Installing a magazine style theme on my WordPress blog

For nearly a year,  I have wanted to switch to a magazine style theme.  It was not that my previous theme – Misty Look with 2 sidebars, wasn’t good enough – in fact, there are very few themes I have liked as much (and nothing else when I chose it).  But the list of features I wanted kept increasing, and I wasn’t happy with the idea of ever-increasing plugins.

There are Free magazine-style themes, and there are Premium (read paid) themes, and then there are the so-called “Freemium” or Free Premium themes. The Premium themes have a simple proposition – they are (usually) more professional- looking, easily customizable with lots of theme options, and you get theme support if you run into any problems or want help on customizing something.

Shefaly recommended the Thesis theme, which she uses on her professional blog. It’s a nice, clean theme, though I wondered if it was too clean for me, and I noticed that Shefaly had needed outside help on customization.

atahualpa-theme

Atahualpa Theme

Thesis is one of the most popular themes available, and there are some widely-read bloggers who use the theme, and a near-cult following.  But there is a debate going on whether Thesis is really the best theme out there.  I found that at least one WordPress theme designer – Mayank thinks that Atahualpa is better than Thesis.

Atahualpa is a terrific theme by any standard.  It has 2 dozen option pages (really) and free support.  If I hadn’t been looking for a news-style theme rather than a blog style theme, Atahualpa would have been my first choice.

atahualpa-options

Atahualpa options page titles

Two Magazine styled themes with theme-options pages are Isotherm news and Igloo News. Jaypee Habaradas has a nice review of Isotherm News where you can see a snapshot of the options page.

One theme I really loved was Hybrid News.  It is a free theme, and its developer Justin Tadlock even had a long rant about premium WordPress themes and how he would not be entering the pay-for-use theme market. I downloaded and installed Hybrid News – it’s a little more complicated than others because it’s really a child theme of the Hybrid Theme, and because it has any number of layout styles and accompanying php files, and just a single, woefully inadequate options page.

Now, I have learnt to do simple stylesheet CSS customization – changing fonts, colors, headers and even widths (of sidebar, header etc). But changing php files is something I hesitate to do, and in this case it was even more complicated by the sheer abundance of php files the theme had.

So I looked for theme support, and what did I find? You need a paid subscription to sort out any issues. Now how is that any different from having a premium theme? To me, this seemed like a bait-and-switch way of doing the same thing that other developers are upfront about.

The irony is that theme support does not even have to come from the theme developer – the support forums are mainly a place where people help each other out and also showcase their customizations. In fact, the support forums are where, as a developer, you can see all the bugs in your theme.

So I can see more rationale for a developer to charge for the theme than for supporting it.  And besides, I would rather spend the money on a fully customizable theme than have to hang out in the support forums hoping to get the developer (or someone else) to troubleshoot my blog.

What theme do you think I ended up choosing?  How do you like it?

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20 Comments

  1. I wanted to clear up some misinformation in your post about me and my theme community.

    I did not enter the premium theme market as it stood when that post was written. The market in May 2008 was vastly different than it is today. Reading the post carefully, one would notice that when I’m talking about premium themes, it’s not about everything being free. I even clearly stated that I planned to add a monetary aspect of a new site (one that was only in the early stages of development). The post was about the quality of commercial themes.

    You ask how releasing a free, GPL theme is different than releasing a commercial, non-GPL theme (I don’t know of a single “premium” theme that was GPL-licensed at that time). It seems quite clear.

    * One you must pay for. The other you pay for the developer’s time and support if you want it, but it is not a requirement.
    * One you cannot ask questions about on the WP.org support forums because they can’t download your theme and help you. The other you can get someone on those forums to help.
    * You can’t modify or distribute one type of theme in any way you want. The other, you can.

    There was no bait-and-switch technique used. I simply wrote a post about how I felt regarding the current state of the premium theme market on my personal blog. That post in a nutshell: I was tired of seeing crappy commercial themes.

