Do not buy WordPress themes that bundle premium plugins

I fully agree with what Brian Krogsgard wrote about what’s bad about some top selling ThemeForest themes. But right when you think things couldn’t get much worse, some of my WooThemes coworkers found something very disturbing in a couple themes that are sold via ThemeForest. Not only are most themes packed with a ton of features that don’t belong in a theme (“choice of half a dozen sliders, multiple custom post types, ridiculous shortcodes, options panels galore, and much more insanity”), there are themes for sale now that bundle premium plugins.

That’s nothing new though, we’ve seen it before. But the themes in question are now bundling “premium” plugins and are using it as selling points. The problem is that users now get the impression that they are buying a theme that includes the plugins they need to get their theme working.

Bundling plugins in a theme

At first, they will feel that it’s a bargain to buy a theme for $60 that includes a copy of Gravity Forms and a couple premium WooCommerce extensions. But the problem is that they are not buying a licence for the software, but just get the code. One version of the code, to be exact, that they will never get any updates or support on.

Don’t buy themes that bundle premium plugins!

Now that’s a bold statement. Well, you will thank me later. Normally, I’m not much into this public shaming, I believe in contacting the theme authors directly before publicly telling they are doing something bad. But this time, these companies are pushing it too far. This madness has to end.

Do yourself a favor and do not buy these themes:

  • Bazar Shop theme by “Your Inspiration Theme”. Bundles Gravity Forms, WooCommerce Ajax Layered Nav, WooCommerce Compare Products Pro, WooCommerce Gravity Forms Product Add Ons, WooCommerce Product Enquiry Form, WooCommerce Wishlists and probably also WooCommerce Cloud Zoom (I can’t confirm, but since they also copied the screenshot…).
  • MayaShop theme by “Your Inspiration Theme”. Bundles Gravity Forms, WooCommerce Ajax Layered Nav, WooCommerce Compare Products Pro and WooCommerce Gravity Forms Product Add Ons.

Oh look, it’s the same theme author! Let’s hope we can stop this madness with just them doing it and not end up with every author on ThemeForest doing this to get some sales.

Update: Both themes have been temporarily disabled by Envato. Also rectified the plugins used by the themes after this comment.

Why is bundling premium plugins wrong?

This is wrong in so many different ways. Let’s have a look at what someone is likely to do when they run into an issue with one of the bundled WooCommerce plugins:

  1. The author of the plugin is WooThemes. “They should help me, right?”
  2. Wrong, they can’t help you. You haven’t purchased the plugin from WooThemes, so they can’t support you. This is not just because you haven’t purchased it from them, but they also have no way of knowing what’s been done with the code. This makes it virtually impossible to support the code.
  3. The WooThemes support crew will probably tell you to ask the theme author.
  4. The theme author has no real ways of supporting the plugins they bundle with the theme, simply because they didn’t write the plugin.
  5. The initial response of the theme author is often to contact the author of the plugin. Resume these steps at #1, infinite loop!

This often leads to frustration and despair for the customers of the theme:

At first i have contacted the theme authors and they sent me to you, since it is a plugin issue. Now you are telling me that it is not your responsibility and that i should contact the theme authors.. I really don’t know what to do anymore… I am a bit disappointed that no one is willing to help me.

It’s not that WooThemes doesn’t want to support these people, they just can’t reliably support other peoples products (although it looks like they just copied the plugins in, instead of modifying them).

Technical difficulties

One funny detail in this whole plugin bundling thing is the perfect example of why this is a bad idea in technical reasons. The version of the Gravity Forms Product Add-Ons extension for WooCommerce is actually not 100% compatible with the version of Gravity Forms that’s bundled in the same theme. For people who have purchased the extension through WooThemes, an update would solve this. The customers of one of these themes are likely to run into problems with this combination.

I can go on and on about what else can go wrong when you don’t have access to updates (security, anyone?). What happens if WordPress releases a new version, that requires some bundled plugins to update? How can you even update those bundled plugins? Oh right, you need to buy a licence with the actual developers of the theme…

How should theme authors do this then?

Well, that’s pretty easy actually. If you know what you’re doing, you can provide compatibility for a certain premium plugin in your theme, without having to rely on the plugin to be there. That’s what the whole WordPress plugin ecosystem is based on. If you write quality code that makes your theme compatible (not dependent) with a specific plugin, your customers and the plugins developers will love you.

If you really need a plugin to be there in order for your theme to function, you’re doing something wrong. But even then, that’s no excuse to bundle the plugin in your theme. The only thing you’ll be successful at, is causing pain in the rear for your customers.

104 thoughts on “Do not buy WordPress themes that bundle premium plugins

  1. Je bent zelf een WordPress theme that bundles premium plugins.

  2. Hi Coen,

    We met at WordCamp NYC last year…we talked about integrating Event Espresso and WooCommerce (might still need to do that)…

    Nice post. I have a couple observations.

    Even though Woo’s products are GPL, doesn’t give a theme author the rights to distribute your products in your name. If they’re going to market their product with your name then the theme author should have permission to do so…doubt that’s happening.

    This is primarily an issue of collaboration and support. We’re in discussion with theme authors about developing event-specific themes that are powered by Event Espresso, but before we make that decision it will probably require a commercial agreement between the two parties to detail how customers will be supported, that each party will support the theme/plugin code and make sure compatibility issues are resolved.

    I really do think this is possible. It’s hard work to lay out the proper groundwork, partnerships, processes and then deliver on fulfillment. But that’s what you pay for with premium products.

    If you don’t agree with the above, then I feel we need to keep functionality out of themes, the themes out of the plugins and let them both do their own work.

    • I’m not that into the GPL to fully understand wether or not this is allowed, but I can’t think of a reason why you would be allowed to redistribute under the original authors name. Thanks for pointing that out, Garth.

      And yes, I fully support themes and plugins being compatible with each other, but they should never depend on each other. I think it’s a very reasonable best practice. We do the exact same thing with WooCommerce, Sensei and all the other plugins that we’ve made at WooThemes. They work independently from our themes, but they have been made compatible so they compliment each other. And of course, all our themes also work without the plugins.

      • “but they should never depend on each other.”

