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WordPress.com Marketplace and The Theme Debate

WordPress NewsLast week, Matt Mullenweg made public his idea on creating a WordPress.com Marketplace to add more options to bloggers for a fee, especially meeting the demands of so many for more, more, and more.

Among the proposals under consideration, and I stress that, since this is not a done deal but an idea, is the selling of Premium WordPress Themes to WordPress.com bloggers. In Matt’s post, he comes up with a 50-50 split as an example, which has outraged many, and created a lot of speculation and false accusations.

I’d like to point out something that appears to be overlooked from Matt’s post:

WP.com Marketplace Idea

At WordCamp Argentina yesterday I talked about an upcoming feature for WordPress.com, a theme marketplace…

Right now WordPress.com is a little bit like a clothing store with only XXL men’s pink ponchos available — not a lot of selection. We’d like to offer more products, hence the idea of a theme marketplace.

…There are some obvious things that need to be in place, and probably a few we haven’t thought of yet.

…At the end of the day, it’s just a market. I’m sure styles, pricing strategies, and more will develop over time.

To further support the idea, and all of its ramifications, Matt does a Marketplace Followup in which he says:

It’s still impossible to know for certain, though, and I appreciate that our launch partners are taking a risk that they might create a theme and not sell a single one, and the whole thing might tank. If it goes well, though, I fully expect there to be thousands of themes in the system by this time next year, and the people in early will have a significant advantage, much like app developers did on Facebook.

Does this sound like a done deal? The idea of a WordPress.com Marketplace is in the works, and has been for a long time, offering WordPress.com bloggers all kinds of products and services, including t-shirts, CSS Extras (allowing customization of your own WordPress.com blog), extra storage space, , and soon may include bumper stickers and coffee mugs, and “premium” Themes, all wrapped up in a neat “store”. Hey, I want a coffee mug!

For two years, rumors have also been flying to come up with a way of charging WordPress.com users for the right to put ads on their blogs and make money with their free blogs for a small fee. The bloggers would make money, the advertisers would make money, and so would WordPress.com, but it’s a delicate road to walk, so right now, it’s still rumors. What isn’t a rumor is that soon ads that current appear randomly on some WordPress.com blogs will be able to be turned on or off for a fee so your blog can remain ad free if you want.

As Matt said, it’s just a market, and they are making marketing decisions, but moving slowly and carefully, asking for input and feedback before jumping too drastically into something that will be hard to back out of.

These are ideas put out on the table and Matt and the WordPress.com team is looking for your input, suggestions, feedback, and other ideas. Not many businesses ask their customers and potential customers what they think before preceding with their business decisions. Matt Mullenweg and WordPress has a reputation for talking, listening, before deciding, and then admitting when they screw up.

In April 2007, Matt Mullenweg asked the WordPress Community to vote idea of whether or not to include “sponsored” Themes in the “official” WordPress Theme directories and lists. The response was overwhelming, with the majority of users furious about finding hidden links, ads, and hidden and unwanted code in WordPress Themes without disclosure. After a lot of listening and debate, in July 2007, Mark Ghosh on Weblog Tools Collection declared that he would no longer feature sponsored WordPress Themes, and Matt Mullenweg has made the WordPress policy on sponsored WordPress Themes final. He listened to what users, designers, and those who support WordPress in so many ways had to say, and made a decision to protect users from those who abused free WordPress Themes, at least from within the bounds of what WordPress could control. There are still many WordPress Themes offered all over the web with undisclosed links and code that many describe as malicious and clearly unwanted, so business for these folks continues on. They just aren’t included in the “official” WordPress lists.

Now, those web designers who want to make money off their WordPress Themes without the need for underhanded techniques or finding sponsors have another chance to do so. And those who want to continue using their WordPress Themes as marketing tools to promote their skills by offering their Theme designs for free, can also continue to do so.

The idea is out there, and Matt and his team are listening. Let them know what you think about this, but please, think it through before offering your opinion. There are a lot of sides to the issue worth considering.

Selling WordPress Themes on WordPress.com

The focus in the current debate and discussion seems to be not around the idea and offering helpful comments and recommendations on the Marketplace concept, but on the top-of-his-head mention of a 50-50 split for Theme designers and WordPress.com, which Matt then qualifies with the fact that he’s keeping numbers simple and “you can plug in different numbers and assumptions there and it’s pretty easy to see how this could be big for designers.”

