how to make the 50/50 split less painful

If these themes are going to be GPL and free to .org users, they’re not charging for the theme. They’re charging for the ability to use the theme on your wordpress.com blog. In the case of CSS-only themes, people can already do this if they pay $15 for the custom CSS upgrade.

So anyone who wants to charge $15 or over for a CSS-only theme ought to be excluded from the program right now. Because either they don’t know anything about wordpress.com, or they’re trying to profit from the naivete of .com users, and in both cases we can really do without their contribution.

It gets worse. If I buy custom CSS I can have as many unique themes as I like for one flat rate. If I buy hypothetical premium theme I just get one. What if it turns out not to look so hot with my box.net widget? What if my readers complain the contrast on the text isn’t high enough? Do I get a refund? Do I get the ability to edit it? What if I switch themes and decide I want my premium theme back? Do I have to buy it all over again?

Maybe we should put the bar at $10? But then, is the convenience of having the theme installed for you really worth even that much? As Mark points out, most bloggers, even the clueless ones that Matt is targeting, have mastered the intricacies of copy/paste. A fair number can even upload their own images (fancy!).

There’s more. How many free themes do you think are going to get added to wordpress.com once this starts up? I mean, we’re not exactly snowed under at the moment. Free users will end up stuck with the same old ageing themes they’ve seen a million times before on a million other blogs. People who are actually part of wordpress.com, as opposed to outsiders wanting to make a quick buck out of the clueless people*, will want fresh new themes to be available to as many people as possible.

They’ll probably use their shady credits system to make it impossible to set prices below a dollar. I might be able to live with a dollar. I don’t like the idea of 50c of that going into Matt’s pocket, because people who run around turning down $200 million don’t need handouts, and I did vow never to give Automattic any cash ever again after they stole that $5 from me. But then who knows how many Adsense pennies they’ve made out of me already, by simple virtue of my continuing to blog here? And who knows what my bandwidth would cost, if I were paying for it? And it’s not as if I particularly want the 50c for myself. Exchange rates the way they are, it wouldn’t buy me a packet of crisps. Besides, every time I try to make money out of designing, the joy goes out of it. It turns into work.

Do you see how once you drop your asking price to the absolute minimum, the 50/50 split becomes slightly less painful? And how things are fairer for the end users, who get a wider choice of themes and aren’t screwed over quite as badly in the process?

The argument against this is that it devalues the work of the designers. I say that since .org users are getting it free anyway and you’re not even allowed to include a link to your portfolio, it’s already been devalued. If you genuinely think your theme is worth $50, then you’re not going to give it away for free. And if you don’t genuinely think your theme is worth $50 (which you clearly don’t, since you’re giving it away for free) then it’s not particularly ethical to try and sell it for that amount. This applies equally to designers and their Automattic overlords, by the way. And please don’t say ‘it’s worth whatever people are willing to pay for it’. Ripping people off is not rendered morally acceptable by the victim’s willingness to be ripped off.

Anyway, this is all highly academic. How long has the Adsense upgrade been promised? How long has themes.wordpress.net been dead? How long was domain mapping ‘coming soon’? Exactly. I don’t know why we’re all getting so worked up.


* note how nothing has been mentioned on .com itself about this. The assumption is obviously that nobody who blogs here would be capable of contributing anything worthwhile; we’re consumers, not producers. What’s struck me most about this whole thing, actually, is not Matt’s contempt for designers, of which we were already well-aware, but his contempt for the users of wordpress.com: people ‘who couldn’t spell FTP’ and therefore deserve to be fleeced.

9 Comments »

  1. :lol: SP’s

    “Those people probably couldn’t spell CSS… and selling to them means I have to spell CSS for them.”

    is the quote of the moment, for sure

  2. miklb said

    I mentioned this on Matt’s site, but even if 1% of the active users on .com paid $2 for a theme, it’s a very respectable return, all the while giving back to .org users. And splitting 50/50 with automattic, I’d be assuming the payments would be paypal-paypal transfers, so there wouldn’t be any overhead, or hassles collecting the payments, plus free advertising (not to mention no overhead for bandwidth) Worth it to me, surprisingly.

