Justin Tadlock, creator of Theme Hybrid, announced today that the seven year old theme club is experimenting with a radical change in club pricing. Club membership is now free for anyone who wants to sign up. Although Theme Hybrid’s plugins and themes have always been free, standard club membership (which includes access to the support forums), was previously $25/year.
In a post titled “Steering the Ship Back Home,” Tadlock explains his original purpose for the club. Theme Hybrid entered the WordPress theme market with free, open source products back in the day when very few commercial theme sellers were fully adopting the GPL.
“When I first laid the groundwork for Theme Hybrid, or Project M as it was originally called, seven awesome years ago, the idea was to face off against ‘premium’ theme authors,” he said. “I wanted to provide a free alternative to the marketplace and show that it could work.”
Tadlock described how, overall, the Theme Hybrid experience has been positive, but during the past year he faced creative blocks, burnout, and a lack of focus. As part of regaining motivation, he decided to refocus Theme Hybrid back to its radical roots.
“I always knew I wanted to provide awesome free/$free WordPress themes and plugins,” he said. “However, $free doesn’t exactly put food on the table. While seven years has been a good run, I don’t think I ever found the right balance between philosophy and practical concerns.”
As part of a fresh start, Tadlock is opening up his club membership in an effort to expand the community that has kept the site going over the years. In addition to the free memberships, which provide access to the forums, he is also slashing prices on the tiered memberships.
“Today, I have at least a couple of months of wiggle room to try something new while figuring out the direction I want to take the business aspect of this site,” Tadlock said.
Theme Hybrid’s radical shift in club pricing is another example of WordPress businesses giving away more for free, whether it be commercial products on GitHub, a suite of e-commerce themes, or live training events.
Theme Hybrid has always erred on the side of providing free products and tutorials for the community, as opposed to locking them up. Will giving away more for free translate into a higher number of people willing to pay for support? This question is at the core of the freemium business model, the boundaries of which Tadlock has been willing to push for the past seven years.
“While trying new things is certainly frightening, I’m excited about some of the prospects,” he said.