Is the 50-50 split a done deal? Again, this is an idea that has just been made public. With the feedback, the numbers may change, especially as the amount of work that goes into this process on both sides is explored and uncovered. Without facts on the ground, who knows if 50-50 is fair or 30-70?

I also don’t see why the Marketplace has to be only limited to WordPress.com users. In time, I could see it expanding to include any WordPress user access to some fun schwag and Themes. Who knows where this could lead?

I’m not taking sides on this, as I see so much from all perspectives, so here is a little of what I see.

Benefiting WordPress Theme Designers

For Theme Designers, they would benefit by not having to work so hard to promote their own wares. Currently, besides now having a shadow of suspicion on most WordPress Themes because of the abuse by only a few, Theme designers have to submit their Themes to multiple directories, sites, and blogs for publicity. They have to work hard to convince the public of the quality and integrity of their work in order to build their reputation as a web designer. They are competing with thousands of others, not a select few.

With association with WordPress.com, there is a new respect and assumption of integrity that cannot be easily bought nor earned, and then, by only a select few. Theme designers would benefit from less work, time, and effort promoting their Themes, thus their web design services, which, for most, is the end goal, right? I’m sure they would rather be earning money for their services than spending all their time handing out and promoting their WordPress Themes.

Example of a hypothetical WordPress Theme approved badgeThe publicity that may come from being one of the “top paid WordPress Themes” might do wonders for your career, too, which is a metric currently not tracked well. What if a Theme accepted into WordPress.com would get a small badge that says “WordPress.com Approved” or something that could be used on the Theme outside of WordPress.com. That might be a neat seal of approval that would speak loudly. Worth a thought.

The downside?

If the 50-50 split holds, then yes, there would be a loss in income. Offset that by the less time and effort the designer might spend in promoting their Themes, and maybe this is a good thing. Maybe a better split could be arranged, or a sliding scale. This is still up for discussion and we need more facts.

Are there other downsides to this plan for WordPress Theme designers? Since they can sell their Themes after inclusion in WordPress.com’s Marketplace, is there really a downside besides the money issue?

WordPress.com Also Needs to Benefit

WordPress.com would benefit by offering unique and interesting Themes to their users, and get better quality Themes to offer. WordPress.com users would benefit, too, getting access to whatever defines a “premium” Theme over a not premium Theme.

Currently, the process every WordPress Theme goes through before inclusion in the WordPress.com offerings is fairly intense and time consuming as every bit of code is inspected and checked. Not just for sponsored links or criminal activity, but all the code elements to ensure that the Theme will work within the latest version of WordPress and the WordPress.com structure and usage. It is also the responsibility of WordPress.com to keep all these Themes updated and maintained during all of the updates to its code base. That’s a lot of work, just ask Andy Skelton. WordPress.com has to pay people to do this, so they deserve compensation, too.

Before I pass judgment on the suggestions Matt put forth, I’d like to see the stats. I’d want to know how much time and energy goes into maintaining and processing WordPress Themes for WordPress.com. Right now, we’re working on assumptions and familiarity with free, free, everything free, and volunteer effort. WordPress.com is a business, powered by staff, a growing number of staff, as well as volunteers, and they need to be paid. It’s a business, and the Marketplace would also be a business.

WordPress.com users would benefit by having access to some unique and distinctive Themes, but herein lies a catch or two that might have been overlooked.

The Price of Uniqueness Over Neatness

For the Theme designer to make money with this proposal as it stands, the Theme would have access to 1.7 million potential buyers with the goal of selling the use of the Theme to the most people, right? If 500 or 1000 bloggers on WordPress.com are buying use of that Theme, WordPress.com and the designer make money, but the Theme’s use isn’t very original any more, is it?

A unique look to your blog is often worth more than “pretty” or “neat”. I’m sure the majority of WordPress.com bloggers are more into pretty than the value of having the “only look in town”, but there is a market for uniqueness. Those who want a unique look for their blog might be willing to pay more to limit the number of WordPress.com bloggers with access to that look. For them, maybe $500 a year might be worth it to lock down that Theme. This might be worth exploring, too.

