Premium Themes on WP.com, the backstory

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.

The news has already been covered in Techcrunch, The Next Web, WPCandy, Mashable, and of course by Woo and Foundry.

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. :)

33 thoughts on “Premium Themes on WP.com, the backstory

  1. I’m glad that so much caution and intelligent thought went into this decision as it really does have the potential to create some major issues for .org paid theme makers.

  2. Ed says:

    Nice to get the back story from Matt – I knew this couldn’t be far away – Its going to be very interesting to see how this marketplace evolves. I think it will be a roaring success! Will theme developers be able to submit themes – ala iPhone app store?

  3. Fascinating to see this happening, and I wish you all the best in this. I think it could go far – anything that helps developers and designers make a living is a Good Thing.

    I would like to ask a couple of questions though…

    We were originally approved as a launch partner for the marketplace way back in 2008. We built a nice blogging theme but we heard nothing back from WordPress.com and eventually gave up the idea, launched Spectacu.la and eventually closed Spectacu.la :-) Anyway, we’re not marketers or the sort of people who like to run markets. We are, however, very good WP developers (I may be blowing our trumpet here) and designers and would enjoy creating themes for WordPress.com – so will this market be open to anybody? Is there going to be a submission process?

    Could be fun :-)

      • Ian – thanks for your response.

        We’ve actually just closed our theme shop and got ourselves removed from the directory :-)

        Just not our kind of business, by and large.

        BUT… we do have some cool things in the pipeline, some of which would work well within the WordPress.com environment. We’ll be in touch when we have something to show you.

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  5. I’m curious if you took the code straight as is, or are there some differences between what ended up on WordPress.com and what Woo + Theme Foundry is selling.

    • There have been some updates made to both themes, and there are some differences, but for the most part, they’re very similar to the WordPress.org offerings.

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  8. Excellent news. It’s great to see that people can make a living from their hard work and I’m sure that both the vendors and the end-users will benefit greatly from this move.

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  11. Congratulations for launching the marketplace. But what would be its effect on Genesis Child Themes? I’m using Entreprise right now and I think it’s also a premium theme, right? But it is free.

    Ok, I think the basic question would be, what would be the difference of this premium themes in the marketplace as against the other premium themes that are already in the theme repository that are available for free? Matt said in TC that there will be an exclusive support forum. But other than that? Will be there be customization? Is it a one-time payment for support? Genesis has a recurring fee for support, are we going into that direction?

    • Enterprise is a free theme made available to WordPress.com users by StudioPress. It’ll continue to be there, continue to be free, and continue to be awesome. :)

      With the purchase of a premium theme on WordPress.com you get access to the premium themes support forum with theme support directly from the Theme Shop providing the theme. They’re there to help you get the most out of your theme. Access to the forum is included with the one-time payment for the theme.

  12. Glad to see that Automattic is finally offering premium themes now, which makes WP.com a little tempting for a future home (at least for my personal blog).

    I guess my only concern right now would be support (as you stated above) which I consider a “must have” before installing any theme (both premium and free).

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  14. Interesting stuff and I’m sure it’s a positive step forward for all involved – judging from the success of eg Envato marketplaces. Can any developers submit themes to the marketplace, as with the way themeforest works? What will the likely arrangements be?

  15. Hi Matt,

    I think this is a good move. The CSS upgrades might look quite difficult for many WP.com users, but not the premium themes. I guess there can be a demo site for both the themes which allows users to test the themes before they buy, and if they can test it on their own blogs, it might be even better.

    On a related note, why don’t you get some WP.com users to form some kind of volunteer club sort of and blog about these things? It would help if the news is published beyond the WP.com official blog. I am sure many would like to support WP.com initiatives.

    Destination Infinity

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    • For WordPress.com users, yes. Premium themes are available for purchase from Appearance → Themes. Some Commercial theme shops also make portals for their stores available to their users from the WordPress admin.

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