In a recent article on OS Training, Steve Burge asks Why Are There So Few Drupal 8 Themes? It’s true that the number of themes out there is pretty low, and Steve’s article considers some possible reasons for that, mainly relating to the supply side of the market. I’d prefer to focus on the demand side in answering that question.
My observations should be prefaced by the caveat that I’m probably not a typical "site builder”, whatever that means. I’m a senior software engineer, working at a big systems integrator, building websites for large organisations. But I’ve built sites for myself, and for friends, and I used to work at a small digital agency, and after nearly 8 years on drupal.org, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used a contributed theme on a site I’ve built, excluding Zen or one of the other base themes.
The obvious comparison to make is with Wordpress, which has far more themes available, not least because they maintain backwards compatibility. While the Wordpress community may be our twin island, the Drupal community is in a different place.
Even though I built a site to showcase Drupal themes, I just don’t have an interest in contributed themes these days, and I don’t think I’m alone in that - as I see it, Drupal site builds generally fall into one of three categories:
Organisations paying someone else to build a site for them
Drupal is complex enough that the people and organisations who work with it aren’t at the bottom end of the market. If you’re spending more than a couple of hundred pounds on your website, you probably want it to look different from other sites, and you probably have a budget for a designer.
Technically minded people who are building their own sites
I don’t want to further the stereotype of techies having no design sense, but for a lot of people in this category, Bartik is good enough, in the same way that Bootstrap is good enough for some startups. It’s all about the content, and it doesn’t really matter to the site owner if it looks the same as other sites. For some people, that might even be considered a good thing. If they do care about design, then (like me) they probably want to design their own site anyway.
Community groups without much money to spend
This is probably the main target market for contributed themes. They want the site to look nice, and to look different, but they don’t want to spend money on it.
When even the maintainer of one of the main core themes is promoting a premium theme, it seems clear that there is a demand for a premium themes market. How that will work is another question.