“Premium Themes” are a lie

If you do almost anything with WordPress you’ll quickly find your way into discussion of “premium” themes. The name would suggest that these themes are the cream of the crop, vetted and verified as the themes to use to craft your soon-to-be-amazing WordPress site. The name lies.

Premium themes are just themes that are not free (as in beer). In Ryan Imel’s recent WordCamp SF talk called “The State of Themes” he suggested calling premium themes “commercial themes”, which I think is a good start to clarifying the real differences. I can’t count the people I’ve talked to that assume premium themes are good and free (as in beer) themes are bad. All things considered, it’s a rational assumption. Unfortunately it’s a really, really bad assumption and it leads to people having really bad experiences with WordPress that should have been avoided.

I am making a simple landing page for a project Beau Lebens and I worked on during a hack day at Automattic. I decided to browse Theme Forest and found a theme that, while not perfect, I came up with a way to tweak that I liked. I happily paid $8 and would have easily paid triple that for the time saved by not starting from scratch. In hindsight, it would have been a ripoff at half the price. Here’s the Skype conversation that followed, which really underscores how much I hate this theme.

Evan Solomon: this is very likely the worst $8 i’ve ever spent
Beau Lebens: you can just send me $8 if you like
Beau Lebens: i won’t even give you a shitty theme for it
Beau Lebens: then that’ll be the worst
Evan Solomon: this is way worse than just losing $8
Evan Solomon: it’s like spending $8 to get punched in the balls

This post really is not meant to pick on a particular theme, but the one I bought is called Under Construction page with twitter & pie graph. After reading the name, one wouldn’t have to work hard to argue that I got what I deserve.

Jokes aside — and there are many to be made — this is actually a substantive complaint. Let’s start with activating the theme. Here’s the first thing I saw:

Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: get_settings is deprecated since version 2.1! Use get_option() instead. in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2612
Notice: Undefined index: id in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined index: std in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 6
Notice: Undefined variable: ts_portfolio_cat in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 12
Notice: Undefined variable: ts_blogpage in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/var.php on line 16
Notice: Undefined index: page in /Users/evan/code/evansolomon.me/wp-content/themes/buddypig/functions.php on line 98

That’s 28 PHP notices for those keeping score. It’s worth noting that at this point I still haven’t actually loaded a page running the theme. I noticed that there were quite a few errors (18) in a file called var.php. That’s notable because I’ve actually never seen a WordPress theme that had a file with that name. So I did what any developer would do when faced with a strange-sounding file generating lots of errors, I got a beer from my fridge. Next I opened the file.

I was surprised to find that the file was actually quite short. How short, you ask? 18 lines. 18. In a coincidence so incredible it made me question my own atheism, this file generated exactly one PHP notice PER LINE. Amazing, but far from the best part. The best part is that — ignoring comments, blank lines and PHP tags — I actually disliked every single line of the file. Even that is somewhat generous, because the file included a PHP closing tag, which you should not use. Thanks to the GPL I now have the right to redistribute this code, which I feel compelled to share with you.

Where to even start…

  • This code is running in the global scope already, because why the hell not, so there’s no need to global-ize $options
  • $options is possibly the worst name ever chosen for a global variable
  • …well, until we name one $value
  • get_settings() was deprecated in WordPress 2.1, which was released in January 2007. The function has actually been deprecated longer than it was valid.
  • Variable variables. Enough said.
  • Raw, un-sanitized database queries

So I hope we can all come to terms on the idea that this is a bad file. Maybe it’s not that important though, perhaps it’s used sparingly, right? Allow me two show you two lines from the theme’s index.php file. These are lines 10 and 96, and neither are inside of a conditional or any other code that would prevent them from running.

require(TEMPLATEPATH . "/var.php");
include(TEMPLATEPATH . "/var.php");

So you get this shit twice on every single page. Because — well, I have no idea.

Actually that’s a lie. Want to guess what functions.php does right before it ends with a PHP closing tag? Yup.

require(TEMPLATEPATH . "/var.php");

I guess at this point we might as well load up the actual theme. Upon visiting the front page, var.php outdoes itself by generating 47 PHP notices, for a staggering ratio of 2.6 notices per line of code.

