James Dalman gave his prediction for the future of the premium theme business on WPCandy yesterday and although he makes a couple of valid points, there are some others I’d like to expand upon as well as add my own thoughts.
First, a little history on the semantics of the market. The word Premium was a term used about two years ago to define a theme that carried a price tag and contained some additional features and enhancements you wouldn’t normally find in a free theme. This lead to the question, What Is A Premium Theme? Premium was and always has been a marketing term. It’s funny because in the commercial theme market today, the rage is centered around theme frameworks. While theme developers in the WordPress community grabbed a hold of this term and gave it their own definition, we once again found ourselves wondering what a theme framework was, is, or could be. It seems though that the term has been delegated once again to a marketing term. I once referred to premium themes as those that you had to pay for but soon after, decided to simply call all paid themes commercial since after all, that’s what they are. So when James mentions that premium is going away and has also become outdated, those two points I agree with.
If your someone who is itching to dive into the commercial theme market place, now is as good a time as ever to get involved. The WordPress platform is leading the pack while the user-base is continuously growing. Millions of people use the self hosted version of WordPress and there are still a bunch of business opportunities that can be tapped into. If you’re worried about exposure in order to turn into a profitable business, don’t be. Sites like ThemeGarden, ThemeForest, and child theme market places are a great way to help individual designers/developers get the ball rolling. After proving yourself and establishing a following, you’ll be able to spring board off the shoulders of those theme marketplaces to do it on your own. It may seem like the market for commercial themes is crowded, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not. One of the things I’ve personally noticed is the increasing amount of emails I receive from new or not widely known commercial theme developers launching their own products, wanting me to write a review for them. This is a good sign of a healthy marketplace.
In the beginning, I think commercial theme authors should try to focus on one product and excelling with that product. A great example is the Headway theme. HeadwayThemes.com is a business built on and around one theme, a theme that is an excellent product. Their focus is not spread amongst 20 or 30 themes in their repository but with just one. Because of their focus on creating a stellar product, they have been able to make a successful business out of it. However, I realize that at some point, a business will need to expand and diversify in order to create multiple streams of revenue. As a side note to the whole discussion of business and commercial themes, how does a commercial theme company diversify it’s product offerings while maintaining the level of support and satisfaction their users have come to love with just the initial product?
At the end of the day, WordPress is a giant pie and while WooThemes, StudioPress and a few others have considerable chunks of the pie, there is enough left over for many of the independent developers out there. Just remember that as the WordPress pie gets larger, so does the number of opportunities.