What the heck is going on with Premium Themes?

I spent some time recently poking about our Theme Showcase and there is now a subtle and interesting development concerning Premium Themes. As of this writing, they fall into two groups:

  • Premium themes that are included in the WordPress.com Premium plan upgrade and up, or purchased outright on any plan, including the Free and Personal plans. This is the original Premium theme offer as we’ve known it until now.
  • NEW: Premium themes that leverage additional components, AKA plugins, which would only be available to WordPress.com sites on the Business or eCommerce plans.

Welcome Back Third Party Premium Theme(s)

In that second group you’ll find the very first 3rd party Premium theme available since before the Premium Theme Extinction Event of 2020, Makoney from ElmaStudio. This new 3rd party theme requires not only the WordPress.com Business plan upgrade, but also a monthly or annual theme subscription as well. The free Ainoblocks plugin, also created by ElmaStudio, is needed for layouts. (See update below.)

Screenshot of the homepage of the Makoney Premium theme by ElmaStudio
Makoney-our first, new 3rd party Premium Theme since 2020

The addition of a Premium theme subscription model is intriguing, and at the same time curious, keeping in mind that under the Business plan, which is required here, you can install any 3rd party WordPress theme on your WordPress.com website. I’m very interested in seeing how this subscription model develops.

Searching for a Premium Theme

Right now, if I were looking for a new Premium theme I would have to go through each Premium theme to weed out those that require the Business plan and up. The banner announcing such a requirement is visible only after you click and open the theme’s full showcase page.

Upgrade to a Business plan and subscribe to this theme!
Upgrade banner on the Makoney theme showcase page
Access this WooCommerce theme with a Business plan!
Upgrade banner on Premium themes that are bundled with the WooCommerce plugin

As such, I guess I should be happy that there are still only a few Premium themes available because currently there’s no differentiation between the “need to upgrade” Premium themes and Premium themes which can be activated (or purchased) without upgrading. If you are on the Premium plan and look at Appearance>Themes, they all say “Included.”

The three latest WordPress.com Premium themes (as of January 2023) which require a Business plan upgrade.

Since there’s no indication (yet) in the Support documentation or Theme Showcase about these new Premium themes, perhaps something is in the works and this is a temporary situation. I do hope so. Even with the small number of Premium themes, it’s still an imposition on my time if I need to vet each one.

Update 28 January 2023:

Since publishing this post, two more Premium themes from ElmaStudio have been added to our Theme Showcase and, like Makoney, these themes also require a theme subscription on top of the Business plan.

The much-needed differentiation between Premium themes available to all (as outlined above) and those needing a Business plan upgrade is made by using a star with a green circle around it or just a star. While I haven’t found any support information that says this specifically, perhaps the star with a green circle means that the theme is included in your existing plan or available for separate purchase.

Update 02 February 2023

Welcome back Anariel Design! It looks like TPTB are trying to find (aka experimenting) with the best way to present themes that require upgrades in the Theme Showcase. Make sure you are in the Default/WordPress.com view to see these changes. They are a work-in-progress.

And a Support Guide has now been added for these “Marketplace Themes.”

Pro Tip: If you purchase a Premium plan, activate a Premium theme and then let your plan expire or you downgrade to Personal or Free, your site will revert to a free theme. If you’ve spent a lot of time customizing that Premium theme, you can avoid this by purchasing the theme separately. Doing so also insulates your theme from Theme retirement. However, any CSS customization you’ve made will be lost on any plan below the Premium plan.

As always, the information in this post is correct as of publication date. Changes are inevitable.

Published by JenT

After 4 years hand-coding websites, 2 years setting up and running WordPress sites, I launched my first website on WordPress.com in 2006 and never looked back. Since then, I’ve helped other site owners safely navigate through the ins and outs of the ever-changing WordPress.com ecosystem. Find me at wpcommaven.com

4 thoughts on “What the heck is going on with Premium Themes?

  1. Hmm . . . am I reading this right? I can buy a theme outside of WP?

    Or does ‘separately’ refer to in addition to what I pay for the plan, but in WP’s stable of themes?

    As for a subscription plan for a theme (or buying it outright), I’d only considerit if I could get exactly what I want. The restrictions (roadblocks) keeping me from it don’t seem to come from the theme itself, but from restrictions from WP. At least, that’s what I keep being told when I ask for help with something.

    . . . and I keep being told the Business plan would solve everything.

    Anyway, interesting information, even if not currently actionable by me.

    1. Just to reiterate, currently the only WordPress.com plans that can purchase and use external, 3rd party themes are the Business and eCommerce plans. Anyone on any WordPress.com plan, including Free and Personal, can purchase a Premium theme that appears in the WordPress.com Theme Showcase or at Appearance>Themes (with the new exceptions of Premium themes that require plugins). That theme purchase would be on top of any WordPress.com upgrade plan you have.

      In the case of Makoney, there is only a monthly/annual subscription available, you can’t buy it outright. This is where I think it gets interesting.

      Upgrading to the Business plan does remove a number of roadblocks, such as using certain code, using plugins, using 3rd party themes, having SFTP access, having database access, etc. It really depends on what your site needs are.

  2. Interesting update. And interesting about the ElmaStudio theme. I recall they used to have one of their themes in the premium section – maybe Zuki or Cocoa? I guess that is no longer there?

    1. Yes, you’re right, WordPress.com removed all the previously available Premium themes from the Theme Showcase back in 2020-2021, including those from ElmaStudio. Zuki was my favorite.

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