    The irony is that theme support does not even have to come from the theme developer – the support forums are mainly a place where people help each other out and also showcase their customizations. In fact, the support forums are where, as a developer, you can see all the bugs in your theme.

    You have no basis for those statements. I personally answer nearly every question that is asked on my support forums. You are free to ask any of my community members this, and they’ll tell you the same thing. The only time I don’t is when another member beats me to it. The place to showcase customizations is not a part of the support forums. It’s part of the free community forums.

    I don’t mind criticism of how my community is run. In fact, I’d love to hear any ideas or suggestions you have about making it better. I just felt your post misrepresented both me and my community.

    • Thanks for visiting my blog and clarifying your position. I understand your argument about crappy commercial themes. But here is my issue with your own strategy (and correct me if I am wrong) – you are able to include your Hybrid theme in WordPress.org’s theme directory and showcase it precisely because it’s free. But unless the average (non-expert) user downloads the theme and uses it out of the box with zero customization, he/ she would need theme support, and here’s where you realize that the total package is not exactly free. I wouldn’t have minded if this was disclosed right at the beginning – and given how much I liked your theme, I would have likely bought it. It’s the masquerading as free that bothered me. I don’t know how you’d like to term it, but in my world that’s bait-and-switch. Your theme is a premium theme too, and needs to be treated as such – but because the pricing is for support rather than the theme itself, you are able to have your cake (include in wordpress.org) and eat it too.

      “You have no basis for those statements. I personally answer nearly every question that is asked on my support forums. “
      I’m sure you do, and given that you are specifically charging for theme support, if I had purchased theme support, I would certainly expect you to help me rather than any other fellow theme user. I was talking about other free themes (the ones with free support) where users talk about their issues and others help out and it functions like a community. And given that it is like a community, I have no quibbles with people showcasing their customizations.

      Again, I am not trying to misrepresent you or your community, it’s not personal. I am just stating my opinion.

  2. Hi Lekhni: Nice new look. More on email. On my Thesis customisation, a combination of laziness and a willing and kind friend meant I did the easy thing: getting said friend to do my work. It is not difficult to work Thesis at all. I just happen to be a minimalist person so I have not chosen to adds bells and whistles. Thanks.

  3. Honestly, I’m not a fan of magazine themes for personal blogs unless you are writing frequently (2-3 posts a day). Of course, it looks good but IMO, it isn’t functional as in, it doesn’t add much to your content. Mag themes work great on niche blogs or community blogs that use various sections to highlight certain kinds of content. Personal blogs on the other hand, are all about the latest post. If there are elements of this theme that you like, you can always copy them into other themes.

    • I agree I’m not utilizing the mag theme to the full extent because this is not a group blog. But what I like is the ability to showcase good older posts that slide off the page all too soon. So even if my posts are not that frequent, readers might find something they hadn’t read before.

      • You can always have a recommended posts page or even on the sidebar (random 5) but then again, as I think, it is your blog you should have what you think suits your blog the best.

  4. I like the magazine article grid display, but not so much the topmost ‘slideshow’ style article picker. I think it might have looked better with just the photos and the title of the article, rather than including a teaser first line.

  5. Pingback: Customizing the Arras theme | The Imagined Universe

  6. It does look better now, with the narrower overlay bar. You might want to experiment with a smaller non-bolded font for the title, if you would like the photo to be the focus, rather than the title. But that’s just a suggestion, your mileage might vary!.

    • I’ll look into that too. The only possible issue with a non-bolded title is if people instinctively look for the blog title to click on and so you need a prominently displayed title. Although here you can click on the picture too to read the post, that’s unusual and at first one may not realize that?

  7. Pingback: A New Minimalist Look

  8. I spent a long time searching for a great theme for my blog and love the arras theme althogh i really need to know how to put pictures in the thumbnails and also the big slider across the top.

    Its still great but with those fixed it will be better. Check out my blog and see if you can help. http://StartOutOnline.net

    Thanks

    Tom Horton

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