I could go on, but I assume by this point you get the idea. This theme creates about a million global variables, does absolutely no sanitization of data, has SQL injection opportunities, misuses (or just ignores) countless WordPress core API’s, and who knows what else.

The point here isn’t just to criticize bad code. Everyone who’s written any code has written some bad code (though maybe not this bad). The point is that this is a “premium theme”. In fact, as I write this, it’s sold almost 1,000 copies and the feedback is almost universally positive.

Themes are a hugely important part of the WordPress ecosystem. For many people, their theme is synonymous with their site; they have no concept of the separation. For many of those same people, their site is synonymous with WordPress. If they have a bad experience with their site (or theme) that’s a bad experience with WordPress. And one of WordPress’ greatest strengths is how usable it is for non-experts. Those people need tools to make informed choices, and one of the tools that’s currently used most is the association of “premium” themes with high quality. It’s bullshit.

There are a few things I really hope this post can help inspire.

  • The WordPress community needs to take responsibility for communicating the idea that price is not a reliable predictor of quality. This isn’t to say that there are no good commercial themes, but it does mean that themes aren’t good just because they’re commercial.
  • The “premium theme” market needs to be more open. There are lots of very high quality companies and developers in the market, and they probably get hurt more by crap like this than anyone. They should be incentivized to educate users and educate each other, which starts with getting the code in commercial themes scrutinized the way the code in free themes is.

45 thoughts on ““Premium Themes” are a lie

  1. Syamil MJ

    To be fair, almost the whole article is centralised on a theme that was uploaded in 2009 and was last updated in 2010. It was a “premium” product at the time when it was released, and it served the market well proven by the number of sales it gets.

    I don’t fully disagree with all the points you mentioned, especially the part where you suggested that premium themes should be subjected to scrutinization the same way free themes are, but all these efforts should not be wasted on some old, outdated themes.

    Reply
    1. Joey Kudish

      but all these efforts should not be wasted on some old, outdated themes.

      If they are old and outdated as you say than they should not be sold anymore.

      Regardless, even if the theme was built in 2009 and updated in 2010, it was still bad code then.

      Reply
      1. Syamil MJ

        Some authors chose to leave their old themes on the marketplace so that they can still support the customers who purchased their themes. For the most part this is what separates a premium theme from the free ones – the authors take responsibility for their themes.

        Also, if you really want to pointlessly use an ancient theme as the benchmark for badly coded premium themes then feel free to waste your time comparing it to some of the free themes released around the same era. I bet it’ll make a lot of sense.

        Reply
        1. Joachim Kudish

          In that case, Envato, or whatever other Marketplace seller should provide a way for theme authors to provide support to the older users.

          It is completely and utterly irresponsible to be selling themes that are this poorly coded and this insecure, especially when, as a potential buyer, I’m told that Envato reviews the code of the themes that they sell (http://notes.envato.com/general/submission-tip-understand-the-themeforest-reviewing-process/)

          Reply
        2. evan Post author

          For the most part this is what separates a premium theme from the free ones – the authors take responsibility for their themes.

          We can all agree that this is not the case here, right? Certainly no one is taking responsibility for this theme.

          As you mentioned, the theme hasn’t been updated in over two years. If it were in the WordPress.org repository I never would have even found it because it would be hidden from search. On Theme Forest I sorted the landing page category by most sales and it was near the top. I don’t think that can be a good thing.

          If you really want to pointlessly use an ancient theme as the benchmark for badly coded premium themes then feel free to waste your time comparing it to some of the free themes released around the same era

          I don’t agree that it’s pointless. I’m much more savvy consumer than most people buying WordPress themes and I chose one that I wish I hadn’t. Critiquing the process that led to that isn’t pointless. It feels like you’re arguing against a point that I didn’t make, that “premium” themes are bad. My point is simply that a theme’s price is an almost useless predictor of its quality. An expensive theme can be good, bad, or in between, and the price gives you no information about it.

          Reply
  2. Joey Kudish

    Wow… While I’ve always heard (and experienced in a few cases) that themes on ThemeForest and similar marketplaces were not of the highest quality, I didn’t realize some of them were that bad.