Taken even further along the idea chain, a bidding or auction could be developed to bid on the Theme you want for your blog, giving even more credit to the uniqueness issue, as well as creating competition. Imagine if your Theme was hotly bid on, and all the surrounding publicity of the auction? Why stop for just paying, why not sensationalize the process?

Another aspect overlooked in the debate over money and special interest is the challenge made to web designers around the world.

What defines a premium WordPress Theme from a free WordPress Theme?

By what the Theme offers, not just what it looks like.

Personally, I’d be willing to pay to get a Site Map that automatically generates a good table of contents by category and/or tag on my blog. How about the ability to have a Theme which has a magazine style front page with drag-and-drop layouts, and a customizable single post pageview, too? Or one that allows you to add your own conditional tags that say, “if X then show Y” with your blog’s content?

There is so much a WordPress Theme can do beyond the pretty that is rarely explored by web page designers. This is a chance to dig into the possibilities and flexibility of WordPress template tags and code to create powerful Themes that break the walls of the boxes we’ve become so accustomed to.

If someone just wants to change the pretty, they can pay the USD $15 for the CSS Extra which allows changing the stylesheet, but not the Theme’s underlying code.

If they want more, will you be one of those willing to break the mold and set an example for others to follow as you lead?

In the end, while it may be about money to many, it’s also about encouraging development and access. With a little competition and incentive, we can get back to the moon – or at least, get a neat WordPress Theme for our free blogs.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted November 5, 2007 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I just want to buy a tshirt that will be shipped to canada! I’ll buy stickers and a mug too while I’m at it. Vive la Schwag!

  2. Posted November 5, 2007 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    My post on The Blog Herald didn’t have any “false accusations” and my post came out before Matt’s own informational post. He has yet to answer many important questions, and like almost everyone, despite having written a fair bit about what is going on, you have only told part of the story here…

    You don’t mention that any theme put onto the Marketplace MUST be GPL (which basically means that if I take your theme, I can do whatever I want to it, and re-list it on numerous other WordPress theme sites.

    Also, according to Matt, the theme will be freely available for WordPress.org users. You also don’t mention that this Marketplace doesn’t apply to themes already released. There are many rules and stipulations, as well as unanswered questions.

    For instance, if I make a theme, want to release it on WordPress.com, but not freely on WordPress.org because I want to release it on another marketplace elsewhere, can I do that? Or does WordPress.com’s marketplace require exclusivity in that respect? Or will I HAVE to have my theme freely available for WordPress.org users?

    There are so many things that still need to be dealt with before this is a viable option, but it begs the question, how long until the Plugin Authors want something similar? How long until WordPress is free for the base, but paid for everything else, and by that I mean both WordPress.com AND WordPress.org?

    It should be interesting, and I can’t wait to see how this changes WordPress.

  3. Posted November 5, 2007 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    David, you have been asked repeatedly to correct some of the statements, statements made without proof, evidence, or even information, since you wrote it before any public “official” announcement came out, only based, I assume, on second hand information, some of it probably translated. I like my facts in evidence first, from the source, before I jump to conclusions or make accusations.

    Which is why this is an idea, open to feedback and discussion, as it should be. Your points made here are of concern to all, which is why Matt said that these things have to be ironed out before any final decisions are made. There are a lot of things to consider, and a lot of sides to take. And a lot of misunderstandings to clear up.

  4. Posted November 5, 2007 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    You make the excellent point that wordpress.com users wishing merely to prettify their blogs can already do so with custom CSS; but how likely do you think it is that designers will be allowed to do anything more than the pretty? After all, the service will be launching with CSS-only themes, and historically many wordpress.com themes have been stripped-down shadows of their .org selves. Automattic have never exactly been forthcoming about how people can add extra options to their themes without it causing problems within the MU setup.

    Perhaps the reasons there are a lot of misunderstandings is that Matt’s pronouncements on the subject have been a little muddled? For example, I nearly missed the bit about the 50/50 split, much as you missed the part about themes being free to download for .org users. That’s only to be expected if Matt hasn’t quite got things worked out in his own mind yet and is just thinking out loud on his blog, but in that case you can’t expect anyone else to understand it either.

