You're starting a theme business. Should you sell on ThemeForest?

(Eric Daams) #1

If you started a theme business today, would you sell on ThemeForest? Why or why not?

I have my own thoughts on this, but keen to hear others’ ideas.

Array is moving back onto ThemeForest
ThemeForest Stats and Trends from Envato's Ben Chan
(Olaf Lederer) #2

Depends on the alternatives. I’m sure you can use a market place to top your sales, but on the other side you have to support more users for less profit. If you have enough traffic or budget to buy traffic I would do that.

(Leland Fiegel) #3

I find ThemeForest’s policies to be way too hostile towards the seller, especially new ones.

  1. They force exclusivity if you want more than a 33% cut (for your work).
  2. Sliding schedule basically locks you in and forces your “loyalty” to the program if you want a decent rate. I get they have a ton of qualified buyers, but you’re going to be supporting double the customers for the same amount of sales revenue. It seems to be a better long-term decision to save that for your own marketing costs.
  3. They don’t “require” support but it seems like customers threaten sellers with damaging reviews/ratings if they don’t get what they want. I understand Envato support may help with this sort of behavior.

All those things really rub me the wrong way

I’d honestly rather start off with Creative Market, even though they’re not as popular. But they offer a much higher rate with no exclusivity., which recently started accepting premium theme applications, offers 50% with no exclusivity and opens you up to a huge market of hosted customers.

And with, people would likely buy the theme from you directly (for 100% profit) should they want to migrate to self-hosted.

So to answer your question, definitely not today now that more seller-friendly competition has cropped up, despite the fact I could probably get more sales there at first.

ThemeForest is so huge and successful, however, I doubt they’ll lighten up any time soon unless, Mojo, CreativeMarket start to take an uncomfortable amount of market share.

Thoughts about selling off ThemeForest
(Sanjay) #4

I am also been thinking about this and wanted to know what you guys think :smile:

For me, I’d probably start selling on my own blog and test the waters. After that either I go with themeforest or find another alternative to boost my sale.

I hope other theme devs would join as well :slight_smile:

(Olaf Lederer) #5

At least for me in the Netherlands, I’m able to create sales to local customers. This is not so much as a global offer but there is less competition and there are many people prefer an offer from a local company.
An other goed point is that a click in Adwords for a local campaign is often is cheaper (less competition).
Be carefull if you advertise for a single theme! A visisitor who searched for “wordpress theme” will look for more than one theme.

(Stephen Cronin) #6

Hey Leland,

Disclaimer: I started with Envato about 3 months ago as Quality Team Leader for ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.

In the past, I decided not to sell a plugin on CodeCanyon for much the same reasons as you outline. However, it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

Exclusivity is per item, so there’s nothing stopping people from selling Theme A on their own website and and selling Theme B exclusively on ThemeForest and getting the higher rate (50 - 70%). Personally that’d be the way I’d do it if wanted to try out different marketplaces to see how they perform.

We’re also aware that sustainable support is a big issue, and it’s actually one of 8 key things we’re working on in 2014. From the Marketplaces Roadmap 2014:

Sustainable Item Support
For ThemeForest and CodeCanyon in particular how buyers get post-sale support has been a big issue. Buyers have an inconsistent experience, authors have been rolling their own tools and themselves feeling unsupported, and there’s lots of confusion over who is supposed to do what. There’s plenty of problems to solve in this area, and we’re building a dedicated team to work on them.

So we’re looking at it. No idea what solution we’ll come up with though…

I’m obviously a little biased, but personally I’d recommend that people try out a few options, including ThemeForest, and see what works best for them. The only problem with that approach is that each marketplace has different requirements etc, so it may be hard to try to get your head around more than one or two to start with.

(Eric Daams) #7

Thanks for the responses guys.

I’m approaching this as someone who has been selling themes on ThemeForest (and plugins on CodeCanyon). But for our latest theme, we ended up releasing it through our own site. There were a number of reasons behind this decision.

One of the big ones for me was trust and perception. A lot of ThemeForest authors build their themes in a way that clearly runs against the WordPress way of doing things. Too much functionality stuffed into the theme, sloppy code, way too many options, etc. This kind of thing is really common in ThemeForest, and even though not all authors do this, it bothered me that people may judge the quality of our work simply based on the fact that it’s on ThemeForest.