    And supposedly Envato reviews (http://notes.envato.com/general/submission-tip-understand-the-themeforest-reviewing-process/) the code of all ThemeForest submissions.. clearly they either don’t do it at all, automate it to the point that it’s useless or have completely incompetent staff doing it.

    Reply
    1. Wolfram Müller

      i’m surprised by the quality of that theme as well. i tried to submit a theme to themeforest myself and got rejected 4 times. I can only guess that the review process in 2009 must have been different then it is today. The quality of new themes right now is very high in my opinion. It became very apparent to me, when i was building themescroller, and took screenshots of 3000 wordpress themes from themeforest and the wordpress.org directory.

      Just go to http://www.themescroller.com/ filter themes by marketplace and select wordpress.org one time, and then themeforest. scroll down the list a little bit and compare just the screenshots. I would be surprised if anyone would still argue that the themes from the wordpress.org directory have higher quality.

      Having said that, thats only a visual comparison. It says nothing about code quality. And that’s the main problem with themeforest i guess. They have a couple of hundred submissions a day, so the focus of the review process is probably on design.

      If you want premium themes with high code and design quality marketplaces like woothemes or elegantthemes are your best bet. Woothemes even has commercial and free themes, so in this case the word premium fits quite well doesnt it?

      Reply
      1. evan Post author

        If you want premium themes with high code and design quality marketplaces like woothemes or elegantthemes are your best bet

        It’s fine — welcome, in fact — to disagree with the basic premise of the post. But to state the opposite idea as a matter of fact is unconvincing. It would be cool to actually measure a large group of paid and free themes based on things like errors/notices generated, deprecated functions used, page load speed, internationalization/localization, etc.

        Picking a theme based on a screenshot of the front page is like picking a doctor based on pictures of their patients.

        Reply
        1. Wolfram Müller

          “Picking a theme based on a screenshot of the front page is like picking a doctor based on pictures of their patients.”

          So you are saying the design is not an important aspect of a theme? I would say design is one of the most important things about a blog. A beautiful, professional, good looking theme is a key factor for a successful blog.

          And aren’t most people picking their themes based on how they look? How do you pick a theme?

          Reply
          1. evan Post author

            I think design is very important. And it bears mentioning that my doctor line was an attempt at mild humor at 3am.

            My point was that a screenshot of the front page is only a very limited example of the theme’s design.

            Reply
  3. Dan Cameron

    Mentioned this on Twitter but Automattic should charge a premium for themes to be reviewed, authorized and listed (without it being in the theme repo or download links). This would resolve so many issues and provide a way for the true “premium theme” developers to differentiate themselves.

    Idea:

    Not just a simple listing (DB) of themes that have been reviewed and approved but an API to show a badge (of sorts) on an authorized site.

    Reply
    1. evan Post author

      You can (will) get your theme reviewed for free by the theme review team if it’s submitted to the WordPress.org repo. It seems weird to charge for something that is given away for free.

      I think that the theme companies and markets should be responsible for validating that the themes they’re selling are good. There is lots of information available on how WordPress.org reviews themes, like the theme unit test and the theme review guidelines. There’s nothing special about Automattic testing these things, anyone can do it if they think it’s important.

      Reply
      1. Dan Cameron

        I think you’re missing the point.

        “Premium Theme” developers will not want their code given away free. That’s why they’re charging.

        The point is: someone trustworthy would review the theme (.org theme reviewers or not) and provide a method for a purchaser to know if the theme is quality or not.

        That third-party would charge because they’re providing a service.

        Automattic might not be the best third-party for this, it was just a suggestion since they have the review team in place and more importantly they have the credibility; however, anyone could build the credibility and accomplish this themselves with time…

        …even though it’s TFs duty to their customers.

        Reply
        1. evan Post author

          It’s worth noting that Automattic does not do the theme reviews for WordPress.org. I think there are some Automattic employees involved, but it’s not an Automattic-run process.

          Reply
        2. Ian Stewart

          At one time the theme reviews were done by two Automattic employees but currently the theme reviews are 99.99% done by the WordPress community. The code quality of themes and experience for the end user has been pretty amazing since. They all should be applauded.

