WordPress Theme Marketplace: Hypocrisy from Matt?

Filed as Features on November 1, 2007 7:32 pm

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.

Money

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.

Unanswered Questions

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?

Conclusion

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?

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  1. By Ryan Imel posted on November 1, 2007 at 8:04 pm
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    Interesting thoughts. I would say, though, to your statements on how fair this move is: it is up to the theme author as well as the WordPress user whether or not they will use the new premium theme marketplace. If anyone has a problem with how Automattic sets the rules, then they won’t use it. I’m pretty sure that’s how the market works, right?

    As far as WordPress being a business…I don’t see this as a new development. I don’t have a problem with a business operating behind WordPress, since that ensures that a quality group is keeping it together. The community is great, but remember who is providing the community with things to play with.

    Ideas shift and change, so I’ll hesitate to make many comments or pass judgments until I see something in place. Who knows, maybe Automattic will take concerns like yours into consideration and make adjustments. But, even if they don’t, it’s completely within their rights to run their marketplace how they see fit.

    Reply

  2. Theme Playground | Premium Theme Marketplace from AutomatticNovember 1, 2007 at 8:08 pm
  3. By David Peralty posted on November 1, 2007 at 8:08 pm
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    Ryan – I disagree. I think that theme authors that want a large number of downloads know there are only a few great places to put their theme. And when they see that someone is getting 100’s of downloads and making money, most people will come running. Who would balk at the chance to make money from their WordPress theme work?

    Basically, if you chose to give out a free theme, that’s great, but will we get the quality we have come to expect? And what do those that release a free theme get in return? What reason is there to release a free theme?

    I don’t yet see how this Marketplace is going to help the WordPress community…

    Reply

  4. By Justin Tadlock posted on November 1, 2007 at 9:39 pm
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    I’ll have to disagree a little with this statement Ryan:

    “The community is great, but remember who is providing the community with things to play with.”

    The community provides a lot of the things that we play with. We, and Matt, should remember that. WordPress wouldn’t be where it is right now without the support the community has offered.

    David, I think this means that the rest of us (theme designers) will have to step it up a notch if we want to keep this from happening. I, for one, have enough competition as it is. Competing with Automattic will only make it tougher.

    I’m going to refrain from completely bashing the idea just yet. I’ll have to look a little more into it and see how things play out. Right now, I don’t think this is a step in the right direction.

    Reply

  5. By cerebralmum posted on November 1, 2007 at 10:07 pm
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    Well, it seems at the moment that there is a lot of room for speculation on how exactly it will work.

    The argument could be made however, that this does support the WordPress community. I think we can assume that the premium themes on offer would have some sort of quality control so purchasers would get what they pay for. Theme developers are also a part of the community; is it that unreasonable for them to get something back, especially those who don’t have the resources to monetise their best work themselves?

    For my part, I don’t know how large the market for premium themes will be. While I think it is worth paying for someone to make a personalised theme, or tweak and tweak your existing theme to your exact specifications, what is another “one-size-fits-all” design worth, premium or not?

    Will it reduce the quality and quantity of themes available to those of us who can’t justify the expense, or will it encourage more and better work? Will themes.wordpress.net be left a little bit derelict, or will it benefit from technical requirements and financial resources of the Marketplace? I just don’t know.

    But more importantly to me: Will it reduce the amount of open source code available for those of us who are trying, laboriously, to fine tune our blogs ourselves?

    Reply

  6. simple67November 1, 2007 at 10:27 pm
  7. By Toni Schneider posted on November 1, 2007 at 10:47 pm
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    Just left this comment on R/W Web as well:

    Some bits of information seem to have gotten lost in the translation here. Most crucially, the theme marketplace will be launched for WordPress.com (not WordPress.org) users. We are enabling theme designers to offer paid themes to over 1.7MM WordPress.com users who currently can’t upload custom themes. The marketplace is separate from the existing thriving world of open source WordPress.org themes. Also, theme designers will set the price for their themes, not Automattic.

