Let’s stop calling WordPress themes “premium”, whether they are or not


There seems to be a constant groan running through the WordPress community lately. It started as a low hum, barely perceptible. It grew over time, and now you can’t even mention it without others joining in a chorus. So let’s just join hands, support-group-style, and say it together:

We will stop using the word “premium” to describe WordPress themes.

There, doesn’t that feel better? I feel better.

Where “premium” came from

Most of the earliest paid WordPress themes were called premium to distinguish them from the free alternatives on the WordPress.org directory. Of course “premium” was a marketing trick, in the sense that it served double duty by describing the theme as paid while tacking on the idea that it is of a higher quality because of it.

But then “premium” worked its way into everyday WordPress parlance. Who knows how it happened exactly, but it happened. And now the word “premium” is mixed into conversations about WordPress themes, confusing discussions all over the place.

I don’t mean to lay any particular blame on early theme developers, or even current ones, for creating this meme. It’s a marketing trick, and it seems to have worked pretty well. It just won’t reach me, because I think the word itself is pretty broken. I’m only really bothered that the community itself uses the term in comment threads and forums and blog posts. And I don’t think “premium” says what they want it to say.

Premium feels like old marketing. Or at least, old language that carries with it deceptive qualities that we should be able to let go of online. I have always thought that online business meant we could let go of some of the marketing deceptions present in old fashioned mediums.

Instead of “premium”, we should say “commercial”

“Commercial theme” is better than “premium theme” because it doesn’t give the theme any special value just because it costs money. Calling a theme commercial when it costs money is more honest, because it says just that: it costs money.

That said, you can technically call a theme premium if you think it really is of a higher quality than other themes. But as far as words go, premium is a weird one. Do you typically describe food that tastes good as premium, or a nice car as premium? There’s a certain nasty marketing quality to the word. For me, it’s broken.

Premium could describe a commercial or a free theme. Or a theme you made for yourself. But I would also argue it’s just a crappy word for humans to use.

22 thoughts on “Let’s stop calling WordPress themes “premium”, whether they are or not

  1. Well said! Now lets hope for some “hush” around the “P” word ;o)

    Talking of “Commercial” Themes – what about your own cool offering here on WPCandy?!

    Will it ever be made available on the “commercial market” – I’d like it with a nice PINK hint – although the current colouring works SO well!

    It is just so clean. Congrats on it!

    Does anyone else like the WP Candy theme enough to WANT IT as I do!? Please step up to the mike if so!

  2. I agree that “commercial” is a better description than “premium”, because as soon as you see “commercial” you understand the connotation behind it. The use of “premium” lends itself to a gray area.

    The same thing should go for plugin developers as well. For example, we provide commercial and free plugins, but I consider each one “premium” based on the quality of the plugin, both free and commercial, and support that we provide.

  3. Oh, I dunno. Doesn’t bother me too much if a beer is referred to as a “premium ale” or whatever. But since I like wpcandy, I will join your cause. 😉

  4. While I agree that premium is not always premium, I don’t believe that “commercial” says what we want it to say any better than “premium” because “commercial” strips it of its character. The terminology I often see is a free “community” version, and a “professional” and/or “enterprise”paid version (see Magento, SugarCRM).

    You mentioned cars and food – in those industries, people misuse the terms luxury, fine dining, high-end, and upscale all the time, but yet somehow we all know a Bugatti is different from a Chevrolet – and why. Try taking the bus to your nearest Morgan dealership or walking in to Bacchanalia without a reservation, wearing shorts and sneakers. The real luxury brands have no problems with us being able to pick them out from the crowd and there are no mass boycotts of the use of a word just because someone else uses the same word but has a lower quality.

    Identifying a “theme” or “plugin” is not just about it costing money or not – it’s about why it costs money. I say forget complaining about the use of a word and differentiate yourself so that your customers have no doubt “why” you are what you are, and it doesn’t matter what word other people use. The real ‘premium’ or whatever word you decide to use will stand out no matter what. As we already know, there are people in WordPress that will go to great lengths to be deceptive in order to make money and gain an advantage no matter what is put in place – just look at how many people still infringe upon the WordPress trademark.