          “Premium Theme” developers will not want their code given away free. That’s why they’re charging.

          You don’t have to give your code away to use the tools they use.
          Theme Check (and/or the VIP scanner), The Theme Unit Test, The Theme Development checklist on the codex, and a ruthless attention to detail are all freely available.

          Reply
          1. christine

            As a recent theme developer, I’ve successfully got 2 of my themes in the WordPress.org repo and can say that the process is tough. Those theme reviewers went through themes with a fine tooth comb and did a heck of job. I’ve learned tons from them and will continue to submit themes to them and recommend my clients that they stick to the theme in the repo because of their diligence in vetting them.

            Reply
  4. J.C. Bouvier

    When reviewing “premium” theme offerings, I have yet to jump, but Theme Forrest looked to be pitching the true coder vs. say, Elegant Themes who profs to be maintaing these themes…can anyone comment besides @CSPenn on their experience w/this firm? Tx. @jcbouvier

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Evan Solomon: Premium Themes are a Lie | simpledream

  6. Andy Adams

    It’s too bad you had such a horrible experience.

    However, to be fair, this lesson is essentially applicable to any industry. I can’t think of a single category of product where there isn’t alternatives ranging from cheap to expensive and ranging from crappy to wonderful in quality (not tied directly to price).

    Bad themes can definitely sour someone’s experience of WordPress, but this is something that comes with being open-source. As Adii from WooThemes mentioned in his WCSF talk, Apple doesn’t have this issue because they are closed source and can do quality control on everything that enters the ecosystem. WordPress has chosen a different path. And I think ultimately the cream will rise to the top with regards to themes, companies and marketplaces.

    Reply
    1. evan Post author

      Most industries don’t have free and non-free products competing against each other on anywhere near equal footing. Of the ones that do, I think WordPress themes are a particularly weak example of price indicating quality.

      I use one of your (Theme Foundry) themes on my WordPress.com blog, so I hope it’s clear that my point is not that commercial themes are bad — it’s that a theme’s commercialness, on its own, tells you very little about its quality. If all you told me about a theme was (1) who made it, (2) whether it passes the theme review test, and (3) how much it costs, I’d almost completely ignore the price in predicting whether or not I’d want to use it.

      I’m not sure I agree with your (Adii’s) Apple example. The App Store has a huge problem with awful apps being very popular and ruining the app discovery experience for people like me.

      Reply
      1. Andy Adams

        While it’s true that most industries don’t have free alternatives, I still think the issue arises with ultra-cheap offerings. Not free, but they present the same issues. Whether WordPress sees issues to a further degree or not – I’m not sure.

        This topic got me thinking a bit. WordPress.org’s free themes have actually been reviewed by a team of experts and are phased out if they aren’t updated. The commercial theme market is not so tightly regulated – more of a “wild west” approach. Do you think there is space for an official WordPress.org commercial theme store, that has tight controls on what is allowed?

        Reply
        1. evan Post author

          Do you think there is space for an official WordPress.org commercial theme store, that has tight controls on what is allowed?

          I don’t think there’s anything special about WordPress.org except the trust its built, and even that was not always the case. Stricter review guidelines and hiding un-maintained plugins and themes from search came in response to feedback that finding thing in the WordPress.org repository was too hard. I think a premium theme company could take the same approach, though obviously it will be harder in an environment where you don’t want to give away the code.

          There’s a secondary challenge with putting WordPress.org in the mix, which Otto explained nicely on Twitter.


          @ we’ll discuss it, but everything on .org is free (in all senses), and we’d prefer to stay that way.
          @Otto42
          Samuel Wood (Otto)

          Reply
  7. Laurence Cope

    In my experience, most themes are not of high quality anyway. The only true way to have high quality website code is to hand build it. By high quality I mean standards and accessible compliant, page speed optimised, SEO optimised, minifed, free of divitis, and many other aspects that make website code a high standard. I have rarely seen any theme available online that is of such high standard, I get the impression people just want to build themes quick and sell cheap. That’s why we hand build all our websites and stay away from any theme, free or “premium”.

