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March 30 2012

17:00

Choosing a WordPress Theme: Free or Premium?

Perhaps one of the most striking features of WordPress is the easy availability of themes. Take a look at any of the other CMSs – be it Joomla!, Drupal or Textpattern – none of them comes even close when it comes to the availability of ready-made themes and templates. Not only does WP have numerous free themes to its merit, it is also well supplemented for by several Premium theme providers. So, what exactly are Premium and Free themes anyway? In simple terms, Premium themes are those which come at a price that is paid to the theme provider whereas Free themes are just that – free! 

Premium Themes

Just like any other commercial commodity, Premium themes too often undergo the debate regarding pricing – there are some who claim that Premium themes are an unfair means to monetize an open source project, whereas there are still others who hold the view that Premium themes are solutions which cannot be provided in the absence of commercial funding and, owing to the competition, often Premium themes are under-priced.

Pictured: 'Unsigned' -- a Premium Theme by WooThemes

Pictured: 'Unsigned' -- a Premium Theme by WooThemes

Link to ‘Unsigned’ by WooThemes

When it comes to positives, Premium themes have many advantages:

  1. First up, most Premium themes come with A+ grade support which is missing in Free themes. This is because the developers build Premium themes as a means of livelihood and thus tend to provide excellent grade support.
  2. Further more, Premium themes are reliable. They are updated on a regular basis, often come with extended or lifetime support and extensive documentation.
  3. Premium themes also have several unique features that are otherwise lacking in Free themes. Plus, due to stiff competition, theme providers are working hard to make their offerings the best of the lot and thus, Premium themes happen to be super-rich in features.
  4. Premium themes generally pay great attention to details. In fact, they often have better tweaks for settings such as SEO than their Free counterparts.
  5. Along similar lines, Premium themes come in several forms to suit your needs – there are special offerings depending on the genre of your website.
  6. Unlike Free themes, Premium themes are not so common and this can lend a unique appeal to your blog.

On the downside, Premium themes also have their share of disadvantages:

  1. Unlike Free themes, which are generally added to the official WP repository and undergo a review process, Premium themes can at times be mere commercial entities that may or may not be standards compliant in terms of licensing.
  2. Premium themes generally come for a fee and spending money on a blog that might just be a hobby may not suit everyone’s purpose.
  3. While this does not apply to everyone, at times, Premium themes, in their bid to be super-awesome, may come loaded with several features, whereas in reality, you may not need all of them. You will therefore, be using just a sub-set of the total number of features. In other words, for certain scenarios, using a Premium theme might be an overkill.
WP Theme Repo is an excellent place to look for free themes

WP Theme Repo is an excellent place to look for free themes

Free Themes

There are several Free themes for WordPress from different providers. Often, many developers develop Free themes to build their portfolio or just for fun. On the other hand, many Premium theme providers as well as WP-related blogs may release Free themes for their visitors.

Pictured: 'Sight' -- a Free Theme by WPShower

Pictured: 'Sight' -- a Free Theme by WPShower

Link to ‘Sight’ by WPShower

There are several advantages of Free themes:

  1. Firstly, Free themes don’t burn a hole in your pockets – simply download and use! There are no prices to pay.
  2. While personalized support is generally absent with Free themes, many developers respond to queries and comments in forums. Plus, you can always get great support from WP Codex and official forums.
  3. Since Free themes are more common, the number of plugins and configuration settings that they support is also large. And just in case a particular plugin does not work with a given theme, you can always report the issue to the official repository. With Premium themes, however, due to smaller user base, the process takes some extra time.

On the downside, Free themes come with certain disadvantages too:

  1. Free themes generally do not come with any warranty or assurance of working.
  2. Unlike Premium themes, you cannot expect top-notch personalized support with Free themes.
  3. The update frequency, though good, is not as great as that of Premium themes.
  4. Most Free themes tend to be quite common and this can kill the ‘unique’ look of your blog.
  5. Lastly, there are several Free theme providers who offer themes with spam or phishing links. If you are downloading Free themes, the ideal method is to do so from reputable providers, instead of simply searching for themes on Google.

Tips for Choosing an Ideal Theme

Irrespective of it being Free or Premium, a theme should serve your purpose well. Only you can comment on what exactly your needs are, but it helps to bear a few basic points in mind when settling on a theme:

  1. Do not compromise on the features and functionality that you need. A good theme should provide ample features to suit both your present and future needs.
  2. Even though you may be well-versed in coding, look for a theme that is easy to use and modify. In other words, try to choose a theme that does not require rocket science for customization – the time and efforts invested in configuring a theme, if saved, can be invested elsewhere too.
  3. If you have a specific genre of website, such as a photo/video gallery, opt for a theme meant for that specific purpose.
  4. Ensure that the developers are active and the theme is regularly updated.
  5. Plus, check for the available support options. If it’s a Premium theme, ask for nothing less that personalized email support/ticketing system. And if it’s a Free theme, look for the level of activity in the forums (if any) and/or the frequency with which the developer responds to the comments on his website.
  6. Next up, bear in mind that the theme you are opting for should not be too old – this is especially true if you are choosing a Free theme. Web technology tends to get updated at a rapid pace, and it makes sense to opt for a theme that is updated.

