One of the discussions that I’ve seen crop up more than once is the debate as to which should those themes for which we pay be called Premium Themes or Commercial Themes.

Though I personally call them Premium Themes, there have been times in which I’ve casually referred to something as a Commercial Theme. And this is something that we could all debate ad nauseum and probably still not come up with a definitive answer, so I realize the potential futility of writing a post like this, but my curiousity is piqued:

What is the best term to use when talking about themes that much be purchased?

For me, it’s a matter of looking at the basic definitions.

Premium or Commercial?

For the average consumer, I think it’s vary to say that “premium” and “commercial” are treated as synonymous. And, depending on the context, I think that’s fair.

But looking at the definitions of each, are they different:

  • Premium: a sum added to an ordinary price or charge
  • Commercial: intended to make a profit

Honestly, both of these definitions work, don’t they?

On one hand, Premium Themes are adding a charge to software that would usually be free for the sake of support and so on. And on the other, Commercial Themes are also meant to make a profit.

So perhaps the two terms continue to work just fine. But then the next question that comes to mind is:

What word is the most aesthetically pleasing term to potential customers?

Perhaps that sounds like a weird question to ask, but don’t pretend that the way a product is marketed doesn’t influence how you feel about purchasing it. Watching any television commercial for anything will show you that.

This is what "commercial" invokes, no?

This is what “commercial” invokes, no?

So what sounds better to the average consumer and why?

  • “Here you can purchase Acme, our first premium theme.”
  • “Here you can purchase Acme, our first commercial theme.”

Personally, I find the word premium to be better because the word commercial tends to feel a little too, well, commercial. It feels like going to a big box store to purchase just-another-product off of the shelf that’s packed up in a cardboard box and styrofoam.

On the other hand, premium sounds more elegant in the way it’s presenting itself. This is saying that “yes, there’s a lot of WordPress themes, but this one is a step above.” It sounds as if they are of greater quality and more care has been taken into producing them.

One raises the vision of an assembly line, the other raises the vision of handcrafting and personally investing in creating something with an air of quality behind it.

No, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. That is to say that commercial products can still be build with care, but I am saying that something simply sounds more personal when it comes at a premium.

To that end, my personal opinion is to say that we’re shipping premium themes to our customers. But that’s just me: I’m genuinely curious on your take and why (because I know a number of you have differing opinions on this).

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Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. To me , a premium theme offers more than a basic theme and shouldn’t be based on price. A commercial theme is the more accurate choice. Though, a commercial theme sounds like the opposite of a personal theme.

    • To me , a premium theme offers more than a basic theme and shouldn’t be based on price.

      I think you’re hitting on something here, but it needs some clarification: What would constitute a theme that offers more than a basic theme?

      Most themes that live on, say, WordPress.com are probably basic themes based on who they are targeting, but they’re also well built from the inside out (because of the code review process).

      On the other hand, does this imply that commercial themes have all of the bells and whistles (custom post types, taxonomies, layouts, etc.) that don’t come with most themes?

      Though, a commercial theme sounds like the opposite of a personal theme.

      I don’t think a “personal theme” exists unless a person creates one for themselves and that’s the only one they use.

  2. It’s just a marketing term now. Well, it has been just a marketing term for years.

    At first, some clever folks called them “premium” and they were probably right, compared to the free themes of the age. Now, it’s broadly used as the term to describe something paid for, although in definition “premium” is not that separator.

    So, I’ve finally settled with the fact that people won’t stop using the term, but technically, they are commercial themes. And I think they should be noted as such. It’s my policy to define paid themes as commercial, and never as premium, on my own website when I write about them.

    • It’s just a marketing term now. Well, it has been just a marketing term for years.

      Honestly, I fully agree with this. Though I know it’s futile to set on terminology (because we’ll always we using both), I personally want to try to use the term that’s most accurate.

      So, I’ve finally settled with the fact that people won’t stop using the term, but technically, they are commercial themes. And I think they should be noted as such. It’s my policy to define paid themes as commercial, and never as premium, on my own website when I write about them.

      This is something I’ve noticed on Post Status – it comes off in a good way and, to be honest, is part of the reason I’ve been thinking about this.

  3. It really depends on how you define premium. I looked up a few definitions, and when used as an adjective (ie: premium themes), cost was not the primary meaning. The primary meaning was something more like “of exceptional quality.” I think this is the reason behind the debate. People who think of premium as a measure of quality dislike the “premium theme” label, while those who think of premium as a measure of price are much more accepting of it. I had never even considered that “premium themes” could mean “themes of a premium price.” I just always assumed it was simply marketing speak to make something sound like it was of premium quality (even if it wasn’t).

