Alex Jones has some good thoughts on the marketplace. As some stats, our themes page on .com got 2.4 million pageviews last month and someone previews a theme about once every 1.74 seconds. I can’t say how many people have purchased upgrades on .com, but even with our limited selection of products it’s a meaningful percentage, and that’s one of the reasons we think this idea has legs. It’s still impossible to know for certain, though, and I appreciate that our launch partners are taking a risk that they might create a theme and not sell a single one, and the whole thing might tank. If it goes well, though, I fully expect there to be thousands of themes in the system by this time next year, and the people in early will have a significant advantage, much like app developers did on Facebook.
At WordCamp Argentina yesterday I talked about an upcoming feature for WordPress.com, a theme marketplace, and while the feedback has been universally positive amoung everyone I talked to some folks who weren’t there and don’t speak Spanish seem to be criticizing third-hand, Google-translated information, which is a little sad to watch, so here’s some details.
Right now WordPress.com is a little bit like a clothing store with only XXL men’s pink ponchos available — not a lot of selection. We’d like to offer more products, hence the idea of a theme marketplace.
Imagine you’re a theme designer and if you do a custom one-off theme for a site like this you may get $500. (Keeping the numbers simple for the sake of argument.) Making a good theme is really hard, and you may only be able to do one a week. Now imagine you made a theme and uploaded it to our theme marketplace, then set a price of $50. You’re now an option on the dashboard of 1,736,206 blogs, if we split the price evenly and 20 of those 1,736,206 blogs purchase the theme, you just made as much as you would doing a one-off design. You can plug in different numbers and assumptions there and it’s pretty easy to see how this could be big for designers.
There are some obvious things that need to be in place, and probably a few we haven’t thought of yet. There need to be some theme guidelines (and good taste) enforced, an easy, safe interface for uploading and updating of themes, a system for previewing a theme live on your blog. Beyond the obvious guidelines of browser compatibility and general not-sucking, we’ll require submissions be original, link-free, not published before, and GPL-licensed. (That also means that all themes in the marketplace will be available FREE to wordpress.org users. That may force some to switch from .com to .org, but that’s fine. :)) Will .com users want to buy premium themes? I think so, but the only people really taking that risk are launch partners, and worst-case scenario you’ve got a cool WP theme on your hands. (By the way if you have an amazing theme and you want to be in this program at launch, which should give it a nice boost, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org with “killer theme” in the subject.)
At the end of the day, it’s just a market. I’m sure styles, pricing strategies, and more will develop over time.