revolution in the head

Can we expect to see a wordpress.com version of Revolution, then? Because I’m trying to think of what inducements Matt might have offered Bryan to adopt the One True Path — other than access to extend/themes, linkjuice from ma.tt and the withdrawal of his severe disapproval, none of which I’m convinced would have been quite enough — and hiring him to design a wordpress.com theme or two would be quite a good one.

(Well, there’s also ‘join me on the moral high ground so we can spit on Adii people from a great height’, but, again, perhaps not quite compelling enough.)

I actually suspect this was a case of the stick rather than the carrot. It is, to say the least, quite a risky enterprise to try and build a business upon a platform when the owners of said platform are known to be hostile towards your business and given to murmuring about its questionable legality. It would probably only take a couple of WordCamp whispers about Matt talking to lawyers to scare you into toeing the party line.

28 Comments »

  1. Dave Bonta said

    As a free beer fundamentalist myself, I applaud this move. And it seems like a smart business move for Brian to give potential customers of the currently available themes a whole month to purchase them before they disappear forever.

  2. Yeah Whatever said

    I think the guy had huge lagging sales (look at his competition, look at him — who would YOU choose) and that this is an opportunity to try to reboot his business model. It still doesn’t answer the fundamental questions of the GPL’s reach into themes, it simply puts one of the biggest players in that premium space on the other team.

    That’s what is in it for Matt. He now has a poster boy for his way of doing things. And even if he (Matt) is technically right, this whole area is still so grey, this decision really doesn’t affect the marketplace that has cropped up in the meantime. All it does is attempt to persuade others to follow suit.

  3. I could have sworn that the last time Matt convinced a theme designer to go GPL, the designer stated that they regretted it a few months later.

    I thought that you had blogged about it Wank but I can’t find it right off. Wank, if you get a chance…

  4. Small Potato? He was the last big name to get blinded by the white light of Matt’s approbation, but ended up chucking it all in and selling his site to a spammer.

    Of course, GPL isn’t as much of an issue if your themes are free anyway, it just severely limits the third-party resources you can use. (Arguably if you can’t make your own photos, icons or photoshop brushes you have no business designing themes anyway; personally I wouldn’t be that harsh.) There’s no point demanding people keep your linkback, because creeps remove it regardless of licence and decent people don’t need to be told. But as I said in SP’s comments back then, licensing should be the theme developer’s decision, not Matt’s

  5. Yup, that’s him. KB comments about it here: Link and Small Potato posts about it here: Link

    Now do you remember where I put my keys? :)

    Thanks,
    -drmike

  6. Interesting post and conversation here. :)

    To be clear, Matt didn’t contact me about this, I contacted him. If you really want to know why I did what I did, it’s all here:

    http://www.blogherald.com/2008/10/02/interview-with-brian-gardner-on-the-revolution-theme-going-open-source

    Strictly a business move that was preparing for the inevitable.

  7. we’ve chosen not to take our chances with the legality of it all.

    My second supposition was the correct one, then?

    I probably wouldn’t go as far as considering a full-blown legal attack upon the purveyors of non-GPL themes as ‘inevitable'; it’s hardly great PR to go after your community like that, and for every FBF cheering Automattic on, there’d be another supporting the freedom of creators to licence their work as they see fit and objecting to corporations throwing their weight around. Then again, attacking the community over sponsored themes didn’t seem to do too much damage to Automattic, and premium theme creators are a logical next target.

    I don’t blame you for being worried; I wouldn’t fancy my chances against a multimillion dollar corporation either. It will be interesting to see whether your competitors are intimidated into following suit. After all, there are still sponsored themes out there.

  8. It will be interesting to see whether your competitors are intimidated into following suit.

    I noted some guy going around linking to his theme stating that he’s going to release it as GPL as well. Does that count? :)

  9. I don’t know what counts, and what not – and our move wasn’t even out of fear of anything dealing with Automattic. None of this was vindictive, as I truly have respect for people like Adii, Chris Pearson, Cory Miller and the rest. All we did was move in this direction because at some point, for some unknown reason, I feel the premium market will fall apart. That’s all I’m saying!

