Review Of Outline By ThemeGarden

At A Glance:

Outline is the first commercial theme out of the gate from ThemeGarden.com by the same guy who runs Press75.com, Jason Schuller. Outline is a stylish theme that has up to 3 columns, a full page template and nice looking typography.

License:

All themes released under ThemeGarden.com contain a dual license but are GPL compatible. The PHP code portions of these themes are distributed under the GPL version 2.0 license. If not otherwise stated, all theme images and cascading style sheets (CSS) are NOT GPL licensed, and are released under the ThemeGarden.com Proprietary Use License v1.0 unless specifically authorized by ThemeGarden.com.

Pricing Model:

The pricing structure for ThemeGarden is a bit different than you might be used to with other commercial theme providers. Themes are not sold individually but as part of a subscription plan. It’s the club model where you purchase a specified amount of time and within that time, any new themes that are released or upgraded will be available to you as well as support. The cheapest subscription plan is $50.00 and that will get you three months. However, the biggest sticking point regarding this model is the stipulation that depending on the subscription plan you choose will determine how many sites you can use the theme on. This is interesting because the PHP code within the theme can be used on any number of websites since it’s GPL licensed but you can not use the CSS or images as they are licensed separately. Without the CSS or images, it makes the theme look terrible and is most likely not worth using. Take all of this into consideration before you sign up.

Installation:

Installation was quick and easy as all I had to do was upload the theme zip file in the WordPress back-end.

Configuration And Use:

After installing the theme, I discovered that I needed to have the Simple Video Embedder plugin as well as the Yoast Breadcrumbs plugin installed in order for the theme to function properly. I have mixed feelings on this. I’m glad the plugins were not bundled with the theme because that would be a waste but on the flipside, why should any theme be developed where it depends on one or more plugins in order to function properly? I believe a theme should be able to function on its own without any plugin dependencies.

After installing both of the required plugins, I got to work configuring the theme. Like the Genesis theme by StudioPress, Outline sports one theme options page where all of the options are housed within two columns. This makes configuration quick and easy.

Here are the things you can configure:

Logo Customization – Outline provides a way to upload a custom header image. I like the way Outline does this as the upload link points to the media library where I can upload the image to. The media library also gives me the URL to the image which is what I need to copy and paste into the path box in order for the image to be displayed. Alternatively, you can use text for your header.

Tagline – This text will be displayed within the site header.

Optional 460X60 Header Advertisement – This option has a box that can contain any code related to the header banner spot. In my opinion, I think Hybrid News has the best implementation of this idea where instead of making ad boxes part of the theme options, just put a widget container where the ad would go and make the container 460X60 pixels in size. This way, you give the end user more flexibility in determining how to use that spot and it’s one less theme option I have to configure.

Featured Content – Unlike some other implementations of this idea, Outline gives you the choice of deciding which category will be part of the featured content carousel as well as the number of posts from that category to display.

Featured Categories – Next to the featured content carousel is a spot for 6 additional categories to be featured.

Post Layout Options – Outline has a built in method to either display post excerpts or the entire post.

Post Thumbnails – The ability to disable post thumbnails from displaying on single post pages.

Navigation Options – Nothing fancy here, just the ability to disable the categories menu or the RSS link that shows up at the end of the menu. However, there is a nice touch here in that if you add your Twitter id, it will add the Twitter icon to the end of the menu which links directly to your account.

Static Page Options – This will disable page title from showing up within static pages.

Footer Text – Instead of editing any theme files, this box gives users an easy way to configure the text that is displayed within the footer of the theme.

Analytics – A box dedicated to storing your Google or Woopra analytics code.

Save The Web – This is the first time I’ve seen this within a theme. The Save The Web box tells IE6 users when they browse your site that there are other options available.

Using Outline to publish content has it’s own little quirks. When compiling a post in a featured category, you’ll need to make sure that you set a post thumbnail or else it won’t be displayed in the featured category. It would be nice if this were an automated process as it adds one more step to the publishing process.

As for sidebars to put widgets into, Outline has 8 different sidebars. Each sidebar corresponds to the specific template it shows up on. For example, the home page has a home page left sidebar and a home page right side bar. Single post page has a single posts left sidebar and a single posts right sidebar. While this might seem flexible, I think it makes things a little more complicated than need be. I think that if theme authors were looking for a way to provide differentiation, one way would be to provide a widget display interface that meshed in with the standard widget configuration. This interface would enable users the opportunity to state when the widget will be displayed. For example, in Outline, the Single Posts right and Home Page right sidebars are in the same spot. I think it would make more sense to just combine them into one sidebar and allow the widget to be specified on when to show up. A good example as to what I’m describing can be found in the Widget Context plugin.

