It’s kind of appropriate this is my first post here on Themeshaper, given I first kicked off discussion of a WordPress.com theme marketplace four years ago. (It’s funny to see some of the comments there, some of the same cast of characters.) The terms we’re launching with are the same as in that post, an even split, but the opportunity is much larger. When I wrote that post I talked about the 1,736,206 potential customers for a theme, we’re now approaching 17 million blogs almost 10x that size. In fact we now add a new 2007-sized-WP.com every two months.
To answer a question I’m sure many of you have: why did this take so long? Well after the above post, it became obvious to me that we had to figure out the GPL issues first so introducing a WP.com marketplace wouldn’t inadvertently harm the WordPress community by sucking the air out of .org theme development, so I held off the revenue and success we knew this would bring to work out the GPL issues out with the community.
I’m glad to say, we figured it out! All of the major theme houses switched to GPL, the sky didn’t fall like some predicted, and in fact the opposite happened — the biggest and most successful ones are 100% GPL with no proprietary code at all. (This is actually an incredible success story for Open Source in general, one I’m surprised hasn’t been covered more.)
So with that out of the way, it seemed like a good idea to fire the idea back up again. We even still had some code lying around from 2007. (Like I said, we came really close.)
Even better, we now have a team at Automattic entirely dedicated to themes, and they honed their skills bringing 29 free themes to WP.com last year, but putting huge development work into each one with very high standards around QA, testing, performance, and code quality. (That’s part of the reason we’ve been rewriting older themes from scratch to give users a better experience — looking at you next Banana Smoothie.)
So with all the pieces in place, the theme team scoured the folks listed in the WordPress.org commercial theme directory for two themes they thought would both be unique and appeal to the WP.com community. We were delighted to work with WooThemes and Theme Foundry on the inaugural two themes for launch and we both learned a lot in the process.
But very explicitly this is an experiment. We’re not psychic and there are many open questions: Will anyone buy these things? How will the private forums work for support, both for our users and partners? How long does it take us to review and get a new theme online? What are the most effective price ranges? How many themes and partners should we have? How do we promote the premium themes, while balancing adding new free ones? Will any of them ever be more popular than the Smoothie? (51,109 blogs and counting.)
For the answer to these questions and more, stay tuned.