When Theme & Plugin Developers Work Together – Everyone Wins

So 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 many plugin developers when dealing with some theme developers, who are happy to include premium plugins in their theme.

As introduced in the post, one of the issues of including plugin functionality in themes is that you increase the load time and – in the desperate attempt to be all things to all men – you actually end up bloating your site with features you cannot replicate or don’t need. For example, you may notice this blog running slightly faster over the last few days. This is largely due to removing one plugin that was a legacy from the previous design, who’s functionality is no longer needed. Imagine if that was buried deep within a theme? It would take me as an experienced coder a while to remove the code, and a less experienced individual would probably just be stuck with the functionality.

It has gotten so bad now that at 3 Door Digital we now try to avoid buying themes, as wrestling with them to get them working takes longer than say using Underscores or Peadig to design from scratch.

The Premium issue is a problem, and is something that it took me a while to figure out a solution with WP Email Capture as with WordPress, all derivative code needs to be GPL compatible (which, in my case, it is). It’s something I’ve dealt with a couple of times as theme developers bundled the premium versions of my plugins with their theme, promising extra functionality. When you buy a premium plugin, you don’t just buy the plugin code, you also usually buy access to support and updates, which people can remove should they desire (Gravity Forms – for example – is a GPL plugin but has a solid TOS. I’m speaking with somebody now to get a similar for WP Email Capture). Whilst GPL developers generally are quite a helpful bunch, if you stop them feeding their kids (or in my case, my Pie & Pringle addiction) then – if you knowingly buy a theme with premium plugins attached – you should be able to understand that they may not be so willing to help if things go wrong.

Unfortunately, customers are often caught in the middle of this, and suffer the headache when they are stuck between a plugin developer who has no record of the premium customer, and a theme developer who doesn’t have a clue what they’ve packaged with their theme. The worst case scenario has been for me when a customer used a cracked version of a premium theme (that injected footer links) that was bundled with a cracked version of my premium plugin (that emailed every signup that ever signed up to a dodgy email address). This hack broke when the plugin owner tried to remove the footer links. Of course, both the theme developer and myself were unable to support it, and in the end we gave a copy of our plugin and theme, unhacked, for free.

I should add that I do have great working relationships with some top notch theme designers. Jake Caputo of Design Crumbs has been absolutely crucial in making my plugins more friendly to designers (you should check out his themes by the way), and my top affiliate has just topped three figures in commission last month alone (on top of his theme sales), so it can be rewarding working when plugin and theme designers work together.

So please do it! It’s been a negative rant, but if it means that more theme designers and plugin developers working on ways of complementing their products, rather than stepping on each others toes, then the community and customers will all benefit.

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