So, I have had some less than polite conversations with people over the past few days about the WordPress Theme Marketplace, something that when I first heard about, I was pretty furious. I ranted and raved and that was when I only new half the story.
Full disclosure is needed here, and so let me explain why I was so angry.
While working for Bloggy Network, we produced some sponsored themes, as well as some themes that were not sponsored. Almost all of these themes were removed from the WordPress Theme Gallery when Matt took over and removed sponsored themes. To this day, the only theme produced by my previous employers that is still on the Theme Gallery is the Blogging Pro theme.
I worked hard to code these templates into themes that could be used by the majority of the WordPress users, and the only monetization system that seemed to work at the time was to have a company come and sponsor the cost of designing and developing the theme. Was it the best way? Probably not, and we have seen that in Revolution and other premium themes that are now taking off.
When I first read the post about the WordPress Theme Marketplace, I didn’t know it was for WordPress.com. That doesn’t change the validity of many of my points, and questions, and to be honest, I expect that at some point we will also see some sort of system for themes like we currently have for plugins on the main WordPress.org website.
Here is what we now know about the WordPress Theme Marketplace from Matt’s own blog post and the comments that follow.
*Please note that this information could change at any time, as details are not yet set in stone.
- The first themes will most likely be CSS-Only, most likely a modification on the Sandbox platform that everyone enjoys so much.
- Theme creators will set the price. Automattic will take one half of the sale price.
- Themes must have not already been otherwise released. The Theme Marketplace is for NEW themes.
- WordPress.com gives theme developers access to 1,736,206 WordPress.com blogs.
- You will not get any on theme credit for your work. No links to your site, except from the Presentations screen.
- The theme must be GPL and will most likely be released for free for WordPress.org users
- Automattic will handle the payments and pay designers every 1-3 months
- Once live on WordPress.com, you will be allowed to do what you like with the theme
- Automattic will track statistics for themes
- Themes will most likely start at $10 and up
Some new questions from me to the community
Couldn’t You Make Your Own Marketplace?
Other than the fact that there is no marketplace today, what stops you from creating a theme based on Sandbox, and charging for WordPress.com users to use it? Once a WordPress.com user has the ability to edit their CSS, which is a $15 upgrade, you can then sell them all sorts of WordPress.com themes. This could undercut Automattic, and allow theme creators to take one hundred percent of their profits, and still reach the audience of nearly two million WordPress.com users.
Yes, it wouldn’t be as easy, nor would you have the same platform to promote your work, but it is possible.
In that respect, I have to take back what I previously said, as Automattic isn’t stopping theme authors from profiting from their own work at all. You could compete with the WordPress.com Theme Marketplace, but Matt and team have better access to the audience.
The biggest issue anyone doing this would really have is that Matt could somehow stop this from happening, thus removing access to the WordPress.com user base.
Will You Sell WordPress.org Themes?
With Premium themes starting to do better without any sponsored links, and the creation of a Theme Marketplace on WordPress.com, how long until we see a growing group of designers wanting to make their theme “premium”? It brings me back to what I have said before, “if I could make a dollar per download, why would I give it away free?”
Yes, there will thankfully always be people in the community willing to support the community, but I have a feeling many will begin to feel that if Automattic can make millions off of WordPress, then so should some of the community members. You can’t say that Automattic would die from competition, as it is said that they turned down over $200 million in acquisition money.
What will people start pricing their themes at? Will the free themes be amateurish in design and code?
What about plugin authors?
Will we start to see a shift in plugins to using a paid model more and more? Plugin authors were more or less left out of the whole sponsored themes issue, but with the idea of a marketplace floating around, will plugin authors expect to find more ways to cash in on their hard work? Some of the plugins I use every day probably deserved a few dollars for their hard work. Will the community shift from expecting things to be free to being surprised when something is free?
Will plugins every be in WordPress.com’s Marketplace? I know it would take a lot of work, much more so than a theme, but as Facebook has more or less already proven, an API can be a very powerful thing, and allow WordPress.com blogs to be extended in all sorts of new and interesting ways.
What we all have to remember, and I am guilty of this too, is that WordPress, while open source, is controlled by Automattic. This means that we all have two choices. We go along with what they say and do, or we rise up, and compete with what they have built.
If you are feeling put off by all the things going on with WordPress and Automattic, there is always Habari, Movable Type and many other great pieces of software. For now, this blogger will wait and see. I have high hopes that everything is going to turn out alright.