Philip Arthur Moore wrote a great article about how theme developers are “ruining WordPress” by selling broken or hard-to-use themes resulting in users moving away from WordPress because they think the problem is the CMS rather than the piece of crap theme they just purchased. It was a post that discusses some of the issues with building a theme just to sell it, rather than researching the needs of website owners and building comprehensive, end-to-end solutions.
Chris Lema then followed up with a fantastic post about theme pricing and the conditions of the WordPress theme market that dictate profitability and sustainability for theme sellers. I’ll give you the tl;dr:
People that make little money eventually change careers and selling WordPress themes isn’t going to pay well if you’re not aligning a product with a specific market need.
OK, fine, so that’s not exactly what Chris said. However, the point I’m trying to make is this: stop building themes and selling them just because you can. The world doesn’t need another WordPress theme. We have plenty. Thanks, but no thanks.
Creating to Solve vs. Creating to Sell
What we do need is an answer to problems that saves people time, delights them, or helps make them more money. If that answer results in the making of a WordPress theme, then so be it.
There’s a really great analogy I like to use when talking about building WordPress themes: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The problem occurs when you start out thinking, “I want to make themes for WordPress” rather than “I want to make it easier for [certain type of person] to do [activity].” This analogy has never been more true than within the WordPress theme marketplace today.
People develop WordPress themes because it is popular and easy to do. Most of them end up with similar results, creating general themes that cover all your bases in a sort of political correctness you might see from a presidential candidate. The typical platform they take up consists of shortcodes, widgets, drag-and-drop page layouts, 20 custom page templates, and a plethora of theme options to make your site do whatever your heart desires.
Product/Market Fit is Critical
When WordPress entered its massive growth stage in 2005-2006, there were far more theme seekers than providers. That meant there was a massive opportunity to create themes that tons of people would use (and be their first commercial theme purchase in many cases). Theme shops that opened first made tons of money because they were the only game in town. They held all the cards. There was an instant product/market fit because good WordPress themes were hard to find when people started to see true value in WordPress.
Fast forward to today where theme shops are a dime a dozen and nearly everyone sells a “framework” theme. There are a million “magazine-style” themes and basic blog themes should pretty much all be given away for free, right? After all, most WordPress users don’t understand or value good design.
Developing a new theme needs to be more than designing and coding a theme with a million color, typography, layout, and text options. Today’s WordPress themes need to solve real problems to provide value that can’t otherwise be provided by another theme.
Building Themes as Products
As WordPress matures and becomes more modular, companies will attempt to capture smaller niches in order to build high-value, targeted products. At my company, UpThemes, there is no rush to release a theme every month. We’re building products that make a lasting impact for businesses and individuals on the web. There is value in what we’re doing and a laser focus on things that matter to people, whether that equals simplicity, one-on-one help, time savings, achieving business goals, affordability or just a strong pair of shoulders to stand on.
And finally, my advice to developers: start building products that solve real, difficult problems and you’ll find that selling themes becomes a much smaller problem.