“Retirement may not be the best term. It’s more like introducing the new year’s model and stopping production on the previous one. The designs match pretty close, but there were a lot of under the hood updates I wanted to do that would have broken child themes and created compatibility issues for existing customers.”
The HTML markup in Zelda is almost entirely rewritten. “If I was a customer who had spent hours making customizations through a child theme, I would be sorely disappointed when I clicked that auto-update button. Whereas, introducing a new version let’s the user decide whether to switch or not.” Price said. He plans on supporting Zenith for another year to give customers an opportunity to decide whether or not to switch to the new theme.
I think planned obsolescence or ‘theme retirement’ is a really good option for theme shops. Big updates (like converting a theme to be responsive, or using new development techniques like icon fonts) is sometimes really difficult to do in a way that won’t break child themes.
We’re using a mix of the ‘Fork It’ and ‘Retire It’ options at DevPress. The ‘Cascade’ theme will become ‘Cascadia’ (for example) and we’ll make the new theme available for free to all customers who purchased the free version. Less popular themes will just be retired as we add new themes to take their place.
Although theme shops are able to retire themes and set up redirects to newer versions, retiring a theme is not as easy to do on the WordPress theme directory. According to Price, “You can request a takedown and release a theme under a different name, but there’s no way to 301 redirect the established traffic to the new spot.” Not only does a theme author lose traffic, but they also can’t push out critical updates for retired themes.
DevPress isn’t the first theme shop to use a retirement strategy. Since 2012, WooThemes has retired 92 themes. Array also retires themes, but offers them for free with no support. A theme retirement strategy makes sense from a business perspective, but as a customer, I expect themes I buy to stick around for a year or more.
As a customer, what do you think about commercial theme companies retiring themes? For commercial theme shops, how does such a strategy help your business?