    Reply
    1. evan Post author

      The only true way to have high quality website code is to hand build it

      I’m not sure what this means, or why you think it’s mutually exclusive from themes. Do you hand-write every line of code or do you use templates, libraries and helper functions? Themes are just a collection of templates and functionality.

      Reply
      1. Laurence Cope

        The front design (HTML/CSS) would all be hand written to make sure its good quality. By all means we would someone else’s code if it’s written well, but often it’s not. But we would not just use some theme online because we like the design because it’s likely the code is not of a high standard. If we like a design we would re-build it in our own HTML/CSS. We may use the theme HTML/CSS but optimise it. I wish more people did this.. everyone just uses templates/themes these days, its the quick way out, no experience necessary approach, and i see so many “web designers” taking credit for their “great website” when all they did was install a theme.

        Reply
        1. evan Post author

          That’s all well and good, but what I didn’t (and don’t) understand is the distinction between “themes” and “hand-written”. It sounds like you’re equating themes to “code written by someone else”, which ignores the fact that you can make your own theme. It can be hand-written, free-range, and grass-fed.

          Reply
          1. Laurence Cope

            Yes, I am talking about buying a theme online, say from Theme Forest like you mentioned…. so the HTML/CSS is built by someone else and people can just buy it and install it in 5 minutes. It is highly likely themes like these are not very good quality, so we would not use them, instead we would build our own (which may look like the theme we want, but just coded better).

            Reply
    2. evan Post author

      That’s why we hand build all our websites and stay away from any theme

      This seems to be directly contradicted in your latest comment.

      It seems like the point you are trying to make — correct me if I’m wrong — is that third party code is unreliable. I think that’s an overly broad generalization because there is some very good code available, including themes. Building everything from scratch may still be a valid solution, but that doesn’t mean using themes built by other people is necessarily a bad idea.

      I’ll reiterate what I said before, that it’s important to distinguish “themes” from “themes built by other people” when talking about these things, otherwise it’s very hard to know exactly what you mean.

      Given that your company seems to only use WordPress for blogs I am surprised to hear that you start everything from scratch. For such a specific use case that has so much code available, I would have expected you to be more open to a child theme or starter theme approach.

      Reply
      1. Laurence Cope

        I’m sorry, I didn’t realise my concept was so hard to grasp! Years ago we used to buy templates from Template Monster (or similar). I realised after some time the code on these themes/templates was really bad!! It was hard to maintain and update, and was overbloated so not good for SEO and optimisation. I did not want to provide low quality websites, so we just started coding our own. If we wanted to use a design from template monster, we would not use the code, we would build it ourselves. So we get the same design, but with much better code (mostly we use a graphic designer now though).

        Perhaps terminology is confusing us, themes and templates mean diffierent things with different providers… generally they mean the “design” for us. So perhaps your interpretation of “themese” is different to my meaning of “design”. But I think my comments are still applicable, because “premium” themes (or templates) are usually just commercial ones, and do not reflect the quality of the build, which may be bad.

        P.S. We use WordPress, Expression Engine, Joomla, Drupal, , Pyro, Zencart and more… we favour Expression Engine now just because it gives us a blank slate, assumes nothing, does not push its own code on us, and lets us write our own.

        Reply
        1. evan Post author

          perhaps your interpretation of “themes” is different to my meaning of “design”

          Yes, it’s very different. Since this post is specifically about WordPress, my definition of themes is specifically a WordPress theme, which is not just a design. Also, to my earlier point, it implies nothing about whether the code was written by you or someone else.

          Reply
  8. Japh

    You have a very good point, Evan. “Premium” is most likely the wrong term to be using for themes who’s only difference from any free theme is that you paid for it. “Commercial” might be more appropriate.

    Though I guess the point really is, if you’re going to call your commercial themes “Premium”, then you should be assuring that’s what they are.

    It’s also important to mention that review standards on ThemeForest have changed over time. 3 years ago, it’s not wrong to say standards for WordPress themes weren’t what they are now. These days the review team use much the same process as the WordPress.org review team do. Unfortunately, with almost 2 million items across marketplaces, we haven’t kept up with going back and re-reviewing old items as our standards improved. I’ll pass this along though, and we’ll get it looked at.

