WPCandy has a very interesting post today about the future of premium themes. The post has some very valid points and certainly taps into many of the changes going on in this space at the moment. Go check it out. I posted my thoughts on future of premium themes in the post comments and also reproduce them below for your convenience in edited format.
Yes, the quality of free themes has sky rocketed.
Yes, users now have much more choice.
Yes, WordPress users now expect more for less.
But there’s a really big big difference between 2010 and 2007 – the size of the market. WordPress has grown exponentially in that timeframe. The percentage of users who buy themes in miniscule but as WordPress usages explodes (as it did in 2010) that tiny percentage starts to become a pretty big number in itself.
You also have to remember that a lot of businesses now use WordPress extensively and will actually prefer to pay for a theme.
Why? Well yes the theme might look pretty/have nice theme options etc. etc. but what they are really paying for is the comfort factor of support/updates etc.
Also. the design/development community (agencies, freelancers etc.) are probably the biggest purchasers of premium themes and as more and more agencies use WordPress I see a very healthy future for premium theme shops – well the big boys anyway. I think it will be really hard for new entrants to build their ‘brand’ as customers are looking for reliability and reputation now more than just the merits of an individual theme.