Are The Days Of Paying Less Than $100 For A WordPress Theme Over?

If you are selling WordPress themes or thinking about entering the markets, there’s been a plethora of great information published the past few weeks. Topics ranging from whether themes are a commodity to what it is you’re really purchasing when a theme is GPL Licensed. Here is a round up of articles in case you missed them.

When Lema published his thoughts on What Happens If WordPress Themes Get More Expensive? and What Should A WordPress Theme Cost? I thought he would answer a question I’ve been pondering for a while but it wasn’t even mentioned. Although he talks about various segments of the market, there is one segment that was not brought up. That is, the segment of taking advantage of the GPL to redistribute commercial products at a lower price.

Will We See A Surge In The Not So Black Market?

The more I read about the WordPress commercial theme space, the more I see the words raise prices and charge more. I understand the benefits to the business owner to charge higher prices as a means of becoming more sustainable. But, I don’t like paying higher prices for anything unless I determine it’s worth it.

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photo credit: Historias Visualescc

So I wonder, if theme shops heed the advice of raising prices, how high will the price need to be before the freedoms of the GPL are used to create a surge of marketplaces or shops that become the not so black market? We’ve seen examples of this already through WP Avengers which was started because of a major price increase and policy changes at WooThemes surrounding WooCommerce. In a similar fashion, GPL Club also redistributes WooCommerce extensions, themes, and plugins for a discounted subscription rate.

Whether it’s to make a quick buck or to get back at a company that raised prices, these renegade shops eat away at the lower end of the market. I’d like to see more theme and plugin shops provide an option to purchase updates but not support. Since customer support is usually cited as the most expensive part of running a business, why not offer a pricing tier to customers who don’t want or need it? At least this way a theme shop would be able to pass the savings to the customer with a lower price and provide more incentive for staying with the original vendor of a product.

Higher Prices Seem Inevitable

Although I haven’t gone theme shopping in a few years, my comfortable price point is between $50-$80. If a theme is a framework, I can see how $100 or more would be justified. In fact, the price hike of AESOP Story Engine from $40 to $120 is fine by me since it’s a unique product. What would shock me is to see $175-$300 single site support licensed themes become the new normal.

WooThemes was one of the first large WordPress product company’s to increase prices and drop their unlimited pricing tier. AESOP Story Engine has raised prices, and it’s only a matter of time before other commercial theme shops raise prices. I’m interested to see how many theme shops decide to sell individual themes for more than $100.

The sky isn’t going to fall because of rising prices but it will shake things up for consumers and business owners. It seems the days of $30-$70 themes appear to be over unless you stick with Themeforest. Ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to decide whether the price of a WordPress product is worth it.

Perhaps a rise in prices across the board is exactly what the doctor ordered. If price hikes result in better quality products, more innovation, and helps take WordPress to the next level, who wouldn’t get behind that?


27 responses to “Are The Days Of Paying Less Than $100 For A WordPress Theme Over?”

  1. Unhappily, a vast majority of WordPress theme developers do not respect WordPress coding standards and are not even close. So I think it’s fine to charge more if you do a good work.

  2. A worrying trend and most theme ‘factories’ do not offer a discount for noncommercial use. At the $100 price point it makes custom themes look viable.

    • Who are you paying $100 or less to do a custom theme? If that’s all they’re charging, they clearly need to charge more :)

      If you’re doing it yourself, how long does it take you to build a custom one? IF you take the number of hours it took and multiple it by your hourly rate for contract work, is it less than $100? If not, the $100 was still worth it.

  3. So many themes ARE BADLY CODED.

    All those theme clubs that have a new theme every month or two…think the following: QUALITY VS. QUANTITY.

    I think themes should be $35-$80. Remember your paycheque gets spreadout by many customers.

    Why do so many theme authors think they just created $1,000 themes?