        Partly true, but some parts of a theme for instance have dependencies (woocommerce is a common one)… the whole theme should use the principal of ‘uses’ rather than ‘requires’ and gracefully ignores the functionality if it is not present.

        The other issue is that there is not enough information out there for a nubie developer to get their head around the best way to do this.

        Also people leave university and then have no interest in updating their plugins, WordPress should allow people to ‘abandon’ their plugin and allow others to ‘co-author’ and keep them updated. There should also be some kind of code review ‘bot’.

      • I think the other point that is ignored in this article is that until recently you couldn’t specify a plugin as ‘required’ or ‘nice to have’ and point to it’s true source, so you had to bundle it to make sure the user knew to get it (as most people dont’ read documentation properly).

        I think in a nutshell, going forward this shouldn’t be an issue if wordpress and large authors educate theme developers of the above feature instead of whining about the ‘past’.

    • I think your statement is wrong, you can distribute as many plugins as you like with your theme if they are GPL.

      You are not allowed to claim that it’s yours. So the “in your name” part is right but if you distribute it with a “bundled with” statement I think you have to ask nobody for permission. If they own the trademark rights to some name they may have the right to disallow you advertise with their names, I am not sure if that is true and how far that goes. Lets assume that they can prevent you from using their names anywhere (I doubt that but lets just assume) you can still bundle their plugins legally within your theme or anything, put their copyright in a license.txt and your fine.

      Hell you can take the most successful free as in beer GPL project and sell it legally as is even if your finger never touched any line of code.

      I am not arguing that you should to that kind if stuff but I think many people not really get the GPL, especially in the WordPress community. People often mistaken the GPL for being way more restrictive that it actually is. Basically you can do anything as long as you mention the author(s) and redistribute your code on GPL too if its based in it.

  3. Hey Coen! Just saw your post via Scott’s site. Thanks Coen! However, I’ve already bought the themes (Maya and Bazar) via ThemeForest as the Superstore theme wasn’t out yet then on Woo.

    However, though the theme looks good, they have too many things even on the front page, making my site do a total of 200 over queries from all the individual hack done by them on the front page. Only found that out when the site started loading slowly, even on a dedicated host.

    And then we moved to WP Engine and the problem persisted, and Jetpack broke their layout. =(

    Was so glad to buy SuperStore once it was released =) Keep up the good job guys!

    p/s: Could you solve our issue with the Pre-Order extension?

  4. Are they allowed to bundle a premium plugin in their product, Woo doesn’t sell any ‘reseller licenses’ right?

    • According to the GPL, which all Woo products are licensed under, these authors are not doing anything wrong by redistributing Woo code.

      That’s not really the problem here though.

      Seems to me the simple solution is that ThemeForest do not approve themes like these in the first place.

    • Well, the GPL allows redistribution when attribution is done properly. But in this case, there is no attribution done, simply because the plugins haven’t been changed. I don’t know the GPL this well to fully understand if it’s allowed to redistribute someone else his work under the original authors name. I assume that’s not allowed.

  5. Hi Coen,

    I posted a thread on ThemeForest forum to get attention from ThemeForest community.

    http://themeforest.net/forums/thread/bundling-premium-gpl-plugins-on-themeforest-themes/100141

  6. Hey Coen, while I would’ve preferred an email before you hit publish, I appreciate the heads up and the specific examples.

    I’m looking into this issue further now, as it’s not a situation I believe should have occurred. I’ve also had the items you mentioned disabled until the author can rectify the situation.

    You’re always more than welcome to contact me directly with any WordPress-related issues at Envato, and be confident that I’ll do what I can :)

    • Although I know I could (and maybe should) contact you before publishing, I choose to just publish it. I made this decision mainly because it’s not specific to ThemeForest. Yes, this case was on ThemeForest. But it’s a growing problem on multiple marketplaces where themes are adding more and more code to themes that doesn’t belong in there, or is just plain wrong like in this example.

      Thanks for jumping into this, I’m sure this can be rectified easily by the theme author. Always good to know that you guys are on top of it. Again, this wasn’t aimed as ‘yet another ThemeForest bashing’ post, I actually really like what you guys are doing. :)

      • talking of best practice:

        you should update your article to reflect that:

        1) you didn’t contact envato before writing
        2) you have since contacted them and they are being proactive.

        ;-)

        your welcome.

      • The funny thing about the hoo-hah here is that it’s VALID, but annoying.

        Glad to see good Aussie companies like Envato coming to the party of this one tho… might be better in future to educate, rather than yell from your ivory tower tho.

  7. Looks like two themes that you mentioned above got removed from TF :)

  8. Coen, nice post. I agree. I’d like to see all themes, woothemes/woocommerce included, become less bundled in the first place. Less is more. Don’t woocommerce plugins automatically include the wooupdater plugin? When I last updated woocommerce, all of a sudden it added the updater plugin too… Not a big deal, but just one more plugin.

    Thanks,
    Bob

  9. I held off on commenting on this blog post despite being fully aware of it until after I had discussed the situation privately with Japh at Envato and Collis had also been in on the loop.

    They are taking care of the issue. Themes shouldn’t be including premium plugins like this. For a variety of reasons. The fact that they are premium is actually the least of the reasons why this is a bad idea.

    First off a theme is a theme. Those who develop themes should understand that and know their role in their WordPress ecosystem. When they try to do too much it’s just bad for everyone involved. Leave the design of a site to the theme and leave the more advanced functionality to plugins. Don’t include plugins with a theme.

    Next the major issue is updates. You can’t get updates for Gravity Forms without purchasing it from us and having an active key for our SaaS API. Utilizing plugins that you do not have access to update when updates are available is a big no no. You should ALWAYS keep WordPress and plugins up to date. ALWAYS. By bundling a premium theme with no way to get updates with a theme the theme author is doing a major disservice to the end user because they won’t get updates… which could lead to vulnerabilities down the road. More importantly it could lead to WordPress compatibility issues.

