Category Archives: blogging

Selling A GPL product is a bad idea

I would not think this sort of thing would need to be explained to someone like matt mullenweg. Here’s the comment I left on his blog, which will probably not make it past the great firewall of matt:

I think I’m missing something –
so I make this “killer” GPL, CSS only theme. you sell it for $50, on the premise that it’s not a generic XXL poncho (I know you said pink, but what you meant was gray with a blue hood). Immediately on release, any self-hosted blog can download it and install it themselves. Since it’s CSS-only, anyone on wordpress.com can pay for the CSS Upgrade and start using it. Suddenly it seems like my theme is another XXL poncho, and the guy who bought it trying to get a unique design is seriously screwed.
I must be thinking about this wrong.

It’s not that there aren’t perfectly valid revenue models based on the GPL. It’s just that this is the only one that isn’t. Once a GPL slice of code is released1. There are (very few) projects that actually sell GPL-ed code. X-chat for windows is the one that comes to mind. It works because compiling source code on windows is such a pain. The more viable methods of making money from GPL software include selling support2, and selling proprietary add-ons.

The way the latter option works with wordpress themes is that the underlying PHP has to be GPL, but the CSS can be any license. Matt, instead is looking for CSS-only, GPL themes. This gets extra bizarre in that any CSS-only theme can be implemented by anyone with the CSS upgrade. Since the themes are GPL, automattic can’t even legally suggest that they shouldn’t do that.

Designing premium themes is already a tough market. At least designers willing to handle the storefront themselves aren’t further hampered by having to open-source their graphics. Arpit is right to question the sensibility of such a marketplace, and Michael Martin reaches a similar conclusion.

  1. Meaning, once it’s been bought, but in this context, Matt is saying that it will also be made available to self-hosted users (back ↩)
  2. CSS support on wordpress.com is currently volunteer-only, staff refuse to touch it (back ↩)