WordPress themes used to have specific focuses. You could find themes for restaurants, schools, corporate sites or for even more narrow niches.
However, in recent years we've seen a shift towards multipurpose themes, led in particular by authors at Themeforest.net. These multipurpose themes come with 1000's of features that enable them to cover a wide range of businesses and topics.
Some of the themes have so many features that I refer to them as a "Theme CMS". It's almost like installing a second CMS on top of WordPress.
To clearly explain what a "Theme CMS" is, let me introduce you to the best-selling examples.
Avada, the best-selling WordPress theme
In August 2012, Avada was released and its success was immediate.
I am a theme vendor for Themeforest, and in my experience, Avada started this trend towards large, multi-purpose themes. Avada has tons of features and custom integrations. It also comes with many commercial plugins bundled at no extra cost.
Up until today, Avada has sold more than 148,000 licenses. ThemeFusion, the team behind this theme, is focused entirely in supporting and updating this single product.
Avada provides multiple design variations, which makes it possible to use many different layouts. The screenshot below shows the Avada demos page. Note that I said "demos", not "demo". Avada has so many possible variations that it needs many different demos. Avada is a success because it's capable of doing much more than a customer expects, and doing it for a lower price.
Here's how Avada advertises its benefits:
- "Avada Is More Than A Theme, It’s A Powerful Design Tool"
- "Avada gives you the ability to build virtually any design style."
X, the second best-selling WordPress theme
The first version of X was released in November 2013. It has sold more than 66,350 licenses.
Similar to Avada, X comes with many commercial plugins at no extra cost. X includes integrations with popular plugins, page builders and shortcodes.
X followed a similar strategy to Avada, offering a huge list of features for a small price, and with free technical support.
Theme CMSs, the good and the bad
From the customer’s perspective, it's easy to see why these Theme CMSs are so popular. These products provide wonderful value.
These themes can work as a solution for many projects, due to the design variations and built-in features. The price difference between a Theme CMS and a regular theme is so small that it makes sense to pay $10 USD and get ten times the value.
On the other hand, from a developer's point of view, a theme that comes with many more features than needed is like buying a hotel when only a couple of rooms are needed.
There are some worries in the WordPress community about the negative impact of Theme CMSs:
- Security: It can be be hard to provide security updates for themes that are so large and contain so many plugins.
- Non-standard WordPress coding practices: Amongst designers, it's commonly known that it's easier to get a theme approved at Themeforest, compared to WordPress.org. Many Theme CMSs don't follow WordPress coding standards as closely as they should.
- Bad pricing and less profitable: Theme CMSs are driving down the cost of themes, moving the focus from quality to quantity. It's increasingly hard for many theme designers to make an income from their work.
Theme CMSs are a classic example of a trend that divides developers and end-users. Developers may complain that Theme CMSs are technically flawed, but customers love them.
Customers love good value and they want to learn only one system, rather than master different tools for each job.
The market has spoken. Theme CMSs are the main way that people build WordPress websites in 2015.