Interview with Brian Gardner on the Revolution Theme Going Open Source

Filed as Interviews on October 2, 2008 7:00 am

Brian Gardner has decided that the premium WordPress theme, Revolution, won’t be sold as of October 31, 2008. A new set of themes will be released instead, GPL’d and free to download. The move has been applauded by Matt Mullenweg, head honcho of the WordPress project. We covered this yesterday, but I figured it would be interesting to talk to Brian about it as well.

Moving the Revolution Theme to another level, with free GPL’d themes, is very interesting for sure. If I was a cynic I would be wondering if this is a move due to the competition in the premium themes market right now, and the fact that sales of the Revolution Theme might have panned out?

This is absolutely not true – in fact, sales have been as steady as ever. My theory is that the amount of people who were purchasing premium themes grew, so the market in general was increasing. There wasn’t a reduction in % split in the market for premium designers, it probably stayed the same, just more people buying them.

So you’re basically shutting down a thriving product here? Doesn’t that make you worry about making enough money to get by?

Not shutting down, changing a business model that will be similar, with some differences. The products will be better than they are now, we’re just moving in a direction we feel will serve us better longterm.

In your announcement post, you mention wanting to meet up with Matt and Toni at Automattic to discuss your premium theme business model. Have this meeting taken place?

This has already taken place and was such a great experience. I won’t get into the details of what was discussed, as it was really a “behind closed doors” discussion, but you can infer from our announcement that they fully support what we are doing.

Brian Gardner

Brian Gardner

Fair enough. Don’t you think Automattic should do a formal statement regarding premium themes, before people get in too deep in either way of reasoning?

We live in a free-will world, so we’re all entitled to make our own decisions. What we did was a response of what we feel is best for our businesses. If Matt chooses to respond to our decision on his blog or on WordPress.org then he will do it. Like I said, Jason and I didn’t want continue our current models, as we felt that there were potentially built on sand and not rock. Which is why we flew out to San Francisco to discuss this with Matt and Toni.

What’s your take on the argument that themes released for WordPress, which is licensed under GPL, should inherit GPL as well?

I’m not a lawyer and never will be one. What I do know is that right or wrong, black or white, I wanted to make sure that what Jason and I were doing was in line with WP and the GPL license. It’s probably a gray area, to be honest, but we’ve chosen not to take our chances with the legality of it all.

You mention wanting to contribute to the WordPress community in your post. Does this mean that the new Revolution themes might be available for WordPress.com as well?

As of right now, we are not pursing that. If Automattic chooses to include them, they will let us know.

You obviously believe that users will be willing to pay for support for themes made available for free. Could you share your reasoning on this, and perhaps even something about the support plans, pricing, and such?

The details will be known when we launch the site, as we are still working through things. We are planning on packaging the themes in a way where people have the option to a) download for free and be on their own, or b) obtain the themes through a package that promises support, tutorials, possible enhancements and the ability to get the themes customized by professional designers with experience using the themes. So it’s really a matter of people’s choice here.

What about existing customers? Will they get similar treatment for their licenses?

For the current All-Inclusive members…
I wanted to add that anyone who has purchased or upgraded to the current Revolution All-Inclusive membership, you will automatically inherit the ability to receive the aforementioned theme package benefits at no additional cost. This is our way of saying thanks for what you’ve spent already.

For the current other license owners…
The new support forum will be available to them at no cost, so we can continue to support the themes as we’ve promised. As for the new theme packages, they will be able to receive them at a 25% discount as we’ve already been doing. Not much in our business model is changing, other than the GPL license. We believe that a thriving community of users who feel respected and tended to is huge, so we plan to do everything we can to make sure people continue to feel cared for.

Finally, is this where premium themes are heading? Free, GPL’d, with charging for support and customization the only viable business model for theme developers?

That is not for me to decide – rather for the premium theme designers out there. This is the direction we are heading, and if others follow suit, so be it!

I’d like to thank Brian for taking the time to talk with me about the Revolution Theme, and the decision to go open source. Be sure to check out the previous story for more.

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  1. By Dan Cole posted on October 2, 2008 at 11:27 am
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    I think Red Hat has a good business model with its Open Source Linux Operating System and that WordPress themes could follow the same model. This isn’t going to be a lose for Brian, given that Red Hat just keeps on Doubling and it make money though support, not the product its self.

    I’d like to see websites that run on WordPress also support the Linux Operating System, which they likely run on and has the same values as WordPress.

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