Free themes and plugin support

There has always been an issue with support. Free themes and plugins offer no incentive for the author to keep their product updated and secure, nor to provide any support for it. Many authors try to solve this by offering a limited version for free and a 'pro' version for a price. This is probably the smart way to proceed, if you can separate your features in a way that incentivizes sales.

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On top of this, many authors have added an affiliate program to drive sales. I certainly understand why, and I'm sure it has a positive effect on marketing. You don't have to pay for your advertising until after the sale! So I get it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, because this has has an extremely negative effect on the WordPress marketplace.

Here's the main problem: you can no longer find any unbiased, original reviews of WordPress themes and plugins!

Sure, there are a few out there, but finding them is the hard part. Affiliate marketing sites push almost all of the true reviews out of the search engine results. Every result is a long list of mostly Envato's Themeforest products with affiliate links. The copy is almost never an actual review, it's just the marketing from the theme or plugin author copied and pasted into the review site. It tells you very little, and it most definitely doesn't compare a product to any other product. The affiliate marketer doesn't truly care which product is best, or which you buy. They make money from all of them.

So that is the state of things. Authors are obviously making money and are happy with sales, but as an end-user and a developer, it's just a nightmare. And a big part of the problem is that, from my perspective, themes from Themeforest SUCK ! They customize so much of the WordPress experience in so many unconventional ways that you end up not knowing how to make any customizations. And there are always customizations! I'm almost to the point of refusing client work if they have already purchased a Themeforest theme. Yes, it's that bad.

And then there is licensing. I'll spare you the details of the big brouhaha that developed between WordPress and Thesis, and between WordPress and Envato, but you can click those links to read all about it. But it all has to do with the GPL license. In the end, most Theme sellers like Envato/Themeforest went with a split licensing structure. They want to restrict what you do with their products, and the GPL license doesn't allow for that. So they tell you the WordPress parts are GPL, and everything else is proprietary. The bottom line is that they do this so they can prevent developers from buying one product and then installing it on all of their client sites without paying extra.

Which is funny, because it adds another reason why I hate and won't use Themeforest themes I can't afford it! The extended license can easily cost you over $2000! So the client has to buy the one-time license, then give me their login information so I can (hopefully) get support or downloads. (In comparison, Thesis requires a Professional license for $200 and $40 per client site)

[NOTE: Themeforest does also allow for a full GPL-only license. I am unsure how many of their themes have taken advantage of this - there is no easy way to search by license type.]

Fortunately in my recent effort to find a new theme for my own site I ran across an old friend, Elegant Themes. Specifically, the new Divi theme which evidently came out right after the last time my membership expired. I love it so much, I'm writing a separate post just for this one theme and theme company. I'm seriously considering doing all of my new client sites with their themes, as much as is possible. See the review post for details.

So, to wrap this up, I'm a big fan of Elegant Themes' pricing model (WooThemes' model is similar, although more pricey). One price gets you a 'membership' which lasts for a year. For that price, you can download and use all of their eighty-seven themes and their plugins forever! You also get support. If your membership expires, you stop getting theme updates and new themes. Updates are kinda important. If you want PSD files you pay more. And if you want to stop paying annual fees, you can buy a lifetime access membership.

Compare that pricing and licensing model to Envato or most other theme marketplaces.

I guess I want the best of both worlds. I want companies like Elegant Themes to prosper and stay around, but I don't want them to do it on the back of an affiliate program not because affiliate programs are bad in and of themselves, but because they pollute the ability to find valid product reviews and comparisons.

So what's the solution? For me, the solution is thank God I found Elegant Themes but it seems like there has to be a better way for theme authors to market and sell their work.

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Post Sources

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Posted in Web Design Post Date 04/07/2015


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