Premium WordPress Themes: Are They Here To Stay?

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Over the last few years WordPress managed to become the dominating weblog engine out there. The main reasons behind its overwhelming success aren’t that astonishing: WordPress is extremely easy to use, it’s absolutely free and it has a huge community. But what is even more important is the fact that WordPress is an Open Source project. That means that everything, from the documentation to the code itself, was and is being created by and for the community for free. Consequently, WordPress themes and plugins have also been released for free in the spirit of the Open Source movement.

Over the last months we’ve been observing a growing trend towards “premium” WordPress themes — themes designed by freelancers and design agencies, heavily advertised on popular weblogs and offered for a fixed price.

What’s The Point? Link

So what’s the point of purchasing a WordPress theme if there are zillions of alternatives? The quality. Amongst thousands of alternatives only few themes go beyond having some basic functionalities within a customized design. In fact, designing a professional WordPress theme takes time.

Free themes may help a designer to gain a good reputation and improve his/her search engine rankings (in fact, we review high-quality WordPress from time to time — 100 Excellent Free WordPress Themes1), but it’s understandable that designers often can’t afford themselves to use the time they might need for their job.

Consequently, you’ll rarely be able to find free professional themes which can be employed for large web-sites, such as online magazines or corporate web-sites.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages Link

In his recent article Kyle Scove has discussed the advantages of Premium WordPress themes2:

“The availability of premium themes

  • gives WordPress users a chance to stand out from the crowd of free themes,
  • allows the purchaser to see what they are going to get ahead of time,
  • benefits the designers by allowing them the opportunity to do the work once, then have a steady source of income trickle in
  • will likely result in even more income than if they were to create a custom made theme for a client.”

In this context, it is also important to understand that designers will be able to benefit from a premium theme if and only if the premium theme has something special to offer and there are users who might actually need it. More importantly, it’s important that users are willing to pay for it — many bloggers tend to replace WordPress themes on a regular basis.

“Premium” themes are less likely to be used for traditional blogs. They are worth considering only if a large web-project has to be developed. Besides, not only the blog-owners, but also designers can benefit from such themes as they won’t need to reinvent the wheel all the time if they have to cope with a rather complex issue.

Case “Mimbo Pro” Link

Few months ago Darren Hoyt, the developer of the free Mimbo theme3 has announced that he is going to develop a premium version of his theme, called Mimbo Pro4. As he attempts to create the theme that will look BIG, like another Time or Newsweek, but with more elegant design touches, customers with small budgets might find similar premium themes worth considering.

Premium WordPress Theme5
Usually the development of a magazine-style design from scratch would cost $10,000 – $40,000. In these cases “premium” themes might address the needs of clients with smaller budgets.

“Premium” Themes Link

Below we’ve selected some premium themes which are applicable for large web-projects. Using these templates, designers, developers and customers might avoid a lot of headache and save both time and money.

Revolution Theme6 (Price: $79.95)
The Revolution themes family comes in multiple flavors. Revolution Tech is a customizable theme ideal for tech/gadget online magazines and has a new enhanced featured video location on the theme. Revolution Magazine is a customizable theme ideal for online magazines and has a new enhanced featured video location on the theme.

Premium WordPress Theme7

Premium WordPress Theme8

Magazine News Theme9 (Price: $49 – $129)
Magazine News v1.0 is a news / magazine-styled WordPress theme created for sites with a lot of content, and looking to maximize their Google AdSense revenue. Among other things the theme has a “Feature article” functionality which allows bloggers to easily highlight an article at any time by creating a category called ‘featured’ and put the posts that you want featured in there.

Premium WordPress Theme10

PortfolioPress11 (Price: $49)
PortfolioPress is aimed at being a portfolio blog for web/graphic/print design. Apart from the theme, the package also includes layered Photoshop files (.psd) for header and menu and a full layered Photoshop file (.psd) (multiple license only).

Premium WordPress Theme12

Premium News Theme13 (Price: $99.95 – $249.95)
A grid-based magazine-style theme with a number of features such as video embedding, “featured article”-functionality etc.

Premium WordPress Theme14

News Theme15 (Price: $75 – $245)
A clean and legible magazine-style theme.

