Offering Free themes with upgrade option

(Denis B) #1

I’ve been working on several WordPress themes ready to be released in the next month or so. I have a dilemma though, I would like to make a bit of income from these, but would also like to contribute back to the community somehow. I already have a free theme on that has quite a bit of downloads and I find this really exiting.
What I wanted to find out is,

  1. Does the freemium model work with themes, I’ve seen it working with plugins really well.

  2. I don’t want to remove too many features from the theme to make it ‘Lite’, I’d like everyone to sort of get the same experience.

  3. as a user, is it worth paying for just dedicated support?

Tips for selling themes on its own website
(Ante Sepic) #2

Freemium model makes sense with plugins as they are focused on functionality.

Themes should more or less be about the presentation, so it’s harder to separate free and premium version, at least in my opinion.

About the premium support, I think there’s a market for that. If your free theme gets popular enough, I’m sure you could make a decent amount of $$ only by offering premium/priority support package.

(Leland Fiegel) #3

Just curious, what theme is it?

If you want to look at a freemium model that works, look at Theme Hybrid by @justintadlock. Although a lot of that success can be attributed to Justin’s reputation in the community, not necessarily pure promotion via

CyberChimps (authors of the “Responsive” theme) have some of the most popular themes on the repository. They have made efforts to monetize it, but they seem to be seriously struggling with the freemium model.

To some, definitely. To someone comfortable with theme development, probably not. But don’t forget about update access, including bug fixes and enhancements.


If I look for theme, I prefer something premium, some kind of art on top of clean lightweight up to date code.
Free themes with removed features (for paid version) I don’t like at all, its just demo for me. Also don’t like if anything what can be done with plugin is included in theme.

I like to pay for premium theme 100$, but not sure if 20$ for just support.
I m type who really prefer “premium” staffs and I like, if developer/designer is focused on product and support me if I need any help instead he answer questions to thousands of free users anywhere.
Also I prefer quality agains quantity, so I feel better if I see that author build long term theme instead of creating new one every month.

(Denis B) #5

@OriginalEXE I get what you are saying, but im still not convinced that you can sell a support package only, perhaps remove a few options from the customizer? works quite well with this model.

@leland this is the theme i was talking about
With @justintadlock i think his reputation in the community has a lot to do with his success, which is not easy to build & his products are awesome as well.

@petercralen I wouldn’t remove so much as to cripple the theme, just some options and dedicated support. The looks will remain the same, no difference between the premium & free.

(Nate Wright) #6

@denisb I can’t tell you precisely what works or doesn’t with the freemium theme model. I would recommend you track down a few people who are doing it and reach out directly to them to ask them for advice. Each marketplace is going to be very different and it’s worth your time to ask them directly.

As general advice, I’ll say this. You need to be really clear about what the added value of an upgrade path is and precisely who is going to make the decision purchase. If your theme serves the casual blogger audience, maybe you’ll earn by charging for micro-customizations and support. If your theme serves an eCommerce crowd, maybe you’ll earn by selling extra page templates that target specific business use cases. And so on.

I have two plugins which use the freemium model. Both offer a solid, non-crippled experience in the free version. But I only realized after release that one of the plugins has significant commercial addon opportunities, while the other one offers what 98% of sites need out of the box. There’s just not much that people need beyond the basics, so there’s not a lot of value in building lots of addons.

(Denis B) #7

Thanks @NateWr I’ll definitely reach out to some of the people doing this already, I guess it can’t hurt to ask.
I think the first two themes will just cater to the casual blogger, micro customization is a good suggestion.
With regards to functionality, I might have to learn as time goes by, see what’s really needed, and what I can charge for.

(Matt Medeiros) #8

Freemium is our only distribution model at the moment and it works okay.

A lot rides on more than just the theme: marketing, value prop, other distribution points, partnerships, community reputation etc.

Good luck out there!

(Nate Wright) #9

Brian from Post Status noted this “Transparency Report” from CodeinWP, in which they detail the massive revenue growth they’ve seem from the Freemium model on .org themes.

It seems they landed on the Featured Themes page. It would be really interesting to see how they’re revenue changes if/when they get knocked off it. It strikes me as an enormous boost that may not be widely replicable/sustainable. But it’s hard to know from this report precisely how much their revenue growth is tied in with their slot on the Featured Themes page.

(Denis B) #10

I also think they did quite a bit of marketing because I’ve seen their themes in several places (FB & twitter), but their numbers are amazing.

(Denis B) #11

Hey Matt, whats your wordpress theme shop? tried looking it up on mattreport with no luck.

(Matt Medeiros) #12

There’s a banner in my footer,

To share in the joy of freemium (sarcasm) here’s a fun offline message I received of a free user holding my review hostage for a problem that isn’t anything to do with my theme. Basically what’s happening here is, they installed WP in a subdirectory, so the the site_url_home links to the subdirectory and not the root domain of their static site.

So the point here, there’s ups and downs to the freemium gig.