  5. Posted November 5, 2007 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Im little bit confused of the difference between widgetized and not-widgetized theme. What are the disadvantages and advantages of both? Thank you…

  6. Posted November 5, 2007 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Okay, so, I probably should just leave well enough alone, and keep my mouth shut, but, well, I can’t.
    What makes the theme designers think they can make more money on their own than via a WordPress.com marketplace? I mean, really, just looking that the raw numbers, I’d think that even sharing half the money with the people who make the market in the first place, they stand to make more money that way than on their own. Now, maybe I’m wrong. I mean, math was never my strong suit, but I do actually have a degree in Marketing, so…

    Well, no matter what happens, someone will make up their minds to be unhappy. I suppose they could always choose not to participate, just like WordPress.com can choose to not supply theme creators a ready-made market to sell their wares to a relatively captive audience. Personally, I’ve never thought about trying to make money off a theme, until this excellent idea was floated.
    Still, as I wrote, some folks will be determined to be unhappy about even this opportunity to make money, where there hasn’t been one before.

  7. Posted November 5, 2007 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Bravo, Network Geek!
    That’s the point isn’t it?!

    It appears that because Matt and Automatic have been generous, some folks are starting to expect things?

    Man, if someone offered me access to a massive market, immediately without having to build it, I’d be there ready to share the benefit 50/50. Heck, in a big enough market I might take 40.

    They did the work. I get to reap the fruit. I’m not crazy. That’s how things earn money quickly. Building the market is what takes time and costs money. Building the product is the lest expensive part.

    I’m with you Network Geek.

  8. Posted November 5, 2007 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, you asked, “Is there really a downside besides the money issue?” I think a lot of major theme developers are worried about having to put in a lot more support for .com users than they would a .org user.

    Network Geek, you asked, “What makes the theme designers think they can make more money on their own than via a WordPress.com marketplace?” Just ask Brian Gardner (briangardner.com) how much money he’s making with his Revolution themes.

    Most designers, especially newer designers, definitely stand to make more money. Well-established designers can keep working outside the marketplace and make plenty of money.

  9. Posted November 5, 2007 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    First, Matt Mullenweg has forthrightly repeated that he hopes to simplify WordPress, and remove functionalities, over the next couple releases. At the same time, in each statement & interview that I’ve seen him take this up, he makes it clear that that’s his preference & hope – that he is not making any guarantees anybody can build a business plan on, but he’s helping people understand where the top decision-maker is coming from, and looking to. As I understand the human animal, that’s about as cool a deal as yer likely to see…

    Second, #1 really sounds to me like WordPress is intended to become, essentially, a framework for plugins, a plugin-platform. The further WP strips down, the more serious & fundamental the services & functionalities that the plugins have to perform. There has to be a balance with this, and it means having to work – ‘feel’ – the way to where the product should end up.

    My inference is, plugins are more ‘structural’ than themes, and so WordPress will have more riding on the line, when it seeks to work out with plugin authors, just what the longer-range relationship between the core-platform and the plugins communities will be, than is the case with the theme-authors. The preparation for a theme marketplace, setting up the debate – which Lorelle is helping along very nicely – and letting it run, serves not just to address the important theme-market and designer-publicity venues, but is also a good warm-up and shake-down for the subsequent phase, in which the plugin people and the core-team have to come to a good mutual understanding.

    Ted Clayton

  10. Posted November 5, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    @brVince:

    WordPress Themes “should” all now have the ability to accept WordPress Widgets. The only difference is that a widgetized Theme will work with Widgets, and one without it won’t. Advantages? You can add Widgets easily. Disadvantages? You can add Widgets easily. :D

  11. Posted November 5, 2007 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Granted that this would afford a chance for some web designers to get some exposure that they might otherwise not have had. But I have to wonder how much effort will a designer put into making a killer theme for sale on wp.com knowing that they have to release it under a GPL for use on wp.org. And I understand that a theme has to be extensively tested for compatibility on the wp.com mu platform. Will support be given by wp.com or by the theme’s designer? Honestly, the wp.com support gang seem to have their hands full as it is. Yep, lots of questions to answer and details to be worked out.

    What has really put me off is the ad hominem attacks on Matt in place of discussion of the theme marketplace idea. But I’m discovering that Matt has a lot in common with Mickey Mouse on this point. Some people just love to hate the Mouse.