    • They deserve $1000 price tag, because they made “Ultimate multi-purpose, revolutionary, last you will ever need, changing they way we think about wordpress” theme with is combination of 6 plugins and “unique” design. Don’t you want to buy it already ? :D

  4. I think Betteridge’s law of headlines applies here.

    The days of paying less than $100 are far from over as long as Themeforest continues to offers theme below that price.

    • Hmm, thanks for the info on that headlines law. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and although it makes sense, I for sure wasn’t thinking that everything I just wrote was BS. But now, I’ll think twice before using a question as a post title.

  5. Seems like these discussions are mostly based on the US economy. In the posts listed above, some people have pointed out that developer wages are far less in other countries.

    • The price of a theme is based on it’s value. End-users won’t care how much the original theme designer/developer were paid.

  6. A few thoughts:

    1. As long as there’s an internet, there will be people redistributing other people’s work, GPL or not. It’s the price of doing business.

    2. There will always be a theme that’s the equivalent of a Gremlin for a lower price. But people who appreciate the value of engineering will pay more for a theme that’s more of a high performance vehicle (that gets you there in style).

    3. Authors won’t be supporting themes sold through the black market. That was one of my biggest costs when I sold themes. So, hey, saving me support costs for people who are too cheap to shell out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’d probably be more likely to be high-maintenance support customers, too.

    4. Themes from the original seller won’t have PHP-VD (malicious code). You can’t guarantee that in themes purchased on the black market.

  7. I don’t want to sound harsh, but charging more for a theme because it’s coded “well” or uses xyz technology is ludicrous.

    Themes should be coded well. Period. I don’t care if they use Backbone. Do you think the average user of WordPress cares about the technology behind the media uploader? No, they care that it works.

    Well coded themes should be a standard. You wouldn’t pay more for a car because it has a windshield, would you?

    Don’t get me wrong, I would pay a $100 for a theme, but it better look good, be easy to configure, and conquer the niche I’m using it for.

    Just my 2 cents.

  8. For a well-designed and well-developed Theme*, $100 should be the minimum, no-support price.

    For one thing, such a Theme shouldn’t *need* post-installation support. It should just work as-designed. Such a Theme will properly differentiate between presentation and functionality, and will be developed to play nicely with WordPress core, as well as Plugins.

    For another thing, what gets lost so often in the “what are you paying for” discussion is that you’re paying for the design and development work that went into the Theme in the first place. I don’t care what Richard Stallman says; the skill and effort that go into design and development have value.

    Post-installation, support becomes the greatest cost, and should be priced appropriately. Support means ensuring the Theme works as-designed, and as-advertised. Support is not adding features and doing custom design/development, which should be properly differentiated and priced separately. (When people realize that quality custom development work is worth $100 an hour, suddenly that $100 base price tag for the Theme seems much more reasonable.)

    Finally, the way to combat the bundle/reseller market is not via copyright, but rather via *trademark*. Just because the GPL allows a Theme to be redistributed/resold as-is doesn’t mean that the person exercising that freedom gets to own or use the Theme’s name/reputation. I would love to see someone take that approach: you want to resell Genesis code? Fine! It’s GPL; do with it as you wish. You just can’t call it “Genesis”.

    * Granted, I have a rather strict meaning of “well-developed”, and those with design talent/skill, I’m sure, have a similarly strict meaning of “well-designed”.

  9. I like to think of it as I’m not paying $100 for a well coded theme, I’m paying for security, testing, robustness, availability, and responsiveness.

    I pay $45 for a theme I thought was a steal because of that. I pay $400 for a suite of themes and feel like I’m getting away with murder.

    I’m not paying for good code, or even coding standards. I’m paying for the peace of mind that can only come from GREAT themes. From people who respond in a day to things like timthumb issues. From people who go and get security reviews of their own code, just to be sure.

    And if that’s $100? Damn, I got off light, because that’s the one aspect of my site that every single person is going to touch.

    My theme.