    • I think this is the reason behind the debate.

      I agree. Truthfully, I have this idea that “premium” means “of exceptional quality” but we know that’s not true. There are plenty of poor themes marketed as premium, and there are free themes that are of premium grade.

      I just always assumed it was simply marketing speak to make something sound like it was of premium quality (even if it wasn’t).

      I think a lot of people are in this position.

      FWIW, I usually just think of premium as being a commercial theme with higher quality than a free theme, but I’m also willing to admit that I know that’s not an honest truth.

      • Maybe we should all get more creative and start using things like: “A fantastic WordPress theme,” “A better-than-average WordPress theme,” or even “This theme is terrible unless you’re using it for the specific purpose it was built for!”

  4. Looking up the full definition of “premium” as an adjective made this question clearer to me. As Alex pointed out, the word can indicate both quality (“of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior”) and price (‘of higher price or cost”). “Commercial”, on the other hand, describes only the price aspect.

    I’d say which term one uses depends a lot on your own relationship to WP themes. I make websites for clients, and teach beginners WordPress. I have no stake in putting any kind of spin on it. The opposite is the case; I have a stake in making the issue transparent to these clients and beginners. So whatever term I use — usually “premium” in quotation marks — I explain that the only actual guaranteed across-the-board distinctive of these themes is that you have to pay for them. The term “premium” does not promise or guarantee anything other than the fact that money will change hands.

    But if I were a theme seller, I would probably put a different spin on it, since the themes I would be selling would be worth more than most free themes, and it would be true.

    • “Commercial”, on the other hand, describes only the price aspect.

      Which is a good thing, in my opinion. It kinda helps to frame the entire conversation (but also raises another good question).

      The term “premium” does not promise or guarantee anything other than the fact that money will change hands.

      I really like what how you’ve said this. This entire thread is pushing me more towards using “Commercial” in my verbiage.

  5. It really doesn’t matter. Discussing semantics is so futile on its own, even when done properly, without degrading someone else.

    And it’s even more so when some people try to impose their opinion on others (just to be clear, I’m not referring to the author or this particular article). Like – it ‘should’ be done this way. Otherwise, you are looked down upon.

    I can’t think of any insightful or productive output of such discussions that the WordPress community indulges in from time to time.

    • It really doesn’t matter. Discussing semantics is so futile on its own, even when done properly, without degrading someone else.

      I understand what you’re saying, but I respectfully disagree. I think that if you’re degrading someone else, you aren’t doing it properly. Doing it properly would insight the type of comments that we’ve seen on this post :).

      And it’s even more so when some people try to impose their opinion on others (just to be clear, I’m not referring to the author or this particular article). Like – it ‘should’ be done this way. Otherwise, you are looked down upon.

      This does happen and it sucks. No easy way to say it. But again, I think having conversations like this – again, as you said, when done right – can and do help other changes their mind (or make up their mind).

      I’ll use myself as a prime example in this case.

      I can’t think of any insightful or productive output of such discussions that the WordPress community indulges in from time to time.

      Like any other community, there are plenty of things that are discussed that ultimately result in a stalemate. Although this will still have people using “premium” in a way that probably isn’t the ideal way of using it, a few are still evaluating their positions.

      And when those few go out to chat with others, perhaps it’ll have the same effect these comments have had.

  6. To me, Premium is the WordPress way to say Commercial.
    Maybe it started out that way, because of the conflict between, free open source software, with free as non paid. And the need for developers to earn a living.
    Premium just sound nicer, while Commercial didn’t, at the time when Premium Themes appeared.
    Now, we have accepted there is a commercial side of it, and there is no need for Premium, but it sticks.
    And still sound nicer, I think, so I’ll call it Premium.

  7. In the WordPress world ”Premium”, like you said, is synonymous with ”Commercial”. In some areas, like the food industry, ”Premium” is used as a psychological strategy marketing departments use to ”trick/influence” the customers to believe a product has a higher quality than it has (alongside with packaging and graphic design details). That could also be said on many (not all!) WordPress commercial theme developers/companies as well (but that’s off topic) using the same strategy.

    • That could also be said on many (not all!) WordPress commercial theme developers/companies as well (but that’s off topic) using the same strategy.

      Exactly – and I think that’s how this entire thing started. I know there’s no real ultimate result to come out of this for everyone, but it’s certainly giving me plenty of food for thought :).

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