  12. khairil z
    Posted November 6, 2007 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    What a brilliantly sneaky way to sell. First campaign to the whole WordPress community to discontinue support for sponsored themes. Then, introduce “premium theme” on WordPress.com. Hence, many designers who were previously made sponsored themes will be attracted to the idea of premium theme.

    Matt & Co. is one hack of a genius!

    I personally dislike sponsored themes because I cannot edit the theme especially where the advertisement sits. but I am quite disappointed that fair and equal opportunity was not given to those who support sponsored themes. Matt has highlighted the downturn of sponsored themes making all of them sounds alike to the spams caught by Akismet, crazy adware, injustice to plugin authors. However, not much we heard from those who support sponsored themes. There should be a more deliberate discussion on this before the removal of all sponsored themes from WordPress theme viewer. Perhaps certain rule can be implemented where themes that link to the sponsors genuinely in a morally and ethically accepted ways can be listed in the Viewer.

    It seems like the whole anti-sponsored-themes idea is about making more money for WP.com. Instead of making a bigger cake, we try to divide it so that someone gets the bigger portion (which seems to be WordPress.com) and the other lose out. After all, it is just business.

  13. Posted November 6, 2007 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    while we shouldn’t jump on matt for ideas that are clearly in flux, the GPL requirement is a big problem as far as his call to “launch partners” anyone who’d hand over all rights to a theme with any sort of contract, isn’t going to make it as a designer. legally, matt doesn’t even have to split the theme price at all, since all the designers are giving the themes to him under the GPL.

  14. Posted November 6, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    @Jennifer:

    I love the Mickey Mouse analogy! Excellent. I’m as anxious as everyone to getting the nuts and bolts of the GPL and other bigger questions answered.

    khairil z: I don’t know why – okay, I know where it started – people connect these two issues. The “sponsored themes” issue was discussed from both sides ad nausea for many months before Matt finally was pressured to make the discussion public and official to get the maximum feedback before making a final decision on the issue of spam filled Themes so many were frustrated with, which it sounds like you were, too. The community brought the issue forward, and Matt was the decision maker after months of input. I don’t know about you, but I heard plenty from both sides of the issue plenty.

    The Marketplace idea has been in place for a long time, slowly implemented with CSS Extra, storage space, and other goodies as an experiment. Themes, and hopefully Plugins, are a part of the process, but these need special handling as they impact the core, and WordPress.com works as a beta testing platform for WordPress and WordPressMU. Thus, they need staff to implement and maintain these for millions of users.

    Connecting these two things like some conspiracy theory is giving more sinister credit to the WordPress team than they deserve. :D

  15. Posted November 6, 2007 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    GPL works for WordPress & Matt Mullenweg for several solid reasons.

    1) If WordPress.com puts up a Theme (et al) Marketplace, and everyone who uploads a theme for sale specifies their own license terms, it would be confusing and not businesslike.

    2) WordPress relies upon code contributors, and theme and plugin coders who are motivated by GPL and FSF precepts. To discourage Open Source participants could be a strategic mistake.

    3) Frequently, WordPress needs to, ought to and does incorporate code created by others – codes which the Team did not think of, did not author, and would have no right to use. Unless they are GPL.

    4) Matt Mullenweg himself has plainly embraced GPL and Open Source. His WordPress product is GPL. He is committed to devising some plausible business-model, based on GPL. It is unlikely that themes and plugins could end up being anything other than GPL.

    If I were a skilled theme author trying to make a business out of my abilities, I would be running the permutations on other aspects of the Marketplace proposal, besides the GPL stipulation, which I would take as a given.

  16. webfadds
    Posted November 6, 2007 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Hello All -

    Great discussion. Lorelle, you are thorough and on point, as usual. I see more than one issue/concept/thread here that seems important in terms of the direction for WordPress.com, and WordPress.org (and their respective offering packages):

    1) Details of WordPress.com Theme offerings in Marketplace: We know this is open to some discussion, looks like a 50/50 split, and may be subject to other requirements (GPL release at WP.org)/Opportunities (what else might be sold by theme designers in the expanding Marketplace?).