  10. i hope that premium theme developers charge more and give the highest quality they can. i am willing to pay way more then 100 dollars – maybe up to 300 dollars – when i finaly get themes that i

    do not have to beta test myself in the beginning and beta test everytime an update is released,
    that work on every browser they say it works,
    that works on every device when they call them responsive,
    have perfect support within 24hrs/5days per week,
    work perfect with multilingual plugins like WPML,
    have best SEO practices and integrate with plugins like yoast,
    have website speed always in mind,
    do not have useless high amounts of .js, and so on!

    what the wordpress theme developer pool is realy missing is that the best theme development companies should build an allience where you need to be super good wp theme developer, with multiple high quality themes on their belt, to get in. themeforrest is like a casino when you buy a theme from a “elite author” … besides avada and 3 or 4 other themes i always had problems in some kind of way… and we bought about 75 to 100 themes the last 3 years for customer websites always from elite authors … so everybody is an “elite author”.. that does not mean anything, trust me… “elite authors” should realy be a small group of coder with higher prices and better quality.

    • I’d love to see ThemeForest let those who submit pay for a much more thorough review. Something that would meet your standards and standards. They could slap a special badge on these themes and sell them for $100. People would buy them if ThemeForest truly vetted them and explained to the customer why those themes are the best choice.

    • Indeed, I bought a bunch of themes off ThemeForest and found fatal errors via debug mode, and even worse, the lack of compatibility with official, popular WooCommerce extensions :(

      Went back to WooCommerce’s Superstore for now

  11. I don’t know where the “should” comes from in all this …

    “Should people pay more for what I do? A survey of myself and others like me says ‘yes’!” Uh, OK :)

    And BTW, if you license something with the GPL, that means that anybody can legally copy it, modify it, give it away, etc. as long as they too abide by the GPL. The GPL isn’t just some magic selling point that you can attach to something, and then still complain when people use the very freedoms that the GPL explicitly provides. If you don’t want to provide those freedoms, then don’t license your work with the GPL.

    • “I don’t know where the “should” comes from in all this …

      “Should people pay more for what I do? A survey of myself and others like me says ‘yes’!” Uh, OK :)”

      That rather sums up my thoughts on this (as well as justifying Gary’s reference to Betteridge’s law, above).

      I’m also somewhat disturbed by the increasingly condescending tone directed towards WordPress users who are not the among the supposed cognoscenti who know how WordPress works or what its coding standards are (and who therefore are apparently too ignorant to realize just how much “we” are all worth).

      I’d pay (and have paid) $100s for a good plugin. But for a theme? No chance! The whole notion of what a theme is, which apparently underlies this discussion, is completely misguided.

      Most theme developers (including the ones who are paraded as “clean coders”) love to tell us about their “excellent typography,” for example. Well, I don’t care. I have changed the font on every theme I’ve ever used. And for good reason.

      Most of these celebrated coders’ typography would actually fail accessibility standards in many nations, which is somewhat ironic when other posts here at the Tavern seem concerned to promote accessibility.

      I could make similar points about almost every other element of very many themes. So, unless my needs are simple, in which case there are plenty of excellent themes on, I am going to be changing a ton of stuff.

      So why would I pay $100+ for a theme? It’s there just to provide the skeleton. I get not just the functionality, but also much of the design, from plugins. A good one of those really is worth $100s.

  12. In theory I agree with Chip’s assertion above that “a Theme shouldn’t *need* post-installation support. It should just work as-designed.”

    Unfortunately a great many people who purchase themes don’t really understand how WordPress itself works and then tend to blame the theme for their own inexperience.

    For example many new-to-WordPress folks think they are buying a “website” when they purchase a theme and therefore want to create an exact duplicate of the theme demo as their starting point. But when the WP XML import doesn’t import the demo’s widgets their first thought is “the theme doesn’t work.”