    Reply

  8. By Ronald Huereca posted on November 1, 2007 at 10:55 pm
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    I have to admit that 50% seems like a lot. However, I would like to see the actual marketplace before making any hard-and-fast conclusions.

    I’d hope that with 50% being made, that Automattic puts considerable effort into marketing these themes and takes all the CC charges out of their end of the cut.

    I’m just waiting for the premium plugin directory to come out /sarcasm

    Reply

  9. By David Peralty posted on November 1, 2007 at 11:31 pm
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    Thanks for the details Toni… And to everyone else, this is still a great conversation.

    Great questions cerebralmum.

    I look forward to writing more about this Marketplace and what it could mean if it did become a WordPress.org product/site.

    Reply

  10. WordPress to Launch Theme MarketplaceNovember 2, 2007 at 12:00 am
  11. By Chris Cree posted on November 2, 2007 at 12:26 am
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    “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.”

    Stopped reading at that sentence.

    How long has “Matt and team” been providing WordPress free of charge to anyone who wanted to download it, fill it with content and monitize it? Years, right? Never heard any complaints about the thousands of folks who have made a ton of money off of their hard work.

    I think Matt’s given plenty to the community. If he and his team want to make a little back by providing a high traffic marketplace for top notch designers to get more exposure and make some money at the same time it’s A-OK by me. Sounds like everyone wins in that scenario.

    Reply

  12. By Brendan posted on November 2, 2007 at 12:58 am
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    Chris Cree,

    I agree. I don’t have a problem with the market place. I do take small issue with Matt’s tendency to call anything commercial in the wordpress space that isn’t focused on wordpress.com, evil.

    WordPress has been GPL for a great deal of time, comments about making some money back are a bit weak given the apparent financial strength of Automattic and the strong presence wordpress.com has.

    This isn’t about money, so much as it is about product control. That’s fair enough – but doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

    Reply

  13. » WordPress to Launch Theme MarketplaceNovember 2, 2007 at 1:00 am
  14. By Kevin Muldoon posted on November 2, 2007 at 1:18 am
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    I agree 100% with this post. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy. I do not understand why any good designer would
    a) let them decide the value of their theme
    and
    b) let them take 50% for it. Surely a posting fee would have been more applicable.

    Reply

  15. the blog herald on commercial wordpress themes – smack|fooNovember 2, 2007 at 1:38 am
  16. By David Peralty posted on November 2, 2007 at 1:53 am
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    Chris Cree, I have to agree with Brendan. I don’t have any issue with Automattic making money… heck they’ve been doing that for a long time. I don’t like they it seems like they are allowed to, and everyone else that tries is evil.

    I don’t like how they make it impossible for others to make money from WordPress, its themes, and its plugins. We could argue that all day, but that’s how I see the current situation.

    Reply

  17. By pablopabla posted on November 2, 2007 at 3:27 am
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    I don’t design themes but a 50/50 split on the income does seem too much. I would think maybe 10 to 20% for Automattic would be fairer. But then again, there is no compulsion to sell one’s premium theme through Automattic.

    At the end of the day, it’s willing buyer and willing seller.

    Reply

  18. By Matt posted on November 2, 2007 at 4:21 am
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    Reply

  19. By Brian Gardner posted on November 2, 2007 at 4:51 am
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    This whole concept will definitely draw attention and a lot of differing opinions. As a designer, I think this is a decent idea, and has potential to benefit all sides. I do think that Automattic will be selective on what themes will get placed into the marketplace, so that it doesn’t become diluted like Theme Viewer has.

    As for the 50/50 split, that’s up in the air, depending on a number of things. But I will say that being placed directly in front of 2 million people isn’t something that should be overlooked.

    That’s like saying that Foot Locker will allow independent shoe makers to have their shoe in their storefront for a 50/50 split. For a small shoe company (or in our case theme designer) who is striving for exposure and credibility to have their work placed in front of that many people even at a 50/50 split seems like a pretty good deal to me.

    Reply

  20. By Keith Dsouza posted on November 2, 2007 at 5:20 am
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    Great post David, this highlights how one can go from good to bad to make money. Everything is based on the decision on how we can make money, the standards we set can go for a hike.

