Has Thesis Developer Chris Pearson Torpedoed His Business?

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the WordPress world. And much of the excitement has been centered around one premium WordPress theme: Thesis.

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support CommunityNow before I get into all this I feel I should point out that I am an affiliate with Thesis, along with several other premium WordPress themes. For example, SuccessCREEations uses Headway and New Media Profit Path uses Genesis from StudioPress. I recommend each of these theme frameworks depending on the needs of the client.

Background

The dustup has been brewing for well over a year. The main issue was that the Thesis license agreement was apparently at odds with the WordPress GPL license.

Basically WordPress, headed by Matt Mullenweg, has taken the position that, since WordPress has a GPL license, then WordPress plugins and themes also need to use that license. In the broadest, non-lawyerly terms the GPL license allows people to charge whatever they want for their software, but end users who purchase it are then free to use the software any way they want.

Thesis, and in particular lead developer Chris Pearson have long maintained that the way WordPress is applying GPL to themes is a legal gray area that hasn’t been tested in court and they have every right to restrict how purchasers of their theme use it after purchase.

It’s been a running feud that seemed to flair up ever few months whenever someone prominent in the WordPress community wrote a post about GPL with lively discussions flowing in the comment sections of those posts.

Coming to a Head

Then a couple weeks ago things came to a head. It started with a simple tweet. Which led to a flurry of tweets back and forth. Both sides went a little over the edge, in my opinion.

The conflict culminated in a video interview, sort of a point-counterpoint between Matt and Chris:

If you take the time to listen to the interview in that video, it seems that Chris comes across worked up, angry and, dare I say it, a touch arrogant.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter in the last couple weeks from people who have watched the video and many of them who were considering Thesis are having second thoughts now. Seems they just plain didn’t like the way Chris presented himself.

My impression is that Matt comes from a perspective of abundance. He sees that there is plenty of money to go around and, based on several of the premium theme developers who are releasing their themes with GPL and have booming businesses he doesn’t see a more open license as getting in the way of profitability.

With my nautical background I’d say it this way: A rising tide raises all the ships in the harbor.

Chris, on the other hand seems to be trapped in a scarcity mindset. He comes across as afraid that if he doesn’t restrict what people do with his work then they will take advantage of him and he will lose income.

Neither side really comes across smelling like a rose in this exchange. But over all it seemed to me like Chris lost this particular battle.

Fallout

Then, after all that, about a week later Chris announced that Thesis was moving to a split GPL license.

So on top of loosing the battle, it seems Chris capitulated and lost the war too.

More Fallout?

Now we’re starting to see some high profile bloggers replacing the Thesis themes on their sites. Social Media powerhouse Chris Brogan is one example. This week he switched to Genesis by StudioPress.

Now Chris (do we have enough Chris’s in this post yet?) says the change was purely a business decision, and I get that. He’s careful to point out that Thesis is a great theme and that the GPL dustup has been resolved so it is a non-issue.

But it still begs the question, is this the beginning of a wide scale abandonment of Thesis by the WordPress community? If so, how much does Chris Pearson’s approach and style throughout the feud play into it?

Then the Real Bombshell

Then the real piece of news related to this whole thing that I find completely shocking. Last week, Brian Clark, half owner of Thesis with Chris Pearson, announced he and Chris are parting ways!

Brian says the breakup of their partnership was months in the making. But I find it interesting that, according to Brian, Chris’ stance on the whole GPL thing was the beginning of the end of their working together.

Now I don’t have any knowledge of their business arrangement but from where I sit it seems obvious that Brian was the marketing force that propelled Thesis to it’s current place of prominence. Granted, it’s because Chris delivers the goods that there are so many satisfied customers at this point.

But I’ll be curious to see if Thesis continues to thrive without that marketing support.

Or has Chris Pearson torpedoed his business by taking it down this road?

Amazing how much drama can go on in a community as geeky as we have with WordPress, eh?

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