We also wanted greater control over pricing. If a theme you buy can help you establish a website that will make you money (i.e. ecommerce themes, app themes, crowdfunding themes), wouldn’t you be willing to spend more than $60? If you’re serious about the endeavour and you actually believe in it, surely you’d be willing to spend significantly more, since you can see the investment paying off? Maybe that’s just my way of thinking about it… I guess it just seems like pricing on ThemeForest doesn’t really line up with the value of what’s on offer.


(Stephen Cronin) #8

Hey Eric,

A lot of ThemeForest authors build their themes in a way that clearly runs against the WordPress way of doing things. Too much functionality stuffed into the theme, sloppy code, way too many options, etc.

We’re working on this… Actually themes added in the last year will have better code quality since the Phase 1 requirements were rolled out, and there is a Phase 2 coming that will require functionality to be added to plugins rather than themes. Getting authors to go for decisons, not options is harder, because buyers tend to buy items with more options… But we’re looking at that too.

Still I understand your concerns… Historically, ThemeForest hasn’t had a great reputation in the wider WordPress community. We’re trying to change that, but we have a ways to go yet!

If a theme you buy can help you establish a website that will make you money (i.e. ecommerce themes, app themes, crowdfunding themes), wouldn’t you be willing to spend more than $60?

Personally, I definitely think themes (and plugins) should cost more than they do. I sell a plugin on my site for $79 per year, that would only be $15 once off on CodeCanyon. Of course, I’ve only sold a handful of copies… :slight_smile:

I will say that Envato tests the pricing. Tests are done where the prices of some items are raised and the impact on sales monitored, then dropped and the impact monitored etc. So there is some science behind the pricing. But yep, personally, as an author, I understand the desire to have more control over pricing.

Either way, hope you’re successful!

(Leland Fiegel) #9

Thanks for stopping by @StephenCronin. Yep, I forgot to clarify that exclusivity was per item.

Don’t mean to hash this up again, but what about this issue? I’m assuming they would have to at least choose the 100% GPL license option at ThemeForest for this to really be kosher with them.

Also, I’d love to see support more streamlined at ThemeForest. Many sellers have made their own home-rolled support/update solution using Envato’s API for verifying customers, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear standardization. Many sellers I’m sure just use comments for support as well, which has its shortcomings.

If it was a yearly subscription model for support/updates, like many standalone theme shops do nowadays, do you feel like there would be too much pushback from customers that are used to the one-time purchases of ThemeForest?

(Jeff C) #10

Check this out

(Olaf Lederer) #11

Nice Jeff, but Muhammad Haris is not really a newbie in the business. You’re right that for some situations is themeforest the best you can do. It depends on your plan and product. If you think that you theme is good for +500 sales, go for themeforest

(Leland Fiegel) #12

Weird, this link is a 404 for me but I found the article on which works:

That’s definitely an inspiring story, I’ve been following his success for a few years now but haven’t come across this before. Really happy for him.

Funny how very rarely you see Avada mentioned as one of the top selling themes of all time, it’s definitely up there with Thesis, Genesis, and the like.

(Stephen Cronin) #13

Hey @leland,

I was really talking just from the ThemeForest side of things, but I’d assume the people would want authors to go with the 100% GPL license on ThemeForest if they sold in both places. Personally, I’d just go with 100% GPL all of the time anyway!

Yep support is all over the place, but hopefully that will improve. I know we’re still looking at the model, but I think it’s going to be hard to come up with something that will keep both buyers and authors happy. Probably it will be in middle somewhere and neither group will be totally satisfied…

(Eric Daams) #14

I appreciate the reply @StephenCronin! I definitely appreciate the efforts that Envato have been taking on improving code quality and also the support workflow.

One of the things that I find problematic about the way pricing is handled on ThemeForest is that it makes it harder to differentiate yourself. You’re selling a portfolio theme and you’re up against 970+ other portfolio themes all of which cost roughly the same. How do you set yourself apart in that market? Pricing isn’t a great differentiator, but it is one part of how you effectively position yourself as a brand. Take Hermes Themes for example: They position themselves by focusing on a narrow niche, but their pricing strategy reflects and supports their brand position.

On ThemeForest, in the absence of pricing as a differentiator, many shops now gravitate towards themes that bundle in a whole stack of other products for free. I personally think that’s an awful practice, but it’s not surprising given the challenges that authors face to differentiate themselves. And if you’re a shop that doesn’t want to do that, how do you compete?

(Jonathan Atkinson) #15

Hey everyone,

this thread (and site) was brought to my attention by Jeff from WPTavern. Jeff thought that I could possibly add to the conversation because of several factors (for those that don’t know me which is obviously a lot of people):

  • I’m an Elite author at ThemeForest
  • I’ve been on ThemeForest selling for almost as long as it’s been available
  • I’m quite outspoken about themes, theme forest and Envato.

