churchthemes.com is a new shop providing WordPress themes for churches. They launched earlier this week and are doing things a little different. Not only are they targeting a very specific niche, but they have also implemented what they suggest is a truly sustainable business model and are “doing it right” with a church-centric functionality plugin for post types and other content that should be portable.
How It Started
First, some background. The idea for a theme shop for churches began with a theme Steven Gliebe submitted to ThemeForest one year ago. He found that the theme did well enough to justify building an entire business around making WordPress solutions for churches. After acquiring the churchthemes.com domain, he began work on a second theme, Resurrect, which is the first release at churchthemes.com.
The decision was made to move away from ThemeForest and sell themes directly on churchthemes.com.
We need to be able to control every aspect of our own business. This includes pricing, licensing, updates, support, documentation and more. Steven Gliebe
Gliebe also says branding and the stigma attached to ThemeForest authors were factors involved in the decision not to sell future themes on ThemeForest.
Church Theme Content Plugin
Traditionally, niche themes using custom post types (in this case, sermons) have built that functionality directly into the theme. Many heavy hitters have come out in the last year or two denouncing this practice because it is inconsiderate to the user. There is a good reason to put functionality in a plugin while using themes only for presentation.
The lock-in problem is when a user is forced to continue using a theme because their data would be lost to them if they switched to another theme. Justin Tadlock
Gliebe cites Justin Tadlock as inspiration for the Church Theme Content plugin. In a similar way to how Tadlock’s Custom Content Portfolio plugin provides portfolio themes with a post type for portfolio items, Church Theme Content provides church themes with post types and taxonomies for sermons and other church-related content. Users of themes that support plugins like these can freely switch to other themes supporting the same plugins without losing access to their content (or having to re-enter it).
Ideally, every niche theme would use a common functionality plugin. That is exactly why both plugins are freely available on GitHub and with documentation for other developers to use. Sometimes different is right so although this delayed the launch of churchthemes.com, it was a good thing to do.
Pricing Updates and Support
If you shop around for commercial themes you will find that many are offered with a promise of lifetime support or lifetime updates. Full GPL licensing allows the user to use a theme on unlimited sites. Gliebe agrees with others that lifetime support and updates is not sustainable. He takes it one step further, though, by saying support and updates for unlimited sites is not sustainable either.
I’m not comfortable doing any of this because when there is no limit, you can’t actually know if you can provide what you promise! Steven Gliebe
This is where “different” comes in. Some sellers like iThemes did away with lifetime updates and support years ago while others like WooThemes have done it more recently, realizing it is not a sustainable practice. churchthemes.com takes this one step further by not offering updates and support for unlimited sites. Gliebe has noted that some plugin providers limit support to a number of sites but that he knows of only one other theme provider that does this. churchthemes.com pricing includes one theme and support for that theme on one site, for one year.
There is little chance of costs running out of control with a model that is this tight. Is it attractive, though? Time will tell. Gliebe says $79 per church is a reasonable price to pay and “is what we calculate is necessary to provide a high level of service.”
The Rest of the Story
For more, read Behind churchthemes.com on their founder’s blog. Steven Gliebe calls this a “non-traditional launch post”, taking you through the year leading up to their launch. It includes his thoughts on WordPress business, development philosophy, pricing models, web hosting and marketing. He also has some things to say about how to treat customers.
As for the future, we will see how churchthemes.com does with their unconventional pricing model and going it alone without the marketing power of ThemeForest.
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