    Case in point. Gravity Forms relies on jQuery and jQuery UI that is bundled within WordPress. When WordPress makes changes to the version of jQuery or jQuery UI within the core, it may require an update to Gravity Forms to maintain compatibility. If you don’t have access to Gravity Forms updates and you update WordPress… your Gravity Forms could now break due to jQuery issues because you can’t update it. This has happened and happens regularly. That is why updates are so important.

    Gravity Forms also has some SaaS functionality and in fact it’s use of SaaS functionality is only going to grow in the future with some features we have planned. These SaaS features won’t work without an active key. These users wouldn’t have an active key.

    WordPress and plugins aren’t the Showtime Rotisserie oven. They aren’t “Set it and forget it.”. You must keep them updated which means you must have access to updates and in this situation the user would not have access to updates.

    Yes we sell a Developer License which allows you to use the API key on unlimited sites. But our terms and conditions do not allow you to publicly share or resell your key. So it can’t be included within a theme. If it is, we’ll terminate the key.

    I could go on. There are a plethora of reasons why bundling plugins with a theme is a bad idea.

    Then there are the non-technical aspects of it. The… morality of it if you will. The fact that the commercial community as a whole looks down upon people freely distributing commercial WordPress plugins and themes even if they are GPL. The community polices itself. And yes the GPL allows it, but that doesn’t mean the community condones it.

    We get requests all the time from theme developers who ask if they can buy the Developer License and then include it with their theme. Each time we basically explain to them what I explained above. It’s simply not a good idea and not something we condone.

    If it was a good thing we’d already be doing it with all the major theme providers. But it’s not.

    What really makes me sad is it’s another situation where someone that has no business selling WordPress themes to the public is doing so. It’s one of the downsides to WordPress barrier to entry being so low and a marketplace such as ThemeForest making it so easy for someone to sell themes they create. There are far too many people selling themes, and plugins, who really shouldn’t be doing so because they don’t truly know what they are doing.

    I’m glad Japh, Collis and the Envato team will be addressing this issue. They’ve pulled those themes for now and from what i’ve been told will be coming up with an official policy on the matter that they will be communicating to their theme authors.

    • Well yes, of course this applies to all plugins, not alone premium plugins. The difference is that free (perhaps even .org hosted) plugins can be updated after being installed via such a theme. No, it’s not pretty. No, I do not recommend doing it. But it’s the reason why I focussed on doing this with premium themes in this post.

      Then there are the non-technical aspects of it. The… morality of it if you will. The fact that the commercial community as a whole looks down upon people freely distributing commercial WordPress plugins and themes even if they are GPL. The community polices itself. And yes the GPL allows it, but that doesn’t mean the community condones it.

      Yep, the GPL allows it, but I don’t think it allows this particular use case where plugins are redistributed under the original authors name. So they basically are giving away products out of name of WooThemes and Rocketgenius, bundled with their own work. That’s probably not allowed under the GPL, but as I said before, I’m no real GPL expert.

  10. Simone D'Amico

    Hi there,
    I’m Simone D’Amico, Team Leader at Your Inspiration Themes.

    I want to clarify some points of your post.

    The premium plugins we include in our themes are the following:

    - WooCommerce Compare Products Pro
    - WooCommerce Ajax Layered Navigation
    - WooCommerce Gravity Forms Add-ons
    - Gravity Form

    other plugins or features are developed by our developers, such as

    - YITH WooCommerce Wishlist (http://wordpress.org/plugins/yith-woocommerce-wishlist/)
    - YITH WooCommerce Zoom Magnifier (http://wordpress.org/plugins/yith-woocommerce-zoom-magnifier/)
    - Enquiry Forms

    and some other features that extend the WooCommerce plugins.

    We do not include the following plugins you mentioned in your post:
    - WooCommerce Product Enquiry Form
    - WooCommerce Wishlists
    - WooCommerce Cloud Zoom

    The previous plugins I mentioned are bought on Woocommerce store with an “Unlimited Site” license or on Gravity Form website with a “Developer license”.

    The “Unlimited Site” license included in WooCommerce website says:

    “[...] If you choose the unlimited license you will be given one license key that can be used on an unlimited number of sites.”

    Keep in mind that we are not re-selling the plugins and above all we don’t provide key licenses to our customers. When an update of those plugins is released, we will as soon as possible release a new theme update with the new version of the plugin. We know how important is to keep updated the WordPress installation.

    I’d like to remind you also that many times we got in touch with Woocommerce plugins developers in order to provide solutions for some issues with plugins or Woothemes developers (Mike Jolley from Woothemes for example can confirm that). This confirms the fact that we have always been available and, above all, in good faith.

    you really need a plugin to be there in order for your theme to function, you’re doing something wrong

    Our themes were fully functional even without those plugins. We were offering plugin as “additional value” to the theme but you can’t doubt of the quality of our themes, and tell people that the plugins are the only valid selling points.
    I’d like to point out that the MayaShop theme was released on April, 28 2012 and that the plugins were added on May 23, 2013. Up until then MayaShop sold roughly 6500+ copies: that’s a big number!

    As for the “infinite support loop” and the fourth point in particular: we proud ourselves in our support team and we are daily helping people to solve problems with the plugins we bundle our themes with.
    Before including a plugin we study the code and we assure we are fully proficient with its codebase.
    The only case we could not help our users is the time when helping them requires to modify the plugin source code. In this case, and only in this case, we tell them to contact the plugin author.

    We believe in providing the best value for our users and until now we have always moved between the boundaries of ThemeForest’s terms of conditions (and the fact that proves it is that the themes were always approved).
    The moment that these terms will change, we will adapt to them, always sure that our products are valid and unique, even without the additional functionalities that plugins would provide.

    In any case, we are open to any suggestion, critique and idea; and you (or anyone) can contact me to simone.damico[at]yithemes.com to discuss anything related to this particular point.

    Thank you

    • Thanks for your feedback. I’ve updated the post to reflect the plugins you actually bundle with the themes, I didn’t intend to make it look worse than it is.

      Still, this doesn’t change the issue at hand, in my opinion. The WooThemes licence explains that you can use the plugins at as much websites as you want. It says nothing about distributing these plugins at your own will. But that’s something you will have to figure out with ThemeForest first and probably also with WooThemes.

