WordPress Themes Are Polarizing the Web: Why Freebies and Fees Make Jack a Dull Boy

Why Free and Premium WordPress Themes Make Web Enthusiasts Angry
For better or worse, we live in a template-driven society. Almost, if not everything, is a component of something greater that drives our global economy. Modern commerce relies heavily upon technology, and technology is most effective when it streamlines productivity. This typically means that everything related to technology must be agile and accessible.

Undoubtedly, WordPress is both. Its free and premium themes have invited an array of people online, in their most professional light (Click here to see the top 50 free themes for your WordPress site). But this accomplishment may be a double-edge sword. Sure, it enables the unqualified to hit the grounds of cyberspace running. But “Jack” sees this and gnashes his teeth.

Who is Jack, you might ask? He’s that consummate web developer (or designer) who’s spent the greater portion of his career contributing to the Web’s progression. In Jack’s eyes, creativity is king. By no means is he against pre-designed WordPress themes, but they are beginning to polarize the grounds he once ruled. This epidemic, if you will, is affecting Jack’s career and bank account.

One might argue that Jack is dull for many reasons…and a WordPress theme isn’t one of them! Even I will admit that balancing business with creativity is what separates the mice from men. But at some point or another, we have all shared some degree of Jack’s sentiments. Rarely does passion find its place in big business. Repetition creates revenue; it’s a concept that existed long before interconnectivity.

I, personally, sympathize with Jack, as I too, enjoy nothing more than constructing the next masterpiece. On the other hand, I’ve learned that Michael Bloomberg is more regarded in business than Michelangelo. Everything in business—from our websites to the very image we project—must be modular and capable of adaptation. WordPress themes continue to open doors for many, but total adamancy against creativity and innovation will result in a burning, cyber hell.

Photo: Let me out from Flickr

18 Responses

    • Hey there! Thanks for commenting!

      LOL…I must say that it is that sort of attitude that has Jack all bent out of shape! Furthermore, can you make the argument that use of pre-designed themes is an act of “brilliant creativity?”

    • Hi Drixie…the point is to shed some light on “the other side” of theme development. While it has definitely added to the growth of sites online, it has also PERHAPS added to 1) a sense of laziness or neglect and 2) the reduction of opportunities for people like Jack. Again, the column is not an all out attack against theme development, but rather, to raise a sense of awareness about creativity or innovation.

        • Sorry you didn’t understand the post, Anders. I’d be curious to know both you and Drixie’s thoughts on the article now that I’ve explained it.

          • Design Lord, Child of Thor

            I run a MS network, so for me a large supply of free and non-unique themes is not a problem, in fact it`s a plus.
            My problem is with Themeforest (which I never fail to mention), who lock theme authors in and screw people like me over with a ridiculous license policy.
            I`m all for creativity and I`m willing to pay for it. But four figures for a single theme is crazy.

          • Hello again, Anders! Thanks for commenting. And yes, that’s definitely another side to it. Sorry to hear about your troubles as a MS network admin!

            You mentioned that you are willing to pay for creativity, but no more than $1,000. So how much? To me, it sounds like somewhere between $1 – $999. Jack and his cronies cannot survive on that type of commission. And let’s be totally honest here: neither could your MS network.

          • Design Lord, Child of Thor

            5x the cost of one theme is an area that is reasonable IMO. I may have thousands of users but only a few will pay to use a premium theme. If it’s 10x we’re talking several hundred dollars. That’s for *one* theme, installed once, on one site – just because I run Multisite. Around there it stops making business sense.

            What does Themeforest charge? 50x. It`s just insane.

            Don’t worry, there are others. Elegant Themes is what, $39 a year for the whole library. There are lots of place I can get nice premium themes. Just not from TF because of their stupid terms, and it’s too bad because some authors want to sell me a regular license, and I want to give them my money, but it’s not allowed.

            Maybe I’m not understanding who Jack is in this context. Why would you need to collect thousands of dollars per unit of something that costs zero to produce on the margin? I suppose the discussion is about bespoke work or something, but then again I already made clear that I didn’t get it :)

  • About a year ago I wrote a blog post about how Web Design was going to become a commodity and that designers needed to change their business model or improve their skill sets if they were going to survive in this space. http://michaelbastos.com/2011/05/06/why-web-design-has-now-become-a-commodity-and-will-get-cheaper-and-cheaper/ It caused a lot of controversy when I posted it because many designers disagreed with it but a year later it’s starting to look a bit more true every day…

    • WHEW! I’m glad you showed up, Michael. LOL!

