What I’m curious is - how many reputable theme authors on WordPress.org and businesses releasing WordPress.org themes were contacted with regards to the change?
What makes these authors reputable? The number of downloads on WordPress.org? The number of sales they make through their shops? The number of themes they have on WordPress.org? Their visibility in the community?
You can only get a reputation by being actively involved in the platform on which you base your business.
If you review themes, attend the meetings, read and comment (with constructive feedback) on the Make/Themes blog,… you will be accepted as a member of the community. And if your arguments make sense, people will follow you.
Now of course this means that you have to invest a lot of time into being a part of the WPTRT. But if the WordPress.org repository is so vital to the survival of your business, why wouldn’t you invest this time?
Was there any “board” discussing how is this change going to affect the community and the existing businesses?
This guideline change was discussed during a meeting in a public chat room. These chats happen the same time every week, they are announced on a public blog, with an agenda.
How much more transparency do you want?
A common complain about the WPTRT in the past has been the “back room talk” or the suggestion that there is some kind of evil agenda. The WPTRT has undergone a lot of changes in the last couple of months, and transparency has been a big effort.
Suggesting to have “boards”, with seats that are assigned to “reputed” developers makes no sense. The last thing a community driven project should do is restrict participation, and listen to the commercial interests of a small but vocal minority.
Unregulated restrictions like this one may very well hurt businesses or close entire shops. If anyone thinks that I’m over-exaggerating, then you haven’t run a business with people dependent on someone’s regulations, reviews and decisions.
Whose decision was it to base your business on a platform you don’t control?
As far as I know, WordPress.org never lured anybody into submitting themes by promising financial gains from doing so. If you make money from your themes, that is great. But that’s not what the WordPress.org theme repository is about.
Of course I can sympathize with how frustrating it can be having to deal with a platform you don’t control. But if you don’t want to have to deal with this, then don’t do it. Go out on your own, like countless other shops do, and you are free to do whatever you want.
Because if the WordPress.org repository is such a horrible place to be, why do these businesses continue to submit themes?
I think the answer is simple. Their business model is based on having a free theme, which contains up sell messages. These messages then lead users to the shop of the business, where they can buy the commercial version of the theme.
So in essence, these businesses use WordPress.org to drive traffic to their shops. They could obtain this traffic through other means, blogging, social media, sponsoring, paid ads,… But I guess that having a theme in the repository is less work and results in more benefits? Not really sure.
Also I hear a lot of threats of quitting WordPress.org. What alternatives are there? ThemeForest for sure.
The only problem is that the themes on ThemeForest have a much, much higher design quality. That’s something you really can’t blame on any guidelines.
Additionally, I think that a lot of people would be hard pressed to develop the kind of features that ThemeForest themes offer. Because creating a page builder is not easy. And creating a good one is really, really difficult.
So instead, people choose to stay and whine and complain. Which is fine, as long as you don’t attack any people, or put conspiracy theories into the world of how Automattic wants to screw you out of the couple grand you make a month selling themes.
Because some of the complaints are ridiculous. You can’t really tell everyone that doesn’t want to hear about it how you made a gazillion dollars with your themes, how you brought literally billions of new users to WordPress, while at the same time whining that your business is getting destroyed by the WPTRT, Automattic, the forces of evil and the world in general.
Because the reality is that no matter where you sell, and what you sell, the theme market has evolved. It is no longer sufficient to cobble together a half way decent theme and sell it. Those times are over.
Theme shops today need to put the premium back into premium themes. That means focussing on the needs of a precise niche, with excellent design, excellent code, great performance, lots of clearly written documentation, video walkthroughs, and customization tutorials. You need to offer 24/7 support, themes readily translated into different languages by professional translators, compatibility with popular plugins,…
With ThemeForest having announced plans a while ago to offer support tokens, and other theme shops making paid support a big part of their revenue, simply selling is not enough. Your product has to be compelling enough for users to keep using it for a long while. Because that’s where the money is in those cases: users that pay for updates and support, without costing you much in terms of both.
There isn’t a magical recipe for making money with themes, no less then there is with plugins. Yet in both markets, there are companies that flourish, even without the WordPress.org repository.
In the end as a business you got to be flexible, try different things and see where they lead. If people would invest their time into that instead of venting in comments, there businesses would be much better off.