Alex Denning Doesn’t Believe in Free WordPress Themes

Filed as Editorial on October 4, 2009 11:20 pm

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Alex Denning writes about WordPress themes, and the fact that free themes doesn’t get the recognition they deserver:

The future? It’s not looking good. The reason people made free themes was because they wanted to promote their blog. But that promotion just isn’t going to happen any more. So why bother? I believe some themes would do better if they were released as premium themes. And that’s not going to change. Free WordPress themes? Forget it. It’s over.

He paints a very bleak picture, and granted – premium themes take a lot of space and a lot of the free themes released are out there to promote a premium theme. That being said, they are still free even if they are promotional so I’m not sure that really means anything.

Also, I must say that this part makes me a bit sad:

The reason people made free themes was because they wanted to promote their blog.

I have released a number of themes through clients (ie, they have paid me to develop them so that they can release them). While those were paid gigs, you can also download my development framework Notes Blog Core for free, GPL’d and no strings attached, just because I wanted to give something back to the WordPress community. Not to promote a blog, site, or even myself, even if I might end up doing all that just by being a part of the community.

It is much like the $100 bounty I set to kill the annoying Firefox CSS bug in WordPress admin. Not only does it benefit me, it can help others too.

Isn’t that the big thing with open source after all?

So I obviously think Alex Denning paints a bleak picture, and I don’t think it is an accurate view of the community. Premium themes are here to stay, and they change things. However, there will always be great free content, GPL’d and everything, much like WordPress and other open source software can stand on their own against commercial alternatives. In the long run, I think today’s premium themes buyers might pay for support and adaptions, and not the theme itself. In a way you can already see the move towards this with the GPLization of premium themes.

What do you think? Are free WordPress themes dead?

Update: You might want to check out Lelands response to Denning’s post over at Theme Lab as well.

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  1. By Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach posted on October 5, 2009 at 10:55 am
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    Free themes aren’t dead – I use one by http://www.blogohblog.com on my site and it’s sweet sweet sweet!

    That being said, I did pay $30 yesterday for a premium theme for another of my site and would do it again – I have no problem paying for quality work.

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  2. By Roger Duck posted on October 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm
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    We’ll they’re certainly not dead to us although we do find our company gravitating to premium themes for their quality and relative low cost. The issue might be the emergence of many really high quality themes that make free themes look…well…like they should be free.

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  3. By Susan posted on October 6, 2009 at 5:36 am
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    Definitely not dead, or over. I check out http://newwpthemes.net all the time to look at a new free theme to use – it seems like fresh new themes are always contributed. Although with sites like themeforest, I’m sure there will be a move to premium wordpress themes but I think there will always be a place for free themes in the wordpress community.

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  4. By Joss posted on October 6, 2009 at 8:31 am
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    Completely disagree with Denning here – though I do sympathise with his angle.. I feel like many would-be-Free-theme-developers will now give up on the idea either because there is too much noise in the WordPress themes market, so they feel they wouldn’t be heard, or because they think “Hey, I should be making money from this like everyone else!”

    I still think there’s nothing wrong with publishing free themes in order to drum up business for your premium service. I’ve never been more tempted to pay for wordpress themes than when I’d already used free ones from a particular company.

    Don’t forget that a lot of people will want to release free themes to make a name for themselves and make connections – like how Tim Ferriss always says one of his key reasons for blogging is making connections and the lifestyle those connections afford him. More valuable than a few paltry sales every month?

    I’m planning to release a bunch of premium-quality free themes soon mostly for the above reason.

    Keep making free themes free theme makers!

    Much love

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  5. StevieB’s Shared Items – October 6, 2009 | LostInCyberspaceOctober 6, 2009 at 10:12 am
  6. By Alex Denning posted on October 6, 2009 at 8:59 pm
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    Hey Thord -

    Looks like I’m creating rather a stir! I wouldn’t go as far to say I “don’t believe in free WordPress themes” – I’m all for them, hence the post; I’m trying to make the point theme authors just aren’t getting the recognition that they’re deserving of and if this doesn’t change then free themes will be a thing of the past.

    People these days want support, something that those who offer their themes for free, such as myself, are sometimes reluctant to offer gratuis because it’s too time consuming. As one commenter on WPShout points out, once a good free theme does come along, so many people use it your blog loses its identity to a point.

    What the future holds I don’t know, but I can start seeing a shift towards paying for support as you suggest. It’s a tough topic and something that a lot of people obviously are very passionate about and hopefully with my post I’ve put a spotlight on free themes and so we’ll keep seeing them for years to come. Just remember though, neglect them and they’ll just disappear. Gradually, but they will disappear. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

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  7. Change Colors | Links | WordPress Theme CustomizationsOctober 9, 2009 at 5:20 am
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