  10. Oh how I wish there was just a little more insight into the revenue behind the 3rd party theme market – if only to gauge market size and any untapped potential. My assumption has always been that selling themes was a loss leader for designers in attempt to build their brand and establish their expertise as a designer.

  11. The only way you’ll see other Premium Theme sellers follow in Brian’s footsteps is if his decision adversely affects their revenue.

    As long as themes are selling, why make them free?

    Whether or not Brian’s decision will affect other theme sales is yet to be seen.

  12. I started to write a long comment, but turned it into a post instead:

    http://www.majordojo.com/2008/10/as-long-as-themes-are-selling-why-make-them-free.php

  13. [...] post by Byrne Reese, expanding on Nathan Rice’s comment on WordPress Wank about Brian Gardner’s move to open source his Revolution [...]

  14. Matt and the team have a huge responsibility to the “commercial ecosystem” that exists around them.

    There are many businesses that make their living thanks to WordPress… in one way or another, directly or indirectly. And I want to see maaaany more :)

    There is enough “wealth” in it for all of us… and no need for a scarcity mentality. So, while I understand the need to rigorously protect the GPL “foundation” on which all things WordPress are built, I think the far more interesting conversation is not about what NOT to do, but what we CAN do, creatively and entrepreneurially, to build build build the WordPress “economy”.

    I am keen (desperate) to hear Matt or Toni or whoever come out and boldly and passionately speak about the growing range of opportunities for more of us to get in on the “commercial action” associated with WordPress.

    Success for WordPress should mean commercial success for Automattic AS WELL AS a whole raft of small businesses doing all manner of creative stuff.

    If we can get past the matter of themes (not that there isn’t much more to say about themes), surely there is MUCH MORE to be said and explored, as far as making money out of WordPress is concerned??!

    Surely Automattic know just how important a LOT of healthy commercial activity around WordPress is, to its long-term success??

    Where is THIS conversation going on?!?!

    Cheers,

    -Alister


    Alister Cameron // Blogologist
    http://www.alistercameron.com

    Mob. 04 0404 5555
    Fax 03 8610 0050

    Skype: alistercameron
    Yahoo: Alister_Cameron
    Twitter: alicam

  15. Where is THIS conversation going on?!?!

    It’s not.

    Automattic, among other things, is a business providing WordPress-related services. Therefore they have a fundamental conflict of interest when it comes to encouraging other businesses to provide WordPress-related services. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. If Automattic didn’t want a near-monopoly in WP-related services I doubt very much they would have attracted the level of investment they have. If anyone is providing something they don’t they’ll either incorporate them (BuddyPress, GPL themes and plugins) or try to shut them down (sponsored/premium themes and plugins).

    Also, as Automattic get bigger, they are becoming less dependent on the community. Development, support, even plugins and themes, can increasingly be handled in-house. If you are looking for a platform that will wholeheartedly support and encourage independent developers, you’ll need to look elsewhere. WordPress is far too closely integrated with Automattic to give you what you want.

  16. Matt’s gone after folks as well who have set up their own WordPress related businesses:

    http://incsub.org/blog/2007/introducing-wpmudev-premium#comments

    I have to wonder about that list of consultants on the Automattic website and if they’ve left anyone off of it who has requested being listed.

  17. if they’ve left anyone off of it who has requested being listed.

    I have no doubt that requests get ‘mislaid’ if they come from a source Matt disapproves of. Linkage from automattic.com is quite valuable, not least in pagerank terms; it’s not something Matt’s going to give away lightly. I doubt he would risk charging directly for inclusion, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he demanded a reciprocal link.

  18. Honest answer: Don’t know about the reciprocal link. Incsub doesn’t have one on their site. At least I don’t see one.

    I do see that they’ve now divided the consultant page down into regions instead of how it used to be with programming areas.

  19. Just to say, I am on that list of WordPress consultants, and there wasn’t any required linkback. I submitted my company to them through the means by which they requested, and then I was added.

  20. Jake Summers said

    I just don’t get the entire argument?? What am I missing?

    Can someone please explain why Brian is making his themes GPL and how this relates to Automattic. And I don’t mean the la-la stuff Brian talks about. I want to know what everyone here is talking about. Not Brian’s statements.