Just in case even Premium themes fail to impress you, and you have the budget, consider opting for a Custom Design.

Which theme do you use for your blog? Is it free or Premium? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

March 03 2012

10:00

Joomla! 2.5 – Does it Have What it Takes to Beat WordPress?

Joomla! has long enjoyed the reputation of being one of the leading CMSs. Whether you are running a blog, a corporate website, a news site or a site of any other genre, Joomla! has the ability to suit your needs and power your website.

However, of late, Joomla! has lost some of its market share – particularly due to the rise of WordPress.

Sometime back, Joomla! released its version 2.5 (which has already had a security update by now). As with any product, Joomla! is also trying hard to shed its older image of being the geek-friendly CMS and contest WP for its crown of being the end-user’s CMS. The latest release, version 2.5, has taken many strides towards that strategy. In fact, it is the first major release after version 1.5 (the interim ones such as 1.7 were short-term releases).

In this article, we shall compare Joomla! 2.5 with WordPress. But before going any further, let us catch a glimpse of what Joomla 2.5 has to offer.

Joomla! 2.5 – Under the Hood

  • First up, Joomla! 2.5  now offers multi-database support, including Microsoft SQL server. This is a great addition as until now, Joomla! was (by default) compatible only with MySQL databases.
  • Next, Joomla! 2.5 comes with automated script updates, improved search and auto-complete functionality within the Article Editor.
  • Arguably, the most notable new feature is the Joomla! Platform version 11.3 (with added support for third party extensions, Offline Mode and CAPTCHA Services, and new additions to the j* class).
  • Code Mirror has replaced TinyMCE as the default editor. You can still use the old editor if you so desire, though.
  • Categories under Article Manager now support fluid hierarchy and you can filter sub-categories as well.
  • Better localization
  • Support for Unicode Aliases for URLs – you can now have URLs in languages such as Hebrew and Arabic too.
  • Enhanced security – over 240 major vulnerabilities have been fixed.
  • Eye-candy and better appearance – even the thumbnails seem to float when you hover the mouse pointer over them!

It is also worth noting that support and updates for older versions of Joomla! will no longer be available. In other words, unless you have a very good reason not to do so, you should upgrade to Joomla 2.5

Usual Stuff!

Joomla! 2.5 doesn’t really ‘revamp’ the admin back-end to the extent one would expect it to. Still, the admin area has the following major menus:

Admin Dashboard in Joomla 2.5

Admin Dashboard in Joomla! 2.5

  1. Site: You can tweak the site-wide settings here, such as making global changes, clearing the cache, and editing the logged in user’s profile.
  2. Users: In this section, you can set up user accounts, groups, define access levels and permissions and configure mass mail functionality.
  3. Menus: Menu Manager and associated features.
  4. Content: The Article Manager, Category Manager and Media Manager are here.
  5. Components: Miscellaneous stuff, such as banners, news feed, redirects, links, etc. are placed under Components.
  6. Extensions: Extensions (modules, plugins, templates and language packs) can be found in this menu.
  7. Help: Obviously, this is where you’d turn for Help files, documentation and wiki pages.

As we can see, Joomla 2.5 comes with many vital additions to its set of features. But does it have what it takes to beat WordPress? Let’s take a look by comparing it with WP.

(Note that, the focus here is to evaluate the performance of Joomla! 2.5 and WP under certain categories).

Joomla! 2.5 versus WordPress

Ease-of-Use and Mode-of-Operation

Joomla! supports a lot of features natively that WordPress does not – for example, sitemaps and mass emailing. While WP can surely be extended by means of plugins, at the end of the day, Joomla! comes with a more handsome set of built in features.

However, WP is easier in terms of usage. For instance, take a look at the Article Editor.

Article Editor in Joomla 2.5

Article Editor in Joomla! 2.5

In Joomla! 2.5, the Article Editor flashes a lot of features – formatting tools, SEO tools, metadata tools, and what not!

WordPress, on the other hand, also has a powerful Editor. Yet, once you use both of them, you realize that WP comes with the more nimble options.

Article Editor in WordPress

Article Editor in WordPress

Bottomline: though Joomla! has an equally awesome Editor, it does not beat WP in terms of speed of operation and usability.