Premium WordPress Theme16

Showcase: WordPress CSS Gallery Theme17 (Price: $70 – $700)
WordPress theme created to power a CSS or web design gallery, which is also ideal for managing online portfolios and photo blogs. If you want to use WordPress as a web design gallery, Showcase might be the solution you’ve been looking for. Beyond its core features, it comes with 5 different color schemes and 8 layout variations.

Premium WordPress Theme18

WP Remix19 (Price: $55 – $155)
A WordPress theme which is completely customizable and comes bundled with many layout options that helps to create custom designs.

Premium WordPress Theme20

Digg-Theme21 (Price: $49)
The theme is widget-ready and it’s built in place for 125×125 banner ads, so that you can instantly incorporate ads in your blog.

Premium WordPress Theme22

Solostream 1.023 (Price: $49 – $159)
The theme is widget-ready, has drop-down navigation for sub-pages, tag support for WordPress 2.3, built-in archives page, drop-down boxes for categories and monthly archives, tabbed top content box and featured article functionality.

Premium WordPress Theme24

Gridline Magazine (Price: $49- $159)
Gridline utilizes the Blueprint CSS framework to create a minimal, grid-based magazine theme. Premium Gridline theme comes in two flavors, Gridline Magazine, and Gridline News. Designer mentions that Gridline might help you to :transform your blog into a full-blown magazine”.

Premium WordPress Theme

What Do You Think? Link

As the number of premium themes is growing, it’s reasonable to pose the question whether it’s also the time for “premium” WordPress plugins. In a follow-up to this article Steven Snell from VandelayDesign team discusses the rise of premium themes and plugins25. His opinon: “Currently plugin developers dedicate many hours of their time and are rewarded with links, maybe some donations, and a few pats on the back. If charging for plugins will open up increased innovation and creativity from plugin developers, I’m all for it.”

We’d like to know your opinion. Have you ever considered releasing a “premium” WordPress theme? Would you consider using “third-party” templates for your projects? How much would you spend on a professional WordPress theme? Are “premium” themes here to stay?

Please take part in our poll and/or comment on this article.

Sources and Resources Link

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/08/100-excellent-free-high-quality-wordpress-themes/
  2. 2 http://kylescove.com/examining-blog-trends-premium-wordpress-themes/
  3. 3 http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2007/08/05/wordpress-magazine-theme-released/
  4. 4 http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2007/12/29/preliminary-sketches-of-mimbo-pro/
  5. 5 http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2007/12/29/preliminary-sketches-of-mimbo-pro/
  6. 6 http://www.briangardner.com/themes
  7. 7 http://www.briangardner.com/themes
  8. 8 http://www.briangardner.com/themes
  9. 9 http://www.artculture.com/art-culture/magazine-news-wordpress-theme
  10. 10 http://www.artculture.com/art-culture/magazine-news-wordpress-theme
  11. 11 http://wordpress.jepson.no/wordpress-themes/portfoliopress/
  12. 12 http://wordpress.jepson.no/wordpress-themes/portfoliopress/
  13. 13 http://www.premiumnewstheme.com/
  14. 14 http://www.premiumnewstheme.com/
  15. 15 http://quommunication.com/
  16. 16 http://quommunication.com/
  17. 17 http://www.wpdesigner.com/2007/09/10/showcase/
  18. 18 http://www.wpdesigner.com/2007/09/10/showcase/
  19. 19 http://www.wpremix.com/home/
  20. 20 http://www.wpremix.com/home/
  21. 21 http://www.peterandrej.com/shop/digg/
  22. 22 http://www.peterandrej.com/shop/digg/
  23. 23 http://www.solostream.com/category/wordpress-blog-themes/
  24. 24 http://www.solostream.com/category/wordpress-blog-themes/
  25. 25 http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/wordpress/premium-themes-plugins/
  26. 26 http://wphacks.com/best-premium-wordpress-themes-gallery/
  27. 27 http://www.blogohblog.com/premium-wordpress-themes/

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

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  1. 1

    Thank you for featuring Showcase. The price actually starts from $70, which is the most popular option.

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  2. 2

    Thanks for mentioning my posts in your article.

