Update to this post with new information and new questions: Theme Marketplace: Update and Rundown
So it has been announced that Automattic will create a WordPress Theme Marketplace. I have to admit, that I am not happy about this idea, at all.
No Sponsored Themes
When Matt Mullenweg decided to fight against sponsored themes, did he already have his marketplace planned? Even if he didn’t, doesn’t the idea of a marketplace where themes are being sold go against some of the principles that he was trying to defend?
Creating such a marketplace, to me, is basically saying that no themes can make money, unless Matt is getting a cut of the proceeds, and that doesn’t seem right.
How can he continue to say that sponsored themes are so horrible, and then turn around and profit from themes himself? I know he never said that he was stopping people from making profit from their themes, but that is effectively what he did by banning sponsored themes from anything controlled by Automattic.
My thought on this is that he saw how much traffic Themes.WordPress.net was bringing in, and has a decent idea of how many people are running Brian Gardner’s Revolution theme, and said to himself that he would like to find a way to make money from themes.
All of this is after Matt Mullenweg used the defense, during the whole Sponsored themes fiasco, that it would be unfair for theme creators to make money from their work when plugin authors don’t get to.
So Automattic is going to make 50% off of every theme sold through the marketplace. While I can understand needing to take a percentage based on the fact that the service will have to be coded by some amazing coders, and maintained by some powerful servers, does 50% really sound right to anyone else? While a theme author is going to maybe make hundreds of dollars, Matt and team stand to make thousands off of other people’s hard work.
I know some designers that spend hours mulling over each detail of their theme, and coding it to perfection, and to then give half that money away to Automattic? I think that’s a bit of a rip-off. I know people will do it though because it can be quite difficult to promote a WordPress theme these days, and Matt will be able to offer something that no one else can easily add, “Update notifications”.
While there are some themes that can let users know there is an update, those types of themes are few and far between, but just like Automattic did with WordPress plugins, it would be simple for them to expand that system into their marketplace of paid themes, making sure you always know when a new version of your paid theme is uploaded to the marketplace.
While this is brilliant, it also bothers me because I feel that Automattic is in control of everything relating to WordPress more than ever before, and this type of control, only breeds more control. I have watched as dozens of great plugin directories have more or less died, due to the WordPress.org version, and now I fear that many WordPress theme repositories are going to die as well.
The last thing I want to talk about is the number of unanswered questions relating to this idea.
Who will set the price? So far it looks like Automattic will decide the value of the theme you upload. Does this really seem fair? What will they value your hard work at? Would they have valued the Revolution theme at between $60 and $250?
And if it is the theme author that eventually gets to decide a theme’s value, will costs be inflated to compensate for Automattic getting their 50% share? If I wanted $60 per theme sale, I would have to sell my theme at $120 each. Does that seem fair for someone looking to buy a theme?
Will they require exclusivity? If I want to put my theme on the WordPress Marketplace, will I be unable to market it elsewhere? What if another marketplace is created taking only a 20% cut of my theme price? What kind of rules will be put in place about marketing my theme elsewhere?
My fear is that WordPress is changing from a fun community, into a business, and while Matt tries to calm our fears, this trend seems to be moving faster and faster, and it is not fueled by the community as much as it comes from Matt and Automattic. Will people really give their themes away for free if they can even just make a dollar per download? Will plugin authors continue to work towards monetizing their efforts as well?
While I feel safe in saying that there won’t be a paid version of WordPress any time soon, I wouldn’t be surprised if every other feature and addition to WordPress required spending money. Is that the type of WordPress community you want to be part of?