    I also think 50% take is pretty high. But mind you theme developers will still want such a market place, its demand vs supply a simple rule. The more you sell at a lower cost the more profit make. Imagine the marketplace allowing you to sell to 100 users at a cost of 60$ with you getting only 30 which equals to $3000 but when the user tries to sell it themselves they only sell 10 a year may $600.

    It can all come to the econmics of getting a wider market and if this has to be followed you can be sure that neither the theme developer nor matt will have any problems.

    Its users and plugin developers like us who do all the hard work for free that will have a problem, i guess it would be worthwhile to switch to become a theme developer too :-) LOL.

    Reply

  21. By Keith Dsouza posted on November 2, 2007 at 5:27 am
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    I totally agree with you David. The fact that when you grow bigger you always think that the house grew small.

    Everything is driven by money and when Open source gives you a platform as big as this making money is only the next step.

    The economics of Matt’s thinking maybe that if a theme developer has a theme for $60 and sells 10 themes a year it would fetch him $600 per year, with the market place he sells 100 a year which could be a reality and still make $3000 a year after giving a cut to Matt and team thus earning 400% more.

    Not a bad business deal for theme developers if they look at it.

    The only people who will curse this is end users and plugin developers like me who do it all for free in the name of Open Source.

    Reply

  22. By Keith Dsouza posted on November 2, 2007 at 5:28 am
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    Very nice views of how about Matt’s statement David. The fact that when you grow bigger you always think that the house grew small.

    Everything is driven by money and when Open source gives you a platform as big as this making money is only the next step.

    The economics of Matt’s thinking maybe that if a theme developer has a theme for $60 and sells 10 themes a year it would fetch him 600 per year, with the market place he sells 100 a year which could be a reality and still make 3000 a year after giving a cut to Matt and team thus earning 400 more.

    Not a bad business deal for theme developers if they look at it.

    The only people who will curse this is end users and plugin developers like me who do it all for free in the name of Open Source.

    Reply

  23. By Keith Dsouza posted on November 2, 2007 at 5:29 am
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    Very nice views of how about Matt’s statement David. The fact that when you grow bigger you always think that the house grew small.

    Reply

  24. Automattic Matt Does A U-Turn With Themes | Techie BuzzNovember 2, 2007 at 6:16 am
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  27. By David Airey posted on November 2, 2007 at 10:11 am
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    I’ve not been so clued in on what’s happening with this issue, but it’s been enlightening reading this post, and the comments on both sides of the debate.

    Thanks for instigating it, David, and for everyone who has taken the time to leave their thoughts.

    Reply

  28. By lulando posted on November 2, 2007 at 1:14 pm
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    I don’t know. I see a difference in taking advantage of a community – even if you founded it – and sharing the cost of upholding a community. The first is business and in capitalistic societies quite usual. The latter is the future and would of course have to include plugin developers aswell. So what about an annual fee spread amongst the contributors according to their contribution? A conglomerate of individuals will not be able to achieve that, a community however…

    Reply

  29. By Louis posted on November 2, 2007 at 1:46 pm
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    My only issue with it all is that since people uploading themes will have a choice, make them for free or charge for them, even $5. All of a sudden, the number of free themes will drop.

    The culture in design has been open source and free from the get-go, but with automatixx encouraging people to charge, the whole culture will change. That’s the sad thing.

    Reply

  30. Paid Theme Directory is Fine By MeNovember 2, 2007 at 1:50 pm
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  33. By Matt posted on November 3, 2007 at 2:34 am
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    A day after information is available that shows large chunks of the post are clearly wrong, you still have not updated it. That’s intellectually dishonest and rude to the WordPress community.

    Reply

  34. By Tony Hung posted on November 3, 2007 at 5:52 am
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    Matt,

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean. David brings up a number of points which are suggested but not explicitly mentioned in your post.

    1. Automattic gets a 50% cut — this is something that’s intimated in your post when you talk about “splitting it in half”.

