WordPress.com Suspends Theme Submissions from New Sellers

In March 2014, WordPress.com opened its marketplace to new theme authors. Prior to that time, new sellers were added via invitation only. A year ago there were only 300 themes available to WordPress.com users, but after having the marketplace open to new authors that count is up to 345.

Recently the submission form disappeared from the site with a message that WordPress.com would be keeping it temporarily closed in order to add new features that make the process easier.

new-themes-wordpresscom

Array founder Mike McAlister recently published an article that detailed his experience selling on the WordPress.com marketplace. One of the main drawbacks was the lack of efficiency in handling the queue for new theme submissions.

The review process on WordPress.com is long. I’m not talking about weeks long, I’m talking about months long. Each Array theme review has taken at least a month, usually longer. Our latest theme for WP.com, Camera, took four months from the day I submitted it to the day it was released.

In addition to painfully long queues, theme authors have also been disappointed with WordPress.com’s recent lack of promotion for commercial themes. These factors contributed to McAlister’s decision to focus on promoting his products through more efficient distribution channels and return to Themeforest.

In April, WordPress.com theme author Sami Keijonen posted about his recent difficulties with the marketplace after noticing that WordPress.com removed the submission form for new authors. He summarized some of the sources of confusion for commercial theme authors:

  • WordPress.com basically stopped marketing commercial themes. (However, they do tweet about new themes.)
  • We have a private blog for themers but other than that, there isn’t any conversation between developers or WordPress.com staff. They did send a enquiry a while ago so that might help.
  • The review process takes months for commercial themes.
  • They seem to want really simple themes with simple design decisions. That’s fine by me but isn’t that kind of “forcing” the end user to like certain types of themes if they don’t have any options?
  • I would have wanted more accessibility-ready themes in WordPress.com like mine, but it seems that isn’t priority.

I contacted Automattic to find out why the submission form has been removed and when authors can expect for it to be re-opened. The company’s official statement indicates that opening up the marketplace was a temporary experiment and that there is no ETA for relaunching it.

It’s important to note that current WordPress.com sellers can submit new themes for possible launch. We’re not closed for new theme submission. We experimented with a public form for themes from new shops last year, and we had a ton of great submissions from theme shops around the world. We took it down last fall while we worked on getting ahead of all the new theme reviews that it created. We’ll put it up again but we don’t have an exact date in mind. We do still reach out to new shops with great themes. We’re always excited to find awesome theme shops.

The company’s statement regarding the change in marketing clarifies that it is looking for new strategies to promote commercial themes.

We may not do blog posts any more, but we haven’t stopped marketing premium themes. They’re featured prominently on wordpress.com/themes and as part of our Business Plan. Plus, we’re exploring more ways to put premium themes in front of users.

In the future, premium theme shops can expect better feedback around the themes they submit, quicker launches, and more communication in general from the WordPress.com Theme Team. We’re excited about what we can continue to do for the world of themes with our sellers’ help.

Automattic has no set time frame for launching these improvements, but it should be reassuring for commercial theme authors to know that the company is tackling the inefficiency that was bogging down the system. For the time being, new commercial theme authors looking to submit products to the marketplace are out of luck, but Automattic may decide to open it up again to continue the experiment in the future.

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10 Comments


  1. It was bad timing for me. I sold my previous theme site so I can focus on .com themes. Only to find out a month later they suspended submissions. I later realized that it appears they have no intention of reopening it, but if they do, it’s a long way off. I believe it’s been closed for 6 months now.

    As I mentioned, it was bad timing because this happened right after I sold my successful theme site for the chance to do some blogging and to design themes for wordpress.com. It turned out it was a bad move. Now I’ve had to start a new theme site from scratch (including starting with no themes) and then go back to wordpress.org and rebuild what I once had. Unfortunately this takes a long time. So far I’ve got 2 premium and free themes (a 3rd on the way).

    Hearing stories like Sarah’s post here, and also the one about Mike McAlister and now Sami Keijonen, make wordpress.com very discouraging.

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      1. Thanks…I’m sure I will climb up once again; takes time though. Still, it’s interesting to discover and see what others are experiencing as well with WP. I’m seeing theme authors escape .com and move to Theme Forest, and even seen some theme authors leave wordpress.org as well. It’s an ever-changing industry, some good, some bad. Anyway, hopefully things work out for you too.

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  2. I’ve been waiting since November of last year with a theme that has been done and ready in review. I submitted an initial application and got a “great, send your theme” only to have the doors closed on me 2 weeks prior to completing my theme.

    I keep talking to the .com team every few months asking if I could submit my theme, but there it still sits.

    http://brackets.rdx.io

    Months of work and a wasted theme. It’s sad really. This is why Theme Forest is making millions and WordPress is letting other markets take their potential income. It’s a rather bad business decision I believe.

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  3. I really feel with those theme authors/ shops! It must be hard to deal with month of hard word, just “wasted”. One cannot understand this lack of communication and transparency from Automattic to the theme authors/ submitters. It really seems strange. Even if they don’t want public announcements – which would feel totally ok for me – but just inform the authors individually just to tell them what’s really going on.

    After all, the company IS Automattic, which have “communication skills” as one of their essential values for their workers!!!

    In the last weeks I, together with a lot of other people in the WordPress community, am re-thinking my “beliefs” about marketplaces like ThemeForest. And Dovy seems totally right: WordPress.com/ WordPress.org and Automattic leave money on the table because of all that.