    Without solid post-purchase support a shop would quickly get a horrible (and unfair) negative reputation as some of these folks can get pretty noisy complaining out of ignorance no matter how well their themes are coded. Therefore post-purchase support is a cost of offering themes and needs to be factored into theme pricing in order for a theme shop to be successful.

    • Completely true, of course. It’s a “cost of doing business” – though that cost varies, depending on the market demographic you target. The demographic that expects Themes to cost $25 is considerably different than the demographic that is fine with paying $100 for a Theme. The latter generally better understands that learning how to use WordPress is different from installing and setting up the Theme they just purchased; the former often has a much stronger entitlement mentality, and expects to be hand-held through everything as part of their $25 expenditure.

      There are different ways to deal with that dichotomy:

      1. Target one demographic at the expense of the other

      2. Find ways to mitigate/minimize the higher costs of doing business with one demographic, such as building in an on-boarding process, building a knowledge base, FAQs, canned email responses to frequent, Theme-unrelated support questions, etc.

      3. Ensure that every aspect of the Theme that requires special “set up” integrates as consistently as possible with core features, UX, and UI, and that the Theme works, by-design, with Plugins – either explicitly (e.g. building in WooCommerce integration) or implicitly (using hooks properly, staying out of the way of SEO plugins by not mucking up content, etc.) – to minimize the learning curve and pain points.

    • Our themes are generally designed to require no-to-little support. They are well-coded, offer all the basic features a theme should have like print styles, RTL support, multiple languages, etc. There will always be customers who just don’t understand WordPress and are not technical. This is why we offer end-to-end training and support with WP101 videos plus theme documentation plus one-on-one support. We’re not just offering users a theme, we’re giving them cascading levels of support for users with different skill levels. That’s the way we think it should be.

  13. IMHO…. Paying >$100 for a plugin can be a good value, but not for a theme. I can use GravityForms on many different websites without having to modify it. That’s not the case with most themes. Even some of the more complex themes and popular frameworks require modifications for something as simple as having a vertical logo (when the theme demo uses a horizontal logo).

    The problem with themes isn’t that the price is too low, it’s that the model is broken. Most of us wouldn’t design a website for a client, at a fixed cost, and then support it indefinitely at no additional cost. That’s just stupid. I, too, would be pissed if I had to provide perpetual support to someone who paid $40 for my item years ago (especially if the ‘marketplace’ took a large chunk of my revenue in the first place)!

    If anything, as a hosting provider I’d be willing to pay theme authors for things like:
    -email notifications when a theme update contains a critical security fix
    -proactive compatibility testing with each new WordPress version (as opposed to having to search through ThemeForest comments for anecdotal evidence of incompatibility/issues)
    -diff showing changes in each release
    -automatic updates

    • Fortunately many theme providers are switching to a sustainable model. Support and theme updates are often provided for one year, renewable at 50% to 75%. A lot of newer shops use Easy Digital Downloads Software Licensing for one-click updates, which is great. Still, my hunch is that theme prices need to increase two-fold (and that with the assumption that the theme is not junk, which is a whole other issue).

  14. I think evidence that themes are priced lower than they ought to be is that theme shops are turning to plugin development. A user might pay a certain amount for a theme then and even greater amount for a plugin. The theme involves every area of the site. The plugin involves one area of the site. That plugin’s price is fine. The theme’s price is wrong.

    The only reason people feel like $100 is too much for a theme is because most themes cost $40 – $60. That’s what they’re used to. $100 would seem downright reasonable if the norm was $100+

    It’s clear that prices need to go up. The problem is somebody’s got to be first. If ThemeForest was first, it’d make things really easy for independent shops. That’s not going to happen though. Independent theme sellers will have to get a little uncomfortable and see what happens.

    My personal thought is incremental price increases (ie. from $50 to $75 then possibly $75 to $99 at a later time) and no increase on renewal for current customers. That way the waters can be tested halfway and people won’t freak out because the cost doubled overnight. The result will hopefully be the same revenue with less support expense. More breathing room for the seller and more resources to provide a better product and service to the customer.

