25 Comments

  1. Mike Schinkel

    I’ve got to echo the sentiment of Joost de Valk. The theme directory — and the plugin directory — should recognize the reality that developing quality themes and plugins takes financial investment, that there are upsells, and thus provide a mechanism for upsells to standardize the process.

    Standardizing would allow classifying and quantify the types of things being sold (3 theme templates, 7 blocks, etc.) and it would allow the directories to provide searches that could limit themes to only those that are “fully free”, only those that “cost < $xxx” and so on.

    Allowing users to filter for “fully free” themes encourage more people to publish fully free themes because they would be more discoverable.

    It would also give Automattic a revenue stream because they could offer the payment mechanism and take 10% or less of the cost of the theme or plugin.

    It would create a much better user-experience for those users who do choose to upgrade.

    It would make it easier for vendors to monetize, and it could also allow WordPress.org to limit ratings of paid products with paid support to those who have actually paid for support.

    It would solve a myriad of problems that the strict “only free” mentality has created.

    #jmtcw

    BTW, I don’t sell themes or plugins so I have no dog in this hunt other than as a user.

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    • Andreas Nurbo

      The issue with Automattic handling the marketplace payments etc is that they get all the data on what sells and not and if they see something gets a lot of sales they will just add it to their JetPack offering. This is how Amazon works and I do not expect Automattic would act any differently.

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  2. Rodrigo

    For theme authors to join the FSE bandwagon, I think it is necessary to have a clear statement of what kinds of features the Site Editor will provide exactly. What degree of flexibility it will have.

    For example: will it be possible to style a complete website with it, considering grids, responsive design, custom icons, animations and so on? Or should I need an additional block plugin, with tons of custom controls to do this?

    I saw some hints here and there in Github issues, but at the moment there is no clear picture.

    See, if we need to rely on three or four plugins to create a custom theme, it’s better to keep using just one page builder plug-n, isn’t it?

    Without the flexibility to deliver the type of layout that a page builder can, what’s the point?

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  3. Louis

    In all honesty, once I get past the idea of around the years around 2500 being past tense, the entire outdated (and vastly only ideological at this point) idea that plugins and themes hosted on .org are “free” is laughable.

    I wish WordPress.org would take a more honest approach to the Themes and Plugins directories. The big decision makers in the WordPress world are rapidly attempting to take over many of the popular plugins in order to force people to use their products over what else is available on the market. Essentially insuring there won’t be a lot of competition.

    I don’t know why they aren’t doing the same with regard to commercial market places. After all, there are only a few little decisionsleft before WP.org will be hosting plugin author sales pages right on the descriptions tab. The only thing really missing is payment integration which some plugin authors directly link to from their description pages.

    I say, “Jump in there and be more honest with what you are doing.” They aren’t promoting “creativity” in either repository. They are promoting a lot of garbage that really needs the Pro versions to be an asset to a website.

    Not all, but a very large portion of Plugins aren’t much use if you don’t have the “upsell”. Let’s just put the old idea to sleep and open up the WordPress.org marketplace. Make it official.

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    • David Anderson

      If a plugin is just garbage, a placeholder trying to persuade people to buy something different, then there’s a review system so that the people misled by it can say so. Unless you have a decent free offering, you’ll hurt your own attempts to sell something else.

      Making wordpress.org a place that takes payments is a terrible idea. There might be something of the Wild West about .org, but concreting it over and replacing it with an official corporate monopoly would be much worse. And I doubt over-stretched people at .org want to get into all the consequences of becoming a co-vendor.

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  4. David Anderson

    “In comparison to Themeforest, the WordPress.org directory is lacking. Themeforest is inviting to users because it provides the backend tools for theme authors to market their themes. They can ….”

    This is not just an issue in the theme directory. The tools available at wordpress.org to plugin developers and plugin support teams have also seen only the most minor evolution in the last decade. The result is that both developers and users spend a lot more time working to deal with the tools’ limitations.

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    • Jay C. Mailen

      I don’t know that I fully agree with you David. I’m a developer and always found the documentation to be top notch, for the most part. The react and block documentation is… well, it’s getting there. But generally I find it among the best.

      I guess my view on the entire subject is a bit different from most. I’ve never been a fan of “Themes” because far too often they try and cross into PlugIn territory. For example, a “Theme” for Real Estate seems silly to me. That’s PlugIn territory because it implies functionality, not design. Change the theme and you lose functionality and that’s ridiculous.

      So to me, the whole evolution of commercial theme companies was never a good model. Right now we’re seeing the very concept of themes as we know them disappearing and I think long term it’s a good thing.

      I build and sell commercial PlugIns and at one point we sold themes. Honestly, they were among our best sellers because people want complete solutions. We killed our themes a couple years ago and it killed our general sales, but that also allowed us to focus on our core VIP customers. This in turn helped finance the next set of versions for our suite of PlugIns.

      So I get it, there’s some good easy money in Themes and they draw in customers, especially the low hanging fruit. It’s not easy moving away from that model and it’s a costly transition. Most top notch Theme companies already know this, it’s why companies like Woo Themes focused on acquiring, building or in Woo’s case forking, a PlugIn to become their flagship product.

