Why I’m against sponsored themes on wordpress.org

It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I am against having sponsored themes on wordpress.org. In any case, it doesn’t make much difference what I think as they already stated that there will be no sponsored themes on wordpress.org.

Both sides of the argument have some very good points. On the one side, you have respected members of the wordpress community like Matt and Mark at Weblog Tools Collection. For those that don’t know, Matt is the head honcho of sorts at Automattic. Automattic is the company that develops wordpress. In his post on weblog tools collection, Matt makes a bit of a moral stand on the subject. And in most regards, he is right. WordPress.org needs to be careful how these subjects are handled.

The main debate is over whether sponsored themes should be allowed in the wordpress.org theme viewer. I agree with Matt and others when I say that they do not. It’s absolutely nothing against sponsored theme developers, but looking at it from the wordpress point of view, anything that is on the theme viewer can be construed as being “supported” or “endorsed” by the wordpress.org organization. Every time a user of wordpress downloads a sponsored theme from wordpress.org theme viewer and then discovers the link, he/she will blame wordpress for it. Should they? No. But they will regardless.

The other argument against sponsored themes is that the sponsored link can often be interpreted as being spam. I disagree. The developer is completely within their rights to sell a link on their work. Just as I am within my rights to sell links here on Thatedeguy (which I consider my work). They cannot, however, require that the link remain while it is in use. It’s against the GPL that wordpress runs on. So, the argument against them on spam reasons is really quite weak. Besides, most people are savvy enough to remove the link if they find it.

It’s the finding of the link that makes up another part of the argument. Many of these sponsored themes are not labeled as such. They make no mention in any of the documentation about the sponsored link. My thought here are that it is very similar to paid posts on a blog. I’m o.k. with you doing them, but you really must let me know which ones are paid and which are not. Especially if you want my repeat business. Lose too many repeat customers and you end up with less and less sponsors. Then we won’t have to have this argument.

What it really comes down to is that sponsored themes don’t belong on wordpress.org for the simple fact that any themes that are on there are considered to be “endorsed” by the wordpress organization. That shines a bad light on the organization. They aren’t trying to stop the practice, they just don’t want to be perceived as endorsing it. I can understand and get behind that.

But, let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute or two.

Many of these developers work very hard on their themes. Many are of a professional level and they deserve to be paid for their work. Because of the free nature of most wordpress themes, there really isn’t much of a market for paid wordpress themes. So how else do you earn a little money for your work than to sell sponsorships of your themes? Everybody gets what they want right? The sponsor gets hundreds if not thousands of links. The developer gets a little green in their pocket. And the blogger gets a professional level theme for the expected price of free. It’s a pretty good business model.

As an online entrepreneur, I have a hard time saying that the idea of a disclosed sponsored theme is a bad one. Coders have to eat too! I still think that wordpress is in the right here. There are plenty of other places to get your themes listed. None have the clout of the wordpress theme viewer, but they’ll grow as the sponsored theme business grows and people discover that the wordpress theme viewer is not all encompassing.

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About Shane Ede

Shane Ede is an IT guy by day and a Entrepreneurial Blogger by night. You can follow him here on Thatedeguy or over on Twitter and Google+.


  1. Irrelevant sponsored links are always (not often) interpreted as spam. There’s no way around it. That’s Google’s rule. That’s where the whole debate came to life.

    The developer is completely within their rights to sell a link on their work.

    True. However, where does the outcry about sponsored themes really stems from? Ethics, not legality

    I’ll have a full write up on my blog today. If you have time to, I’d like to get your opinions on it.

  2. Thatedeguy says

    Small Potato,

    Irrelevant sponsored links are always interpreted as spam by Google. Since Google doesn’t qualify (at least in my world) as everyone, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, I think you have to qualify your statement. And I think my statement that they are often interpreted as spam is more correct.

    I also don’t see an ethical problem with a disclosed sponsored theme. If it is labeled as sponsored in the download page and in the documentation, I don’t see an ethical objection that can be made.

    I don’t see any write up on your blog about this topic. At least not today. I can only find the one that I linked to in the article.

  3. I agree. Google isn’t everyone, but sponsored links are always considered spam by their standards. That was the point I was trying to make. I don’t think it was fair for you to point out spam interpretation without explain Google’s involvement in the matter.

    And about your point on disclosed sponsored themes, I also said the same thing. My first article on sponsored themes basically says “Do what you want, but let people know you’re doing it.”

    It’s unethical to package spam with your theme and distribute it without prior disclosure.

    As for the write up, I haven’t posted it yet. I’m still busy replying to your comment :).