    My thoughts on these points are:
    a) 50/50 is OK, but 40/60 (designer receives 60%) sounds more fair. Sure, without WordPress/Automattic & Co., there would be no marketplace, and initially there is work to be done. Initially. After things are on “automattic” (couldn’t help myself), the work will be somewhat minimal from the corporate side, but maximal from the creative end — hence my conclusion that 60% to the designer would be fair and deserved.

    b) GPL release requirement at WP.org? Is this even legal — to restrict the potential income of a creator’s work, in exchange for possible, but unguaranteed revenue in a different venue? What is to prevent someone taking the fruit of a designer’s labor via the GPL release, and turning around with it for use as components in their own WP.com theme release? Ethical? Maybe not. Legal? Sounds like it would be. Maybe an addendum to the GPL would be in order, in this case. Maybe a designer could sell a souped up (would need careful definition) of the theme in other marketplaces.

    c) Opportunities for Designers beyond selling the theme: This may help resolve some of the concerns I just raised above. Perhaps the designer could offer modules, logos, art for clothing/mugs, etc. based on their theme design. They might even team up with plugin developers to offer unique plugins around which their theme(s) are designed. There is quite a market online for Stock Illustrations/Photos, and perhaps the designer could offer some variations in the banner/masthead art (this would partially address Lorelle’s “uniqueness” issue in the main article).

    2) Is WordPress (via WP.org) moving toward a skeleton for Plugins? (see Ted’s comment, above): I really hope so. I really hope not. Huh? Schizzo? Yup. But I think any other site managers/BlogMasters who have dealt with abandoned, or conflicting, and/or memory hog plugins will know what I mean — on the downside. On the upside — plugins are great. You see? Schizzo. So… I hope so because the plugin market is robust and the majority of plugins out there are excellent — and I am all for plugin developers earning a living by their wits and programming skills. I hope not, because of the hours I have wasted tracking and trouble-shooting problem plugins… and the “reliance factor.”

    What about the mid-term mission critical reliance factor? What happens when a core business function (say a shopping cart, or a newsletter with a large mailing list in the database) plugin goes abandoned when the author gets a new job, graduates from college, or just moves on? I know… that’s an opportunity for PHP programmers. It’s also a recipe for some very angry clients.

    Kudos to the WP Team and Community for raising these concerns and bringing about these opportunities, and taking them head on in a proactive manner. You can’t please all the people all the time, but this frank preemptive strategy is much better than the alternative.

    Thanks, too, for providing a thought-provoking forum for these discussions.

    - Scott

  17. Posted November 6, 2007 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    What is to prevent someone taking the fruit of a designer’s labor via the GPL release, and turning around with it for use as components in their own WP.com theme release?

    Absolutely nothing, but at least this time round Matt is offering you cash in exchange for giving up your rights. This is progress, of a sort. In the past he’s always expected people to embrace the GPL because it’s good for the soul, and when that doesn’t work he tries to convince them that all non-GPL themes are illegal. Bribery looks like being a far more successful tactic.

  18. Posted November 6, 2007 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    The Marketplace has a way of working these things out.

    There will still be theme designers that will provide free themes, and these will be available. You don’t have to host your blog on WordPress.com if you want total control. When it’s part of a large hosted environment, there has to be some control and standardization. That’s the tradeoff there.

    When it comes to offering premium or paid themes in a marketplace…why not? Certainly there will be licensing issues which should be discussed in a mature manner, and Matt and team will do well to listen to what theme designers want/expect, as well as users.

    If the split in revenue isn’t enough, the designers won’t create designs and post them. If users decide the themes aren’t worth purchasing (not unique enough, priced too high, not pleasing, etc.) the marketplace will simply go away.

    So why are some of the people here so up in arms? It does seem that the WordPress team, like always, is trying to have a community discussion about an idea (remember, that’s what started the blog community in the first place…the idea of public discourse for the masses). If they implement the idea and it’s either a bad idea or poorly implemented, the market will take care of it. The same if it turns out to be a good idea.

    What’s needed is an intelligent and thoughtful discussion. If you have a legitimate concern over any part of this (licensing, splits, etc.), do like Webfabbs did. Detail your concerns and thoughts in a smart and mature way, and have an actual discussion about it. From that, the community will be better. Pissing matches just really don’t do anyone any good.

