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Free WordPress Themes? Forget it. It’s Over.

I know I’m being controversial, but that’s kinda the point of this article; to create some discussion!

A couple of weeks ago I launched my second WordPress [theme], [b]. The response has been. Erm. A little flat. Question is why? The answer, I believe is because it’s becoming nigh on impossible for someone who isn’t one of the “big premium theme developers” to release a theme successfully any more. Let me expand.

There was a time when releasing a theme was great. It’d get a good bunch of attention from the whole WordPress community and you’d do well out of it. Then something changed. Everyone thought I could do that! And suddenly WordPress themes came pouring out into the wild. For the average user, it was great – they could just Google “WordPress Themes” and come up with thousands upon thousands of themes to choose from.

After that, something else changed too. Premium themes took off like a rocket (and a large one at that) as theme developers realised hey, I could make a theme… and then instead of giving it away, sell it! With sites such as Themeforest, it was so easy for just anyone to create and sell themes. So anyone did just that. They sold their themes. Some were more successful than others and very quickly certain leaders in the market emerged – for no particular apparent reason – and these leaders struggled to stay ahead, introducing the GPL licence onto their themes and creating affiliate programmes that splattered banners on a ton a blogs. If you want to get ccsp or network+ certification the our security+ training is right solution for you.

These leaders then consolidated themselves and haven’t really looked back since. Well, they did so a couple of times to rasp at the competition. But that was an exception.

But these days you’ll still often find free themes about although these themes will be often used to promote other premium themes. Sites such as, this one releasing free themes in an attempt to contribute to the community – it just doesn’t happen so much any more. For good reason too – the themes just go unnoticed and unloved. Unless they’re released by one of the “big developers” that is. Jeff from WPTavern on the topic:

I have to agree. Over the past two years of being involved in WordPress,  it’s been hard to find themes which come out of nowhere that are free which blow my mind in terms of doing something innovative. Instead, the innovation has been tied to either established commercial theme authors or new commercial theme businesses. I see the same names over and over again when it comes to themes. Perhaps I’m not looking in the right places for the free, inspiring innovation. I do keep an eye on the theme release posts which is the source for new theme releases and unfortunately, most of those themes seem to be on the same level as two years ago in terms of design, functionality, etc.

Taking a look at the big picture, I don’t see anyone routinely reviewing themes that are on the theme repository. Instead, I see sites writing blog posts announcing when one of these commercial theme authors releases a new theme along with affiliate links to that commercial theme business. This makes up a large percentage of the coverage that is presented to theme authors. The only way to change that is for someone who is dedicated to pointing out free, quality themes that don’t have a vested interest in any particular commercial theme business. Good luck finding that.

The future? It’s not looking good. The reason people made free themes was because they wanted to promote their blog. But that promotion just isn’t going to happen any more. So why bother? I believe some themes would do better if they were released as premium themes. And that’s not going to change. Free WordPress themes? Forget it. It’s over.

Yay! 🎉 You made it to the end of the article!
Alex Denning

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May 20, 2010 6:09 am

PS: Your intention was the best I am sure, I’m a regular reader of WPShout – sorry if I sounded a little bit harsh talking about your theme.

Come On Down The Tavern |
April 6, 2010 2:39 pm

[…] launched their own theming careers off creating and learning from free, themes. They’re not dead after all then It was also good to hear Brian, Jason, Cory and Matt all agreeing that they all stood to […]

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December 29, 2009 7:43 pm

[…] Free WordPress Themes Dead? – This post of mine was a response to a post at WPShout entitled Free WordPress Themes? Forget it. It’s Over. Basically, I disagreed that all free WordPress themes were dead, but rather lame, boring themes […]

Peter Huntley
October 27, 2009 11:43 am

On thinking further, I believe that in the last 2-3 years, the number of WordPress users have increased manifold. In this state, if the theme is good, there are likely to be many WordPress sites who will use the theme. Many serious bloggers, including me, wouldn’t like that. However, I think that your theme would do well, as it looks good.

I believe that if the theme is good, it will eventually be used by many bloggers. It needs to be simple and elegant(read: super easy to install and configure) in addition to be being good looking.

Free WordPress (Portfolio/Personal Blog) Theme: Happy Go Try |
October 19, 2009 3:55 pm

[…] recent discussion about the future of free WordPress themes and some criticism of the quality of said free themes, […]

October 13, 2009 7:35 pm
Reply to  Alex Denning

In my opinion people aren’t ignoring free themes. Well, they aren’t ignoring good free themes, and that is the main point. As mentioned in the comments above, the bar has been raised to an extremely high level. So much so, that a person looking for a theme will look for high quality themes and ignore the less than satisfactory ones.

Just look at the response Smashing magazine has with their free themes.

I’m afraid it’s the same in the big wide world. If you want to be noticed then you have to produce exceptional work. Simply shouting “look at me, look at me I can do that too, but not quite as well” no longer cuts it because of the sheer number of people doing that and the superfluous noise they are creating.

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October 7, 2009 11:39 pm

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October 6, 2009 11:12 am

While the sharing of free themes is a wonderful thing, it’s also good to be paid for your work.

Alex Denning Doesn’t Believe in Free WordPress Themes | The Blog Herald
October 4, 2009 11:20 pm

[…] Thord Daniel Hedengren Alex Denning writes about WordPress themes, and the fact that free themes doesn’t get the recognition they deserver: The future? It’s […]

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October 3, 2009 11:30 am

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Are Free WordPress Themes Dead? | Theme Lab
October 1, 2009 12:36 am

[…] Denning over at WPShout brings up an interesting point in his post titled Free WordPress Themes? Forget it. It’s Over. Basically, he argues that free WordPress themes aren’t getting the love and attention they […]

September 30, 2009 6:54 pm

I agree, to a point. Let me ask you this: What was special about your theme?

To be clear, I haven’t looked at it, so I’m not criticising, but most free themes have always been garbage. A significant number of so-called premium themes are also garbage. In fact most of the themes on the repository are not even worth the time downloading them let along trying them.

Theme design has also moved on a great deal. A theme really needs to be a mini CMS in its own right to be worth talking about now. That takes a lot of time and effort and honestly few people manage to make something that really lives up to the market, or even comes close. I agree that without some promotional activity, and maybe someone in the spotlight like Jeff taking an interest, it is hard to get noticed, but if you are worth notice and make some noise I really do believe you can get there. Even now.

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