    2. Set price — you don’t actually mention who sets the price

    3. Exclusivity — you don’t actually mention explicitly about how themes could be marketed, unless the part you slipped in about themes needing to be GPL licensed; even there, you preface that sentence with “can’t be released anywhere else”.

    I recognize that this is all still a work in progress, but I don’t think that its fair to characterize the post as having large portions that are wrong when your own post still has many questions that still need answering explicitly.

    Reply

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  36. By Connie posted on November 3, 2007 at 1:55 am
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    “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.”

    Where did that come from? That shows lack of understanding over the sponsored themes issue. It was not about designers’ earning off their work — it was about imposing spammy links on users.

    Reply

  37. WordPress to Launch Theme Marketplace | Ask SalomonNovember 3, 2007 at 11:41 am
  38. By drmike posted on November 3, 2007 at 12:13 pm
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    A day after information is available that shows large chunks of the post are clearly wrong, you still have not updated it. That’s intellectually dishonest and rude to the WordPress community.

    But yet it’s accpetable when you do it, Matt? There have been many times you’ve been “dishonest and rude” to the WordPress community and individuals within it but I never see any retraction from you.

    Reply

  39. Premium Themes für WordPress : fob marketingNovember 4, 2007 at 9:08 am
  40. By mpb posted on November 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm
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    There have been earlier changes by Automattic which have focussed on Automattic at the expense of the .com user, especially affecting the editing of blogs and particularly the reading of blogs. Changes are not announced in advance and are evidently permanent.

    * Snap-view
    * link to Ask.com which re-edits the entire post and inserts Snap-view automatically
    * the “new” tags which lead to other people’s blog’s (and only to those with popular tags and blogs)

    The “hidden” links to Matt’s and WordPress.com within the theme. Some of this is for generating user stats; don’t know about the rest.

    WordPress.com becomes less accessible to many readers with these mandatory changes. As for writers and editors, superficial changes seem to have precedence over ease of use, such as a better search; bulk editing; blog indexing tools; same page preview; etc.

    WordPress.com is advanced over many other blog platforms, but it is insufficient still for advanced communication. Seems to me that is the real potential strength (and potential money-maker spin-offs)– transforming WordPress into a communication tool for users without limits in time and space, rather than a personal showoff, subject to fashion.

    Spin-offs for profit are fine; but not if we are all sucked into it.

    Reply

  41. By Jennifer posted on November 4, 2007 at 5:23 pm
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    The proposed theme marketplace relates to wordpress.COM, not wp.ORG. Matt says this in his post.

    Yes, this idea needs more clarification. But if Tony has seen fit to update his original post with this information, which you linked to, then this post should be updated as well.

    And, if this indicates BlogHerald’s editorial policy, you’ve just lost a reader who won’t be clicking on any of your sponsored links in the future.

    Reply

  42. By Kissing Bandit posted on November 5, 2007 at 1:45 am
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    The proposed theme marketplace relates to wordpress.COM, not wp.ORG. Matt says this in his post.

    You may want to re-read that statement. It also affects .org users as well because they’ll be getting free use of the themes that are submitted to the .com marketplace.

    That also means that all themes in the marketplace will be available FREE to wordpress.org users.

    Matt M.

    Don’t jump to the conclusion that just because it’s a .com roll-out doesn’t mean it won’t affect the .org releases.

    Wank and Small Potato both do a better job explaining why this is a bad idea than I can here.

    -KB

    Reply

  43. By Kissing Bandit posted on November 5, 2007 at 1:46 am
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    Just a head’s up to whomever is concerned, but your comment submission form is borked. When I submitted my comment, I was greeted by a slew of blacklist errors (containing words I never used in my comments) and warnings. Someone may want to check into it. ;)

    -KB

    Reply

  44. By Matt posted on November 5, 2007 at 7:59 am
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    It’s been like that for at least 5+ days, which shows the general quality level around here.

    Reply

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  50. By drmike posted on November 7, 2007 at 10:50 pm
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    It’s been like that for at least 5+ days, which shows the general quality level around here.

    Matt, I wouldn’t talk. Since you put in the gravatars, the comment section of your site’s been borked in Netscape.

    Reply

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