    I don’t see $500 themes ever being a thing, not unless that includes some other value (ie. doing things for the customer). Maybe $50 – $200 with $50 being simple, low support blog themes and $200 themes being more sophisticated and hyper-niche themes from very reputable providers.

  15. As I have said before, since I also do WordPress Optimization, it would be nice to have a “True Coding Standard” with WordPress themes.. I’ve optimized the HTML code of a lot of themes.. What a lot of WordPress users do not realize, is that even the so called “SEO Optimized” themes, are only optimized for the developers Host or Platform that they used during the development! If you are a do it yourself wordpress optimizer, you can take any theme, and install on a custom nginx + cache system, and the optimizations go down the toilet.. It ends up having to be re-optimized all over again. If speed, performance and an optimized website is your goal, you aren’t going to find it with most themes.. Not even if they cost $500.. ..

  16. I am a simple blogger, who switched from Joomla to WordPress about a year ago because I spent too much time on the backend. I prefer to focus on my writing. Where Joomla is too complicated WordPress lacks more than it should and I find myself looking for a suitable theme.

    I like the 2012 theme, but is a bit boring, 2013 is nice but way too wild, too much time needed to finetune it too my liking. So I found a free (accidentally) theme I absolutely fell in love with – unfortunately it is one column only – While playing around with it and pondering whether or not to buy one of two other themes from the developer I noticed there was no styling for the text in the categories, basically ruining the template, so I did not buy his template.

    Because WP is rather limited you need to define beforehand what you want. I got a pretty good idea but while browsing through numerous templates I noticed that most of the templates rely heavily on a single image, one that somebody who buys the template will most likely replace. I also noticed that most templates are created by people who know little about design, think fonts and colours for instance and more often than not templates are not designed with the user’s needs in mind but are ruled by what is fashionable. A couple of years ago every website desperately needed a poll, nowadays it looks like big, big images are all the rage. Most people do not own many of those images but still that is the kind of template that gets turned out by the dozens. Take away the sample image and the design crumbles.

    If you don’t believe look at how most templates are showcased, a small image in a grid, where the only thing to make it stand out is the image. Of course you can browse the accompanying text but that is about as informative a Google press release.

    I tested lots of free templates, including some very popular ones. I know free templates are often meant as showcase – for the premium templates but the errors and omissions are to silly for words. One template had a black background, you could change the colour, the transparency, almost anything. Unfortunately the designer forgot one little thing, the option to change the menu font colour as well. I changed the black background to white and it took me a while to figure out where the menu had gone.

    Personally I think the gap between graphic designer and programmer is too wide and there is very little attention for the commercial aspects of premium templates.

    I understand that producers have to come up with something new every so often but for users content still rules. Me, and with me most people do not want to switch templates every few months. Even though my site is about its content, content only sells when it is presented nicely. The good news is that it means I am willing to pay for a template, the bad news is that I haven’t found what I want yet. Most of it is simply amateurish and not worth the money. It has to be an improvement over the existing basic WP templates.

    If you wanna sell templates think what your customer wants rather than what you like. Learn about how colours combine, typography, understand people’s workflow and pamper them.

    Think for your customer. What plugins might be useful? Add a number of variations on the theme, colours, font, basic lay-outs, translations into other languages, various sets of buttons and symbols but above all don’t be the one who makes yet another variation on a theme, especially if the theme wasn’t that great in the first place.

    As for those prices going up? I don’t think so, Most people are happy with the default templates WP provides. As long as those get wilder and wilder, the industry can count its blessings, but once WP returns to creating decent templates its doomed.

    It reminds me of a psychology experiment. Two groups of students were given either a pen or a mug, both worth the same, say 5 dollars. Asked if the want to swap, most students said no, simply because it was theirs they valued it higher than what the other had to offer. The same thing happens when people design templates, it is their baby, they worked hard for it but buyers do not value the finished product as much as the designer does.


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