Support:

Those who register to ThemeGarden.com have access to a variety of support materials including documentation for each theme and support forums. Since the company is new, you won’t find a detailed archive within the forum but Jason makes it a point to offer great customer service.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, I recommend Outline to those individuals who are either just getting started with a site or for those who don’t want to go through their backlog to change how their archived content displays within this theme. The theme is easy on the eyes but I think it adds a little more work to the publishing process. You must also take care to use properly sized images for assigned thumbnails or they will look terrible within the featured content area. If Outline doesn’t suit your tastes, you should give Vidley a look over.

12 Comments


  1. Good point on the required plugins, and I am already working on an update to make added plugin functionality optional rather than required. So if you want added functionality created by plugins you can opt in… if you don’t the theme will still work just fine.

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  2. Jeff – you recommend these themes to your users but did not explain why you think they are worth the astonishingly high price. In fact, you did not even mention the price, despite the fact that Jason is establishing a significantly different pricing strategy from the current norm, in which you buy a theme and are entitled to updates, for that particular theme, for life (or for at least as many years as the theme is still being sold).

    Good commercial theme sellers provide those occasional updates so that the themes continue to work as WordPress gradually changes but ThemeGarden customers will only continue to have working themes if they keep buying subscriptions. I am surprised you didn’t take the opportunity to discuss this new approach to customers, surely it would be of interest to your readers?

    What makes the subscriptions truly obscene is that Jason is charging far more than long-established sellers, with a good track record, who offer extensive libraries of themes in varied styles, built on clever frameworks, as opposed to ThemeGarden’s TWO themes that, frankly, are more than a little reminiscent of all Jason’s other designs at his previous business, Press75.

    I never thought I would come across pricing more ridiculous than iThemes $500 All-Access packages (I like iThemes but, with that pricing, Cory handed the premium theme market to StudioPress and WooThemes) but at least iThemes give you unlimited lifetime use of their 30 existing themes,the Builder framework and whatever other themes the team there ever add to their collection.

    The same $500 at ThemeGarden will only give you a 5 years of upgrades for the 2 themes so far plus whatever else Jason, as just one guy, manages to finish during those 5 years.

    Another contrast is StudioPress’ collection of 23 great-looking themes, 13 of which have already been transitioned over to the Genesis Framework, which received an enthusiastic review in Aaron Brazell’s detailed comparative review, a fortnight ago, of the four leading frameworks. Each child theme is only $25 on top of the $50 framework (which you buy only once), and you receive lifetime updates for both the framework and any child themes you buy.

    Alternatively, you can pay $250 for lifetime updates for all current and future StudioPress themes. Most importantly, regardless of whether you buy one theme or a lifetime membership, there are no dumb, unenforceable limits on how many sites you can use the themes on.

    It is Jason’s business, he can charge what he wants and customers are perfectly free not to buy if they think he is charging too much but you, Jeff, as a reviewer, should be looking at it from the consumer’s perspective and not politely ignoring the elephant in the room.

    It also gives unrealistic expectations to all the designers and developers who are following your current series of podcasts on commercial themes and plugins – if they are considering selling their own work and they see that even themes at those crazy prices receive your recommendation, it’s going to give them nutty expectations of how high they can pitch their own prices and, ultimately, that will kill their businesses faster than anything else.

    Whatever Jason is smoking, you shouldn’t be encouraging newbie sellers to take a toke from the same pipe.

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  3. donnacha, in case you haven’t noticed, a 5 year subscription to WooThemes costs over a $1000 ($1400 if you want a developer subscription), so I’m afraid your accusation that “Jason is charging far more than long-established sellers” is false.

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  4. @Alex Mansfield – Yeah, you’re right, both of Woo’s all-theme packages work out a lot more expensive, although I would not agree that what I am saying is “false”. Rather, I should have said that Jason is giving far less value, ridiculously less from a competitive perspective.

    The last thing I want to do is to defend Woo’s pricing – I decided not to buy one of their developer licenses because their prices are set too high and they’ve never run a compelling discount offer such as halving the upfront fee – but it is important to recognise that they do offer something that ThemeGarden cannot. At the level of developer licenses, the market consists primarily of Web designers who want to be able to make one big purchase and receive a large, varied set of themes upon which they can build all their sites. In order to save money and limit the amount of stuff they have to learn, most are going to choose just one company to buy a license from and, 99% of the time, they’re going to opt for the one that offers a broad, varied selection, something that they imagine will allow them to build up a varied portfolio of their own.

