DevPress Retires Its Best Selling Theme

Devin Price, who owns and operates the WordPress commercial theme shop DevPress, announced that he is retiring his best selling theme, Zenith. I asked Price why he’s retiring his best product.

“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.”

Zelda Replaces Zenith
Zelda Replaces Zenith

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.

Theme Retirement
photo credit: Retirement Calendar(license)

Price gives more insight into his strategy within the comments of an article written by Tom McFarlin on planned obsolescence of WordPress themes.

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?


6 responses to “DevPress Retires Its Best Selling Theme”

  1. While we’ve (Array) certainly retired themes in the past, I wouldn’t say we’ve ever retired them on a “regular basis.” This would imply that it’s part of our collection’s cycle, but in reality, we’ve only retired themes circumstantially in the past. As we’ve transitioned and grown, it made sense to focus on the themes that gained the most traction and were favored by our customer base.

    Every theme company operates differently, but I would venture to say that everyone wants to make sure they’re operating as optimally as possible. For some, this means rolling out new features, others may refocus their efforts on improving existing themes and some may retire themes. There isn’t one particular approach that fits every theme provider.

    At any rate, it’s important to make sure you support retired themes until they’ve fulfilled their obligations to a user. If you’ve sold a year of support with the theme, you should honor that commitment if you want to retain and build trust from your customers.

  2. I retired my first themes back in 2008 for a few different reasons. Surprisingly, I didn’t get too much hate mail. For the most part, there was good feedback. Those themes were some of the most popular back in the day.

    The important bit is to be completely transparent and have a plan of action to support current users for the rest of their membership terms. I wouldn’t retire themes without bringing some new stuff in either..

    Any theme shop knows that it’s not a good idea to support and update old themes indefinitely unless they’re still bringing in money. The only realistic way to do that is to have fees (monthly, yearly, etc.) for continuing the updates. Otherwise, you’ve got to drop off some of the dead weight every so often.

    A good three-year-plan might be worth considering for theme shops. I think three years is a reasonable amount of time keep a theme going. Some might want to do two years or four years. You also have to take it on a theme-by-theme basis. There’s a lot that goes into the decision to retire a theme.

    • That’s indeed the key Otto, not allowing lock-in features to creep into themes. Ironically WooThemes (now an Automattic acquisition) were one of the worst in the day (we know first hand as we offered WooThemes as an option with our Typepad to WordPress migrations).

      The big push now at to insist that advanced functionality go into a plugin and not the theme is an important step towards data portability for WordPress publishers.


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