    It’s certainly our intention that our “premium” themes live up to their name. If you find one that doesn’t, let us know about it! In most cases, it’s an old theme. We’re working on improving this situation too, and going back and re-reviewing old themes.

    Incidentally, the theme you mentioned includes a WordPress theme, but wasn’t actually submitted to that category on ThemeForest by the author.

    Reply
    1. evan Post author

      3 years ago, it’s not wrong to say standards for WordPress themes weren’t what they are now.

      I completely agree. If I had realized this theme was 3 years old, I probably would have picked another one. I’m sure that info is on the page somewhere, but I either didn’t see it or just didn’t notice it. I really like what the .org repository is doing with old themes and plugins now, where you get a very noticeable alert at the top of the page telling you when one hasn’t been updated in 2+ years.

      Unfortunately, with almost 2 million items across marketplaces, we haven’t kept up with going back and re-reviewing old items as our standards improved. I’ll pass this along though, and we’ll get it looked at.

      I totally understand this, and it would be unreasonable to tell you to review 2 million themes.

      Incidentally, the theme you mentioned includes a WordPress theme, but wasn’t actually submitted to that category on ThemeForest by the author.

      I don’t actually remember how I found it, but I am sure my intention was to search for WordPress themes. To be honest, I didn’t know there was anything besides WordPress themes on ThemeForest.

      Reply
      1. Japh

        It does show the age of the theme on the page, but you make a very compelling point (as illustrated on WP.org) that the UI fails to communicate this to users at an appropriate level of importance.

        An old theme that hasn’t had updates in years, especially due to the pace of WordPress development, is likely not an optimal choice. WP.org makes this apparent with their UI. I’ll pass this feedback along :)

        Reply
  9. Mario Peshev (@no_fear_inc)

    With all due respect, I think the focus of theme markets such as ThemeForest is a bit different than the one of the core development community.

    Envato had it’s ups and downs but the number of users (close to 2 million customers/authors) is pretty much self explanatory. I’m not defending anyone here, I’m just saying that this is a niche that could be filled and indeed it is. Every 6-12 months Envato has a huge number of fresh users joining in, the number of sales of top themes is growing, new items do appear inside of the marketplace. Reviewers have some sort of full review iterations through all themes – maybe some of them are missed by mistake or for some other reason, also they can’t thoroughly verify every single item per every new update of WordPress having 2K themes there.

    They have some very stupid policy running out there for some things, such as featuring just a few authors/themes or a stupid rating system. But things seem to get better with months.

    I know personally 20+ of the top authors selling on ThemeForest and their code quality is spectacular. It’s one thing keeping the stability, high quality of code and tons of features in addition to a good performance for a theme market and another deal building a twentyeleven clone (there are lots of submissions to WPORG repo that are rejected due to a copy-paste) with a super limited functionality.

    WPORG doesn’t provide a neat and reliable support mechanism. Yes, the forums are open and there are people like Ipstenu answering constantly, but it’s not their job to do it and know tens of thousands of themes in-depth. Most premium themes provide ticketing system or a support forum with a dedicated support staff answering in minutes to hours. Corporate/Business customers prefer paying a couple bucks for a reliable solution and that’s the solo purpose of the premium products.

    It’s another deal considering a product built by a team of 4 for 6 months selling for $35 (50% of those getting Envato if you are a new user). It’s uncommon to provide a regular support for such a low price but high quality themes manage to get enough sales to support their authors and vice versa.

    If I buy a broken theme from TF/Mojo/Elegant/StudioPress/Woo I will:

    1. Swear in the comments of the theme
    2. Ask for a refund
    3. Report to market owners
    4. Rate with 1 out of 5 stars
    5. Blog about it

    If it is a solo author like WooThemes (building themes internally by their own staff) it’s a normal thing to consider everything a scam. When a market with 2K themes has 1200 authors (or so) it’s not that relevant.

    Reply
    1. evan Post author

      Your point seems to be that there are really good commercial themes, which I agree with. To expand on that, there are really good commercial theme developers and commercial theme companies offer great features and service. I agree with all of that. If I’m wrong about any of that please correct me, but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate.