    From that perspective, I would argue that Woo’s 65 existing themes, by many different designers, the 2 new themes every month and the new framework, represent a far better investment than Jason’s 2 themes and promise of one more per month. I would also argue that, while Jason does have a striking and slick style, there isn’t enough variation between his themes – unless the potential customer is going to be producing endless sites based around video or photos, they simply won’t be able to build their entire business around a ThemeGarden developer license and, at $500 (or $275 for one year), that is what they will want.

    So, yes, I was wrong in straightforward money terms, I was thinking more of StudioPress’ developer license, but, if you take value into consideration, ThemeGarden is far worse than even Woo.

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  5. @Jason Schuller – Yeah, it’s not like the theme failed to function at all when the plugins were not installed. I just think it would be better to have 0 plugin dependencies and just built the functionality right into the theme.

    @donnacha | WordSkill – You’re right. I typically add in price information to the At A Glance portion but forgot to do it this go around. The post will be edited to show the price.

    As for your stance on his pricing model, I totally disregarded that during my review. Instead, I focused the review on the product. However, upon closer inspection, it’s a mistake that I bypassed it since as you mentioned, there are a few quirks that were worth noting in the review. I suppose I could add on to the review my thoughts on the whole pricing structure.

    As for your point regarding value, there is no doubt that right now, just about every other commercial theme outlet may have better value than what you’ll get with ThemeGarden but it’s a new company and these are the early days of this new venture. As he develops each theme for ThemeGarden, that will increase the value of the subscription.

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  6. @donnacha | WordSkill – Or, a completely alternate route — don’t pay anything at all for themes. There are quality, free themes out there.

    Your comment reads like a big, honkin’ promotional ad for StudioPress. While praising others and arguing price points is all fine and good (I completely agree that the price is steep), let’s try to keep the facts straight and not bend the truth in our favor.

    ThemeGarden customers will only continue to have working themes if they keep buying subscriptions.

    You mean they will only continue getting updates. Let’s clear that up. The themes, from what I can see on the site, will continue to work after your subscription is up.

    The chances of a theme not working with a WP upgrade are pretty slim. I have themes I coded for WP 2.3 that I know still work.

    …which received an enthusiastic review in Aaron Brazell’s detailed comparative review, a fortnight ago, of the four leading frameworks.

    Of four leading “commercial” frameworks, two of which I wouldn’t even consider frameworks.

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  7. @Justin Tadlock

    Or, a completely alternate route — don’t pay anything at all for themes. There are quality, free themes out there.

    Oh, c’mon Justin, it’s more than a little hypocritical for you, whose own theme club charges a subscription for full access to support, to attack others for being commercial. I am not saying that, at $25, you don’t over good value, but you certainly aren’t in a position to attack others simply because you’ve chosen to charge for a different part of the overall package.

    No-one who has ever read any of my comments can accuse me of not supporting free and open over commercial, but we have to recognize that many people are happy to pay certain things for a number of reasons, all of which essentially boil down to the expectation that it will save them, in their own business, time and trouble. Given that a commercial themes market is going to exist, I would much prefer to see it adopt principles that live up to those expectations, rather than simply being a way for scammers to rush in and charge ridiculous amounts for precious little.

    Your comment reads like a big, honkin’ promotional ad for StudioPress

    I do not have any vested interest in StudioPress or any theme business; unlike you, I am not making money from themes. I do, however, respect that fact that Brian has never adopted a ridiculous subscription model and that, when he launched under a new brand, he didn’t use it as an excuse to abandon his old developer license holders, he transferred them over to his new site and has continued to provide support and to evolve his products, all for that same initial license cost. This was actually a smart business move because it created a lot of good will and good word-of-mouth that has probably made him a lot more money in the long-run. My use of StudioPress as an example of how commercial theme should be sold is merely another manifestation, an echo of that good will.

    You mean they will only continue getting updates. Let’s clear that up. The themes, from what I can see on the site, will continue to work after your subscription is up.

    The chances of a theme not working with a WP upgrade are pretty slim. I have themes I coded for WP 2.3 that I know still work.

    Work in the sense of still displaying posts in some form? Sure, possibly. Most people who pay money for a theme do so, however, because they want to create a website that will look impressive and up-to-date. Is a theme that hasn’t been updated since 2007 going to include Gravatars? Is it going to be able to take advantage of the new menu system in 3.1?

    You say that there is only a slim chance that a WP upgrade will break a theme but there is no way that you or anyone can know for sure. If a situation does arise in which a segment of WP users stop upgrading because they want to keep their existing theme but don’t want to pay an ongoing subscription, well, that makes WordPress as a whole less secure, more of a target. Simply as a matter of security, it would be better if commercial theme sellers adopted the approach of selling upgrades as an integral part of the theme cost, undertaking to support that theme for a reasonable lifetime of, say, 3 or 4 years.