      The way you describe these practices make it worse to me, actually. You almost make it sound as if it’s a great service you are offering for your customers. Well, I’m not gonna dive in that either. I think my post explains how I think about it pretty well.

      Finally, comparing your support levels to the WooThemes support team is almost insulting. There is nobody who can support a plugin like the developer. So if a customer needs support with a plugin, they should get it from the developer. Your themes make people believe they have purchased the plugin, which they haven’t. They have purchased a couple lines of code, without any of the other benefits that belong to a real purchase.

      If you disagree with me, that’s fine. This doesn’t change my opinion though. I still think it’s a bad practice to bundle plugins like this and I strongly discourage people from buying your themes.

    • Unlimited license means it is unlimited for your personal sites and client sites…
      It doesn’t mean that you can resell and redistribute it…

      Similar with including CodeCanyon items in your themes. You can’t simply buy extended license of CodeCanyon item to include it in your theme. You need permission from plugin author to include it in your ThemeForest item…!

      • Simone, are you sure with your statement below (in bold)? Please do not make it worse…

        http://yithemes.com/blog/yit-news/why-do-our-themes-do-not-appear-on-themeforest-announcement-and-updates/

        As someone already noted, today some of our themes were removed from ThemeForest.

        This was due to the fact that ThemeForest and Envato changed their idea about bundling premium plugins with themes (this was permitted, as you can understand from the fact that the themes were approved at first).

        Our themes were removed without any notice or communication to us, so we couldn’t warn you, our users, about this coming.

        We are actively working to solve this problem as soon as possible and get back online our themes adapting ThemeForest’s new terms and conditions.

        We will update this blog post as soon as we have news about the approval of our themes on ThemeForest.

        Thank you for your patience.

    • If you are using your Gravity Forms Developer license to provide these updates we will terminate your license. So don’t be surprised when it happens.

      You also can’t use our name and brand to promote your theme. Which includes saying it includes Gravity Forms in your marketing.

      Themes should be themes. What you are doing isn’t a theme. It’s a mess.

      Want another reason why it’s a bad idea?

      Gravity Forms makes use of SaaS. Without a valid license key the SaaS functionality won’t work. What happens when we change form email notifications to send via our hosted email API for reliability? Your customers are screwed. Without a license, email notifications wouldn’t work.

      It sounds like your just looking to make a quick buck by cramming everything you possibly can into a theme.

      It’s clear you don’t have a clue how to responsibly sell WordPress products. You should educate yourself on best practices as well as community decorum and what is frowned upon before getting into the business of selling WordPress themes or plugins.

      You are a good example of why so many theme and plugin developers were so resistant to going GPL.

      Hopefully Envato acts swiftly in this.

      I’m sure Envato wouldn’t like it if Gravity Forms came bundled with every single GPL theme on ThemeForest.

      The GPL allows us to do so. But the GPL doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole. It’s the individual that chooses to be one or not in how they choose to take advantage of the GPL.

      You have chosen.

      • Louis Reingold

        “you are using your Gravity Forms Developer license to provide these updates we will terminate your license”

        If your plugin CODE is released under the GPL, how is YiThemes violating your license by distributing the CODE?

        I’ve always looked up to Gravity Forms as a role model for my own plugin business since Gravity Forms is arguably the most successful GPL-compliant plugin ever.

        If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have made the transition to the GPL.

  11. Hi all,

    Just my 5 cents…

    1) If the code is developed under GPL it can be used as it is or extended with the apropriated licence. Regarding using the name I also agree it can´t be used.

    2) Of course people that buy yit themes understand that they are not buying the plugins. They are buying the theme that comes integrated with the code of that plugins for the existing conditions on that moment (wordpress/theme/plugins/jquery,etc). If something changes they need to wait for a theme update. They are not buying the plugin’s support but the theme’s support.

    3) This is all about one thing… sales/money. yit themes are great, support is great and people are getting more for less money. Developers/market must adapt themeselves to the new business model. Like someone said above plugins and themes developers should understand on how to have better cooperation and share the sales money of the partnership.

    4) By the way, the price of Woocommerce extensions is completly crazy.

    Greetings,

    Scott

    • Hi Scott – I’d just like to point something out on your comment. While you may understand you buy the theme and the code comes integrated, most users do not. A perfect example was the quote put in the post above where a user got stuck in the middle where WooThemes could not support that user but at the same time YIT was **telling the user** to contact WooThemes for support. This seems completely contradictory to what Simone was saying above about their support.

      And another side note, if you are having a hard time affording $50 for a plugin for your **ecommerce** or **client** sites, it sounds like you are not charging enough ;)

  12. [...] Bundling plugins into themes is really dumb » [...]

  13. Since woocommerce always have problems with their plug-ins, they are trying to find other party to be blamed, and in this case YIT. When too many people asking for the support of the plug-in they’ve bought, they’re using the theme developer who use their plug-in and put the blame on them. Since YIT have themes that using their plug-in and very popular with many buyers, they being the target to put the blames on. Its the woocommerce who’s having the problem. Not YIT themes.

    • You made me laugh. :) No seriously, this has nothing to do with WooCommerce. It’s a fact that a lot of issues are caused by conflicts with either third party themes or plugins. That’s not avoidable, unless you have deep knowledge of all the themes and plugins in the world.

      Unfortunately, we don’t. So we try to make compatibility as good as possible. This doesn’t mean we can avoid any issues with other peoples code.

      Finally, if you really think this was WooCommerce talking in this post, you are so wrong. This is my personal blog, where I just post things that I’m working on, or things that annoy me. Like this one. Nothing official, it’s just my personal opinion.

  14. Average Joe's Say

    While I do agree at a whole that its not a good practise to distribute someone else work like this. But I think its wrong to bash someone publicly instead of contacting them directly. I would like to point out that no-one does things completely ethical so this lifting fingers on others should end. I will continue…

    This really sounds double standard Coen. Reasons:

    1) What woothemes did, forked GPL Jigoshop and built woocommerce ( http://wpcandy.com/reports/woothemes-forks-jigoshop-into-woocommerce/ ) … and as you said its ok to re-use GPL as long as you give credits, giving a 2 line credit in license.txt is all one needs to give to fork and rename/rebrand a monster project as their own ?

