Why Aren't There More Modded (Premium) Themes?

There are tons of themes available at the Free Themes Directory, 1052 of them last I checked. How many of them are actually modified version of GPL-licensed so-called premium themes? Not many, I’d say.

Which is a shame. While it’s a good exercise to create your own theme from scratch, it’s much more efficient to just take a good premium theme filled with lots of nice features and modify it according to your own taste and idea. Here’s why:

  1. A lot of thoughts has been put into such themes. Useful features, layout considerations, standards-based HTML code, all ready for you to re-use. Stand on the shoulder of the giants.
  2. Features. Features features features. That’s what premium themes are made of, and you can have it too with little to no coding involved.
  3. HTML/CSS folks with no experience with PHP can do it too. Just modify the CSS without touching the code. Most of the time this means creating child themes, but I don’t see a problem with releasing a full theme, one that is a CSS-modified version of another theme. Better designed themes is a full win for everyone.
  4. It saves you time and energy. How many times can you code that comments.php file without losing sanity, anyway?
  5. You are free to do it, that’s the point of a GPL license. With more premium themes licensed under GPL, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it. Creating a mod that improves on a theme is nice, but not a requirement. Just experiment and have fun doing it.
  6. Most premium themes have a good documentation readily available. Learn a lot while modifying them, and you can use it as additional resources for people downloading your modded theme.
  7. I don’t know about you, but if I read “my work is based on a WooThemes theme”, I’m going to pay attention, a lot. There are strong brand associations coming with premium themes. Use it for your world domination plan advantage.

What Kind of Modifications Should I Make?

It’s up to you. Make those themes look sweeter, some of them need it so bad. Lose the garish gradients. Simplify. Add more widgetized area. Offer more layout options, especially if there’s a few already, complete with the theme options for it. Sprinkle some fancy CSS3 or JQuery magic. Add author info section. Threaded comments.

Among other things.


Premium Mod is doing what I’m talking about here. They are new, so there are still a few mods available. Look around to have an idea of what you can do.

Here’s a list of commercially supported WordPress themes. Plenty of choices.


We have so, so many free WordPress themes, most of them could really use a quality improvement (yeah, including mine). Modding premium themes is a good way to take the quality of WordPress themes into the next level, while at the same time is relatively easier and less time consuming to do for developers.

Everybody wins, so why not?

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12 Responses

  1. Leland says:

    When it comes to modded themes in the WordPress.org theme directory, allow me to quote #11 on the requirements list.

    The theme is your own original work.

    Would they even be allowed in the theme directory? Not sure how much modding you would need for a theme to be considered “your own original work.”

  2. Hafiz Rahman says:

    Curious, that. Somebody needs to explain what “original work” means.

    I’m pretty sure there are a lot of theme php files that’s lifted wholesale from other themes (the notorious comments.php file, for example).

  3. Ian Stewart says:

    I emailed the Theme Directory maintainer (still Joseph Scott, I think) looking for some clarification there. Hopefully he’ll comment here.

  4. demetris says:

    I don’t know if I would like to see WP.org hosting more themes that are simply styling variations on other themes. We have enough of that already: A single author having multiple themes that are, more or less, CSS variations on one and the same theme. Or an author taking another author’s theme, changing the styling and releasing it under a different name.

    We have CHILD THEMES for that, people! Don’t replicate without reason!

    (I saw an instance of the latter just yesterday: a theme that is just Hybrid restyled. Out of curiosity, I ran a diff on the two themes, and all PHP files came out identical.)

    Then, you can make modifications and forks that are really worthy, that are made for reasons that are relevant to more persons than the theme’s author. You have a concept that you cannot find realized in any existing theme. So, you take a good theme that gives you a good, trusted, inspiring base, you sit down, work your eyes off and make something that is, if not better, at least different in its architecture and in the uses it is meant for. But I doubt we’ll see many examples of this. Because it is not easy!

    That said, a reason we are not seeing more modifications of “premium” themes is, I think, quality. Of all the “premium” themes I’ve seen, the ones that attract me enough to want to try them are released under licences that do no permit distribution of modifications. (Thesis and Mimbo Pro come to mind here.) I have never seen a GPLed “premium” theme that I really, really wanted to try.

    PS. Hafiz, I love the design of wplover.com

  5. Dian says:

    Even though it’s licensed as GPL, i read some of it use a multiple license for the themes, like the php use the gpl license but the css & the others are licensed as cc or a single use license.
    woo themes does this too, in the Custom fields for WP write panel, they use cc.

  6. Hafiz Rahman says:

    Ian: Thank you, good sir.

    demetris: you mentioned a lot of good points. While redundancy might not be a good thing, it’s not forbidden either. And if that’s going to happen, might as well have those similar themes based on high quality premium themes.

    Also, really glad you like the design!

    Dian: yes, that’s true and I think people modding the theme would do well to take notice of dual-licensing.

  7. Joseph Scott says:

    I think the variation point that demetris brought up is a good one. Variations of the same theme (especially the WP default theme) usually aren’t that interesting. Having separate themes for the same one with different background colors isn’t terribly interesting either.

    I see the original work statement as pertaining mostly to design/look and feel of a theme. For instance we have some themes in the directory that include components of other themes/libraries/frameworks, and that’s fine (encouraged even!). It’s also to discourage people from taking an existing theme, replace all of the credit/copyright text with their own, and submitting it to the directory (which has happened plenty).

  8. Thank you for having the time to write about this subject. I truly appreciate it. I?ll stick a link of this post in my site.

  9. SomatiK says:

    how r u, spring is cooming! good post there, tnx for http://www.wplover.com

  10. Phillip says:

    There is something to be said about the fun of modifying a theme to do what you want it to do. Giving it the look and feel you want.. Adding functionality with javascript, ajax and php hacks. Changing the layout, color, and images. It’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to put a modified theme out anywhere and call it my own. I will use them for examples of what I can do as in before and after displays to potential clients.
    It’s like modifying a an old car by adding a larger cam shaft and some specialize paint. It’s nice to show off but it’s not going to bring much at market. And I can’t very well call it a Tsalagi mobile when it’s a Chevy or Ford. The emblem and manufactured by statements must remain intact.
    What I have gained from doing this is an appreciation of the hard work that goes into creating a theme from scratch. I can do it now.
    I’ve taken many free themes and stripped them of their markup and styles. Looked at how they tie into function and include files. Spent hours and hours with the WordPress codex and forums. Studied PHP to find out what the heck is going on. And that my friends, brings a level of satisfaction and pride that can’t be beat! When you create a theme from scratch by the knowledge gained from hours of hard work and getting creative with the WordPress code you might even get paid decently for doing it.

  11. Sivilce says:

    Thank you, good sir.

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