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.