Saying Goodbye to Sponsored Themes


It started about a year ago, or so. Maybe more, but it was about a year ago that I started noticing a trend at the WordPress themes site. Designers were putting up this new breed of free themes called ‘Sponsored Themes’ – pretty much it meant they were selling links to appear in the free theme to sponsors/advertisers interested. It didn’t take long for spammers sponsors to realize that having a link from a decent free WP theme could mean some excellent returns, from a incoming link count perspective.

I’ve been approached by several different types of sponsors:

  1. Sponsors who have written to inquire about placing links in any/all of my free themes I’ve released
  2. Sponsors who wanted to hire me to design a theme for them that they could release as their own free theme – filled with their own links
  3. People who don’t have upload privileges at the WordPress Themes site – willing to pay me money to upload their sponsored them for them, under my account

Goes without saying, but I turned each of these types of offers down.

The practice reached ridiculous proportions when the free themes at the WordPress themes site were loaded with sponsored links, I’ve seen themes with up to 5-10 sponsored links in the footer. People argue that the sponsored themes give the designer a little kickback that they normally would not get for creating free themes. The point of free themes is that they are free – – created by people in the WordPress community who want to give a little. From where I’m sitting – I’m no developer. I’m no coder. I can hack up some already existing plugin code if I need to – – but don’t ask me to write one, you’ll be sorry! Providing free themes is, however, something I can do to contribute to a project that I feel affection for.

My personal take on it is if you want kick backs for creating themes, then hang a shingle up in your corner of the web and sell ’em! Or sell customization services.

From my perspective, providing free themes was a way of giving back. Now, we’re not exactly talking incredible philanthropy here – we’re just talking a free WordPress theme or two. WordPress is free software, as are all the tremendous plugins that thousands of developers have spent untold hours to create. Put just those two things together – the software and the plugins – and you and I have some incredible tools at our fingertips to do whatever it is we do on the web, whether it’s make a few bucks with our business or just ramble on to anyone who happens to stop by. Point is – it’s free. So, for me, the creation and release of WordPress themes was a way for me to give back to a community that has helped me grow my business – and helps me maintain those business sites with a heck of a lot less hassle than it used to be.

To me, the sponsored themes felt seedy. There have been many arguments for and against them all across the web. (Lorelle has a round up of various discussions regarding the topic) However, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to use a theme that has several footer links for Viagra, condo rental, phentermine..and the like. I spend WAY too much time digging that garbage outta my spam box — only to have them show up in a theme that I might potentially use?

Not for me.

Apparently, not for WordPress anymore either. The great news of the week is Matt Mullenweg announced yesterday, on his blog, that the official WordPress theme site is dumping all sponsored themes within its repository by the end of this month. This announcement was preceded by Mark Ghosh’s announcement that Weblog Tools Collection will also rid his site of sponsored themes and no longer will accept them in his regular listings.

This is great news for the WordPress user community, all around. I always felt that having the official WordPress Themes site filled with sponsored themes was kind of a black mark on the face of WordPress – mostly because the Automattic folks have done so much in the way of fighting spammers (Akismet) – – that it felt like an odd endorsement, of sorts, to allow Viagra-type sponsors to sit in themes on the official themes site. A day late . . but definitely NOT a dollar short (well, maybe a few bucks short for designers of sponsored themes. Heh.).

This couldn’t come at a better time, either – – I’m still in the final editing stages of the book and now I can safely remove the small section warning theme users about Theme Spam sponsored themes, as it’s no longer relevant.

5 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Sponsored Themes”

  1. I *think* I heard some rumblings about a sponsored theme site that will work in the same way that the official WP Themes site currently works now.. except only sponsored themes will be offered there.

    I’ve seen some really awesome themes that are not sponsored ones, so I really don’t think removing sponsorship from the WP Themes site is going to make that much of a dent on the quality of themes available there.

    And thanks for the rockin’ blog girl post 😀

  2. The WordPress themeviewer existed long before those “sponsored” themes we’re up, so why should its loss harm it? Since todays morning the themeviewer is getting faster, cleaner and reliable again. I was waiting long time for that move, but there are now some new ideas:
    “Still, I wonder if there’s a way around the moderation…like submitting your theme, then putting up an “update.” ”
    found at wickedfire[dot]com.

  3. Milo – if the system is open to workarounds, then there will always be someone to exploit that.

    Exploitation of the system serves a purpose, however. If enough people exploit the system and it becomes a rampant problem, the site owners will respond with a fix to the problem.

    Think of exploiters as doing the legwork for the site admins… finding the vulnerabilities, exposing them, taking advantage of them so the admins can fix it 😀

    There’s always a silver lining. . . 😉

  4. Pingback: Blog Roundup for the 12th of July 2007 :: Christopher Ross

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