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Are Free WordPress Themes Dead?

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Alex Denning over at WPShout brings up an interesting point in his post titled Free WordPress Themes? Forget it. It’s Over. Basically, he argues that free WordPress themes aren’t getting the love and attention they used to, mostly due to commercial themes taking all the spotlight.

So do I think free WordPress themes dead? No, not necessarily. I’ll tell you what kind of themes are dead though, at least as dead as themes can get. Old, stale, and boring blog themes. Themes like this are a dime a dozen. The sheer quantity of these themes do make it hard for a “diamond in the rough” theme to stand out.

If you want to see some examples of what I’m talking about, just take a look at the new theme releases announced on Weblog Tools Collection where I’d say over 90% of them fit the “old, stale, and boring” description. There are already over a thousand of them on WordPress.org, do we really need any more?

I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but I’ve been trying to shy away from releasing these types of themes on Theme Lab lately for this very reason. I think themes like Jungleland, Photabulous, and RS14 stray away at least slightly from the norm. Despite this, I have noticed they don’t seem to get as much attention as some of the older themes here have gotten.

As of right now, Colourise, which was released in the middle of last year has over 42,000 downloads and is currently used on a ton of sites. It was featured on Smashing Magazine, twice, Best WP Themes, among countless other of those theme roundup posts. Honestly, the theme is nothing more than a pretty design, yet it got a ton of attention. A little more than a year later, just being “pretty” isn’t good enough anymore.

But the problem doesn’t lie with just free themes, the exact same problem can apply premium themes as well. By just taking a quick glance at the bloated commercially supported themes page at WordPress.org, you’ll see the commercial theme sites are popping up all over the place, making it even more difficult for free and paid themes alike to get the exposure they need to be successful.

Do I have a problem with this? No, not in the slightest. It’s called competition, and if you become complacent you’re just going to get left behind in the dust. Today you have to push the envelope and think outside of the box to get noticed when it comes to WordPress themes. Truly innovative and creative themes, ones that push the envelope on a consistent basis will never be dead. And no, a theme doesn’t need a price tag to do this.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. What do you think of the current state of the WordPress theme market these days? Are you tired of seeing countless boring blog themes or would you like to see something new brought to the table? Are commercial theme developers bringing most of the innovation? Sound off in the comments below.

About

Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.