    One thing that I would add is that I think there is a market out there for premium blogging themes that have extra options as well, but the focus is clearly on content management systems.

    Either way, premium themes are definitely here to stay as bloggers and businesses will always have a need for a custom theme or a theme that isn’t used very often to help their site stand out.

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  3. 3

    Hi Vitaly & Sven: thanks for featuring Mimbo Pro among these other great themes. Just wanted to clarify, it’s Mimbo with an “i” and it’s a theme for WordPress, not Mambo.

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  4. 4

    I definitely feel that it is for the commercial use only. Individual bloggers that aren’t trying to get rich won’t fall into paying for what you can get for free

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  5. 5

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    January 11, 2008 11:07 am

    @Small Potato, Kyle Eslick, Darren: thanks, fixed.

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  6. 6

    Jen - Pop Stalin Design

    January 11, 2008 11:15 am

    For me the only reason I could see purchasing a “Premium theme” would be because a certain theme has something that I just can’t figure out. Fortunately, the WP community is so large that finding help isn’t an issue.

    I still can’t get over the idea of paying for something that can usually be freely found. Maybe someone needs to design a good free magazine theme, since these are mostly what is covered, and get back into the spirit of WP, open source, i.e., free.

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  7. 7

    You forgot one of the first to do this: Typepress which is up and coming still

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  8. 8

    Is Brad Mahaffey (of Magazine News v1.0) involved with NorthXEast.com?

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  9. 9

    i don’t think many people who read SM would take their vote for “Yes, my blog design should be special!”

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  10. 10

    Blogging Experiment had an article which focused on some issues due to re-licensing of a theme . The comments on that article delved into whether “Themes do / do not not inherit the GPL from WordPress.” which to my knowledge has not been legally answered.

    I wonder what the official position of WordPress / Automattic / Matt on that aspect of premium theme development is.

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  11. 11

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    January 11, 2008 12:10 pm

    @dy: thank you, we’ve added the theme to the article.

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  12. 12

    Ideally I’d design the theme myself. But depending on how my site was doing I might consider buying one if I couldn’t put my own together.

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  13. 13

    i want to design a theme for me. because best of theme is own theme.

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  14. 14

    well, i’ m still sceptical about premium themes – there should be something “very extra” that that makes it worth buying as there are possibility other people will have the very same theme.

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  15. 15

    How do they deal with updates? Do they have to release a new version if WordPress comes out with 2.4? Or do they leave it up to the bloggers to deal with the updates themselves?

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  16. 16

    The premium theme trend is definitely here to stay. On the CMS front, Joomla community has already been offering premium themes for well over a year now. There are quite a few individuals/studios who offer them. A unique thing to be noted about Joomla premium themes is that they are offered on a membership model. A new theme is released every month. Users can take membership with a particular website, and use all the themes on offer. In future I expect the same to happen with WordPress themes as well.

    On a side note, it will also be interesting to see how the premium theme scene shapes up with WordPress Marketplace as well.

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  17. 17

    Are these themes really so cheap? its good.

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  18. 18

    Thanks a lot for reviewing the Revolution themes – I certainly think that premium themes are here to stay, and look forward to help taking WordPress to a higher level!

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  19. 19

    To my eye, they most of these look the same. Nothing all that ‘extra’ that would be worth paying for.

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  20. 20

    Sweet timing on this! I’m looking into premium magazine style themes for a project I’m developing. I like Brian’s Revolution, but I’m waiting to see Darren’s new Mimbo before purchasing anything.

    As far as if we should pay for a premium theme – I do. You cannot find themes like these free. Sure, we can go with a free WP theme and save the small bucks, but I think the price of going premium is minimal – case in point is Revolution: if Brian had built that for a client I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have charged them under $200, probably more like $2,000 – and with some knowledge of php, css, and photoshop, you can certainly make it unique to you. Quite a deal for small $change!

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  21. 21

    I just recently purchased a theme from a designer. But I had difficulty choosing one answer in your poll.

    “I’d hire a designer” BECAUSE “I want my blog design to be special,” if that makes any sense.