Extendability and Addons

Both Joomla! and WordPress come with an excellent repository for extensions or plugins. However, WP does score way above Joomla! when it comes to themes/templates.

WordPress is being served by numerous designers and developers and you will come across thousands of themes for WP, both free and premium.

Whether you’re running a job board, a news site or a photography portfolio, you can be sure that you have many ready-made themes waiting for you.

While Joomla! 2.5 is also backed by a decent collection of templates, the choices here are nothing compared to what WP boasts of. Theme makers such as RocketTheme and YOOtheme have been creating Joomla! templates for quite some time, but your options are limited – even with these two theme providers, WP is the main forte.

Bottomline: the list of premium template providers for Joomla! is small when compared with WP.

Overall Website Management

Website management, in itself, is one such area wherein one CMS cannot exactly outperform the other. It depends mainly on the user, to be precise.

Anyway, Joomla! 2.5, as stated earlier, comes with many additional features. Naturally, its Settings and Configuration mechanism will be more loaded than that of WordPress. You can tweak email settings, article editor’s features, menus, layout, etc. All in all, Joomla! comes with a neat website management and settings’ section.

It is also worth noting that Joomla! offers many features natively, that are otherwise available in other CMSs only by means of extensions/plugins. For instance, to really gain terrific SEO features in WP, you will probably need to use third-party plugins. Joomla!, on the other hand, has loaded the SEO goodness natively in the CMS itself.

SEO Settings in Joomla 2.5

SEO Settings in Joomla 2.5

Along similar lines, Joomla! lets you setup email newsletters and mail accounts from within the CMS itself. Such functionality serves as a real blessing if you are running a large site.

Mail Settings in Joomla 2.5

Mail Settings in Joomla 2.5

Bottomline: Joomla! 2.5 has several ‘useful’ features that WP doesn’t have, natively.

Support and Community

Both WordPress and Joomla! have a loyal and active community, so you are in safe hands if you need help. Further more, both of them have an elaborate documentation, always ready to help you.

If you are a Joomla! developer, you can always head to the Joomla! Developer Network or Joomfish if you need support.

Lastly, Joomla! also has its own community magazine.

Bottomline: Joomla’s documentation and community support is at par, if not better, than WP.

The Verdict

Joomla! 2.5 has taken giant strides and added many new features to its arsenal. There is still ample scope for improvement – the CMS can use a few good responsive templates and support for mobile devices definitely needs a facelift. Still, version 2.5 has done a good job in enhancing the user experience overall and adding to Joomla!’s credit.

So, does Joomla! 2.5 really have what it takes to beat WordPress?

Well, Joomla! has been the coder’s CMS for quite some time, but of late it has been trying to be the end-user’s weapon of choice. It now has many interesting features that make it stand apart from the crowd of CMSs, but all said and done, it still does not beat WordPress in terms of ease of use and user friendliness. Managing a website can be cumbersome task at times, and WP does well to take that burden away from the user, as much as possible. Joomla!, though a very powerful CMS, just does not fit the bill if you are considering it as a viable option to WP in terms of ease of use.

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20:53
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December 16 2011

21:00

A Tale of Two Competitive CMS’s: WordPress And TextPattern In The Spotlight

WordPress and TextPattern are two very popular blogging platforms. Both of them began as blogging platforms (and somehow insist on being blogging tools even to this day), yet have quickly evolved into full-fledged and extremely powerful CMS’s. Both of them have pros and cons, and each boasts of a very dedicated user base as well as communities and forums.

In this article, we shall attempt to compare TextPattern and WordPress and see which one emerges victorious.

Before proceeding further, a short disclaimer: the division of this comparative review under multiple headings does not essentially have a logical explanation – I’ve simply attempted to compare it using four basic, but very important, categories, functionality and usability, mode of operation, extensions and plugins and finally, community and support.

Furthermore, I guess many users of WP and TXP will either agree or disagree with my views. To be honest, using a particular CMS also requires a certain amount of personal choice, what might work for me, may not work for you, and vice-versa. Differences in opinion are always welcome!

So without further ado, let us begin with our comparison.

Functionality and Usability


When it comes to functionality and usability, WordPress seems to win easily. While this does not mean that TextPattern is, in any way, less functional than WordPress, WP simply beats TXP in terms of ease of use! With the advent of version 3.x and higher, WP now boasts of a super organized administrative panel that lets you manage your website with ease. Don’t believe me? Take a look at WP’s admin panel. ‘Dashboard’, ‘Posts’, ‘Pages’, ‘Settings’ – which of these sections are not self-explanatory? Customizing the blog becomes a matter of few clicks. Take a look at the ‘Settings’ page of both the CMSes.