    If they don’t want to step up in that theme business anymore or just “right now” — all would understand. Just a little communication sometimes or a little transparency???

    More and more theme authors who are “doing it right” (great code, ya know :) ) are going back to ThemeForest for serious reasons.

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  4. I sometimes look at these decisions being, and often not being made, by Matt and his team, with incredulity.

    Another such case, is the lamentable lack of resource in the plugin repository which was left to fester for years and now is a monumental task to do anything useful with, consumer-oriented or marketing-wise.

    At the grand old age of 67 with an International career in software sales & marketing behind me, its easy for me to ask myself “what would I do?” but then it becomes obvious what’s happening here.

    Often, although I don’t know the resources available, I do know how to solve a problem, but I think back and the cause of the problem often lies in the question ~ “Would I have I known what to do when I was their age?” And the answer, more often than I care to think about, is ~ “probably not”.

    So, dear Matt, here’s my advice ~ whether you want it or not ;-)

    If you want WordPress to survive and prosper in the next few years, this is what you have to do, without waiver. And without listening to me or anyone else, for that matter, who would divert you from this path ~

    1) Define very clearly, and in detail, what you want WordPress to become and where YOU want to take it ~ in other words, what is your end-goal? What do you want WordPress to be when you are finally ready to say, “…nah, I had enough. Somebody else’s turn now”?.

    2) Now, with that picture firmly in your conscious thought, go there in your mind’s eye. Really go there in your head and look all around and imagine what the technical landscape looks like, and the WordPress ecosystem, the key players and other stakeholders.

    3) Finally, look back from that vantage point, and see all the steps you need to take to reach where you and WordPress have arrived, there in the future. What did you need to do to get WordPress there? Where did you concentrate your resources? What were all the steps along the way? Then write it down and share it with the key players and stakeholders, not just those on your need-to-know list.

    I do know that every great achievement starts out with a vision. But those that make that vision a reality, communicate the vision clearer, and then deliver on that vision better and more completely.

    But I don’t have a clue what that vision is for WordPress and I have no idea whether WordPress.com theme authors are part of it or not.

    Perhaps Matt, as part of step-1, you might drop in and tells me?

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    1. Terence,

      The first fork-in-the-road that Matt has to decide upon is whether-or-not the goal of WordPress is to either:

      1. Help create an Ideal Utopian World (that I think he sometimes learns towards, but historically is very dangerous, and always ends up with censorship and thought control), OR

      2. Sustain the creation of Content Management/Publishing Software that can be used by any Human Individual as he/she sees fit regardless of the content (think Political Correctness screening in Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google’s caving in to the Communist Chinese Government’s continual mandate of search censorship).

      IF Matt’s main goal is ONLY to acquire a larger, global, statistical user base; then at some point in the future Automattic will come under extreme corporate, social, and political pressures to accept censorship to stay in business (already I’ve seen requests for this within the WordPress.org forums from individuals who’s “Feelings” have been hurt by another user). Leave this business to WordPress dot com.

      For WordPress dot org, how about Matt searching for supporters who will help fund the launch of a WordPress multi-million dollar satellite/server platform designed ONLY for WordPress dot org users, that cannot be controlled by anyone other than the end user, once set up. I’m being somewhat facetious, but you get the drift.

      Main Decision for Matt: will the continued development of WordPress management and software support Actual Individual Freedom, or Not? What’s the goal, and how will it be implemented?

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  5. Matt Mullenweg’s heart is in the right place, and his spirit is the kind we want leading us from misstep to pothole.

    WordPress’ blind-alleys are routinely committed by individuals entrusted with (would-be) hefty project-implementations and (erstwhile) strategic experiments. In the recurring aftermath the staff roster shows the offenders mostly stay in place.

    You just can’t teach kids about matches any better, than by letting them burn down the house. Long-term, Matt and Org and Com have some phenomenally matured team players.

    Remember WP_v3.7? The 10th Anniversary Special Release? Centerpiece of a summer-long celebration? Yeah … ssssssPLAT. What happened (er, didn’t) is forensically identifiable, and they still have matches in their pocket.

    Themes, especially, have slam-banged off both guard-rails pretty much non-stop since their introduction. There is nothing new in the current ambiguity of theme-management/policy.

    Matt clearly knows that we can’t know very well where we are going, or not going. Not long ago he tipped his hand, mentioning that not chasing Mobile earlier was his big regret/lapse. He (thought he) was going somewhere else, and Mobile was not the “X” on his map. Wrong.

    Even if Mr. Mullenweg ends up with a product that I don’t want, that doesn’t aid & abet an outcome or world-view I want to be part of, he’s still responding – properly/optimally – to opportunities and limitations as fast as they become discernible. We all know that you can’t please everyone – though we always think that will be someone else.

    It’s just that WP is white-knuckling it down the freeway at 80 clicks, in a pea-soup fog … and really has no choice or option.

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  6. I have had a bitter experience with .com as well. It looks like .com is only focusing on creating their own themes and promoting them. They only accept what they think is good (probably only the first person looking at the theme decides). They release a very similar theme but with bad UI on their own but reject what is better. Every theme I submitted got rejected whereas I have had experience of selling a lot of the theme on .org and many people like it and made hundreds of thousands in revenue. It was frustrating and my theme shop have decided not to submit to .com anymore. Lot of time wasted to get their sorry ass rejection.

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