Theme subscription models

(Zackary Allnutt) #1

I think subscription modals make a lot more sense for themes. Considing they get most their sales at first and people use them for 3 years, a subscription modal pays for the author to continue to provide updates.

I have been thinking about how to impliment that. I’ve seen people charging yearly.

I am also considering monthly and bi-annually - I’ve not seen any one charging this way for themes only plugins.

With yearly, its a long time between payments meaning income is not very steady. If most people sign up at launch then its another year till I see any more money. Althougn it works out the same, its not a very steady income - one of the main reasons people use subscription modal.

But with anything less than a year I am concerned that when they don’t need support some customers are liable to cancel but continue to use the theme. So I wont see enough money to cover support costs.

Solution that subscription based plugins use is to prevent further use with a license key.

To use a license key to allow for updates doesnt stop the intial problem. But some plugins disable use without a valid license key. That can make sense for a plugin that adds functionality. For a theme, their entire site will go down if there is a problem with their payment which can happen for ligitimate reasons

That happens with hosting too accept a good host will chase up missed payments. With a theme though they might not be using it any more, dont really want to spent time chasing payments.

My only thoughts is maybe just disable the options panel and updates but not cripple the site an invalid key.

Any one gone down this route? Have any thoughts?

(Basilis Kanonidis) #2


Subscription based model ( even the yearly one ) works like what you said, but from the business point of view, you do not deal with it properly.
If for example, at lunch date month, you get 100.000$, those are not all yours. You have to have expenses + a paycheck and then, if a month you do not cover those ( expenses + paycheck ), you take from the bank :slight_smile:

Generally speaking, there should be a consiency with the money that come in and while you build, you also have to grow. That is why, may companies buy existing plugins or themes, so they can focus on growth or something else.

(Zackary Allnutt) #3

Got my products already just moving off TF. So I am pretty much focusing on the business side. But I’m used to one off payments because of being on Themeforest. So have been researching pricing modals.

Not sure if I’m 100% with you, do you mean instead of thinking of one customer and costs/return, treating the income as a whole? I’m thinking about customer behaviour rather then returns per customer. Some will cost more, some less.

But once a customer has what they need, the theme, support and use of the tutorials. How many will keep paying the subscription if the main incentives are gone?

The only incentive that remains is to keep using the theme but I’m concerned about the idea of crippling someones site if they miss a payment.


Incentive? Don’t know if that is the path that you will choose but what about adding new features to current themes?

You manage to keep buyers that like your theme and that will spend more (renewing) because theme keeps improving over time.

But that means that theme shops need to stop launching many themes and start focusing on a lot smaller number of themes.

(Zackary Allnutt) #5

Only problem with that is if you continue to add features to keep the theme fresh is that you can end up with a theme that’s bloated. I think it comes down to the debate on whether themes should have much in the way of functionality that they should be presentational based or whether that functionality should be in plugins.

I could add more shortcodes over time but then once someones setup there theme are they really that interested in new features? If so how many?

(Leland Fiegel) #6

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. I currently sell two basic product types on my theme shop: individual themes and a theme bundle, both with automatic yearly renewals for support and updates.

I’ve noticed many of my “individual theme” customers immediately cancel their subscriptions. And honestly, I don’t blame them. Once the theme is released, I don’t make any substantial updates. A bug fix here and there. Integrating a new core feature (or migrating one previously in Jetpack, like Site Logo). The theme is always at least 90% functional as it will ever be on the initial release.

The annual theme club subscriptions, however, haven’t seen a single cancellation yet. Not that I’m expecting that to always remain the case, but at this point, I can definitively say that theme club memberships will always be more consistent than individual theme support subscriptions.

I’ve totally ruled out monthly subscriptions, for a reason you touched on: churn.

It wouldn’t make sense for an individual theme subscription, unless it was some gigantic framework (a type of theme I have no interest in making) that I was constantly adding features to. It might make sense for a theme club, but then you’d be pressured to release a new themes on a monthly basis. WooThemes used to do this, and they didn’t do it for long. It’s tough to consistently make new hit themes every month. It was a bit more common in the Joomla community, although I’m not up to speed on that any more.

When a couple months pass without any theme updates or support requests, the customer is going wonder if a monthly subscription is really necessary. It’s like maintaining a Netflix account when you know you won’t have time to watch anything. What’s the point of continuing? You might as well be flushing that monthly subscription money down the toilet, and become much more likely to cancel.

The only time a monthly subscription might make sense would be if hosting was bundled too. Something you can set up with a company like Pressed. And even then, there’s a reason why every single hosting company offers a discount if you pre-pay annually. They’d rather get that cash upfront and not have to worry about the customer cancelling a few months down the road, which would result in significantly less revenue.

At that point, it’s just an exercise of money management. When you get a yearly customer, and you spend the entire cash infusion in one month, you’re going to have problems later on. Internally, it’s best if you just “pretend” it’s a monthly subscription. Ideally, only after the refund window has closed.

In any case, I’d be hesitant to include monthly plans as an option at all.

Limiting support and updates to those with active subscriptions is always fair game, but I’d avoid any needless “crippling” out of principle, even if it’s just on the backend. Although I admit it would probably be a good way to encourage renewals, you can get a similar effect with automatic renewals without the negative reinforcement.

Another idea I had would be to start a theme club, but only include themes released after the customer signed up. Any backdated themes would have to be purchased separately. I don’t think I’d do this, and not even sure how to make it happen considering current ecommerce plugins available. Just an idea to encourage people to maintain their subscription (i.e. if the subscription is cancelled, they’d have to “start over”).

(Zackary Allnutt) #7

You’ve definitely thought this through! Makes totally sense and pretty much confirms what I was vagely thinking - that monthly wouldn’t work.

Biannually might work for the theme club though but maybe no point. Yearly is more standard and probably would be better accepted.

I’m going to be simplifying my themes, last thing I want to do is start bringing more features in that should be a plugin.

Sounds like yearly subscriptions is the way to go. Which will be why every theme shop is already doing this modal.

Intersting to hear that the single theme purchases cancel immediately - I’m not supprised.


I’m not saying that you need to add features every month. I’m saying that features that you find later on that make sense in adding, you add. Or improvements in how a theme works and improves theme usability. Or changes that WP implements and you adapt the theme to those changes. And so on.

Combined with annual subscriptions I think it’s the best way to grow a WP shop.

(Zackary Allnutt) #9

Sure if there are updates that make sense. I just feel like most people setup and forget about it judging by the % of people who never update it. Worth experimenting with though.

(Zackary Allnutt) #10

This is a interesting read in relation to the discussion. About how to handle the situation that most people gain the value and straight away