WordPress Settings Page

WordPress Settings Page

On the other hand, TextPattern’s administrative panel, though equally capable and powerful, seems ‘outdated’ in comparison to that of WordPress. Of course, TXP is equally robust in its admin panel, but overall the interface is not as easy to use and may even be confusing for beginners.

TextPattern Settings Page

TextPattern Settings Page

Availability of Custom Plugins/Extensions and Themes


Apart from ease of use, the next thing that defines any piece of software is the availability of extensions for it. However, more often than not, there is a spiral between ‘ease of use’ on one hand and ‘extendability’ on the other. For instance, when it comes to mobile operating systems, Android is more popular than Samsung Bada. While this does not demerit Samsung Bada itself, Android’s popularity can be attributed to its ever-growing app market, which in turn is increasing because developers take an interest in it due to its easy extendability and wide usage, which ensures their efforts will not go unnoticed. Again, due to developers’ keen interest, the apps keep growing, and the users keep coming to Android.

Both WP and TXP support themes and templates as well as multiple plugins and extensions. However, WP has more themes and plugins then TXP. While this may or may not prove WP’s superiority, it surely plays its role in contributing to WP’s user base. Since many commercially viable tech blogs and websites are powered by WordPress (not to mention the millions of blogs at WordPress.com and Blog.com), it is but natural that WP has a large number of themes and plugins. Certain providers, such as WooThemes, offer themes for both WP and TXP. Yet, in this case too, WP dominates TXP in terms of the number of available themes.

If you have exemplary coding skills, fret not! You can easily tweak TXP and design your blog or website the way you wish to. But if you are an end user just looking to get a blog or website up and ready with as little technical expertise as possible, WP should be your safest bet!

Mode of Operation


Modus Operandi is by far the most debatable topic when it comes to comparing any two CMS’s, let alone WP and/or TXP.

To begin with, WordPress comes with a WYSIWYG Editor that makes editing posts and articles extremely simple.

WYSIWYG Editor in WP

WYSIWYG Editor in WP

TextPattern, on the other hand, has an equally awesome (though not so end-user friendly, as it takes some ‘getting used to’) editor, which can do almost anything you want it to, but will surely leave many beginners confused. In TXP, Textile and other related features can either be your best friends or your worst enemies.

Article Editor in TXP

Article Editor in TXP

In the admin back end as well, you will notice that mundane tasks such as updating the CMS, installing themes/plugins, or even navigating the back end – all seem easier on WP rather than TXP for a novice. However, the confusion vanishes once you get accustomed to the interface.

Community and Support


A CMS is only as good as its user base. Both TXP and WP have a good and fairly active community and many forums where you can seek support and advice.

In terms of documentation, TXP seems to win outright. WP is well documented, but it comes nowhere close to beating TXP – apart from the usual website, TXP also has its own User Documentation Website and another TXP Resources site.

Speaking of support, WP is updated on a more frequent basis as compared to TXP. However, this can be interpreted either way – supporters of WP will consider the frequent updates as higher level of activity at their developers’ end, while supporters of TXP can attribute the lesser updates to a sign of maturity of TXP in itself.

To sum it up


Before coming to a conclusion, let us recap each CMS’s pros and cons:

TextPattern:

Pros:

  • Textile is a wonderful component, and if you get used to it, you will never, ever, miss WP.
  • You can tweak your website as much as you want. There is negligible encapsulation done.
  • Extensive documentation.

Cons:

  • Admin back end looks outdated.
  • Interface confusing for beginners.
  • Lesser number of themes/plugins (as compared to WP)

WordPress:

Pros:

  • Perhaps the easiest CMS ever
  • Several themes/plugins
  • Excellent update mechanism

Cons:

  • WP is intended to power only one blog at a time (unless you’re using WPMU)
  • With plugins/extensions, it may becomes bloated
  • Editing article meta data is difficult
  • Notorious for frequent security bugs and issues

And the Winner is…


As I stated above, using (or not using) a particular CMS is a matter of personal preference too. More often than not, our choice for a CMS is governed by our needs (and, perhaps, bias towards a personal favorite).

WordPress and TextPattern are both great at what they do! If you need a CMS just to power a blog or a small website, look no further than WordPress. If, on the contrary, you wish to run multiple blogs, or prefer to tweak your articles before posting them (or simply like to do things the geeks’ way), TextPattern might be your ideal solution. In simple terms, TXP should be chosen if you wish to define the dynamics of your website just as if you were ‘programming’ software.

Have you used WP and/or TXP earlier? Do share your experiences with us in the comments!