    Of four leading “commercial” frameworks, two of which I wouldn’t even consider frameworks.

    Yes, I accept that I made a mistake in leaving out the word “commercial”.

    As for two of the four not being frameworks, however, I think Aaron wrote a good, detailed review and, as such, I am willing to accept his definition of what is and is not a framework. If you disagree with his definition, why not write your own comparative review and contribute to the ongoing discussion instead of bitterly sniping from the sidelines?

    …let’s try to keep the facts straight and not bend the truth in our favor.

    Seriously, you’re being a prick. I am not “bending” the truth, you know exactly what I meant, sorry that I didn’t get a team of lawyers to double-check every word before I pressed Submit, sorry my comment didn’t make it past your pedantic and notably hypocritical sensors. I am bending nothing in my favor; unlike you, I don’t have any skin in this game, there is no “my favor”, my only interest is in not seeing innocent WordPress users get skinned by predatory pricing strategies.

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  8. @Justin Tadlock – You’re accusing ME of twisting words?

    After you suggesting that I was a shill for StudioPress and completely misrepresenting what I wrote, all from a nice high horse while conveniently forgetting to state your own commercialization of WordPress and business interest in putting down your competition?

    By contrast, I did not twist your words, I merely quoted your allegations against me to explain why they were wrong, your original post is right there for anyone to see.

    And, no, to point out that you’re actions were prickish is not a personal attack; I did not say that you are a prick but that, in these actions, you were “being a prick”. Big difference.

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  9. I didn’t post here to start an argument. I’m not sure why you’re trying to argue though. I can only assume that you misread what I wrote or that my original comment wasn’t clear enough.

    I merely offered a few notes to clear up what you wrote, which has now been blown completely out of proportion. Yes, I completely understood what you meant, but not everyone that reads this blog does. This was the entire reasoning behind my first comment.

    At no point did I put down my competition. I consider none of these people competition, but rather friends. You pointed out that there were lower-priced themes. I pointed out that there were themes for an even lower price. In my version of the English language, this does not equal putting down my competition.

    I honestly don’t care if Jason, Brian, Adii, or whoever charges $1000/theme or gives themes away for free. As long as they’re happy doing what they do, wonderful.

    I never suggested you were a shill for StudioPress. I did say it is “all fine and good” to praise others though. How you came to the conclusion of me suggesting that you were a shill is beyond me.

    I only hope that my explanation here better clears up my original comment.

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  10. Ok, sorry if you were offended, I guess it was just a case of crossed wires, apologies in particular for writing that you were being a prick, I didn’t mean to get personal.

    I felt that the statement “Your comment reads like a big, honkin’ promotional ad for StudioPress … let’s try to keep the facts straight and not bend the truth in our favor” suggested, strongly, that I was somehow misrepresenting facts for my own benefit i.e. being a shill. I felt that this was aggressive, that you were starting an argument and that is was important that I defend what I had written.

    My statement about “putting down your competition” was based upon your statement that two of the four products reviewed by Aaron were not frameworks. The creators of those products, your competitors in a commercial sense, could well interpret that as putting them down.

    I understand your concern that, although you, personally, did understand what I was saying, you were concerned that others would not. Yes, I accept that I should have been clearer, more exact in what I said – it was, after all, just a hastily typed blog comment – but sloppy phrasing, leading to misunderstanding among some notional others, is a very different thing from what you originally alleged, that I was deliberately “bending the truth”.

    I agree with you on pricing, people can charge whatever they want, my main criticism of nutty pricing is that it will lead to a car crash situation in which new entrants to the market are charging ridiculous amounts, likely ending up with tiny customer bases with huge expectations and, ultimately, a huge sense that they got screwed. There are plenty of examples of this happening.

    Instead, I would like people to realize just how profitable the WordPress market could be if they work it’s scale intelligently and price at levels that invite in the masses and discourage piracy – Apple’s Appstore could be considered a good example. Ultimately, I want to see free and open themes and plugins continue to flourish, while those who want to turn it into a fulltime job can do so by charging reasonable prices to large numbers of customers rather than nutty prices to just a handful of idiots and large organizations.

    Again, sorry to have ruffled your feathers, I have long respected your work and have been following your blog since you were in Korea. Keep up the good work.

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  11. Ok, I’ve added a new section to the review called Pricing Model which has my thoughts on the model and talks about the subscription plan. At least those reading the review in the future will know about it.

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