  19. Posted November 6, 2007 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I could write a whole lot here, since this is a topic that I would be able to give you a lot of input on. But I’ll save the story for now, hoping to get a chance to discuss it in some other form than through blog comments. Just a quick summary:

    I have already built detailed models for this kind of market, based on experiences I have gathered through my work and through my position as the designer of some widely used designs (of which WordPress themes are only a part of a larger image). I would say that it goes way beyond WordPress.com, and that this is a good idea based on the market interest.

    I have turned down somewhere over a thousand requests to build custom (and of course paid) WordPress themes for different companies and organizations only during this year, but only a few of those requests were related to WordPress.com. It was everything from small local sites to multinational corporations, and some of the larger projects could have given a theme designer months of work with extremely good names to put in the CV.

    Let me know if you would want to use my experiences in the planning process for a marketplace like this. I have chosen to focus on pure XHTML/CSS website templates, but I still know the topic – and I would of course be happy to help. I wish there would be a WordCamp somewhere near Sweden soon…

  20. Posted November 7, 2007 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    Lorelle – some of the functionality and features / options that you (and many of us) would like to see just aren’t possible / allowed at com. Consequently the market is effectively closed to proper web developers and programmers; and is really best for CSS stylists / artists. Many of the really innovative org themes embrace option panels, and bundle plugins. Pure design is only a secondary consideration to what might be termed theme *construction*. It is a dichotomy which WP can not seem to get right. I just wonder if (a) You need to be a friend of Matt to get your themes included (b) there is going to be any kind of automatted quality control and (c) what the numbers of themes submitted might reach. My instinct is that there are going to be thousands of them. So how are they going to be packaged / searched / presented ?

  21. Posted November 7, 2007 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Root:

    I like your point that creating a theme is mainly an act of “construction”, that the “pure design” is “secondary”. I think that’s true. The implications might be scary for some designers, but following through on them could give us a better product.

    But I *really* like that you introduce the word “dichotomy” to the debate. Your intent may be down a different thread, but dichotomy is the defining fact of WordPress.

    Not just civilization, but society as we know it emerged from/as a dichotomy. Mesopotamia and the Yellow River are not the cradle of civilization – it was the dichotomy between the Valley-culture, and the cultures surrounding it that … created us.

    WordPress’ success is plainly due to the dichotomy. The goal for Republican/Conservatives is not to destroy the Democrat/Liberals. Obviously, Conservatives do not exist, without Liberals. That there is only room for one, and the other is some kind of problem, is a faux.

    That many prefer to live alongside the Nile of WordPress.com is not a problem for those of us who prefer to live in the adjoining Wilderness of Dot Org. Neither they nor the authority they accede to is our enemy – nor even a competitor. It’s a dichotomy, and it’s good.

    … So, tell us more about resolving that interesting design-construction, um, dichotomy, along the River. ;)

    - Ted

  22. Posted November 7, 2007 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Matt Mullenweg and WordPress has a reputation for talking, listening, before deciding, and then admitting when they screw up.

    Sorry, Lorelle. I just lost all respect for you when I read that. I can give you many examples of where this hasn’t occured.

  23. Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    For ‘members of the general public’ and others who are curious about the previous comment (#22), you can quickly see what it’s really about, by visiting the “drmike” blog.

    A quick glance at the “drmike” pages shows it is mainly a venue for anti-Mullenweg rhetoric. Much of it is repetitious, but there are items that can help provide a fuller picture of the WordPress scene.

    “drmike” & friends are a tad over-the-top, and spend too much of their time and skills (which they do have..) exaggerating the length of Matt Mullenweg’s forked-tail and fire-spewing horns. But, I do recommend taking a side-trip to “drmike”, and following links from there to the blogs of other like-minded posters whom you will see there.

    For example, there is interesting discussion of the limited style-coding presently possible with WordPress MU, the (Multi-User) version that provides free blog-services on WordPress.com.

    If WP MU is to be useful to independent webmasters (who manage multiple blogs for less-skilled clients), it would seem to need a full complement of styling assets. If MU is to become fully competent, wouldn’t the improvement extend to WP Dot Com?

    “drmike” & Co. do seem to have some views & info on this, and other points. Tell us more?

