WordPress logo Matt (Creator of WordPress) has just announced his plans to set up a directory of paid themes on WordPress.com. The initial reaction has been both good and bad.

Before I give my thoughts on the ups and downs of this, here’s a quick run-through of the facts.

  • Matt removed all sponsored themes from the free WordPress.org directory a few months ago.
  • The new theme directory is only for WordPress.com (The free blog host).
  • Automattic (Matt’s company) will take a 50% cut from all sales.
  • All themes must be “original, link-free, not published before, and GPL-licensed.”

The Up Side

  • Marketplace based on merit. Premium WordPress themes are still a relatively new development for WordPress, and as such, there is no central premium theme community.Brian Gardner’s Revolution theme is an excellent theme, but the main reason that it’s doing so well isn’t just the quality, but the publicity. It was the first, and it’s the one everybody knows and links to. New theme developers just don’t stand a chance at that success. At least, not without a central marketplace.
  • Matt is allowed to make money. It’s easy to think of WordPress as the epitome of open source, which must never be corrupted by the evils of money. But we’re forgetting that thousands of people already make money off WordPress indirectly (Bloggers with ads, designers, coders etc.), and that WordPress.com is a commercial venture.
  • New functionality for millions of WordPress users. The choice of styles on WordPress.com has always been rather limited. The marketplace would open up all new doors.

The Down Side

  • 50%? Seriously? I would want to hear a lot more about why they picked that number. It seems very high. It literally means that Automattic will make as much money as every single theme developer put together.
  • Why do I have to use the GPL license? Matt has said that “all themes in the marketplace will be available FREE to wordpress.org users.” If I’m going to the trouble of making a premium theme, why would I want to give it away for free?It also means that I’m charging the people who needed a free blog, but not charging the people who are able to buy hosting and a domain. Is that not flawed logic?
  • Conflict in the license. Matt says that all themes must be “link-free.” If he means sponsored links, that’s fine, but if he means the author’s link, there’s a problem. The GPL allows me to retain my credit link.

All in all, I actually don’t mind the idea of the directory.

However, I don’t like the way it is being approached. 50% is an outrageous amount, and dictating what happens with the theme outside of WordPress.com is a little pushy.

And yet, Matt could go ahead with the idea exactly as it is, and still be a success. The community is there, and no-one else has access to it. Designers will jump through any hoops to get access to that, which gives Automattic complete control. That’s a little worrying (What’s next?).

What I would like to see now is a discussion. This is all still a new idea, and it’s too early to write things off. I’d like to see Matt and the Automattic crew listening to the community, and giving their side of the story.

What’s your take on it all?

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