My first reaction was that it sounded like a wonderful idea. I still hold this opinion. This is the kind of thing that all parties will benefit from – designers, wp.com and its users. After reading the above mentioned post at Lorelle’s and following the debate (and please keep in mind that nothing is set on stone yet, the idea is still in development), the only thing that seemed a little off to me (from a designer’s standpoint) is the 50/50 split between wp.com and designers. I realize that my opinion on this is a little biased, but I think I’d still have the same opinion if I wasn’t a theme designer. Other than that, I can only hope that this project takes off as soon as possible because it makes a whole lot of sense no matter how you look at it.
There are lots of issues being discussed and people have all sorts of questions, opinions and ideas, so I will just scratch the surface here and talk about what’s been on my mind:
The 50/50 split:
I don’t think the 50/50 split is necessarily outrageous and I’m sure it could be even justified. I also don’t think that this would make designers think twice before submitting a premium theme to the marketplace, because besides the money, there are other benefits to be gained, such as exposure and reputation. But if I had to guess, I would say that many designers would be more comfortable with something around a 60/40 split. I’m just throwing this in to add a designer’s perspective to the discussion, since Matt is apparently looking for feedback. I would like to hear what other theme developers have to say as well as the facts on wp.com side. To quote Lorelle, “Without facts on the ground, who knows if 50-50 is fair or 30-70?” I share the opinion that we need to learn all the facts before passing any judgement.
Will theme designers be allowed to sell their themes elsewhere (like in their own blogs)? Apparently – and hopefully and in theory – yes. Again, I might be biased, but if we’re talking about premium themes, every designer knows how much work goes into developing one of these. If I put that much work into a theme, I would like to be free to market it however I want, including through the wp.com marketplace. OR, I would like to know that having an exclusivity deal with wp.com would compensate the efforts through a better split ratio. Does that make sense? Problem is that “all themes in the marketplace will be available FREE to wordpress.org users“. Well, there goes the designer’s ability to sell the theme elsewhere, which basically turns this into an exclusive deal de facto. So this is what doesn’t make much sense to me right now. Does anyone with further information on this care to shed some light? What if I don’t want my premium theme to be free on wp.org? Does this mean that I can’t sell it through the marketplace?
Maybe I haven’t researched enough yet, but as of now I haven’t read anything about how much these themes will cost, who decides on the price, based on what, whether or not all themes will cost the same and whether or not the price can be adjusted at any given point. There are many variables, but without having given much thought to this, I’d say it could work well if each theme designer was allowed to set their own price and things would self-adjust through the marketplace. The popularity of a theme would result of a combination of 1) the overall quality of the theme and 2) its price. If your theme sucks and you think it’s great, or if your theme is really good but over priced, you’ll be getting feedback from the community as a whole in the form of few or no sales at all. Same thing goes for themes that are really good and fairly priced, they will sell well. I think this is the best way to tell how much a theme is really worth – as opposed wp.com deciding on it, even though they could maybe suggest a price every time a theme is submitted based on their experience and leave it to the designer to go with it or not.
(Edit: Matt says “theme developers will set the price”, and “there will be a pricing floor, probably $10-15.” I’m glad to hear that. This probably means that designers will have control over price changes as well. Right?)
This is an obvious one, who will be responsible for support? At first glance, the most logical approach to this seems to be having each developer/designer support their own theme. However, availability for providing support varies from one designer/developer to another.
An official marketplace theme support forum would make for a good alternative, allowing developers to give support if so they choose, but at the same time also facilitating support through user interaction. Not to mention a forum would keep a record of all issues and solutions, making it easy for people to find answers on the fly as opposed to having to wait for a response from the developer. Giving support on a one-on-one basis is time consuming and most of the time you’re answering the same questions over and over again. I speak from personal experience with Connections. So my vote is for a support forum.
What is considered a premium theme? As far as coding/programming goes, it shouldn’t be hard to come up with guidelines and criteria, but how about design? I like how Matt states it by saying “Beyond the obvious guidelines of browser compatibility and general not-sucking (…)” and I wish “not-sucking” was enough of a description for what we’re trying to define as criteria, but unfortunately there’s likely to be a very wide gray area there. It’s easy to agree on a kick ass theme. On an average one, not so much.
Lorelle writes about “The Price of uniqueness over neatness” and this got me thinking that maybe each designer could offer extra items to go with a theme purchase. Things like a custom designed top image or background, for example, or an alternative stylesheet, as Lorelle suggests. They would not make for a unique theme, but such items could add a personal touch to what would otherwise be “the same theme that a thousand other people are using”. This might be stretching it a little, but it’s an idea. That’s what we’re doing, right? Right now, we’re all brainstorming. And the reason this comes to mind is because I’ve had a fairly high number of requests for this kind of thing with Connections. I think there is a market for it.
Still on the subject of uniqueness, I absolutely love Lorelle’s idea of having an auction/bidding on themes. And this also gets me thinking that one of the possibilities is to allow designers to decide whether they want their themes to be available to every wp.com user willing to pay for it or to a restricted number of users who would pay a yearly fee. Again, just throwing in ideas here.
“Credit and promotion is still there in the theme metadata and dashboard, but on the theme itself there should be no external links.” (this includes linking back to the developer’s blog/website)
I’m not sure how I feel about that. I understand why external links in general need to be avoided, but a link back to the designer’s blog/site shouldn’t be that big of a deal in my opinion – and I’m sure designers would appreciate it. However, I don’t see this as a much of a problem, after all, designers will be paid for theme usage.
What are your thoughts?
Also, be sure to check Matt’s follow-up post on the marketplace.