    2) You release your products as GPL and boasts about its GPL license, get listed in wp repo, and Doesnt GPL starts with “This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it…”
    So why whinning saying however you ‘can’ do it, you ‘should’ not do it.

    3) You and some other so called “Premium GPL plugins” offers a per-site, multi-site, developer, SAAS license. Can you explain this to me, as per the GPL you can not limit anyone how he uses the product so how can you charge based on number of sites its being used. See: http://www.picvalley.net/u/1749/7475345769321868351370666059rYY50VJcuBZJ8U4auOS5.PNG (please dont start that the license is actually a support, we wont provide support for more than 1 site in single license and so on.)

    It has been a trend that people would use other GPL products to build/extend their product, but when someone does same with them they say “hey, you should not do it, yes you can, but the community would not like it”.

    You and Carl(thanks for explaining GPL molded for your financial gain) wouldnt jump into this issue if included plugins were not yours, so please be honest and do NOT say you worry because its bad for ‘community’.

    My list can go on and on, but I think you get the idea. All I want to say one should not pose themself as an inspector/authority while we all are in same boat making money on someone else work (using wp functions in our plugins/themes, selling highly priced extensions/support of forked free product, selling wp based sites to clients, no?).

    • 1) Forking is something completely different. If the plugins were forked, it would still be a bad practice to bundle those plugins in a theme. But at least the plugins will be named different or not pretend to be either Gravity Forms extensions. This would not mislead the customers, which is the biggest problem here, and the forking author has ways to provide updates to the plugins.

      2) The discussion wether or not it was allowed within the GPL started at a later stage. In my opinion that is of second degree importance. Like I said before, I don’t really know the exact GPL stance on redistributing code under the original authors name. What remains is a general bad practice of bundling plugins and misleading your customers. Read my post again with that in mind and you’ll see that I wasn’t talking about licences in the first place.

      3) The licences are exactly for support and updates. You can install WooCommerce premium extensions on as many websites as you like, but you won’t get support and updates on more than you’ve purchased licences for. This is nothing new.

      And of course there are financial motives involved, everyone understands that. Everyone is trying to build a business here (but I’d prefer people not doing it over each others backs). But that’s not the most important thing in this post. It’s all about doing your customers a disservice by bundling plugins in your theme.

      The community aspect is probably bigger than you’d expect, but isn’t something that I’ve highlighted in this post much.

      Finally, I didn’t try posing as an inspector/authority. This is my personal blog when I strongly discourage people to buy the two listed themes, for provided reasons. If people want to follow my lead, do not buy the theme and find a different theme that works for them, great. If people don’t want to listen, buy the theme anyway or have completely different opinions, that’s great too. That’s the whole beauty of opinions and has nothing to do with authority.

      • 1) You don’t know what you’re talking about. As stated above, GPL starts with “This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it…” – this is about distribution. And you can fork it as you like, you just need to KEEP original authors’ copyrights intact. Those talks about changing plugins name etc. are just covering that it’s all about money.
        “…the forking author has ways to provide updates to the plugins.” He can do what he wants to do, even to change 1 line of code, put there his own copyright and then redistribute it. Read the GPL if you’re talking about it, for god sake.

        2) “In my opinion that [GPL licensing] is of second degree importance.” … “…I wasn’t talking about licences in the first place.”

        vs

        3) “The licences are exactly for support and updates”. So you [Woo] are using GPL + other licensing? That’s not being 100 % GPL as your site claims.

        GPL licensing is about FREEDOM, not support or anything else. Go and watch some Richard Stalmman’s talks about GPL to really understand how this awesome flawless license works when you’re working at the company that states it embraces it, please!

        “And of course there are financial motives involved, everyone understands that.” – That is Woo’s main motif, as you got famous because of embracing GPL, now it isn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if Woo attempted to change licensing of their products to some other license (which is NOT POSSIBLE, read GPL text… Once you’re GPL, you can’t change it).

        “The community aspect is probably bigger than you’d expect, but isn’t something that I’ve highlighted in this post much.” – You’ve nailed it, you even don’t know how much…

        “Finally, I didn’t try posing as an inspector/authority.” – OMG, read your comments, buddy! You are posing that way, you clearly are!

        Why you didn’t address the question about Woo crediting Jigowatt poorly when 70 % of current WooCommerce codebase is still original Jigoshop code?

    • It’s simple, Just because the GPL offers freedoms, it doesn’t mean how you provide supports, support and SaaS solutions are also GPL.

      We can limit how many sites our API will provide you updates for. Which is one of the things our tire does. This is API interaction with our SaaS hosted web service.

      Another way we can limit how many sites are included is how many sites we will provide you support for. Again, that has nothing to do with the plugin being GPL or not.

      Another we can limit usage is functionality that requires SaaS interaction to work. The means the GPL plugin interacts with a service on our server. Without a valid license key, this SaaS interaction won’t work. Again, this has nothing to do with the GPL.

      Think of Akismet. Or VaultPress. Yes, the Akismet and VaultPress plugins are GPL but they interact with an API for their functionality. That API doesn’t have to be GPL.

      So there are many ways a plugin can be GPL while still have certain limits and restrictions.

      And you are incorrect that distributing themes (premium or otherwise) this way is somehow good. It doesn’t benefit the community. Especially in the case of premium plugins where by the theme developer providng that plugin, they are proving a plugin to a user who won’t receive updates for that plugin because they didn’t actually buy Gravitt Forms so they won’t get plugin updates. For security reasons you should always update WordPress and plugins when plugins are available. When a theme author distributes a plugin bundled with their theme this way they are setting up the user to using a plugin they can’t update.

      Then there’s the confusion that is causes. Users buying these themes think they have purchased Gravity Forms, since it sounds like it has been included. But it hasn’t. Because they didn’t purchase from us they won’t get support and updates. So then they come to us and we explain this they get angry.

      There are so many reasons why this isn’t a good idea. I will say that anyone still trying to defend this practice after reading the many informative comments on this blog post that explain why this is a bad idea shows a complet lack of knowledge of WordPress best practices, the GPL license and the WordPress ecosystem itself.