      I think folks are missing the entire point of the article (or perhaps, they are the ones who are benefiting most from pre-designed templates). The whole idea is to bring creativity to the forefront of web development / design.

      Thanks for sharing your link; I will be certain to check it out! I have long held your views on web design becoming cheaper and cheaper. Back when Intuit began their $5 website promotion, I knew it was possibly the beginning of the end. Check out my article “Intuit’s Insult” when you have the chance: http://www.thomashubbard.net/blog/business/intuits-insult

  • Sounds like Jacks skills are no longer needed when people can’t see any good reason to pay for his services any longer. Bitching about people sharing their knowledge and giving away their work for free out of generosity, or to create a name for them self makes ME sad…and probably turns Jack into somewhat of a douche in most peoples opinion.

    Even free WordPress themes today can be full to the rim of creativity, and innovation, claiming otherwise is just stupid. A lot of th themes avaliable today have their own backed engine, giving the user total control over design and layout.
    So if people are content with what they can get for free, why would they pay Jack? Simply because Jack have done what he does for a while now?

    Sounds to me like Jack might need to go back to school, most web based professions probably won’t last a life time, considering how fast the web is changing.

    • Hi FredrikNas – You make a really good point about themes packing an innovative punch! However, when you multiply that theme by, say, 1,000, is it really still innovative? Probably not, regardless of the themes’ skins and color palette.

      True, the web is changing rapidly every day. But your suggestion for Jack to just “go back to school” is fundamentally flawed, and really has nothing to do with the concept of pre-designed templates. Hardly any other profession is challenged with the idea of obscurity by reason of commoditization. And considering the price for education, the emergence of the “gainful employment act,” and personal/family obligations, it is perhaps impractical Jack (or anyone for that matter) to just enroll back into school.

    • WPMU DEV Initiate

      @FredrikNas – “sounds like Jacks skills are no longer needed”… well… how do you think these free wordpress themes actually come to life? Do you think they just pop up out of the blue?

      SOMEONE still must create the themes and the plugins, before you can download and activate them. Both the free ones, the premium ones, and the unique ones. These faceless creators must also have an income to pay the rent, their internet connection, pizza & beer to keep them alive while they create the stuff you need to run your network. Furthermore – the knowledge, skills and experience needed to create both the freebies and the unique stuff usually take years to aquire – especially if we are talking about quality code.

      So, you know what? If you want themes, plugins and such for your business, you actually need to pay the people who create this code.

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    The web has been waiting on a framework that works for a long time. Others have existed, but either were so hard to learn, or so limiting in what you could do, that coding from scratch was usually more productive. Dreamweaver anybody? How about DotNetNuke? Coldfusion came closest, but even with it you needed a programmer to build a site.

    Working libraries to handle the grunt work changes all that. Between JQuery and Word Press there isn’t much need to get down to the code level often, although your better web designers will still know how the things operate, and can perform the customizations you need.

    And graphics designers are still needed too, it’s just that you are going to get less re-inventing of the wheel with each site. Something that took weeks of team effort to get off the ground can now be done in days, and not many of those. So the value of a custom coded site is going to go down, simply because a lower cost reasonable alternative exists.

    Jack, if he really is a brilliant designer, is going to do just fine creating or customizing the templates in a fraction of the time it took before. If he is a mediocre designer, yeah, then he is going to take a hit. Same with the people who were doing the hand coding.

    Who this is really going to kill is those organizations that were using templates before and charging for custom sites. They’re going to take a beating. Because it doesn’t take $10K plus to put up a professional looking website any more.

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    What Jack says…means….Jack.

    Who cares how “creative” your site is if it’s less usable than an off the shelf theme or doesn’t convert. This is just another version of the “creative advertising” vs. “direct response” argument that’s been going on since Ogilvy.

    Sorry creative folks. Sometimes Vanilla beats Ben and Jerry’s in customer approval.

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