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  22. 22

    I rather make free themes and give them away on a donation basis, I.E “if you like these themes make a donation to my tip jar”
    I rather make the money if someone came to me to make them a custom theme from seeing my work on free themes.

    As for dealing with theme changes in future wordpress versions, it should be up to the people developing/selling the themes and the people looking to buy the theme. The people creating/selling themes should have it clearly defined what kind of support is included with the theme. While it is up to the person buying the theme to review what kind of support is included with the premium theme.

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  23. 23

    Most Smashing Magazine readers probably prefer to design their own theme, but we’re in the minority of overall WP users. To those who say “why pay for what you can get for free,” I don’t know of any free themes that can compare with most of these themes mentioned here. Personally, I think they’re a great value for most bloggers/website owners.

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  24. 24

    montreal social media

    January 11, 2008 4:51 pm

    who wants a blog with a theme like digg’s ???

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  25. 25

    I can’t tell you how many inquiries I get for people that got stuck implementing a bought theme or template. They usually come to us to fix it. In the end they usually say, ‘we should have used you guys from the beginning and let you design it’. Bottom line is bought templates can’t give you customer service like a design company can. So if you are going to go big, you might as well buy the support as well.
    Just my opinion…

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  26. 26

    I still think my blog, benmay.org- has a better theme than any of those!!

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  27. 27

    Thanks a lot Smash Mag!. I am honored to be listed with all those talented designers.

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  28. 28

    I think it’s a great option for those who either cannot design themselves or do not have the time/resources to jump into the codex to figure things out.

    For some it’s easy to roll up your sleeves and get to know the in and outs of your theme and some they would rather buy a “complete” package and just tweak images and styles.

    I don’t think I’d ever buy a theme but they are all nice nonetheless.

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  29. 29

    It’s a really good idea. Most bloggers can use an existing free theme or design their own, but a small size magazine that needs to concentrate on producing content would benefit from some of these professional-looking themes. They also offer lots of extra CMS options that would take a long time to design themselves. Serious online magazines shouldn’t spend their time figuring out how to feature an article; that’s a ‘technical’ job. An ‘investment’ of less than $100 is an absolute bargain, and now’s the time to buy: I can see this market developing and prices rocketing.

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  30. 30

    I would also add that these themes look pretty good, but they do utilise what I think are some pretty poor design practices: drop-down menus, lack of negative space and over-widgetisation being common examples. Maybe the deigners feel they have to offer more and more stuff in order to justify the cost?

    (BTW this site doesn’t handle commentors forgetting to enter their name and email address to well!)

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  31. 31

    Problem #1 – WordPress is not a true CMS, yet premium themes try to sell WordPress as a true CMS

    What most of the premium themes have really done is try to emulate a true CMS system using WordPress’s limited blogging and page system. They do this by providing a well designed intro page structure that looks like something generated from a more robust CMS.

    Yet its all a crafty illusion that most people will not see through until its too late and the nonrefundable “premium” theme is paid for.

    Remember, no matter how many php mods, theme mods and content hacks you try to use, WP will never be a true CMS.

    Problem # 2 – Premium themes are for people who what a theme that is unique, yet by the nature of the theme any average joe can own and use the theme

    Honestly this reminds me of marketing 101. Take something free and add some catchy words (ie premium) and a price tag and all the people who don’t know any better will rush to buy it.

    Additionally, just so you all know, I’m a textpattern, expression engine, and wordpress user. Code wise WP reminds me of myspace.com .. both are broken pieces of coding that need a full rewrite from the ground up but will never receive that upgrade due to their popularity. Texpattern is the nice well coded diamond in the rough that everyone overlooks. Meanwhile expression engine has the charms but its price tag scares away all the open source developers.

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  32. 32

    A lot of us are designers. Why wouldn’t we make our own themes?

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  33. 33

    I think it’s just a trend for a few months, because someone started a hype, then the others were following like sheeps.

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  34. 34

    Thanks for including the link to my follow up. It’s appreciated.

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  35. 35

    I believe that premium themes won’t be a big deal, 1 or 2 people might buy it because it’s always cheaper than hiring a designer and developer but someone can copy or develop similar themes that just need some adjusting…

    So would I sell a theme? Probably… but wouldn’t expect to make much money out of it.