      Here’s my point: none of that is true of all commercial themes, and all of it is true of some free themes. I think my ideas fit nicely with yours.

      Reply
      1. Mario Peshev (@no_fear_inc)

        I do agree with you as well, I just don’t concur with the generalization which is very flame-friendly I believe ;)

        I can hardly name a company, business or anything in the world that is completely and exclusively perfect. Goods, services, products – everyone has it’s flaws somewhere or can’t afford a 100% quality. Context-wise, free and premium themes could be good or bad, tomatoes from the grocery store could be of a not so good quality and so on. Apple have their downs as well.

        I do agree though that ‘premium’ doesn’t make much sense, but I would put it next to the other marketing pop words such as ‘rocking’, ‘ecological’, ‘bio’ and ‘art’. I remember an advertisement last year about ‘rock bedrooms’ (nothing related to the rock music or so).

        Reply
        1. evan Post author

          I just don’t concur with the generalization…I do agree though that ‘premium’ doesn’t make much sense

          It sounds like you agree with at least a little bit of my generalization.

          Reply
  10. Chris Olbekson

    Thank you Evan for writing this post. We as a community need to educate our users better and the marketplaces need to enforce higher quality standards for current submissions and existing themes. If a theme is not compatible with the current version of WordPress or doesn’t meet standards it needs to be REMOVED and no longer for sale.

    To be fair, almost the whole article is centralised on a theme that was uploaded in 2009 and was last updated in 2010. It was a “premium” product at the time when it was released, and it served the market well proven by the number of sales it gets.

    The code in that theme was just as bad in 2010 as it is today. This is not a valid argument. If standards have improved since then this theme should have been removed.

    Please don’t take these comments as putting down the commercial theme industry as a whole. There are great products out there, great inovative developers and theme shops who are doing a great job. This is my personal experience and what I have observed doing volunteer support and consulting clients who have purchased really bad themes. This is a problem that effects the community more than most people even realize. Users are frustrated when themes don’t work, especially when they are mislead into thinking they are purchasing a “premium” product. I see these same theme problems everyday in the support forums and on IRC. I’m not going to post the links but do some searches on dot org for some of the big marketplaces and you can see for yourself.

    I also worked with a client who purchased Builder from themeforest. I tried to create a wp_nav menu and I couldn’t even save it because the theme was hooking $_GET and $_POST variables ment for posts and pages into admin init. If also flushed the rewrite rules on every page load for no reason. The theme includes a choice of sliders and even if you choose NONE in the options all the javascript and css are loaded on every single page. These enormous php classes that do everything from handle the optoion to outputting post content are loaded every single page admin and frontend. I left a comment on the theme and the author completely ignored me. I even gave the author specific information so that he could fix some of these issues. This is one of the top selling authors and can only assume all his other themes are the same way.

    The top authors are great designers for the most part and they know how to make the themes look really slick in the demos but the user will never be able to get it to look the same. They are bloating the themes with “features” where the philosophy is the more features you can stuff in a theme the better. This makes the users think they need all these features and options. Stop removing core WordPress functionaility. Stop bundling jQuery ( this is enforced now but old themes need to be purged ), Stop distributing these horrible raw short-codes just so users can post raw javascript and html. Why not concentrate on a niche market and make smaller themes that server more specific uses.

    There are quality themes and great developers doing awesome work at themeforest along with many other great theme shops but it is the exception not the norm.

    I’m also going to mention Elegant Themes because some of there themes are very poorly coded. They use query_posts in archive.php and category.php which is just wrong. The only difference with them is that they provide really good support and the themes are well documented. They also have an army of affiliate marketers writing flowery puffed up blog posts touting how great they are. It’s impossible for new users in the community to sift through this.

    I appluad Envato for enforcing stricter coding standards but more still needs to be done. And just like Andy Stratton talks about in his WordCamp presentations when stuff like this happens it need to be put out there so the situation can be improved.

    Reply
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  13. Mathew Porter

    I agree, I have had this view on premium and lots of paid theme repositories and the structure / markup is very shoddy in many so it is always worth looking at more than the front end aesthetic.

    Reply
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