April 20 2011

15:28

Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Advertisement in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs  in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs  in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

WordPress professionals are faced with many options when deciding which membership-based theme providers are worth their investment. It is important to know how frequent future releases are, what your actual cost will be over time and what kind of support you can expect. It is also important to know what types of themes you will be gaining access to. What I will provide in this article is information to help you compare the details of popular WordPress theme clubs, so that you can more easily determine which might be useful in your situation.

About WordPress Theme Clubs

There are dozens of companies that provide commercial WordPress themes on a membership basis. Let’s first discuss what it means to be a member of a theme club, who theme clubs are ideally suited for and what you generally get as a member of a theme club.

What are WordPress Theme Clubs?

Essentially, a theme club offers membership that you can purchase to gain access to a collection of professional-quality WordPress themes with support resources. Some providers call this arrangement a “club” while others simply call it a membership. Typically, a membership must be renewed either monthly or annually in order to maintain access to theme updates, new releases and support. Customers can continue to use themes already downloaded even after membership has ended.

There is also another type of “membership”. Some companies who sell themes individually also offer “all themes” packages that include future releases, updates and lifetime support. Basically, what they are offering is a lifetime membership with no recurring fees. For the purpose of this article, I will consider these providers as theme clubs, although they do not see themselves in this way and may not be as compelled to provide new releases at the same frequency as traditional clubs.

Who are Theme Clubs For?

Theme clubs are beneficial to those who produce many WordPress-powered websites. The idea is that you gain access to a useful, growing collection of themes for less than you would pay if you bought the themes individually. Freelance designers and developers are often members of WordPress theme clubs for the purpose of having an arsenal of themes to use for client projects. Other members are those who produce many sites for their own purposes. And, in some cases, it just makes sense to join when the cost of membership is not much greater than the two or three themes you were planning to buy individually.

What do Theme Clubs Provide?

The clubs featured in this article provide commercial WordPress themes. Also referred to as “premium” themes, these are professionally developed themes that often include advanced features. The discussion of what makes a commercial/premium theme “premium” is out of the scope of this article (for the discussion, read Why Premium WordPress Themes? on my website). Also provided is support via a forum (and sometimes a helpdesk system), documentation, new releases, updates to existing themes and layered PSD or PNG source graphics.

Different clubs provide different types of themes. Larger clubs usually offer a wide variety of themes while others may focus more on a niche such as business themes. It is important to look at the types of themes currently available from a provider because they are likely indicators of what you will be getting for new releases. Don’t assume that every club will provide the types of themes your client projects demand. If you design sites for all types of clients, you will probably want to join clubs that produce themes covering different niches.

Comparing Theme Club Details

Let’s start taking a look at the theme clubs themselves. While there are dozens out there, I am only including 11 in this article that meet my narrow criteria. The reason for this is quality. There are clubs that might not be worth looking at. Based on my findings, these clubs range from those that show promise to those that many consider to be exceptional. You should draw your own conclusions based on your specific needs. I am not a customer of any of these companies, so my research was done from a pre-sale perspective.

Criteria For This Comparison

The theme club operators in this article meet the following criteria with at least one of their plans/packages.

  • Offers renewable membership or an “all themes” package that includes future releases.
  • Provides customer support for at least the lifetime of membership.
  • Membership includes theme updates to ensure compatibility with latest versions of WordPress.
  • Provides documentation.
  • Allows use on multiple websites (including client websites).
  • Uses GPL or Split GPL license.
  • Actively produces new themes.
  • Currently provides 10 or more themes.
  • Provides a live front-end demo of themes.
  • Exhibits professional-quality design work.
  • Includes layered graphic files (Photoshop PSD or Fireworks PNG)
  • Branding in theme footers can be removed.

WordPress is licensed under the GPL. Therefore, since theme code is derived from WordPress, themes must also be licensed under the GPL. Reputable theme sellers license their themes under the GPL or they use a Split GPL license. The latter means that the theme’s PHP code is GPL-licensed while external files (JavaScript, CSS, images etc.) that are not derived from GPL-licensed material are not.

Comparing Apples to Apples

Many theme clubs offer a more expensive “developer” membership that includes layered PSD or PNG files. Since this article is written for designers and developers, all pricing, numbers and calculations in the table and charts below are for “developer” plans and packages. Free themes are excluded from calculations. Some memberships include non-WordPress themes which are also excluded from this analysis.

A Side-by-Side Comparison

This table shows details about companies and their themes, costs, features and methods of support. Sellers are ordered by the number of paid themes that they currently provide.

Start Date
When WordPress themes were first made available by the provider.

Monthly Releases
A six month average from September, 2010 through February, 2011. It does not include free themes.

Min. Price for All
The lowest price you would pay for all themes (with source PSD or PNG files) if you joined, downloaded all themes and then canceled before the first renewal date.

Min. Cost Each
Min. Price for All divided by Paid Themes.