      As for the WordPress.org directory, there’s a rating and review system which does a pretty fine job of letting people know what’s good and what’s not. It’s not perfect, but I personally find it effective as it is and think the “Theme” directory will whither while “Blocks” will begin to take it’s place.

      Things are bound to be a bit of a clustered up mess during this time of transition, but I’ve been working on the internet since before there was a web and this is just part of the life. It’s constant change and there’s always a clustered up mess. It’s fun, keeps things exciting ;-)

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  5. Fränk Klein

    Everybody wants a theme marketplace on WordPress.org, but nobody wants to run it.

    Matt has been critical of the theme review guidelines for years. Yet in all that time he did nothing to change WordPress in a way that could cut down on these guidelines.

    WordPress doesn’t have a templating layer that would make it trivial to escape data on output.

    Even worse a theme can do pretty much anything that a plugin does. A theme is just a set of PHP files, with no limits of what code they can contain.

    WordPress has lacked Core-provided theme customization options for years. So each theme developer came up with their own. All this code needs to be checked for security, which is difficult as no automated tooling (WPCS) is used.

    Now FSE will help with that. It’s a step in the right direction, and it could be a solution for many of these technical
    issues. But it doesn’t help with a larger issue that prevents experimentation.

    After years themes still cannot opt out of features. Comments being an example. WordPress is still as monolithic as it was when it was first forked off B2.

    Even if that were fixed, the interface of the directory still needs to be adapted so that users can find what they need. As in if I as a user need comments, I should only see themes that support them.

    And this is not to mention the lack of developer tools. It’s easy to blame guidelines for the lack of themes. And not the whole setup, which is entirely in Matt’s control. Uploading a ZIP? In 2021?

    This ongoing discussion about guidelines hides the fact that no good designer wants to jump through all these hoops to get his theme “out there”.

    This is not 2007, and theme creators are no longer hobbyists working on our weekend side projects. Design, development, support, marketing–if you want to make money with themes you need to
    master all of these. Nobody will do that if they aren’t getting rewarded for their knowledge and their work.

    So if there are lots of well designed themes on other marketplaces, and not on .org, it’s really not the fault of guidelines. By the way ThemeForest’s guidelines are even stricter, both for technical aspects, and for design.

    And it’s not like the plugin repository is this astounding model of success. It has had its fair share of issues and continues to do so, for some of the same reasons.

    Long story short: if the WordPress project lead wants a reposiory full of high quality themes, then he has the power and the financial resources to make it so. I mean who else is going to get this done? A handful of unpaid volunteers with little to no authority?

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  6. Bastian

    Matt says that “The .org theme directory is particularly bad”. My question is, if he thinks it’s so bad (which it truly is, by the way), why not use Automattic devs and money to improve it like they do with Gutenberg?

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  7. Aliv Faizal Muhammad

    I think, there will be no other themes, just one: plain, stable, and secure theme from wordpress.

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  8. Gerald

    It,s truly sad but things are changing but unfortunately, not all for the better, you could start a blog before and run it on free themes that had unlimited features, not days, it’s just impossible

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  9. Dumitru Brinzan

    I have to agree with you that the themes on WordPress.org are the face of WordPress. Which makes it even more absurd the fact that in the back-end, when you open the Themes page, we still get those louzy tabs with “Featured / Popular / Latest”.
    The featured tab is first, and it’s just a random list of (often terrible) themes.
    At least rename it to “Random”, so that new WordPress users don’t think that this random collection of themes are somehow the best of what WP has to offer.

    As for some of the most popular multipurpose themes: the keyword is affiliate marketing. If these themes have good marketing skills and a great sales funnel, content creators will promote them.
    Why promote a niche shop with a 0.5% conversion rate when you can promote someone with a 2% conversion rate and a higher commission rate?
    And once marketers get on with it, the smaller guys are screwed.

    Just a sad reality of doing business.

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  10. Juergen Klein

    One major problem I see with all recent “upselling” trend on WordPress is the price structure, particularly the trend towards yearly subscriptions.

    Whilst I recognise the economic reasoning from authors the current prices exacerbate an economic divide! Yes, I understand that if you live in California or central Europe you need a minimum income as a WordPress developer. But current pricing trends have moved WordPress out of reach for poorer people.

    Prices that average US$50 (or more) per item might be fine for users from wealthy countries, but they make it near impossible for a low budget start-up from a poorer nation to set up any successful website with WordPress.

    Usually it’s not one premium product one needs to set up a site, but a whole basket of these: premium theme, several premium plugins (from contact form to features missing in the theme to possible image optimisation, etc.), premium caching, and more. That’s all before the annual hosting bill!

    So starting a WordPress site might require an upfront and repeated annual investment of easily US$3-400/year = which equals the minimum monthly income in many countries, even in Eastern Europe.

    So the premium add-ons move the so-called free WordPress out of reach for too many!

