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.

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