    So, let’s stop being distracted by the word that’s being used to describe a product and focus on the real issue.

  5. Hi Ryan,

    In a previous life I built postnuke and joomla templates. The word “premium” doesn’t really exist in those communities at all – it’s always commercial and free. I must admit I also found it odd that themes were/are called premium in the WordPress community and must admit to catching this bug probably through mass exposure – but I agree – commercial is a much more appropriate term.

    Just gotta burn it into my brain again!


  6. I dont really mind either. Premium means that Im gonna pay for it. So does commercial. If we start calling all paid-for-themes “commercial themes” then who is going to control the standard of premium themes? Who gets to say what a theme is and isn’t? I think users search for a theme that suits their needs and they buy it, regardless of its naming convention.

  7. If were already at it…could all theme developers please stop adding Framework to their name as well. Just having a few optional hooks doesn’t make for a full blown framework.

  8. The use of “Premium” doesn’t bother me at all and I think it’s a good word to distinguish the difference. Most “free” themes are complete garbage so “Premium” certainly can describe paid themes. I personally have used several including my current one, custom child theme I created using Genesis from StudioPress.

  9. I was under the belief that “premium” themes, were purchased, but also came with support. A free theme, you download it, and if it doesn’t work, or you have questions about it, you are on your own.

  10. “Do you typically describe food that tastes good as premium, or a nice car as premium? There’s a certain nasty marketing quality to the word. For me, it’s broken.”

    This new york strip is yummy, it must be commercial beef? I test drove a BMW the other day, it’s highly superior to a Chevrolet because it’s commercial? Um, no.

    Simply because a WordPress theme is premium, doesn’t mean it’s “commercial” or “intended for monetary gain”. I see no problem with premium as it means choice, excellent or superior. People can tell if a theme is superior or not. Lumping them into one “commercial” group simply means they are for sale instead of better than a free theme.

    • I agree with Jason.

      Premium and commercial do not mean the same thing. There are some crap themes out there that are commercial and some free ones that are better than most paid ones.

      So what should you call a free theme that is as good as any commercial theme, “Freemmercial”?

  11. I run a “Premium” WordPress business, and don’t mind it either way. I think often what it comes down, for me anyway, is identifying the popular terminology and applying it to your pages for that little extra boost in terms of search engine traffic, that’s all. Maybe we should start calling them Trash Themes for the price dumping that’s going on 😉

  12. Amen!

    It’s a gimmicky world we live in: Pepsi having a commercial stating ‘for a limited time, we are going to be using REAL sugar in our softdrinks’, using the phrase ‘save money’ in car insurance commercials when you’re actually (at times over) spending (and note: they all claim the same – where’s the 3rd party data?).

    Some free themes out there provide ‘premium’ features that community-developed ones do (and vice-versa: depends on the skill of the developers, support and time). I do understand using it as an SEO benefit as Noel mentioned above, so it’s a two-edged sword in that if you’re ranking with it, why not?

    One thing that is a definite on all my work is not allowing myself decide what something should be termed – that’s ultimately up to the potential consumer surfing the site entering what they choose to search and I follow their trends and adjust accordingly; and by the looks of it, seems that they quite often type in ‘premium’ when searching for WordPress themes.

    With this, a personal opinion of a word can’t justify the loss in exposure you will have because of personal preference of how something should be termed (unless not gaining exposure is a goal).


  13. Pingback: Why it’s Stupid to Call a Theme a “CMS Theme” | WordPress, Multisite and BuddyPress plugins, themes, news and help – WPMU.org

  14. I, too, have noticed an abuse of the word ‘premium’ with WordPress templates. Confusion set in when the word was used in conjunction with ‘free’. I always thought premium meant that it was of a higher quality AND was not free. Commercial *is* the best term, I think.

    Great post, by the way. I’d also like to know when/if you guys will make your theme available. Love the colors!

Comments are closed.