There are thousands of premium WordPress themes out there, but perhaps the most long-standing and popular ones are Thesis from DIYthemes and Genesis from StudioPress. For a number of years now these two have been the starting point of thousands of WordPress blogs, and they are still the leaders in the market.
Since I know that many new bloggers agonise over which one to choose and how it will affect them in the long run, I’ll be running a feature by feature comparison that will hopefully help you make a more informed decision.
Both these themes claim to be the originators of the WordPress premium theme market, so it’s interesting to see how far each has come and whether any of them has a clear edge over the other.
Genesis has a straightforward pricing scheme. You pay $59.95 once and get lifetime access to updates and usage on an unlimited number of websites.
Child themes cost from $20-$40, or you can also purchase the Pro plus package for $349.95 and get the Genesis Framework + all child themes (present and future).
Thesis, on the other hand, is a bit different with regards to pricing. For $87 you get the basic Thesis 2.0 theme plus one year of upgrades, while for $164 you get the same two extra skins. Thesis professional costs $197 and has lifetime upgrades included.
Genesis plus two child themes costs between $79.95 and $99.95, which is around half what Thesis Professional costs. With Genesis you always get lifetime upgrades and support, so I would say Genesis is a clear winner in the pricing domain.
Genesis has a big collection of child themes available, and in recent months more and more third party developers/designers are producing child themes specifically for use with the Genesis framework. I wasn’t a fan of the older Genesis themes, as they were in my opinion sub-standard looks-wise when compared to other premium themes. However StudioPress have seriously upped their game in 2012, and they now have a good bunch of beautiful, responsive child themes.
They tend to release child themes at a particular niche market, for example the AgentPress theme is aimed at real estate businesses. This makes it very useful for us developers, because StudioPress supplies us with all the base themes we need for our clients. Even if a new real estate client of mine requires a totally custom design, I would still save a lot of development time by using AgentPress as the starting point, for example.
StudioPress have a theme chooser tool which will help you find the best team for your requirements.
Thesis has traditionally put a lot of design power to its users through a very specific options panel which enabled you to make all sorts of design changes.
In Thesis 2.0, we get a totally new interface for customising the design of a site, with the introduction of a drag-and-drop theme builder.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of drag-and-drop builders. I prefer having a leaner theme with no drag-and-drop functionality but staying true to the WordPress architecture. That way I can easily apply my WordPress coding knowledge onto the theme for any customisations I may need. In this sense, because of my preference, I definitely prefer the Genesis approach of child theme customisations and a basic options panel.
Support & Documentation
Thesis has very good online documentation, while Genesis also provides a comprehensive user manual.
Both have forums and there are also third party sites which have articles about further customisation of these themes. With regards to third party sites I prefer the Genesis ones, Brian Gardner himself has some truly excellent tutorials, while I’ve also found Bill Erickson’s musings to be of top quality.
Many Thesis and Genesis users have reported that they received excellent support in the forums, so I’ll give it a tie between the two themes for support and documentation.
High Profile User Base
When choosing a premium theme, a good indicator of its quality is the humber of high profile bloggers making use of it. Both Genesis and Thesis boast a number of pro bloggers that are loyal to them, however in the past year or two I’ve noticed a number of WordPress celebrities move to the Genesis platform, while in the case of Thesis it was mostly the loyal bloggers who stayed with it.
This is quite a subjective point and is based purely on my day-to-day observations of the WordPress and blogger ecosystem, but my impression is that more and more high profile blogs are moving to Genesis.
You will find quite a number of posts who come out quite strongly against Thesis (especially the latest version), or describe their switch away from Thesis.
- Why I ditched the Thesis WordPress theme – 2createawebsite
- Why Thesis Sucks – Nuts & Bolts Media
- Thesis 2.0 – Less than Impressed, Depressed – Webmatros
- Thesis 2.0 Review – Rick Beckman
There are also quite a number of top WordPress developers who work with and contribute to Genesis, like Bill Erickson, Gary Jones, Travis Smith, Nick Croft and Joost de Valk. Top WordPress blog WP Beginner have also moved to Genesis.
Thesis 2.0 was released this year, and it was quite a controversial event. Many users reacted to the new version, saying it was near to impossible to upgrade their sites to the new version, and there were also complaints about the lack of documentation for Thesis 2.0.
- Thesis 2.0 – 4 Reasons Why I’m not a Convert – Chris Lema
On the other side of the ring, Genesis 1.9 is now in beta stage and will soon be finalised. It includes a brand new Genesis parent theme, which is a vast improvement over the previous theme design-wise. I absolutely love the new look.
Apart from the new look, there are some minor updates which you can read about in our Genesis 1.9 review. The general feeling is that the new look is great but features such as HTML5 code should have also been in this version, and not in the next one.
Both Thesis and Genesis are highly tuned for speed, achieving excellent results in tools such as YSlow. Having said that, Thesis seems to enjoy a fraction of a second advantage in loading time over Genesis. That isn’t likely to be a deciding factor when making your choice, but it’s there for you to know it.
Both these premium themes are valid options for bloggers and WordPress developers.
I will be moving WP Mayor to the Genesis framework shortly, simply because I’ve already used it on other sites and found it to be extremely well coded and developer friendly. If I wasn’t good at coding I would have probably gone for Thesis since it’s easier to customise things from their options panel.
So the bottom line is that it depends on your own profile as a WordPress user. If you’re comfortable with the way WordPress works at a code level, and want a great framework to take things further, then Genesis is hard to beat.
If on the other hand you are a blogger or business owner who does the website thing as a hobby or side job, you might want something that is more foolproof and easy to customise design-wise, in which case I would suggest Thesis. I’m actually not that sure that the 2.0 version is easier to customise than Genesis, only time will tell whether users actually make the new drag and drop system work for them.
Both Thesis and Genesis come with a 30 day money back guarantee, so you can try both if you’re still not sure which one works best for you.
Have you used any of these themes? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.
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