Framework
Means whether or not the club includes a theme framework that utilizes child themes.

Lifetime Support
Indicates that support is provided even after membership has ended.

Wp-theme-club-comparison-04-19-2011 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
Data current as of March 25, 2011. Monthly Releases considers paid themes released between September 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011. Pricing and support is for “developer” plans with multiple use licenses and layered graphics files.

A Note About Code

I was originally going to include a row in this table to show which providers use W3C valid XHTML/CSS code. Nearly every provider claimed that this was the case. However, the reality is that many themes don’t fully validate because they often use CSS3, Flash, third-party code (especially social media) and other reasonable bits of Web goodness that cause validation issues. A better claim for some providers may be that they strive to produce valid code whenever reasonably possible.

Regarding server-side code: not being a member of these themes clubs, I can’t draw any conclusions about the quality of their PHP code (organization, best practices, commenting etc). But maybe that’s a good topic for another study.

How Many And How Much

If you are visually-oriented like I am, then it might be beneficial to see the data presented in charts.

Number of Themes Now and To Be Expected

It is clear that some theme producers are just starting out while others are more established. It is important to be aware of how many themes you are getting access to when you first sign up. A large collection of themes is useful. It is also evidence of how hard the company has been working for its members from the beginning (consider the age of each company).

Paid-themes-per-provider-03-25-2011 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
The total number of paid (non-free) WordPress themes in each provider’s collection as of March 25, 2011.

Something that is not immediately apparent by visiting theme club websites is how many themes they release each month. I don’t mean how many themes they tell you they will be releasing, but how many themes they have actually been releasing on a regular basis. The proof is in the pudding.

Monthly-releases-03-25-2011 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
The average monthly paid WordPress theme releases from September 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011.

Assessing the Actual Cost

Most theme clubs require a one-time joining fee plus either a monthly or annual renewal fee. The chart below shows the actual cost of being a “developer” member for the first year. Theme clubs with a larger selection understandably cost more. However, there are exceptions such as Elegant Themes.

Also worth noting are StudioPress and Organic Themes which do not have recurring fees, so their costs will prove dramatically less than most others after a couple years. Cost should not be the sole determining factor, however. A good deal has to include themes you will actually use.

Membership-cost-one-year-03-25-2011 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
The total cost of each provider’s “developer” membership after one year.

If you want to take the “smash and grab” approach and are not necessarily interested in future releases or support, you can join and download all themes and then cancel before your renewal is due. This is a way to create your own one-time fee “all themes pack”. Look again at the table above to see which companies will provide you with lifetime support. The chart below shows the cost per theme you can expect when doing this.

Minimim-cost-per-theme-03-25-2011 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs
The actual cost per WordPress theme from each provider when signing up, downloading all themes, then canceling before renewal.

A Closer Look At Each Theme Club

Much can be said about each theme club. Let’s take a more individualized look at what is offered by each provider.

WooThemes: Consistent Deliverer

South Africa
www.woothemes.com (Pricing Details)

Club-101 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

WooThemes started in 2008 and has established itself as the largest club in terms of number of themes available. Their Developer Club Subscription costs $200 to start plus $20 per month. They provide support via their forum and have produced a wide range of resources including documentation for each theme plus tutorials and videos. WooThemes has been successful at engaging their community of customers with an active blog, job board, busy forums and even comic strips.

Kudos

  • They promise two new themes monthly. Over the last six months, they have averaged 2.7 releases per month, excluding free themes. This says a lot about their commitment to provide for their members.
  • WooThemes supports customers who have cancelled their subscriptions.
  • They produce a wide variety of themes (33 niches according to ThemeSorter).
  • Their Playground lets you experience the back-end of every theme.

Concerns?

One complaint is that WooThemes is expensive. However, I believe that the cost of their developer club is proportional to what it provides. They have the largest collection and release the most themes per month. They actually have the second-lowest minimum cost per theme of all sellers in this group.

Elegant Themes: Affordable Quality

United States

www.elegantthemes.com (Pricing Details, see Terms for developer license fee)

Club-102 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Elegant Themes started in 2008 and has developed a reputation of being one of the more prolific theme producers. They are known for their low cost and high quality. The cost is a mere $39/year plus a one-time fee of $89 if you plan on using their themes for client websites.

Kudos

  • Affordability. They offer the most themes for the lowest yearly renewal fee.
  • The quality of themes is much better than many would expect for the price paid.
  • They averaged a healthy 1.7 new releases per month over the last six months.
  • Elegant Themes provides a respectable variety of themes including not only blog, magazine/news and business themes but also portfolio themes and niche themes for real estate, events, product showcasing and more.
  • They offer a 30-day money back guarantee.

