"As long as themes are selling, why make them free?"

The Revolution Theme will begin to transcend the blogging platform it was originally designed for, and Brian as a designer will gain greater visibility in a market he has yet to tap.

In a post on wordpress wank, one of the only blogs by a WordPress user who actually thinks and blogs critically about the service they love, an interesting thread has begun following the announcement that the popular Revolution WordPress theme would go open source. In that discussion Nathan Rice asks:

As long as themes are selling, why make them free?

The answer to this question is easy in my mind: distribution. The real question people should be asking themselves is this: can selling themes be a profit center for a designer. Meaning, if all they did was sell themes, could they support a family. The answer is almost certainly: no. (But I invite anyone to tell me differently because I would sincerely like to know).

Why is this?

First, the blogging market is already relatively commoditized forcing most customers to be pretty price sensitive since bloggers have grown accustomed to get everything for free. That means that a designer cannot sell a theme for more than $150 or so because their customer base feels that anything higher would be too much.

Second, if the max I could sell a theme for is $150 per theme let's say, how many do I have to sell in order to make a living doing so? Too many. So many in fact, that I have exceeded the number of people willing to pay anything at all in the first place. Designer, meet ceiling.

So as a designer, what good is it for me to sell themes at all?

Simple: selling themes is a relatively low cost way to establish a recurring revenue stream for your business. Even if it never becomes a profit center, at least you can count on making a couple hundred bucks or more a month.

Ok, then, so if it makes me any money at all, then why make it free?

Perhaps never, but by selling a product you establish some obligation with the customer to support the product you are selling, and it is quite possible based upon the popularity of your theme, that the cost to the designer to provide support begins to eat away at the revenue they are making selling it. That could have happened to Brian.

But perhaps Brian saw his gross revenues decline. It would be reasonable for him to attribute that trend to one of two things:

  1. the market is not growing - everyone who has a theme has already purchased one and the market is saturated.

  2. increased competition - more and more people are trying to sell to the same market and you are losing customers to competition.

It is safe to say that #1 is definitely not true as the number of blogs created every day is astounding. That leaves us with option #2: increased competition.

So how do you compete more effectively in an increasingly competitive market?

You make your designs ubiquitous, and by so doing you make your brand ubiquitous. You use your design to service every designer's real revenue base: the services they provide.

And that is precisely what Brian has done. He is going to compete better than everyone else because more people will go to him to get started with a good looking design because the design is free. Then, when the user needs to take their design to the next level, who are they most likely going to go to for help?

Brian.

Only time will tell if Brian's decision was a good one for his business, but I suspect that it will be. I for one am ecstatic about his GPL'ing Revolution and you can bet that as soon as it is released, you will find a version available for Movable Type soon after, which is what I think will be his greatest win: the Revolution Theme will begin to transcend the blogging platform it was originally designed for, and Brian as a designer will gain greater visibility in a market he has yet to tap. He may choose not to support Movable Type users, that is a distinct possibility, but his brand will be known among its users - and that is always good for business.

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9 Comments

I invite anyone to tell me differently because I would sincerely like to know

Not necessarily. But it could happen. And even if it doesn't, you can still make some extra spending cash.

I still stand by my statement. No one will follow his lead unless his decision has an adverse effect on their bottom line. My prediction is that it will not, therefore not many people will follow his lead.

Thoughtful post, though. I enjoyed it.

Great post, and lots of food for thought. My theory about the premium theme market is that the amount of people who were purchasing premium themes grew, so the market in general was increasing. There wasn’t a reduction in % split in the market for premium designers, it probably stayed the same, just more people buying them.

In regards to my decision, I did not do it so that others will follow - if they do, it's a result of their own decision based on a set of circumstances that I have no control over.

I don't need to go into details in regards to my revenue (nice baiting by the way) but what I will say is that my decision had NOTHING to do with sales, or lack thereof as you mention. It has EVERYTHING to do with alignment with WordPress and making longterm plans for my business.

To be honest, part of me really hopes that the premium theme designers continue their business model. I feel very confident that our decision will pay off, and if they can continue making money running business without changing, then we all win.

I have thought about this one. And the time for me to create a new theme for money making purpose's would be long and pointless. There are far more free premium themes out there.

If I was so inclined to make money of my web design's I would simply help someone with no knowledge of blogging platform and charge per session and installation..

I just spent like 40 minutes reading the various posts out there about people and there "unethical" price and/or charging for themes.

But will see how that market fare's in this economy..

In regards to my decision, I did not do it so that others will follow - if they do, it's a result of their own decision based on a set of circumstances that I have no control over.

Very good point, Brian.

To be honest, part of me really hopes that the premium theme designers continue their business model.

...and that's exactly what makes you a great human being, bro. Good luck with the project. You know I wish you the best!

Like the rest of the folks who chimed in, enjoyed the post and your thoughts on Brians model. This makes me really want to get a roundtable of premium theme authors together to discuss what this all means. If what Byrne writes comes true, it has nothing but benefits written all over it for Brian.

By the way, this is a spiffy looking MovableType blog that I thought was a nice looking WordPress site. /me slaps head.

You see now, that hurts. WordPress does not have the market cornered on design -- but I suppose I should thank you for noticing! :)

We are working hard to improve Movable Type in this regard with the release of Sandbox for MT, the Mid-Century theme, this (the Professional web site theme), and still more to come. Like might I add: Revolution. I can't wait to port Revolution to MT!!

My hope too is that designers will be begin to look under the hood of MT powered sites a bit more. I think they will find MT a lot easier to work with than it has been in the past - and that it is relatively easy to build amazing and beautiful sites with it!

As an affiliate seller of a number of WordPress themes, I think it would be entirely possible to make a living off premium WordPress themes.

I'm only a relatively small site in this marketplace but even with the sales made from my site alone it's clear some designers such as Brian have been making a good amount of money from their themes.

Really cool post, I'm pretty new when it comes to...well the internet, haha, but as an artist, web design and designing CMS themes is already a passion, so when I think of Internet Marketing - I think of selling themes. Warrior Forum was a big I opener as I saw Specials Offer on Wordress Themes, all of these Special offers where gone in a few hours, thats about 100 themes selling at $20 a pop - My point is I was shocked because these themes where blank "saleletter" themes, blank no style no fancy CSS, no modules. So I hit a google search and realised that the plain themes, especially minisites and CMS themes is a pretty profitable niche. Anyways just wanted to share my "newbie" experience.

Thanks. some great infomation here keep up the good work . I cannot really leave a more constructive comment as i'm abit out of my depth, but i will be checking back here for further updates.

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  • Thanks. some great infomation here keep up the good work . I cannot really leave a more constructive comment as i'm abit out of my depth, but i will be checking back here for further updates. ...

  • Really cool post, I'm pretty new when it comes to...well the internet, haha, but as an artist, web design and designing CMS themes is already a passion, so when I think of Internet Marketing - I think of selling themes. ...

  • As an affiliate seller of a number of WordPress themes, I think it would be entirely possible to make a living off premium WordPress themes. I'm only a relatively small site in this marketplace but even with the sales m...

  • You see now, that hurts. WordPress does not have the market cornered on design -- but I suppose I should thank you for noticing! :) We are working hard to improve Movable Type in this regard with the release of Sandbox ...

  • Like the rest of the folks who chimed in, enjoyed the post and your thoughts on Brians model. This makes me really want to get a roundtable of premium theme authors together to discuss what this all means. If what Byrne ...

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