      What this theme developer was doing was wrong. Which imprecisely why Envato pulled the themes and is also why they’ll be telling theme authors they can’t do this going forward.

  15. [...] 29. Don’t Buy Bundled Premium Plugins [...]

  16. Hello
    Coen Jacobs I think your opinion counts, and it should this is your
    forum and platform. I truly speak from a novice’s point of view.
    I have purchased the mentioned theme(s) and find the work and
    effort to comprise them far beyond anything I myself could have
    achieved.

    All this plug-in talk is pretty much of no use to me as a customer;
    I came here from a link to see why they removed the plug-ins
    from the updated version of the theme(s). I am far from totally
    illiterate about such matters as laws and ethics, but this has become
    a bashing page for the same people you write about as
    the “COMMUNITY?”

    You may have a different opinion but are they not a part of the so
    called “COMMUNITY” you speak?

    I suggest the cooperation within the “COMMUNITY” starts here and
    leave all the things of legality (That no one on this page including me)
    has any merit to comment. What you call a bad idea will (mock my words) become common
    place soon enough, it is to competitive.

    At the end of the day– it is: after all really “ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!”

  17. I just want to make one thing clear, i asked WooThemes support about a month ago, how can i use their (woothemes) plugins in my projects absolutely like YITHEMES does (did)

    ————

    Hello Woo,

    Can we use your WooCommerce plugins (such as “Compare Products Pro” and etc) for selling in our theme package, in this package plugins will be non-licenced, if our clients will want to have updates they will have to buy their own “Single Site Licence”.

    Thank you XXXX

    ———-

    Hi XXXX,

    Thank you for contacting WooThemes! You must have a license key if you are trying to use an extension. To do this you would need to get the unlimited site license. We also can not provide support for each customer you sell this extension.

    Thanks!

    ————

    Maria – WooNinja
    WooThemes Support

    XXXX

    May 08 05:29 (UTC)

    Hello Maria,

    I understand that i have to have license key (our personal key) and that you will not provide support to my clients (because the don’t have personal standard license), but explain why should i have unlimited site license i this case why i cant do the same with my standard license, i couldn’t find any information on http://www.woothemes.com/frequently-asked-questions/#tieredlicensing that i can’t do that with standard license, there is only information that non-licensed copy will not be updated and you won’t provide support ,

    Thank you

    ————

    Ryan (WooThemes)
    May 10 04:27 (UTC)

    XXXX,

    I would just be completely upfront and clear about this decision to your clients. Otherwise it causes quite a bit of headaches for all of us here trying to get someone support for a plugin they’ve not purchased.

    If you aren’t being certain your clients will purchase a single license, they won’t be sure to get support from us nor important plugin updates.

    An unlimited license you can send to your clients when building their site, or you can setup the extension with your license for them.

    Kind Regards,

    Ryan – Community Manager
    WooThemes Support

    The WooThemes Team

    ————

  18. Firstly, let’s be honest here. I hate people who beat about the bush or use all manner of “reasons” and “justifications” for their actions. This issue is about money, isn’t it? Pure and simple.

    Rocketgenius (Gravity Forms) sold a $200 developers license thinking the developer might sell a few themes a month. As it turned out, the developer’s track record means they can sell 6000 instances of a single theme in a year. That means, potentially, Rocketgenius has lost 6000 customers. At 40 bucks a pop, that’s a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS!

    And that’s just one theme – the developer in question (Your Inspiration Themes) plans on releasing one theme per month.

    So Rocketgenius is up an arms and spitting blood.

    What puzzles me is why Rocketgenius can’t see the golden opportunity it’s been handed. You never heard of tiered pricing? Or better yet, to get around your pesky Key issue, why not sell 100 keys and licenses for $1000. Everyone makes money, everyone gets real support and updates. You’re happy, the developer is happy, the customer is happy. (Do I get a complimentary copy of your plugin for this money-making solution, Carl?)

    As for the developer Your Inspiration Themes? Simone, I’d like to know what compensation your company is going to offer customers who recently bought your themes. Yes, they appear to be decent themes with decent support, but so do many others. What set your themes apart was the hundreds of dollars in free plugins that came included with them – which now, after people have handed their money over – have been snatched away.

    I really can’t understand this knee-jerk reaction. Everyone is wanting to make more money, so see this as an opportunity for lateral thinking, not one to close ranks and stick to the old “tried and tested” formula, which doesn’t make a lot of sense as it is. (Expecting “morality” to out-weigh profit in business? Come on, let’s keep it real, huh!)

    Cheers,
    Steve

  19. [...] Jacobs developer for WooThemes has used his personal site to vent about commercial themes bundling commercial plugins. There were at least two themes hosted on the ThemeForest marketplace that were bundling commercial [...]

  20. Nice article Coen, and thanks to all for very interesting read in the comment threads!

    Just to mix it up a bit, Coen I was wondering what your thoughts are on developer bundling her OWN plugins with a premium theme? Would you advise this as bad practise, (but I’m guessing less of an ethical issue)?

    • Yep, it’s a bad thing to do technically. That’s the whole point I was trying to make in this post. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a premium plugin or a free one. No difference there. All themes should be made compatible with a plugin and maybe leave a note for the user that they can install it to get feature x, y and z. But it should never be bundled, because there are plenty of other options to get this working the same way, without bloating the theme zip files and relying on theme updates to update the plugins.

  21. [...] There has been a huge discussion in the WordPress community about themes including copies of premium plugins like Gravity Forms in their releases. I found out about this discussion from WPTavern’s post entitled, When Commercial Themes Bundle Commercial Plugins, Users Lose. You can read more about this on the post that started this discussion on Coen Jacobs’ website (Don’t Buy Bundled Premium Plugins). [...]

  22. Most of these complex WordPress theme users are not aware of availability of support and updates for bundled plugins. Like you mentioned, they will stuck in that infinite loop. Atleast theme authors should mention a word about this in description. What I noticed is, these guys are promoting themes by highlighting bundled plugins and users are considering them as additional features. Hope Envato will take care of this by adding new terms or something like that.

