When you’re shopping for a premium WordPress theme, you’ll likely run into all sorts of pricing structures. Some developers sell themes for a simple flat price, while others offer multiple license tiers, add-ons, and even subscriptions. It can be quite confusing.

With that in mind, you may be wondering: are WordPress themes a one-time purchase?

Yes, WordPress themes are technically a one-time purchase. According to the General Public License that governs all WordPress software, any theme you purchase is yours to use and modify as you wish. However, some developers may charge more for ongoing updates and support—which is usually a good investment.

Let’s dive a bit deeper to understand exactly how WordPress theme purchases work, and what you’re entitled to do with a theme after buying.

How Much Do WordPress Themes Cost?

As you’re likely aware, there’s an extensive catalog of free themes on WordPress.org. But for many site owners, those just won’t cut it.

Premium WordPress themes are a massive industry, and they tend to offer higher-quality design and more specialized functionality than free themes.

But what is the cost of a premium WordPress theme?

The median price of a premium WordPress theme is $59, with some priced significantly higher and others significantly lower. If you spend some time browsing a marketplace like ThemeForest, you’ll actually see theme after theme priced at exactly $59.

Usually, the cost of a WordPress theme includes six months to a year of updates and support.

But what happens after that period ends? Well, it helps to understand how WordPress themes are licensed.

How WordPress Themes Are Licensed

WordPress is open source software, and it’s released under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

This license guarantees four basic freedoms, as WordPress.org explains:

  1. Freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  2. Freedom to study how the program works and to change it, so it performs computing as you wish.
  3. Freedom to redistribute copies, so you can help your neighbor.
  4. Freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.

Importantly, these freedoms apply not only to WordPress itself, but to all derivative works. Because themes and plugins are derivative works of the core WordPress software, they inherit the same General Public License and the same freedoms.

The GPL is quite similar to a free software license, but it does not require that derivative software be released for $0—only that the user is free to use, modify, and distribute the software in accordance with the original license.

When you purchase a WordPress theme, you have the right to modify it, use it on an unlimited number of sites for an unlimited amount of time, and even share it with anyone you want for free. This is the essence of the GPL.

What Exactly Are You Paying For When You Buy A Premium Theme?

If WordPress themes are licensed with so many freedoms, what’s the point of paying for a theme in the first place?

1. Updates

First and foremost, the purchase of a premium theme generally includes updates and bug fixes for a certain period of time (usually six months to a year).

Regular updates are an important part of keeping your site secure, and they can add new features, improve performance, and fix bugs to keep your site running smoothly far into the future.

The price of a premium theme with ongoing support is also a great incentive for developers to keep improving their themes over time.

2. Support

In addition to regular updates, most premium themes offer a period of support from the developer.

This can be incredibly helpful as you’re first configuring the theme, and you’re covered if you run into any major issues down the line.

3. Quality & Expertise

When you buy a premium WordPress theme, you’re essentially paying for expertise.

You don’t want just any random theme. You want a high-quality product from a professional—someone who has spent years honing their craft, learning the ins and outs of WordPress and how to design a beautiful, functional theme.

Instead of learning it yourself, or hiring someone to do it for you, you invest in a premium theme from a reputable developer.

What Happens If You Don’t Renew Your Theme License?

If you purchase a premium theme and reach the end of your support period without renewing your license, do you have to stop using the theme?

No, your theme itself will be unaffected. You can continue to use it as-is for as long as you like. However, you will stop receiving updates and support from the developer until you reactivate your license.

From a legal perspective, this is perfectly fine. The GPL guarantees that you can keep using the theme indefinitely. However, from a technical perspective, you may run the risk of future bugs, conflicts with plugins or WordPress updates, and security vulnerabilities.

Note: Many premium themes come with an activation code that you enter in your WordPress dashboard. This code is used to identify your site to the developer so they know whether you’re eligible for updates and support on that particular site. Your theme should still function without a valid activation code—if it doesn’t, your theme may be in violation of the GPL.

Can You Use A Premium WordPress Theme On Multiple Sites?

Many theme developers will offer multiple pricing tiers based on the number of sites you need to support. But this doesn’t limit your right to use the theme on additional sites.

You can use a premium WordPress theme on as many sites as you want.

When you a purchase a license for five sites, for example, that doesn’t mean you can’t install the theme on a sixth site. It simply means you won’t be eligible for updates or support on that sixth site.

Again, your theme should not require an activation code to function—only to receive updates and support.

Where To Buy WordPress Themes Without Recurring Fees

If you want to find a premium WordPress theme that is truly a one-time purchase, including future updates, you do have options.

StudioPress

StudioPress is a longtime leader in WordPress theme development. They’re the people behind the Genesis framework and its many beautiful child themes.

All StudioPress themes are sold as a one-time purchase, with lifetime updates and support included at no extra charge.

ThemeForest

ThemeForest is a huge marketplace of WordPress themes and other website templates sold by independent developers all over the world.

Some ThemeForest themes are definitely better than others (there’s a user rating system for that reason), but all themes sold on the platform include lifetime updates at no extra charge.

Support from the developer is available for six months after the purchase date, with options to renew your support period if necessary.

Astra Pro

Astra is one of my favorite WordPress themes. It’s extremely performance-focused and easy to customize with dozens of starter sites.

If you choose to upgrade to Astra Pro with the one-time purchase option, you will continue to receive updates and support indefinitely.

Final Thoughts

WordPress themes can be a one-time purchase, but it’s generally well worth the investment to continue paying for ongoing updates and support. If you take your website seriously, you’re going to want those continued improvements and a lifeline to call if you need help.

If you really don’t want a recurring expense, there are plenty of theme shops that provide lifetime updates—so be sure to verify that before you buy.

If you have any questions about WordPress theme purchases or licenses, please feel free to leave a comment below!