Vlad Olaru, the founder and CTO of Pixelgrade, talks about WordPress' forces, trends, and future developments, and believes that 2020 will be a crucial year for small businesses on WordPress.
Vlad Olaru, the founder and CTO of Pixelgrade, has been working with WordPress for the past ten years. His primary focus is on selling premium WordPress themes.
Vlad’s exposure to the WordPress economy started with custom client work, continuing with products on ThemeForest (an Envato marketplace), then expanding to WordPress.com, eventually selling themes directly through a self-hosted shop at pixelgrade.com and distributing free WordPress themes through WordPress.org.
He has recently explored WordPress’ forces, trends, and future developments, and we found it thought-provoking. Here’s our interview with him:
The Problems of GPL
Vlad writes about the problems of GPL in his recent article, “The state of WordPress Economy”. More specifically, how it leaves the developers at the mercy of their users. We asked him to elaborate on these problems:
“So, these are not new problems. They were always there straight from the beginning of WordPress because they were in the license, the GPL license. What happened was that times were so good, business was booming, so none of us cared much about them. So basically, we wanted to ignore them. We didn’t care about people taking our products and using them on multiple sites because there was plenty to go around. We didn’t have any issues with that.
The problems started appearing quite lately, due to the market shifting. Envato and ThemeForest, the main premium theme marketplace, started to go, I would say, far away from us, from authors and going alone with Elementor and so on. So they took another route, the whole developments around the WordPress core, mainly Gutenberg, it happened. So, this, at least for us and some in the ecosystem, starts to raise the need to ask long-needed questions.
The main question is: ‘Who controls WordPress? Who is WordPress for, and who benefits from it?’. I completely understand that this is not a 1 or 0 answer and that there are many, many, many gray areas here. For many years, the entire community, a beautiful community that WordPress managed to gather around its users, actually believed or was tricked into believing, that it controlled WordPress, that it built WordPress, the entire community, through marketing, through translations, through code contributing and so on. And then Gutenberg came, that, I don’t know, shed the spotlight, that it didn’t work like that mainly Automattic and a few large agencies controlled how things work in a meaningful way.
I get it that you can contribute a translation here and there, but these side contributions and with a small impact in the overall direction, but when mainly all Automattic ones, something gets done, like WordPress, like Gutenberg and Core, no matter what. No matter if half of the community has a different opinion, no, it gets done. So that raised many, many alarm bells for me.
So, about two years going back, that some trust has been betrayed in this relationship, that this is an open project, that anyone has a say, that you can contribute, however small or large, you are welcome to do that. But, when it comes to actually set up some rules, some governance like the WP governance project, the truth tends to come out and make it quite clear that there’s a BDFL there that will draw the lines.”
Theme Providers Should Change Their Perspective
Vlad mentions that theme providers need to change their perspective and become “website solution providers”:
“That’s a long time standing tool that we, as theme makers, knew. People didn’t come to us to buy a theme, as a piece of code. No, they wanted a site. They told us that through our support channels, but everybody in the whole WordPress ecosystem, I mean the WordPress.org wanted to keep the team, just the team, the plugin just the plugin and everything else it’s up to the user.
But we, premium theme sellers, knew that this was not the reality. Everybody wanted the complete site and that is why many customers simply buy the demo. They look at the demo, they think that this is right for their business and they want a site exactly like that. So no alterations, no, they want to import it, change the content and the images and that’s it. They are even afraid to touch it. I have not to spoil it. So people wanted the site and we, for a long time, hampered our growth, our potential by claiming that we just sold you the theme and after that you are on your own and you can do whatever you want, you can quirk it, modify it, whatever.
And, I think that there is a tremendous opportunity in that transformation of theme models as site solution providers. On the one side, plugins have a much harder time getting there, because they are not so much, so…How should I say this..They don’t think about the whole integration. We, as theme makers need to think about:’Okay, I’m using Elementor, I’m basing my team on Elementor’, but I know that there are content form plugins, there are Google maps and newsletter subscriptions and the ecommerce and so on. So, I need to integrate those. I need to provide a complete styling for each of them and I need to present it to my customer in a meaningful way, in a way that it doesn’t break.
So, I’m sort of the integrator here, as a team, you guys provide sorts of pieces and we put them together, we style them in a consistent fashion. We make sure that they don’t have conflicts with one another, we do the best of all of our abilities. We can’t account for any situation, but we provide, at least us, at Pixelgrade, we try to provide a complete solution. We consider a restaurant and try to imagine their needs. They need a menu, they need some way to contact and some way to present.”
Why 2020 Will Be a Crucial Year for WordPress Small Businesses
Vlad believes 2020 is going to be a challenging year for the WordPress eco-system:
“For us, independent small businesses, it will be a ‘make it or break it’ year, I believe. So, if we don’t change something in the way we do, I don’t know, in two, three years times we will be pushed out, basically. WordPress as a project, as an eco-system will survive and thrive actually, but in a different way. It will be more about WordPress.com and big sites, probably big commerce sites, but the niche that’s in started it all, the small site owner that once it’s place on [inaudible 00:27:46] man, wants to control its own destiny, so to speak, will be pushed towards other platforms or like Wix or Shopify or other places that provide an easier entry, a smoother entry. So, that is why I think it’s an opportunity in this point for some of us to consider our value and our value proposition in a different light and, actually, work more with plugin makers to sustain one another.”
To create a bigger solution.
“Yeah, and it will be a year where we’ll hear more about blogs and Gutenberg, so that’s not going to slow down. Actually, I believe it’s going to ramp up with the blog directory and..I’m also curious how Elementor is going to respond with that. I am watching and curious about the what technical solutions you guys will come up with around Gutenberg. It’s going to be interesting for sure and I’m going to try to write as much as I can about how I see things and keep the discussion going. Because I don’t think there’s another any other way to move forward rather than having this kind of discussions and putting our opinions on the table, even if we don’t agree with them. I don’t expect to have all the answers, I expect to, some of my opinions in a year’s time, to be contradictory. I’m okay with that.”