  23. [...] a blog post that has been doing the rounds in the WordPress Community has been “Do not buy WordPress themes that bundle premium plugins” by Coen Jacobs from WooThemes. In it it is a exasperation of the arms race experienced by [...]

  24. [...] functionality. They may even tell you what the best ones are. Recently, Coen Jacobs wrote about how good themes never bundle plugins and he’s right. A plugin is a plugin, a theme is a theme. Keep ‘em separate, keep [...]

  25. [...] And to wrap it up, an interesting and somewhat controversial discussion: Do not buy WordPress themes that bundle premium plugins [...]

  26. Louis Reingold

    As if I’d ever need technical support for the WooCommerce AJAX Layered Nav widget.

  27. I don’t see anything wrong with bundling premium plugins with themes, if you purchase the extended license and take the responsibility for the support (be the middle man) what’s the problem? If you tell your customer “plugin not supported by us” then yes there’s an issue, perhaps Themeforest should display this when submitting a theme. Then it’s clear to the customer.

    I think Woothemes should offer extended licenses for their plugins, why not? It’s already getting so much traction on the market and it’s not slowing down, people want 1 click setup websites.

    Sensei has a lot of potential, but I can see an open source or alternative solution coming soon and offering extended licenses for theme developers.

    • Ernest Burnett

      Anyone who spends time in honest efforts trying to write plugins would do a backspin if they ever saw their content bundled in the theme. Even though Woo can be pretty harsh on pricing – I have to give them credit for the man hours. Point being – if you’re at Burger King then they better be serving Whoppers, not Big Macs.

      Plug-ins by definition are extensibility of WordPress, if you can’t develop and integrate something into your theme – it’s kind of stealing (borrowing is a different story – otherwise everyone might as well be writing Java). While shortcodes (contrary to article) are debatable – some of the themes outright rip obvious and whole plugins eg. wooslider, etc. Where you’re not a direct comepetitor eg. you have jquery code to purchase off envato – hey why not? that’s what the person selling the code is intending use for. (So to speak, wooslider would be a bad example, as they have non-WP version)

  28. Shit i just buy it!

  29. Actually the real problem is greedy scumbag devs ripping off customers. Look at the android and apple markets; for a fair price you get apps that are well made and get “lifetime” updates. I don’t expect lifetime to be lifetime but one year of updates for $200 just to use event espresso is flat out BS.

    The amount of code in that plugin is about 1/4 the amount of time and effort that goes into some high end mobile apps which sell for 1/30th of the price, and again get lifetime updates.

    Wonder why pc’s are becoming obsolete? $250 os upgrades every few years, $250 office updates every few years, software that costs 30x plus the cost of mobile software, and the extortion these devs use to get more money out of paying customers.

    I am a mobile dev and I seem to have no problem doing just fine with my sales. You pc devs are putting yourselves right out of business with your greed. I have no problem putting food on the table, then again I am not greedy like these plugin devs.

  30. On and one more thing: go on steam and look at the quality games by Indi devs for $10-$30 which get “lifetime” (more then one year at least) of updates. Some of these projects are massive and have far more coding hours then some of these WordPress plugins and themes.

    The entire software ecosystem is totally screwed because of big corp America with their greed. M$ has been ripping people off for so long, it has become monkey see monkey do with a lot of software devs.

    If you want to say 1 year of tech support then fine, but there is no reason anyone should pay $200 for a plugin and have to pay that again in a year when WordPress updates and breaks something. $200 itself is way too expensive for what they are offering, but one year of updates is rape.

    I will say it again, when all of you are poor and out of business, and people like me who support my customers are sitting high and dry; maybe not a millionaire but finically safe, I will sit back, laugh and say I told ya so…

    • Ernest Burnett

      A year? Perhaps a few weeks now. But it’s not WordPress, it’s theme authors as the author of the article partly is suggesting. But yes, that’s what wordpress.com is supposed to be for, not wordpress.org – people are turning good into rubbish – because you have to spend a lot of money just to find out “that’s not what I want” and in many ways we’re going back to the proprietary model.

    • It’s obviously becoming the norm. All of the WooCommerce extensions that offered a “Lifetime” license got shortened to 2 years if you bought them prior to August 2013 and 1 year if you bought them during or after. There’s no point in buying from any company that doesn’t back their promises. Greed and dishonesty go hand in hand.

    • Luckily, there is somebody who knows everything about business…

  31. Ernest Burnett

    Thought Gravity Forms was made by Rocket…

    How about giving a guy a break and getting rid of multi-site restrictions (single license) on woocommerce plugins…hmm?

  32. [...] On the themes side: Tips And Tricks For Testing WordPress Themes , where to find free images and an opinion-based post about avoiding to buy themes and bundle premium plug-ins [...]

  33. Thanks to you themes we have bought now have the plugins removed on updated versions, I was perfectly happy getting premium plugins bundled and updates, and this has now caused issues.

  34. Hi Coen,

    Great article but I think it’s a little one-sided and suspicious that you work for WooThemes and feel so strongly against premium themes that bundle premium plugins. Personally I don’t see a big problem with it. My feeling is that maybe WooThemes is worried about the loss in market share with theme developers becoming more entrepreneurial.

    Saying that though I agree that bundled plugins can be bad if a user chooses to switch theme, they lose a lot of features on their site.

    Great article, I look forward to reading more in future.

    Afzaal

  35. These are nice templates, i like themes. Thanks’

  36. Hi Coen,

    hope U R good man…

    was wondering if you can recommend a cool wordpress theme that would be good for displaying tires and rims but not for retail so no need for a shopping cart my client sells to dealers & distributors…

    thanks for your time…
    –Guy

  37. Hey Coen,

    Saw your post and I was shocked you would not recommend the mayashop theme. We’ve used the theme for 1 year now and the thing works like a charm.. Should we be worried or something?

    —> http://idabo.nl/

    Thats our website.

    Thanks for your reply,

    Regards,

    Danny

  38. New WordPress user here who wishes I saw this article a few months ago. The exact scenario described above happened to me twice. The first time was with Maya shop, but I attributed the problem to my not knowing what the heck I was doing, and I figured I broke it. I can’t remember what the response was when I asked questions in the support forum, but I figured the theme was just more complicated than my ability and abandoned it.