  3. Root said

    One of the big unknown unknowns as Rummy would have said is how many themes are going to be on the darn thing. If we get into the 5,000 range like the theme viewer all the power shifts to Automattic (quelle suprise) while the themers are struggling for pence. Selling into an unsophisticated audience in volume requires a low quality, churn em out, low overhead mentality. Its going to be very difficult to stop the Indian sub continent wallahs on 2 rupees an hour from swamping the thing with Kubrick deriviatives. OT: I have already been lambasted on Matt’s blog for daring to comment here. Jeez. The guy is a Stalinist.

  4. free advertising

    Um, where, exactly? Themes in the wp.com presentation panel rarely show the author’s name unless the theme is actually selected, and there won’t be any mention of you on the theme itself. If you want to get your name out there and drive traffic to your site, this is not the way to do it; you’re better off submitting free themes to existing theme directories and networking like crazy with other designers and bloggers.

    Selling into an unsophisticated audience in volume requires a low quality, churn em out, low overhead mentality.

    It’s also going to make it extremely difficult to keep the themes GPL-compliant. Stealing photos from Getty Images was quite the cottage industry among diaryland templaters a few years back. I have no idea how Matt’s going to ensure that there’s no copyrighted or CC images or icons in these things.

  5. berry said

    I’m a wordpress.com blogger and I confess that I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how this “theme scheme” is a good deal for either the designers or for bloggers like me.

    I can pay $15 per year for a css upgrade. I can use Sandbox and drop in a free stylesheet from any of the GPL themes that some wordpress.com bloggers are porting free of charge. ;) I can also change stylesheets as often as I want for the $15 so why would I buy a theme?

  6. miklb said

    Um, where, exactly? Themes in the wp.com presentation panel rarely show the author’s name unless the theme is actually selected, and there won’t be any mention of you on the theme itself.

    When I say free advertising, I mean for the theme itself. No effort to market the theme for profit necessary. However, advertising might not have been the best term if you are thinking along the lines of advertising yourself for other projects.

  7. When I say free advertising, I mean for the theme itself

    It’s another distribution channel, which, yes, is always useful to have. But you could say the same about any theme directory, most of which are far less restrictive about the content uploaded and far less likely to screw around with it.

    Most existing paid themes sell themselves on features: built-in adsense, ajaxified comments, enhanced customisation. All that stuff gets stripped out by wordpress.com for ‘security reasons’. They’re not even going to be allowed to offer a stripped-down marketplace version in addition to the full version on their own sites, because Matt wants exclusivity. (Never mind that he’s on seriously dodgy ground trying to do that with GPL content.) If you’re not capable of anything more than basic theming then this isn’t a problem, but if you know your stuff then designing for wordpress.com is going to be far too limiting for you. This isn’t a serious option for people who are already producing premium themes. It’s an attempt to bribe the hacks who are selling sponsored links. (Hence the lack of author links; he doesn’t trust these people not to sell theirs on.)

    I’m OK with that, if it means wordpress.com users get a wider range of themes to choose from. I’m afraid, though, that designers motivated by money tend to go where the money is: generic-looking web 2.0 themes like the ones wordpress.com is already flooded with.

  8. [...] Root said the other day that Matt was a Stalinist, and while this is clearly hyperbole, I have to admit that things around here are becoming ever more 1984. See that smiley in the corner? It’s watching you. « how to make the 50/50 split less painful [...]

  9. options said

    Maybe we should put the bar at $10? But then, is the convenience of having the theme installed for you really worth even that much?

    I’d be assuming the payments would be paypal-paypal transfers, so there wouldn’t be any overhead, or hassles collecting the payments

    there is the bar as well as there are overhead or hassles.

    I think we all have to admit the fact that Matt is Genius. he is like Bill Gates (of web 2.0) who has an unmatched talent of trading, being always able to spin demerits of the lamest part of the product* into profitable merits.

    well, I heard there used to be a saying that “one who invented (designed) it gets $1, one who made it gets $10, and only who sold it gets $100″.

    .
    *) Bill made a fortune on selling undocumented, crappy single-tasking MS-DOS. times have changed since, F\OSS now is the way to sell go.

    nowdays, free beer fundamentalists are gonna to avail from the non-editable (by the end-users) templates of the multi-blog (but not exactly MU in this respect) web-app.

    .
    PS
    I’ve also left a comment on your comment there (moderated yet).

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