    The Revolution themes never really seemed so compelling to me compared to so many other premium themes. If you really did a features and analysis you would totally see that they are so exaggerated in terms of their greatness. Going GPL seems like a smart move because their isn’t more that can be done to them.

  21. What are you not getting?

    Automattic are strongly against anyone releasing WordPress-related code under licences which aren’t GPL-compatible. Part of this is religious, part of it is practical; if you were to make the most totally awesome theme or plugin ever seen in the history of WordPress, GPL-ness means they’d be able to incorporate it in the code.

    If I were a premium theme developer, I think my concern would be threefold: one, that the parent company of my chosen platform disapproves of my business model and actively seeks to undermine my work (by, for example, bitching that my licencing decisions are not only unethical but illegal, floating pie-in-the-sky ideas such as the Theme Marketplace, promoting only free-as-in-beer themes on wordpress.org).

    Two, that there are more theme developers than there used to be, and being first to pioneer the market isn’t enough to maintain your position. You have to be very confident that you’re better than your competitors, and I don’t know enough about the premium themes market to be able to say whether Revolution was still able to compete on that level. It’s safe to say, though, that Brian would have been reluctant to alter his business model if the old one was still working well for him.

    Three, that as we enter a global worldwide recession the WordPress community is likely to revert to its default position of not wanting to pay for stuff. It is easier to sell support services than themes, because nobody is offering free support services. (Well, some people may, but most of the time when you download a free theme, you have no idea how well-supported it is.)

  22. Jake Summers said

    Thanks for the nice roundup and summary. Now I get it where everyone is coming from.

    I guess when it was first hyped up, and then announced on Brian’s site, it just didn’t sit well. Everything didn’t add up. Especially how Brian has been going around on every blog in a preaching tonality about how he wants to give back and live with the spirit of wordpress. That just made no sense and I don’t like when people go on parading such a self-righteous stance when in reality he is a businessman.

    I am sure it is purely because his business can’t compete with the other more impressive theme developers. And this is a field I keep up with in massive detail. Brian’s themes are really a first elementary step in “premium themes” compared to others.

    It will be interesting to see this pan out, but I for one personally love the premium theme market place. It has pushed the limits of wordpress themes so far in just a short time. I’m all for it and support the theme developers.

    (btw, I am not a theme developer, I have only been with wordpress for a year now. I just like to reverse engineer a great theme and learn from it.)

  23. One note of interest. The top WordPress blogs still has a banner for the theme in the right sidebar. I wonder if they noticed the change. Considering that they haven’t updated that list in quite some time, they might not have.

    I don’t like when people go on parading such a self-righteous stance when in reality he is a businessman.

    This is WordPress. You get used to that.

  24. I bet Matt really hates being third on that list while the aforementioned spammer who bought WPDesigner from Small Potato is at the top ;)

    Lots of sites carry affiliate ads for Revolution, and Brian states in his announcement that the affiliate program will continue as before. Whether the packages he’s selling and by extension the 25% commission will remain at a similar price point, though, I don’t know.

    (Of course, affiliate ads are something Automattic are in no position to demur at.)

  25. It’s a dead blog as well.

    Of course, affiliate ads are something Automattic are in no position to demur at.

    Of course Matt has stated a number of times that they don’t include adverts on the Dashboard. :)

  26. Adii said

    (Well, there’s also ‘join me on the moral high ground so we can spit on Adii people from a great height’, but, again, perhaps not quite compelling enough.)

    You had me on that one… :) I can almost *promise* you that there are much bigger things (ego’s, agenda’s etc.) in play here and that you’d be suprised to know that your statement might not be too far from the truth. Unfortunately I need to stay vague, because I don’t run WP Wank and I can do without having to provoke other peeps.

    All I know for a fact is that there is a shitload of hypocrisy going around and if the supposed *community* knew about this, you’d be hearing a different tune. See, there is truth and then their is marketing speaking… But the wheel does turn and karma is indeed a bitch… So we’ll watch this space!?

  27. you’d be hearing a different tune

    I kind of doubt that. Anyone who disagrees with The Matt gets dropped from the community like a *cough* hot potato. He’s proven that a number of times..

  28. Adii said

    But isn’t the *community* supposed to be bigger than one person? And in addition – I wasn’t neccessarily referring to Matt…

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