    I purchased another theme from Themeforest (Cheope) and worked on it a bunch trying to figure it all out. Finally felt a little comfortable with it and started adding product etc. Recently I updated WordPress, updated the theme, and I now have a “Fatal Error” again and can not get into the admin area. Of course I went to the support forum for the theme. After waiting at least 3 days for an answer, I was told it was a plug-in error. I asked for further explanation and steps to correct. After waiting another few days was finally told it was a problem with the plugin (Gravity Forms) and that they didn’t support it. I was told that I had to buy the $99 license. No help at all to know if buying the $99 license would fix the problem, and more importantly, no answer to what else might have been “bundled” that will cause me grief in future updates.

    Needless to say, I am now more than hesitant to buy another theme via Theme Forest. As someone with limited experience, I have absolutely no way of knowing whether things are “bundled” that will not be supported in the future.

    I went to the WordPress forum to find out if this type thing was normal and to get some advice on finding a proper theme. The only response I got was something to the effect of, “we don’t support paid themes.”

    Paid, Free… I don’t care. If it’s great, I’ll pay. If it’s great and free, I’ll feel like I died and went to heaven. For goodness sake, I’m sure I can speak for more than just myself when I say I just want the darn thing to work, have the tools I need, and have a good responsive support system for when I run into problems.

  39. As someone who regularly purchase extensions from Woo, has a current developer licence from GF and buys from themeforest/codecanyon, including the ones mentioned above. I would like to say that the support I have been given over the last two years from the authors on Themeforest and Codecanyon has been excellent.

    I would say about 50% better than what I receive from Woo and GF, and a 1000000 times better attitude.

    XX

  40. I recently bought the superstore woo commerce theme thinking it had the colour swatches integrated.

    Spent ages figuring how to get this to work i would have never thought it was a paid module so didnt look.

    Then to my surprise the reason i could not find it was because it was a paid module and extra $99 twice the price of the theme.

    http://docs.woothemes.com/document/woocommerce-color-and-image-swatches

    I only get these themes for my clients they turn out to be a right pain unless the client wants to use it directly out the box with no custom functionality which is very rare.

    Then there is the whole problem of layout altering the layout is such a pain in the plugin files and the user can then not have the option to upgrade, or they can but you have to make sure you re-upload your altered code again.

    Headache unless you have priced it up well for all the time spent thinking you will be cutting corners with all these themes i think its not worth it.

  41. Dear,

    First, sorry for inconvenient, I’m noob in wordpress, so I got a trouble but nobody supports me.

    I found a theme with name ‘BOEMIA” in yithemes.com; I downloaded free trial and very love it, so I purchased.

    After this, they activated my account in forum for post ticket.

    But I don’t understand how to upgrade to premium version ? maybe I’m stupid or I must wait from supporter of yithemes.

    Many thanks,
    HoaND

  42. So what theme would you suggest instead? I looked at the superstore theme and only rated at 3.5 stars, far below the rating for bazar shop.

    Thanks,
    Johnny Lloyd

  43. […] but also for your fellow developers. A couple months ago, I’ve published a post about themes bundling plugins and why that’s a bad practice. At first it was a bit of a shock to me, but then I came to […]

  44. Hello- for beginners like me, could you please recommend a theme to use?

  45. While I agree with you, I still think packaging necessary stuff makes it easier for newbies to manage their website and most of the themeforest customers are noobs.

  46. “Not only are most themes packed with a ton of features that don’t belong in a theme (“choice of half a dozen sliders, multiple custom post types, ridiculous shortcodes, options panels galore, and much more insanity”), there are themes for sale now that bundle premium plugins.”

    Maybe when you guys @ woo start making your themes as flexible as these guy’s themes (like flexible home page builder, etc instead of several widget areas that can only be controlled in your theme settings), you’d get even more sales.

    Extra features or not, it all makes the theme look good, plusevery issue gets fixed by the author… Cheers

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  48. But the themes in question are now bundling “premium” plugins and are using it as selling points. The problem is that users now get the impression that they are buying a theme that includes the plugins they need to get their theme working.

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  65. It seems like a specific plugin, like sensei, coupled with the theme it is designed to work with, definition (Woo) makes sense to us end users (when both bought from woo), since I probably won’t be able to get the sensei functionality out of a theme without the plugin.

  66. William Sunshine

    I couldn’t agree more with this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    One of ThemeForest’s previous best selling theme’s “Jupiter”, by Artbees, has done this over and over. In their Jan ’14 update, they purposefully mislead us by leading us to believe that the 3rd party plugin iLightbox now came bundled with the the Jupiter theme. Awesome right? Wrong!

    Unlike the other plugins Jupiter bundles where they actually give you the entire 3rd party plugin to install, they don’t do that with iLightbox. They built it into the code of the theme and ruined theme.

    What do we like about Lightbox’s? You click an image, and it comes center stage. Well in Jupiter, you click an image, and all images around it load onto the screen itself in some type of preview. This is a great feature, but when its the only way to view a Lightbox, its horrible.

    Anyway, I’d love to see two future articles. 1) The status of theme support and PROPER documentation, and 2) Why all the themes on ThemeForest come from Pakistan, Turkey, and left overs from the “old” Soviet Union.

    Don’t give me a bunch of racial or paranoia lash back cuz it will fall on def ears. My point is valid in that one would expect western countries to be on the cutting edge of design and functionality, just like every other type of innovation ever known. Countries going back thousands of years who have oppressed their people by squashing (to say it lightly) capitalism, innovation, education and motivation generally aren’t the ones one would expect to be crushing and dominating sales on sites like ThemeForest; the numbers (at least as I know it) don’t add up.

    If it’s all real and legitimate, then hot-damn that’s awesome, because it’s efforts and work like that, that will bring wealth, power, respect, self-worth, and national pride to the people, and I support the movement 100%.

    However, Im not naive enough to take it all at face value, I’ll need a lot more investigation, before I jump on that bandwagon. Two and two don’t equal five. The fact that the Russian government leads the pack in cyber-crime and espionage, and the large majority of the people from the Muslim nations swear death to the infidels, at the least makes things interesting.

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