Concerns?

The standard license allows for multiple use but only on your own sites. In order to create sites for clients, you must pay a one-time $89 fee for a developer license. This is still a great deal but unless you read the fine print, this is easy to miss. It also cannot be paid for at the time of sign-up (members pay for it as an upgrade). I don’t consider this to be a major concern, just something to be aware of before joining.

Templatic: Robust Variety

India

templatic.com (Pricing Details)

Club-103 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Templatic is an India-based company that produces a wide variety of WordPress themes. Especially notable are their full-featured e-commerce themes. With over 50 themes and more than one new release each month, they are one of the largest and fastest growing providers. Their club may be a good solution for those needing many different types of themes for client projects. Club membership is $299 plus $15 per month.

Kudos

  • Large variety of well-designed themes. I was able to classify their themes into several dozen niches.
  • They offer several full-blown e-commerce themes complete with shopping carts and online payment handling.
  • They offer individual support via their helpdesk in addition to forum support.
  • They continue to provide support after cancellation.

Concerns?

  • Members have been told to expect two new releases monthly. However, from September, 2010 through February, 2011, they have averaged 1.2 new releases per month. Even when counting free themes, they have not met their own expectation. Still, they are releasing a useful amount of new themes regularly.
  • The English used on parts of their website and theme demos is sometimes awkward which can come across as unprofessional.

StudioPress: Unlimited Everything

United States

studiopress.com (Pricing Details)

Club-104 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

StudioPress is not technically a theme club. They are included in this group of providers because their Pro Plus All-Themes package ($249.95) includes all current and future theme releases plus lifetime support. This is in effect a membership without recurring fees. The simplicity of their “Unlimited Everything” philosophy is refreshing. They offer many business, gallery/portfolio and women’s interest themes produced by both StudioPress and talented collaborators.

Kudos

  • No recurring fees.
  • Lifetime support, updates and future releases.
  • They have averaged 1.3 new releases per month during the last six months.
  • Their popular Genesis Framework is included. This is a great tool for developers and more savvy WordPress users.
  • StudioPress has a 30-day refund policy.
  • Their selection of themes geared toward women is commendable.

NattyWP: Fading Away?

United States

www.nattywp.com (Pricing Details)

Club-105 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

NattyWP has been around since 2008 and currently offers 28 premium themes plus future releases for their members. The cost is $300 per year. They have a selection of the most popular types of WordPress themes: magazine/news, business, portfolio and blog.

Kudos

  • They offer support via a helpdesk. Most clubs do not provide this type of private/individual support.
  • Members continue to receive support after cancellation.
  • Their offerings cover the most common needs.

Concerns?

They have released only two new themes during the last six months (their frequency of releases was greater in the past). Their website looks the same as it did in 2008 and their forum seems to be inactive, so you have to wonder how much their heart is still in it.

WPZOOM: Second Wind

Moldova

www.wpzoom.com (Pricing Details)

Club-106 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

WPZOOM redesigned their website very recently and with that introduced a membership option. They have averaged one new release per month over the last six months while selling themes individually. At the time they introduced their new theme club, they commented that they would be releasing one to three new themes per month. It sounds like they might be stepping it up a notch which would be a great benefit to new members. WPZOOM’s specialty over the last couple years has been magazine/news and portfolio themes.

The cost of their developer club is $299 for the first month then $19/month thereafter.

Kudos

  • A dream for frequent magazine/news theme users.
  • WPZOOM provides lifetime support even after a member cancels.

Concerns?

Developer club pricing is higher than other providers who offer more themes. I hope to see WPZOOM expand both the size and variety of their offerings for their new members.

Obox: Solid Offerings

South Africa

www.obox-design.com (Pricing Details)

Club-107 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Obox had its beginning as a web development company run by brothers David and Marc Perel. Two years ago they turned their attention to theme design and have built up a collection of 24 premium WordPress themes (more for Tumblr and Posterous). Their membership costs $125 to start then $15/month to maintain. You can expect about one new WordPress theme release per month. Their offerings are mostly made up of blog themes with a dash of magazine-style inspiration. Business and portfolio/gallery themes are also part of the collection.

Kudos

  • A reputation for excellent support.
  • High quality design work.
  • The OCMX plugin is included and may be of interest to developers.

RocketTheme: Feature-packed

United States

www.rockettheme.com/wordpress (Pricing Details)

Club-108 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

The first thing that struck me about RocketTheme when looking at their demos was the customization options that many of their WordPress themes provide. While most themes from other sellers come with several color schemes or styles, many of RocketTheme’s themes include user-friendly tools that let you create your own custom styles (go to the Crystalline demo and click COLOR CHOOSER at the top-right).