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  36. 36

    They suck so far…

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  37. 37

    I think it is more than just a trend, they are here to stay and I am sure people will continue paying a premium price to have their site stand apart. I also believe that all the themes mentioned here are worth more than the price they are listed at.

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  38. 38

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the Shifter Theme, which I’m currently using on a couple of blogs. It’s perfect for personal blogs, but can also be customised for other purposes.

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  39. 39

    most of the themes flagged premium do not look like themes I would spend more than 15$ on. just going by the price of 250$ you could except more uniqueness and more custom user functionality. have you checked out sites such as getafreelancer.com? you can get indian offshore programmers and designers to do a sophisticated design job for 100$. being a designer myself, I find that very harsh also as this somewhatly reduces the own price one can ask for. one client that I worked for clearly stated that out, so I had to cut my price 50% as I strongly wanted to keep on that job. 250$ for a theme that eventually more than 10 people will buy is just too much. If I was to produce & sell premium themes I would go for 50$.

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  40. 40

    Why would you, if you’re running a commercial site, have a layout and design that is not special? It seems very unprofessional to use a theme for that purpose.

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  41. 41

    I think that premium wordpress themes are definitely here to stay … there are lots of advantages to using a “premium” theme! Not only does a premium theme have a more professional look and feel, but usually added functionality that a free theme just doesn’t have. Buying a premium theme isn’t for everybody!! Obviously, if you’re a designer and you can build your own theme, then it only makes sense to either modify a free theme, or customize your own theme from the ground up … but not everybody is skilled at editing PHP files or hacking WordPress!! For those people, having the services of a premium WordPress theme designer can save hundreds of dollars in custom design work and countless hours of headaches and frustration!!

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  42. 42

    Premium WordPress themes are here to stay … there is no getting around that fact!! Obviously buying a premium theme isn’t for everyone … but even in the “premium” category, there are still some very nice free magazine style wordpress themes. I agree with lica though … if you are going to buy a premium wordpress theme, you should get top-quality support!

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  43. 43

    Thank you very much for including ArtCulture’s Magazine News theme. Very much appreciated. :) Not that it will make a ton of traffic difference to smashing, however I added the site to ArtCulture’s blog roll. Thanks again!

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  44. 44

    I’m torn as to which one I should buy… they all look soooo gorgeous

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  45. 45

    Howdy WordPressers,

    Thanks for adding my theme designs to this list. I’ve introduced a new business model for my premium/paid themes, which gives my clients all themes that I develop in 2008 for just $99. It’s basically a $99 subscription fee for about 15 premium themes. Why? Because I think everyone likes options and new stuff.

    The price most charge for premium theme design is just a fraction of the price that most would spend to have a robust custom website designed from the ground up. For instance: I work for a company that sells a very popular, and expensive, CMS for news websites. The starting price for the CMS software alone is more than most pay for automobiles. Our designers and developers worked more than a year on our latest site design. The starting price tag to build a site like this can well exceed $100,000. Compare these sites to a few premium/paid themes and you will be pleasantly surprised by how premium/paid WordPress themes stack up.

    Is WordPress a fully functioning CMS? That depends on what your content is. Premium/paid WordPress themes provide an affordable alternative for start-up publications, bloggers and small businesses that don’t want to “break the bank” on custom website design.

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  46. 46

    I have been selling WordPress themes for quite sometime, and I definitely believe premium themes are here to stay.

    I think most people buy my themes for their features, and the low pricing.

    Thanks.

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  47. 47

    Marcus

    January 14, 2008 3:41 pm

    Personally, I’m all for people making money on their hobby projects. While I don’t have a problem with premium themes (as they are more a design issue than anything else), I do worry that premium plug-ins would dig away somewhat at WordPress’ core values, such as being open source.

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  48. 48

    I like your showcase theme,it looks so perfect ! but its price is too hight for me

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  49. 49

    Mi inglés no es muy bueno.
    Sólo quiero decirles que este listado está excelente!
    Los themes son maravillsos.

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  50. 50

    As a blogger sometimes the blog you use starts to make some money to you so it’s a good investment to purchase a premium theme !! Just my 5 cents !!

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