Monday, May 04, 2015

Why the road is hard for premium WordPress theme/plugin developers these days.

[Note: I wrote this as a comment to a blog by Carrie Dills titled Is There a Market for Premium Genesis Themes? But she won't post it... and I guess I don't blame her since it does not support her business model... indeed it pretty much says why she and others like her... will fail.]

There are a bunch of free Genesis child themes out there but we've never used any. We like premium themes because we know good code from not-so-good code and a lot of free themes are simply badly written.

One thing going against the individual premium theme developer is having to compete against a Studio Press who offers the web design shop like us an excellent deal.

For example I used to buy many themes a year, at least 3/4 of them from an array of non-Studio Press vendors.

In the "old days" when we got unlimited support and upgrades from vendors, no problem.

But now with vendors offering one-year licenses and expensive support/update yearly fees, we don't want to deal with a zillion different vendors and the administrative mess of renewing licenses each year, to say nothing about the cost.

(Yes we could pass this on to our customer, but that's also an administrative hassle... and customers don't want vendor lock-in any more than we do. It makes our sale in our market (authors and publishers) harder.)

In our experience, customers keep their theme 3.5 years on average. So that means our customer will pay for the theme FOUR times (if they want updates and support which most do.)

This is where Studio Press offers a 'better deal' than most other vendors.

We have a 'developer' license with Studio Press which gives us unlimited use of all their products including the framework. These days we are always going to buy from them before we even consider an outside source. It makes economic sense for us and our customers.

That said, what I see a lot of shops like ours starting to do is 'rolling their own.'

We have a developer license for a Genesis child theme by CobaltApps called Dynamik Web Builder. This basically lets us design our own layouts without a huge learning curve and without (much) PHP code, nor much CSS. Yes, it is a bit more work, but when we can't find a Studio Press theme that 'works' for the client, we see if we can build one ourselves.

Sure, when necessary (i.e. like for a special market like a restaurant or a biz directory) we will buy a non-Studio Press (and/or non-Genesis) offering, but the economics of our business have changed since theme vendors started charging recurring fees... such that shops like ours (who have the ability to use a theme-builder products like Cobalt's Dynamik or Elegant's Divi or Headway, or Pagelines, etc.) are exploring an option that frees us and our clients from a constant outflow of money, sometimes without much in the way of value received beyond security updates.

I agree with her that the best way to survive competition is to offer me something I can't find anywhere else. But if I or my customer has to pay 4X for a theme, you can bet we will be looking for an alternative.

It's just good business.