WordPress is one of, if not the single, most popular applications hosting customers install on their servers. Not only is it an incredibly popular blogging platform, but it is also a well-respected CMS and is used to manage a large number of sites, even those that aren’t blogs.
Nearly every major host, especially those who target shared hosting customers, put their support for WordPress front and center on their site and offer easy one-click installs of WordPress, which you probably don’t want to do.
Some hosts, however, have started to go beyond that. Rather than simply offering an easy way to setup and support WordPress, they’ve begun offering WordPress features unique to their service, namely through the addition of free professional theme galleries exclusive for their customers.
With the competition for WordPress customers at an all-time high, could this be the move that gives some companies the edge? It depends largely on the themes offered.
Need a Free Premium WordPress Theme?
Site5 is perhaps the best example of a company looking to exploit as they provide a collection of free, premium themes exclusive to just its own customers.
But while both WebHostingBuzz and SiteGround have larger galleries, Site5′s collection are much-better supported and largely fit the mold of a premium theme. Most of the themes from other hosts have analogues available in the free WordPress Theme Gallery.
And that is the real selling point of Site5′s gallery: not that it is the largest collection of themes, but that it is a chance to give customers for free something that, otherwise, would be very expensive.
Why ‘Free’ is Important
WordPress offers a free and robust theme gallery that is integrated into the administration area of WordPress for easy searching and installation. However, it’s well-known that most of the themes in the gallery are of low-quality and are not suitable for professional sites without a great deal of work.
This has lead to a cottage industry of professional WordPress themes with sites such as WooThemes becoming household names to WordPress business users.
However, these themes can be expensive. For example, a single theme from WooThemes can cost $40, or almost one year’s worth of hosting on a very basic shared hosting account. Thesis, a very popular WordPress theme for its ease of customization, starts at $87.
And, from the host’s viewpoint, that is the real advantage of giving away WordPress themes. Most hosts offer hundreds of dollars in free advertising through various services, including Adsense; free, premium WordPress themes are a chance to give away something valuable to customers at almost no cost to the host.
That makes these themes a very compelling value-add for hosts and one that is likely to spread as WordPress continues to grow in popularity.
Licensing of WordPress Themes
But while the pairing of free, premium WordPress themes with a hosting account seems to be a natural one, there may well be a problem for hosts. WordPress themes are widely considered to be derivatives of WordPress and, since WordPress is licensed under the GPL, that makes the themes licensed the same way.
This means that the themes created by these hosts can be copied freely and there is no way to enforce the “customers only” restriction. That being said, the theme’s images and CSS files, since they don’t interact with WordPress, are likely not GPL meaning that significant portions of the theme can be protected and licensed accordingly.
Still, with large portions of the theme available under a GPL license, many hosts will likely want to give pause before launching on their own premium theme endeavor lest they lose control of something that was meant to be only for their clients.
Hosts To Partner with Theme Developers
One step that doesn’t seem to be happening now but will likely take place soon is the partnering of professional theme sites, many of which offer monthly subscriptions, with web hosts to offer free or reduced-cost access to their collections to members.
These types of partnerships seem all-too-natural providing the powerful value-add for the host and expanding the audience for the them developers.
Currently, there aren’t many, if any, hosts engaging in this but it would appear to be only a matter of time before the competition between theme developers and the competition among hosts force them to create strategic alliances.
If you’re a WordPress user, now is a great time to be looking for hosting as many hosts are finding new ways to accommodate you, including the providing of free, premium WordPress themes.
While hosts are certainly willing and able to support other CMSes, including Joomla, Drupal and others, the popularity of WordPress is making it an important marketing tool for hosts and that is opening up new deals and features available only to WordPress users.
In short, if you’re using WordPress for your site currently, it might be worthwhile to make sure you’re getting the most out of your host as you may well find other companies to be more accommodating and a better deal.
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