, my opinion has recently changed regarding premium themes.

    I feel there’s a wealth of excellent free themes out there, that we can freely modify and use for whatever purpose we see fit. Given that, I personally don’t have a need to invest in a paid theme (right now).

    If I was running a different site, with different needs, I may feel differently, then I’d have no issues paying for the right theme. But…

    I’d expect the theme to be unique, meet my needs by way of adequate features, and be well designed and coded.

    Good coding practices are important to me, because I’ll want the option of modifying my purchase without stumbling through messy or non-standard code.

    There are some excellent premium themes available today, but personally, I feel that many of the other premium themes aren’t necessarily worthy of the name.

  2. Thud says:

    I understand Tadlock’s frustration, but I don’t see the Premium market going away any time soon. People want to pay for themes. Of course, he’s right that the themes should be quality work if people are going to be asked to pay for them, but you can say the same thing about software in general. There’s thousands and thousands of poorly-written, poorly-supported, barely-functional software packages out there people are expected to pay through the nose on. (a lot of shareware, but see also: Windows Vista.)

    Tadlock might have more actual effect on the practice of releasing cruddy themes if he (and those like him) did reviews or teach the techniques premium themes use (for free) rather than insisting that developers stop making premium themes or change what they call premium themes. (“Pay per use” rather than “premium?” Why? What does that do?)

  3. Thanks for the link and discussion. You actually pretty much wrote my follow-up post if I ever decided to write one.

    I’m not entirely against premium themes as there is a place for them. Good theme developers keep innovating, which makes the rest of us try to keep up.

    I fully support premium theme authors that are out there innovating and supporting their products 100%.

    @Thud, I’m constantly trying to offer tutorials to advance WordPress themes, but that doesn’t necessarily stop some of the crappy themes being released for money. I still do think I could do more, and I’ll take your advice and write more tutorials on advanced techniques.

  4. jbj says:

    If people want to pay for a theme, why not.
    Personally, I’d prefer to use a quality free theme (There’s many!!) or pay for a real custom theme, designed only for my project.
    Or even better: Reading hackwordpress every day and learn how to create the theme of my dreams 😉

  5. DameryWorld says:

    Here is my 2 cents:
    1) I have seen some “premium” themes that in my opinion are not worth $10. I have yet to see a really valuable premium theme but that may because I am a bit of a hacker and piece together whatever I want in a theme. I know someone out there must have come up with a list of whats required to be a “premium” theme. Just because its complex to use doesn’t mean anything to me…premium to me, means its easy to use and complex(powerful) in programming processes. If I am adding code snippets to other code snippets then its crap.
    2) On the other side of the coin, if you get paid for peddling crap. Good for you and shame on the WP community for not exposing your crappy ways.
    I am a newbie to WP and jumped here from the crappy Joomla CMS. I am slowly building the pieces to make a quality powerful theme, but quality takes time. Will you pay for it? you tell me…

  6. I have been working on a WordPress theme for a month with intention to create very advanced and user firendly theme by adding admin control panel with a lot of options for customization. This way even blog users with no programing skills can modify the way their blog looks like. There’s still a lot to do on it, but you can see the directon I am taking.
    I have been looking at various premium themes expecting to see something like that to justify the price, but I have found that configuring ‘premium’ themes is very painful, because in the end you must edit php like with all the free themes out there. In many instances such ‘premium’ themes look much worse then some free themes. And to be honest I am still to find a single ‘premium’ theme I really like.

  7. Kyle Eslick says:

    Great discussion everyone!

    Yes, just like a free theme, I like to hack premium themes to look and work the way I want them to, so code is important. One of my favorite parts of the Revolution themes is the excellent code setup. It is incredibly clean, the stylesheet is organized, and it has made making adjustments to the code VERY easy.

    Premium theme authors have to make a balanced theme that works right away without help, but is easy to make adjustments to. That is a talent some of them do have, but others do not. People forget they were designed more as “templates”, but people buy them with the intention of using them without any modifications. That appears to be the separation between the various premium theme authors. Some get it and some don’t.

  8. Steffan Antonas says:

    @Kyle

    The growth and evolution of the premium themes marketplace is a great thing for the the WordPress community. People should expect entrepreneurship around open source as a rule, and accept it as a driving force of innovation. I wrote a lengthy post in response to a similar discussion on ThemeShaper and Adii’s blog saying so much – the focus of the post is on entrepreneurship around open source, but I think you’ll agree it’s in agreement with all the main points you touched on here. The link to the post is in the website field.

    Great post, Kyle.

  9. Kyle Eslick says:

    @ Steffan – Great points! It sounds like we are on the same page. :mrgreen:

    @ Will – Yes, plugins require a LOT more work and are often more important than a theme. I think a lot of people would gladly pay for a plugin that will really help them (especially if buying gives you a unlimited use license). I use both of the premium plugins I’ve featured here and they were some of the most helpful plugins I use. Also, due to the nature of the plugins, they paid for themselves right away.

  10. Will says:

    Clearly there is a huge divide in the community on this. But ‘premium’ themes are here to stay and I think the market will keep growing with the popularity of WordPress.

    I completely agree with Steffan’s points.

    I think it the future of ‘premium’ themes will move away from selling indivual themes to offering theme clubs. Just look at the joomla community for example. Rocketthemes was created by a joomla developer.

    I also expect to see a boom in ‘premium’ plugins being released and Im all for it if they raise the bar and offer features I need aswell as great support.