(Grant Palin) #13

With plugins it seems a bit easier to differentiate free versus paid versions due to the addition of functionality in the paid version. That’s a bit harder with themes as it isn’t encouraged to add functionality to themes (e.g. sliders, post types, forms etc), yet some vendors do anyway. I do see some possibilities for differentiating paid theme versions by providing e.g. additional layouts, widget areas, built-in customization options, icons, and support. For a while I used Blogly from ThemeFurnace, and the paid version adds some nice extras to the base theme, without going to deep into plugin territory.

(Adrian Diaconescu) #14

This topic couldn’t come at a better time for me, as I’m also in the process of launching a WordPress themes project. I currently still have a few themes on ThemeForest, where I recently passed the $75K mark in total sales. Yet, I’m not happy with quite a few things there (review process, inability to set my own pricing, etc.) and decided to try other avenues a while ago.

I considered Creative Market, which doesn’t seem to have some of the issues I have with TF, but offers way less exposure. Also, one of the things I appreciated initially, the quality of most themes, seems to have gone downhill lately, with many authors very low quality designs or slight font variations slapped on a Genesis child theme. I’m not sure I want to be thrown in that mix, but I haven’t given up on CM yet. I think there still might be a way to leverage a presence there.

So… enter freemium! This is where I’m currently sitting. I’m almost at the wrapping point with the theme development, but I have a lot of other additional things that I need to work on. Because what I would like to try is to submit the theme to and then focus my efforts on marketing the benefits of paying for a “premium” subscription. This includes dedicated support, in depth video tutorials and guides, etc.

I’m trying to not have a lite version, but rather the full featured theme. It will definitely be a challenge to convince people to pay for a subscription, but I hope that will filter my audience a bit. I’m targeting beginner to mid level WordPress users, hopefully solo professionals and creative people who want a quick and easy way to showcase their work and services. At the same time, the theme will be developer friendly, built on top of Underscores, so I’m hoping to build some buzz and do my best to give back to the community that has thought me so much so far.

Last, but not least, 2015 marks my comeback to doing freelance work, so I hope to use the theme as a starting point in my projects and save a whole bunch of time and effort. So there will be a huge push to hire me for more complex customizations.

Sorry for the long info dump and slightly off topic points, but hopefully this can be of help to anyone having the same struggles. I’m super excited about this project and I hope to share more info about my journey really soon!

(Ionut Neagu) #15

Hey guys,

Here are some things that might help :smile:

  1. Here is Zerif Revenue in the past 6 months with a note when it was live in the directory :

  2. Here is the number of buyers - which it might be more interesting considering the fact that we did different things to increase the total revenue which might affect the report 1. We increased prices, conversion, average basket by encouraging people more through different techniques to get a bigger package .

Some other mentions :

  1. The theme started to sell really well immediately we go accepted in, so is not so much about featured theme, is about the value proposition and theme quality
  2. We invested all the revenue in the past months in advertising/development, so once we saw tracking for it we tried to push everywhere we can, fb/adwords/affiliates/paid posts, we literally offered 100% revenue to affiliates for 1-2 months to get traction and hoping that other will follow and we can reach a lifetime revenue from a user much bigger than the initial $60 which will give us a ROI .

Some of you probably are wondering about the support volume ( we will share more numbers in the next transparency report ), however more or less we can handle it ok with 2 part time people.

(Devin) #16

I have a theme on called “Portfolio Press” which I originally released with just a few customization options (logo and layout). After getting a lot of feature requests for additional customization options (colors, hide dates, etc) , I eventually released a commercial version of the theme with a more complex customization feature set.

If you’re considering a freemium option, I think this is a really good way to go. A lot of users prefer a really simple theme, but for those who really need the extra customization paying for a commercial version is generally much preferable to finding and hiring a developer.

I generally get about twenty sales a month from the commercial version. Having the revenue stream definitely keeps me invested in the theme and allows me to support both versions.

I’m not sure if a freemium model is better than a purely commercial model, but I do like that more people are able to find and use my theme without me needing to actively market it.

(Ionut Neagu) #17

Hey guys,

A month passed and here is our 2nd report :, hope you find it helpful! Let me know what things you wanna see in the next one.

(Matt Medeiros) #18

That’s awesome, Ionut.

Did you ever disclose what the surge of popularity was from? In other words, how did it climb the charts so fast?

(Ionut Neagu) #19

I am not sure if I get your question, it was a combination of luck, good theme + some marketing . I had the luck to have Zerif Lite on the latest themes section on for around 2 weeks, which with some marketing ( basically reach-out to influential bloggers to have it included in best x free themes of the month ) helped me to have it in top 15 most popular in .

At the end I think the product also self-promoted alot, since there are not so many free themes, with distribution, with that good demo so a lot of sites picked it in best free themes roundups.

The same success I also see at :, even if is a new theme shop if they can manage to promote it enough to reach top15 most popular in 1-2 weeks they can see a good success .

If this didn’t answered your question, just clarify it :smile:

(Matt Medeiros) #20

Sure does.

Do you actively market the free theme or just straight to pro?