    - Ted

  24. Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    @Ted Clayton:

    Thanks for the information, but let’s keep this on topic. We need to stay focused on how this will, or will not, benefit the parties involved. I’m hearing a lot about how this will impact designers, but I want to hear more from users. What do they want? What will they be willing to buy, why, and how much? What can WordPress.com give them to make this project a success?

    And I want to hear from WordPress Plugin authors to find out how we can work to include them in this process as I know that WordPress.com users would PAY TONS for access to Plugins even more than Themes.

  25. Posted November 13, 2007 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Hello All -

    Procedural question: Has there been any updated feedback from the official Automattic crew based on this “distributed discussion” (comment conversations, posts, forums, etc. on different sites) on the WP.com Theme Marketplace Topic? I mean, that’s the problem with an open ended distributed discussion — you get a chance to speak (thanks!), but no one knows when, and what the next step will be, and where it will be given.

    Ok. Having said that, and after reading and blogging more on this topic, I think:

    * 60%/40% to Automattic is fair, since the designer assumes more risk than the company.

    * I think the GPL release concern could be addressed by standing with the requirement that a theme for sale on WordPress.com be released GPL on WordPress.org. But, I would add that the designer, (and only the original designer) retain rights to sell a “Pro version” which must include a number of upgrades in the design, including several new page templates, a custom home page, and 3-5 custom header images. Win – Win – Win. WP.com users get new premium themes. WP.org users get new themes released in the spirit of Open Source. Designers retain the right to sell exclusive upgrades for their designs.

    * Payment via PayPal for WP.com sales should be prompt, with some allowance for billing/return issues. 2 weeks sounds right.

    What say you?

    See you on the “meta distributed board” — MDB — oh no… another TLA (Three Letter Acronym).

    Regards -
    Scott

  26. Beth
    Posted November 14, 2007 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    How would a designer know how many .com users have bought the theme?

    Understand I am *NOT*(!) saying Matt & Co. would sell a theme to a thousand people but only pay the designer for 750 of them, but there has to be transparency in the accounting, at least for the designer. Also wouldn’t the ability to see how many blogs are using Joe Schmo’s design be a good way to get Joe Schmo to embrace the idea?

    See, I’d like to be able to say on my hypothetical web design site something like “WordPress.com, the fastest-growing hosted blogging solution, has adopted my “Hideous 1.0″ WordPress theme which is being used by 32,516 of those bloggers today.” See what I mean? And how would this number be verifiable by the designer?

    Just food for thought; I don’t expect a firm answer on something that’s just an idea at this stage. ;)

  27. Posted February 1, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I love the idea of a theme marketplace – and I think that a 50/50 split is on target for a digital product.

    I’ve sold a lot of different products, both my own and as an affiliate, and the digital ones usually have a 50-70% commission rate for affiliates. Think about it – you do a design once, and then Matt and crew put it on display for thousands and thousands of wordpress.com users to see, every day. Isn’t that kind of publicity WELL worth the 50% pricetag?

    If not, perhaps sticking to selling them through your own site, and leaving out a huge number of customers is the better way for you to go.


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Lorelle offers us; [...]

  2. On WordPress.com theme Marketplace

    I first read about Matt’s idea for a WP.com marketplace a few days ago here. I’ve been thinking about it and here are my thoughts on the subject, as far as the selling of themes goes:
    My first reaction was that it sounded like a wonderful i…

  3. [...] WordPress.com Marketplace and The Theme Debate [...]

  4. [...] News: Mullenweg Mulls WordPress.com Premium Theme MarketplaceProject leader Matt Mullenweg first announced and later clarified his intentions to offer premium themes to WordPress.com users under a profit sharing arrangement with the theme’s authors. Lorelle also weighs in on some of the debate surrounding the idea. [...]

  5. [...] less popular ones probably won’t see a life-changing surge in site traffic. Lorelle VanFossen has more thoughts on the possibilities the Marketplace will create for designers. I recommend reading it.In my opinion, it’s a win-win situation with the WordPress theme [...]

  6. […] WordPress.com Marketplace and The Theme Debate looks at Matt Mullenweg’s idea on forming a marketplace for WordPress.com users and “selling” WordPress Themes. While still in the idea stage, it’s set up a lot of debate and discussion, which is great. Hopefully, good decisions will come from all this debate. […]

  7. […] WordPress.com Marketplace and The Theme Debate […]

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