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    • Corey Burger

      The annual subscription stuff is brutal. I took over admining a page with an older (2013 era) theme. In order to get updates, I’d have to buy their annual subscription, so am running an ancient, possibly vulnerable version.

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  11. Rajeev Lochan

    I agree with the previous comments that it is not the right way how wordpress.org hosted themes & Plugins being sold and pricing structure for each product is really a big deal for Asian Countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Many More..
    I think it may lead to many users moving to other CMS provided they are equally competent.

    It is all because of your past doings – How Themes like Astra, plugins like – Yoast, Elementor , Beaver Builder being allowed and favoured to use ur platform for their benefit. Have u seen their charges.

    Now i see themes and plugins are only released for one purpose- How to start their selling for elementry features. There is no creativity. Theme authors like Alxmedia or suffusion author being ignored by the community- why . Those were really creative ones.

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  12. Family History Foundation

    FREE vs. PAID Themes has been a source of consternation for me for many years! While I don’t mind paying for a theme that works and has great SEO, I detest the annual charges that many of these themes are after, offering you the world yet hardly giving you a ROI.

    The infamous WordPress themes marketplace has sent me into orbit on so many occasions because it seems bogged down by a select few who for no logical reason occupy the top spot, like a crusty layer of mold on top of your biscuit that you would like to bite into.

    Having said that, the irony is in the power of choice. The more themes you have, the more options you have; while at the same time, the more themes you have the less time and motivation you have to explore them all.

    This hurts (puts restrictions on) the small blogger like me who runs a blog for fun and a bit of extra income. I love what I do and I think it is a bit unfair to castigate people trying to make money on the internet by developing a theme for profit; I happen to think it’s unrealistic to solely have WordPress powered by 100% FREE themes as economics will devolve the industry. Just my 2p.

    I love that this article explores “crippleware” in the way that it does because it truly represents the hardships and challenges of bloggers like myself who are on the front end of much of this idiocy. When I find a great theme, I am overjoyed and in love! However, it’s like anything else in life: nothing worth its salt is not worth it without a bit of struggle, and the whole WordPress game is no different.

    There are great themes out there, I think we all are looking for a better system of matching them to our specific needs.

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    • Juergen Klein

      …which would begin with a much better “Feature Search” functionality in the theme and plugin depository! Right now the search categories are way to vague and don’t include all desired options.

      For example, I only want a theme that includes the excerpts() function and a sticky menu. Whilst with some these might be listed there’s no comprehensive search option, like a long list of features with (let’s say) 3 radio buttons to select: required, maybe (would use), not wanted feature.

      If you don’t know the name of a good theme you have a slim chance to find it. The same applies for plugins, where a few big ones dominate the search results. I tend to use a lot of lesser popular choices. Take the contact form (why isn’t a basic contact form part of the WP core?): Contact Form 7 always comes up – despite it being a real problem with load speed. I use Caldera Forms because it does what I need.

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  13. The Brutal Truth

    WordPress.org needs a modern, simple, minimalist and easy app-store like system like the Apple App Store, Microsoft Store or Google Play Store. It should handle the payments there as well. Otherwise we’ll just continue to use ThemeForest.

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  14. Angshuman

    Free WP users like me donot much care about themes if there be ‘feature’ blocks that could be added to any blank page to provide theme like functionalities to the site. That way wp can do away with themes altogether. There are too many good themes as per users choice & not so good ones, but anyway, they do not much matter if I can develop a site up from a blank page & a few plugins.

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    • Corey Burger

      In some ways, plugins and the complicated themes offer the same thing – features, styled in a certain way. Wonder if there is a good UI for combining the two nicely

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  15. David Roberts

    I’m a new user, switching from SiteBuilder which will no longer be supported after March, 2021. Loved it! Achived everything I wanted as a woodturner sellining his goods and educating the public for 20 yrs.

    WordPress has more issues when it comes to building an equivalent site than I can count. Themes are restrictive unless you spend a bundle on an upsell and even then your looking at custom work.

    Sorry to say it. But I’m done. Sites down, accounts clossed.

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  16. Dmitry Dinev

    This is one of the reasons why I am against removing the Featured tab from the wordpress.org theme directory.

    The question of who defines a theme in Featured is a technical question. This can be done by the theme review team and automatic based on activation stat and downloads number, for example.

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  17. Eric Karkovack

    ” I have always said it, the themes available on WordPress.org are the face of WordPress.”

    I fully agree with this. For a lot of folks who are just starting out with WordPress, a free theme makes sense. And trying to set one up may account for one of their first experiences using the software. If it’s a bad one, they may not come back.

    To me, having a way for users to easily find, compare and test out free themes is a key part of the onboarding experience.

    Right now, the theme repository feels like an afterthought. And it’s understandable, knowing the other things that have been in development. Certainly not the fault of the Themes Team – their hands have been tied.

    But you still can’t upload block-based themes? How are people supposed to get the full Gutenberg experience without themes aimed at its use? This is lacking in the commercial market as well. Maybe finally allowing this on .org will give the repository an edge.

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