The cost is $250 to start your RocketTheme membership then $200 each year for renewal. You will gain access to their collection which is mostly made up of themes for business, blog and magazine/news sites. Note that RocketTheme offers separate memberships for WordPress and Joomla.

Kudos

  • Impressive customization options included with many themes.
  • They have consistently delivered on their promise to release one new theme per month since they started selling WordPress themes in 2009.
  • Their design style is unique and flashy.
  • Many features are included with their themes, especially newer releases.

Themify: Fast Start

Canada

themify.me (Pricing Details)

Club-109 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Themify is a relatively new WordPress theme provider. They opened their doors last year and have 13 paid themes already. They are definitely one to watch. If they keep up their pace, they could end up as one of the leading clubs. Right now they have a small selection but manage to offer many different types of themes (such as microblogging, restaurant, news, business, portfolio). Variety is a good thing for a theme club and it looks like Themify realizes this and has made it a part of their growth plan.

The cost of their membership is $150 for the first month then $20 per month for renewal.

Kudos

  • They have been working fast with 1.2 releases per month on average since last summer.
  • Clearly aiming to build a variety of themes to meet many needs.

Concerns?

The cost is a concern considering their small size at the moment. They will have to deliver a high number of regular releases to justify their $20/month renewal fee.

Organic Themes: Still Growing

United States

www.organicthemes.com

Note: There is a “Buy All Themes” button on the top-right of their themes page. They do not have a page with details for their all-themes developer package. David Morgan of Organic Themes confirmed that this package “entitles the purchaser to current and future theme releases.”

Club-110 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

Having launched in 2010, Organic Themes is another one of the newer WordPress theme providers. The company is based in a small Hawaiian town and run by David Morgan and Jeff Milone. The first thing to note about Organic Themes is that they sell an “all themes package” for developers. When you buy it, you get access to all of their current themes plus access to their future themes and support for as long as they are in business. This is in effect a one-time fee “membership”.

I don’t know if they plan to offer a formal membership with recurring fees when they are larger, but if they do (as WPZOOM just did), “all themes package” customers will probably feel very fortunate.

Kudos

  • All themes package is like a “membership” with no recurring fees.
  • Lifetime new releases, updates and support at no extra cost.
  • A clear focus on quality over quantity.

Concerns?

  • If you look at Organic Themes as a theme club, their recent low rate of releases would be a concern. However, they are not technically a theme club and thus do not promise a specific number of new releases. It is better to look at them as what they are, a company generous enough to provide future releases and support to buyers of their all themes package.
  • There is no pricing or details page that explains the terms of the all-themes developer package. They told me that making such a page is high on their priorities list.

UpThemes: Gearing Up

United States

upthemes.com (Pricing Details)

Club-111 in Detailed Comparison of Premium WordPress Theme Clubs

UpThemes opened its doors in 2010 and has produced 10 paid WordPress themes. They recently added a new team member so there is good reason to believe that they will be producing more frequent releases. As with Themify, it appears that UpThemes is focusing on producing multiple types of themes for their members. So far they provide solutions for gallery/portfolio, coming soon, app showcase, blogging, charity/non-profit, band/musician and e-commerce.

Their membership costs $159 for the first month then $19 per month to renew. This is a young theme club worth keeping an eye on.

Kudos

  • Members who cancel have lifetime support via the UpThemes forums.
  • The variety of themes in their collection is very good even at this early stage of their existence.

Concerns?

The pricing page promises members one new theme each month. This has not been the case during the last six months even when considering free themes. It is possible that the promise was not made until very recently, however. We will have to see if the expectation is met during the next few months.

In Conclusion

Developer theme clubs can be useful to freelance professionals and companies who build many WordPress-powered websites. We have learned that different clubs have different types of themes, collection sizes, release frequencies and costs. Combine this with the fact that you have your own specific requirements and it becomes clear that not every club is a guaranteed match for you. You should ask yourself a few questions when deciding which theme club or clubs to join — if any at all — in order to make the best use of your budget.

First, ask yourself if the club produces the type of themes that you will actually use. A club that offers many nice-looking themes for a low price may seem like a good deal. But is it a good deal for you? What if most of their themes are magazine/news themes but your clients are small businesses? You should also ask yourself if a club will save you money. You may not need as many themes as you are paying for. In this case, your budget may be better spent purchasing themes individually from multiple providers.

I hope this survey of likely choices will make it easier for you to decide if a WordPress theme club can help you with your work.

Further Resources

The following articles relating to premium WordPress themes and providers may be of interest to you:

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© Gliebster for Smashing Magazine, 2011. | Permalink | Post a comment | Smashing Shop | Smashing Network | About Us
Post tags: clubs, comparison, memberships, premium, themes, wordpress

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