I PERSONALLY think that if I were to use a sponsored theme (and I never will) that this “sponsor” should pay ME to have his link there since he’s getting all his linky love off my site. But that’s just me. (Jenny)

With a response by Thomas:

Then Jenny you should pay the designer for the theme you are using expect for (semi-)professional bloggers no one wants to pay for the themes he uses. (Thomas)

Thomas makes a valid point. It seems that the people who want something for nothing are the ones who ultimately forget or don’t fully understand what goes into the production of a single, quality WordPress theme.

Creating a good theme can be an hours long project; themes simply don’t spring to life out of thin air.

  • Layout planning
  • Color and font selection
  • Graphic creation and, in some cases, stock image purchase
  • Slicing, dicing, and coding
  • Testing and tweaking
  • Supporting the finished product

Often, the designers do it for the sheer enjoyment of designing a nice theme, but the hours spent creating that free to use theme are hours that aren’t spent on a paying project. Sure, the theme designer could slap up a donation button, but the fact is that people rarely donate, even when the button is in their face; the amount of donations a theme designer may receive in a year probably wouldn’t even cover an hour spent on the theme production and support.

Not all theme designers are in a position where someone else supports them — providing shelter, buying groceries, and paying the bills. In other words, some theme designers are only able to produce the free themes if it is part of their overall livelihood. Adding a sponsored link is a way to curtail the financial obligations associated with producing the theme. In essence, the link becomes a non-monetary donation from the end user to the theme designer.

With all of that said, there definitely does need to be some basic ethical standards for sponsored themes to make it a win-win-win situation all around.

For the theme designers:

Quality, Not Quantity

It’s true that some theme designers will put out a sub-standard theme simply because someone paid for the sponsor link. But, in doing so, these theme designers are only harming themselves in the long run. People will not be inclined to use or recommend a theme that looks like crap or doesn’t function properly.

There is actually software on the market for the sole purpose of mass-producing themes based on the Kubrick theme (and I don’t plan to link to it), which is a shame. Instead of producing hackneyed themes based on the Kubrick model, take the time to craft a good theme, test it, and support it as much as possible. In the end, more people will appreciate the theme, your hard work, and the sponsor link will be justifiable.

Limit Sponsor Links

No theme needs more than one sponsor link; themes with two, three, seven plus sponsor links are simply created for the sole purpose of spam and not because the theme author enjoys creating themes. And it’s appalling.

A single sponsor link should be enough to cover the cost of theme production and by limiting the number of sponsor links in a theme, you’re showing courtesy to your end theme user. Remember, their blog is not a free-for-all link directory and the single link is their donation to you.

Be Discriminating

Not everyone who offers to purchase a link on your theme should be afforded the opportunity to do so. Again, it comes back to respecting the theme user’s website. Consider that people with various sensibilities will be using your themes, so it pays to have a discriminating eye when it comes to selecting theme sponsors.

  • Don’t publish links to splogs, MFA (made for AdSense), or non-sense websites. The site should have a valid purpose and be useful to human visitors, not just search engine robots.
  • Avoid linking to NSFW (or kids) websites. If you do link out to these types of sites, disclose it prominently.
  • Monitor the links. Some people will let their domain names lapse, and some people will just try to be plain sneaky. Have rules in place and if the content changes or starts redirecting to a poorer quality site, then change the links in the theme immediately and issue a theme update.

Above all else, remember to respect your theme user’s website. If you do this, it will be reflected in your work.

For theme users:

Theme Designers Aren’t Obligated to You

The theme designers are providing you with a theme that you would have needed to create yourself or pay someone to create for you — in essence, they are providing you with their services at no cost. The least you can do is respect the theme designer’s terms (different designers will have different terms).

If there is a theme you especially love, but you don’t love the theme sponsor, contact the theme designer to work something out.

  • Offer to donate a certain amount of money as compensation to remove the link. Most theme designers are obliging in that way.
  • Offer to pay for theme customizations and support requests.
  • Commission a custom design based on the theme.
  • Use a different theme.

The final point is in bold because there is nothing stating that you absolutely must use a particular designer’s theme. Frankly, if you don’t agree with the linking policy, or sponsorship policy, or terms of use, then you truly shouldn’t be using the theme anyway. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of freely available themes that do not have specific restrictions on their use.

Just as the designer is to respect you as the user, you should also extend the same courtesy to the theme designer.

Finishing Up

Not all theme designers who provide a sponsor link in their themes are bad people, merely people who’d like to eat and possibly care for their family. Though there are a few people out there who seek to abuse the situation, they are the exception, not the rule.

Free to view television channels have commercials because those advertisers make it possible to bring you the programming you love. If you want to get away from those commercials, you can switch to a premium channel, such as HBO or Showtime, or purchase a Tivo, but those premium channels and Tivo come with a price.

Sponsor links are like commercials on the free to view channels; If you don’t like the commercials, pay the premium.