A Word On Commercial Themes

December 24th, 2010
WordPress Discussions

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 So when James mentions that premium is going away and has also become outdated, those two points I agree with.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. 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.




  1. Charles Neville (1 comments.) says:

    Headway have already diversified their product offering
    with the addition of a marketplace for paid-for add-ons and child
    themes. As a user of Headway I’m pleased that the majority of
    effort goes into supporting and developing a single theme. I’ve
    bought themes from another company that creates and sells lots of
    very visually attractive themes, but there are fundamental bugs and
    bad coding decisions (you HAVE to have at least 5 featured
    posts/pages, if you only have 3, then you get two blank panels in
    the slider!) littered through their themes, which due to the way
    the theme is built, any upgrade of the theme that doesn’t contain a
    fix that I’ve already applied myself means further work.

    • Grant Griffiths (1 comments.) says:

      Charles – Thanks for your kind words. While our focus will remain on the continued innovation with the core Headway theme/framework. We will be bringing more child themes into the picture. Both from the crew and from Headway developers who are excited by the opportunities of building and selling Headway child themes.

      In addition, due to numerous request, we will be throwing into the mix Headway specific training. We are very excited about this and look forward to the added interaction this will bring between the Headway crew and the Headway user community.

      We also are working on a couple of other offerings which we will tell everyone more about sometime after the first of the year.

  2. Matt (27 comments.) says:

    This year what excited me most in the theme space was that everyone got on the GPL bus. I think now that we have that whole argument behind us, we’ll start to see more amazing innovation and businesses built in the space.

    I was also happy that the free theme options continued to kick butt as well, often from the paid providers. On the theme team launched 29 new themes this year, all of them pretty slick.

    I think I said 2010 would be the year of the theme, and it was, but I think 2011 is going to be another year of the theme. :)

  3. Destination Infinity (7 comments.) says:

    I think ‘Premium Themes’ are quite different from paid themes. Once, I purchased a premium theme of a nice free theme I was using, and trust me, the free version was far better (for that application). But I found another application for the premium theme later on…. So, I guess free themes are not bad at all and they are unique in themselves. One example I could give you is the Twenty Ten which I am using for my personal blog – Its awesome!! :)

    Destination Infinity

  4. Brian L. (2 comments.) says:

    Probably the community should start to term premium themes as paid or commercial themes since we can find quite a number of professional (or premium-like) themes that are offered free.

    Even though the competition is stiff in the paid theme market, I think it will prosper when more and more people are opting for total theme solutions which include support and customization.

  5. Hissing Kitty (9 comments.) says:

    Still to many quality free themse out on market, still demand for industrial strength CMS continues to grow and these mask what is otherwise another typical WPB.

  6. Tom Coburn (67 comments.) says:

    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with paying for a theme, but just like plugins, some authors are more reliable then others. There are some themes or plugins I would never pay money for, because the author is unreliable about providing enough documentation on the plugin or theme itself. Everybody in the entire WP community already knows plugins go in wp-contents/plugins directory, and themes go in wp-contents/themes directory, why thats the only documentation most plugin or theme authors provide I have no clue! Any special instructions other then that most of them just expect you to read their minds, like the disqus or facebook plugins for instance I would never pay money for those plugins, or some themes authors haven’t worked on since the 2.1 days, why would I want to pay money to an author who no longer exists? so I guess IMHO it depends entirely on how reliable the author is at providing enough documentation and support for their themes, to me that would be the single deciding factor rather I pay for a theme or plugin or not. I think theme authors are like plugin authors, so many some good some bad.

  7. personalized gifts (1 comments.) says:

    If only every commercial theme author could create a stellar product every time! The problem is that not every author will achieve this and those who don’t will have to make do with hedging their bets on a number of less stellar products instead. Hence the proliferation.

  8. Robert (1 comments.) says:

    As a self declared oldster that has no more interest in how WordPress works under the hood than how to do open heart surgery here’s my take on the whole to pay or not to pay (and yes lots of it agrees with people that have already commented).
    If I’m going to pay for it there must be something special that I can not get from a free alternative. But, yes I do donate to authors of free products because if they are useful I want the authors to keep going. It also has to be relevant to the current version of WP and I accept the commercial risk that the business may not exist in the future. I may just have to be flexible and look for a replacement solution. The whole WP phenomenon is big enough to suggest there will always be alternatives.
    Premium = marketing term. No surprises there. WWW has become the place to find master of the hyperbole. Clarity and simplicity are undervalued
    virtues. So for the New Year let us all try to use names that are simple and descriptive. For me “commercial” or better “paid for” says evrything i need to know. If it’s good and useful I’ll pay, no problems.

  9. Vlad (Small Business Blog) (8 comments.) says:

    This comes just in time for me to reconsider releasing some of our themes we’ve been sitting on for some time. It looks like one is getting more problems than it is worth when releasing premium themes, unless you’re happy with $5/hour pay.

  10. James Dalman (1 comments.) says:


    Thanks for your thoughts and insight. I think it was extremely beneficial. I did respond to my original post that I hope will clarify a few things up – including terminology.


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