The WordPress community has many times been divided by the legitimacy or ethical purpose behind the premium theme business. There are the camps that believe all things created for WordPress should be free in line with the open source value WordPress was built on. Then there are the camps who have fought to show that there is a need for paid themes in the marketplace and that there is nothing wrong with earning a nice profit for their work. Regardless of which camp you stand in, there is no argument that premium products have made WordPress better as a whole and that the ultimate client, the end user, has benefited greatly from these tools. But where is the premium theme market heading and will these ʻethicalʼ concerns be a thing of the past?
More and more developers and designers are entering the market and creating their own themes or child theme. Theme provider sites such as ThemeGarden, ThemeForest, and Mojo Themes are quickly growing and bringing great competition to the “Big Four” theme companies. Then there are a plethora of theme frameworks such as Genesis, Startbox, Carrington, Thematic, and Xtreme One that are beneficial but may further complicate – or dilute – the premium market place. Finally, it also appears that many of the WordPress purists are finally coming to grip with the reality and value of paid products as long as they adhere to the WordPress GPL.
What does the mean for the premium theme business?
- Premium is going away. How do you even define that term now in a community that is producing excellent products that are both paid and free? I think the lines have become blurred and that it will be more about “whatʼs best for me” in the future, over what is paid or fee.
- Premium has become outdated. If you look at some of the first theme companies that started creating premium themes for WordPress, they are quickly (or already are) becoming outdated and are no longer “premium-looking” compared to what the new designers and developers are producing. Who wants to purchase a design that worked for 2007?
There are other situations that I believe are also changing the landscape and good oleʼ days of premium theme companies.
- Product and brand dilution. Several companies are now diving into different markets such as plugins, services, training, and other interests in order to diversify. While it is a great strategy, this overextension may cause their customers to be concerned that the products they have come to love and rely on are not getting the proper attention they deserve. Not to mention people become overwhelmed by the smattering of options constantly being made available.
- Specialists and niches. As bigger theme companies lose focus and market share, entrepreneurs, designers, and developers will have a great advantage to exploit this situation. There is a huge opportunity for the people who will focus on a particular niche or who chose to specialize on a specific target or product. Plus, they will be able to do a better job of meeting the customerʼs needs.
- More talent being known. Because of the explosion of sites like ThemeGarden, we have had the opportunity to see extremely talented designers and developers who are launching excellent products – and some for a better price! Tie these people in with the point above and things will change more rapidly.
There will always be a great appreciation for the pioneers of premium theme products, but I believe that what they experienced the last three years is coming to an end. They will not only have to convince people why their stuff is “premium” – a word that will be highly ambiguous – but they will also have to adapt to the rapid deployment of amazing products into the WordPress community by hundreds of talented people. It will be interesting to see what transpires over 2011.
And if I was a betting man… my prediction is that StudioPress will be the current company to best survive and thrive in the changing landscape. Iʼll also place my wager on some of the upcoming developers to be the leaders of the future.