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.
Thord Daniel Hedengren is a designer, writer, and blogger, and also the former editor of The Blog Herald. He used to be a hotshot in the gaming industry in Sweden, but sold everything and went International. Most recently he wrote a book called Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, and does loads of kickass design.