Disrupting The WordPress Commercial Theme Market – A 3themes Experiment

3 themes splash pageThe questions are simple but the answers are not. Can a theme that is built for developers using best practices be successful in the commercial space? Can a commercial theme add value without adding functionality and bloat? Those are the questions that a trio of WordPress developers are going to try to answer with their 3them.es experiment.

Michelle Schulp of Marktimemedia has published her experience at Pressnomics 2013 and the reasoning behind the new experiment. While at the event, she attended the Commercialization in the WordPress ecosystem panel session featuring business owners Pippin Williamson, Carl Hancock, Cory Miller, and Helen Souness. In that discussion, the following question was asked. How do you build a commercial digital product, especially one built using the GPL, that adds value in a way that is distinguishable from its competitors? According to Michelle, the panel was quick to dismiss commercial themes as being easily commoditized.

After talking with a number of people at the conference, Michelle decided to partner with Kiko Doran, and Josh Broton to start the 3themes experiment.

3themes is a unique collaboration because we will also be documenting it every step of the way: recording our weekly meetings on Google Hangout in the form of a podcast, blogging about our process on the website, hosting code on GitHub, voicing our thoughts on Twitter, etc. We want this not only to be a case study in the commercial theme marketplace, but in working as a small distributed team and problem solving just as we would for a client. The hope is to create some dialogue in the WordPress community, as well as just have some fun and see what great things we can build together.

If you’re interested to see where this goes, check out the live Google hangout at 8:30 PM CST on Tuesday nights as they begin the process of experimentation by first building their website and brand.

This is going to be an excellent experiment and I bet many are curious as to what the end result will be. If you remember, Justin Tadlock performed a similar experiment via ThemeForest with mildly successful results.

7 Comments


  1. Chip Bennett has done this already with his theme Oenology. All of Justin Tadlock’s themes are well documented and commented as to serve as a reference also. All of which are free.

    I recall Sarah Gooding wrote an article on WPMU about a Naked WordPress theme that was well documented, she also wrote here about how WordPress itself is to be given inline documentation treatment.

    There maybe room for a commercial theme, but after Justin’s experiment at Themeforest I would think the market isn’t overtly concerned with best practices. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. If they can foster an active friendly community with good a learning / support environment people would have no problem paying.

    Looking forward to see how this venture goes and wish them all the very best.

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  2. Hey all,

    Thanks for the well wishes!

    Another big part of this, and one that hopefully makes this a little different from all the similar experiments out there (all of which are awesome and inspirations to us) is that we’re also using this as a chance to document the process of working as a team to build a product, maybe using it as a case study on collaboration for projects. The theme idea grew out of that in a way, why not use this collaboration to do something awesome, and allow for feedback from the community along the way?

    We’re interested in seeing where exactly this is going to go, who knows! Thanks for the writeup.

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  3. Apologies, I misread, I thought they were building a theme that they were going to document – then sell! Whilst charging people, like a theme academy of sorts.

    It’s late here! :)

    The hangout should be very interesting. Looking forward to see how they address certain issues. Personally I think the key is through using the customization API as most commercial themes make little or no use of what has to be WP’s best feature.

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  4. @Ruairi Phelan – that’s very kind of you; thank you! But I wouldn’t say Oenology has ever been popular; it simply wasn’t ever one of my goals for Oenology, and I make no effort to “market” it. I’m ecstatic to hear that it has been helpful to some, though!

    I’ll definitely be interested to see where this new venture leads. Anyone who tries to do things right, from the outset, has my admiration and support.

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  5. @Chip – Yep love that theme. I learned a lot from it ;)

    And yes this little experiment sounds interesting. “Doing it right” seems to have been left by the wayside many moons ago and the community needs to get back to that. @Michelle – Thanks to you and the rest of the team for the effort.

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  6. HI Jeffro,

    This sounds like an interesting project, but I guess it will also take quite some time before the three of them can come to a conclusion. But at least they stick out their necks, because it is an additional project within the project so to speak. Will see that I check out their Tuesday Evening Hangouts. Thanks for the post.

    Jacobus

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