So, back to the question, which is very hard to answer. I’m actually not sure anyone can answer this as there are too many situations in play here and many of them are personal. What I’ll try and do is give some benefits and negatives plus some insights.

Themeforest will provide HUGE amounts of traffic. This ‘should’ convert in to healthy sales even at a low percentage of conversions, in theory, in realty it was like this but in the past 12+ months things have changed, a lot.

Now, you must first understand that I am an advocate for bloat-free themes, plugins are for extending the functions of WordPress and a theme should style the output only. We didn’t always do this, as, like many, we plunged in to WP development for the money and then realized we actually want to be part of the community and to learn from it. We have made massive efforts in the past 1-2 yrs to push our code and themes to become better and using best practices.

Having made the above clear you now need to understand that this has alienated us from the bulk of the buyers at ThemeForest, which has seen a swing in the last 12 months. Most buyers on TF these days are either end users, or those that prefer to ‘flip’ themes. These are not your developers or code shops, they are not akin to rolling up their sleeves a little to change a few styles in the style sheet. They want drag n’ drop layouts, change all fonts via a drop down select and alter all colors etc by color pickers. They demand multiple options for everything and when I say everything you should read that as EVERYTHING! This is fine if you are comfortable in producing themes with 10 blog layouts, 20 portfolio layouts, 10 home pages, widgetized everything and 5 premium slider plugins. We are not, so, we have seen a 70% drop in earnings (this is myself and my wife - I design and she develops) and I can tell you it’s been rough taking the high road on these issues.

So you are saying that if I produce these monster themes I should sell on TF right?

No. Why? Because that’s what everyone has done. You can’t sell the same thing as everyone else or everyone is sharing at the same pool. You have to be ‘different’, when you work out what that means, please message me because I’ve tried a bunch of different things, some with a little success and others have fallen flat on their faces. I’ve tried to explain reasons for not having 10 sliders and buyers don’t get it - my products, in their eyes, are inferior (i’ve actually had this conversation several times with potential buyers) because they have to upload plugins (that I freely make available to everyone) - they just presume that it should be included in the theme like the really ‘good’ themes.

So you’re saying don’t sell on TF then?

Not exactly :slight_smile: They have massive traction. You get eyeballs in front of your products. If it has what they want they will buy and if you strike it lucky then you can earn massive money (see Avada). It’s a painless experience selling on TF because they do all the money side of things, bring in the traffic, display it etc. You build and then collect right?

Well no… the other thing about selling on TF and that has altered vastly in the same period as mentioned has been support. You now have far more support because the skill level of the buyer is lower than it previously was. Envato say you don’t need to offer support but if you build something then support the damn thing, it’s the right and only thing to do.

So you get lots of I can’t install the theme type questions, what is a post, how do I set this and that (all of this is always in our documentation but you know, you have to read that!) - this takes time, effort and a little bit of your soul over time and no way to monetize for your time. Efforts, they say, are being looked in to but honestly - sorry Stephen you’re a great guy, I love you man - things are soooo sloooow at being developed and then they develop new things that you just stare at the screen with… you know like a new badge, or it’s half-assed fix and they didn’t ask the community.

Here’s the simple truth. You must also realize that Envato, ThemeForest are running a business. One that has completely different targets to the individual author. There business model runs perfectly because the more authors producing more items means more sales. For authors, more authors means more competition, more products means it’s harder to get noticed. See the difference? Basically it doesn’t matter if sales come from 1 or 10,000 people because they still earn as the top of the pile - obviously as it’s their marketplace - but most people just don’t seem to get that.

As Envato is a business they put more and more effort in to promoting top selling items - check the forums for the last 2-3 years, every day authors complaining. Look at their official twitter accounts etc and see what they are promoting - ‘author makes $2 million dollars’, ‘Author builds massive house’, ‘new author video from top seller’ it’s all right there but again it’s because it makes absolute sense for THEIR business model - not yours.

OK so sell on your own?

Ha, loaded question because wowzers you have a lot to do and maintain and keep on top of and promote and SEO, SEM and every other acronym you can think of. However you have 100% control. You can set your own prices. You can promote how you wish (at ThemeForest, even though you own the item you can’t promote by offering a free copy, a price reduction or… well anything tbh.) but the garden is yours and if you feel you have incredible products, a great business head and superb promotional skills it may be for you. Many veteran authors have now left to sell on their own or just give up selling and try something else because of many reasons I guess - some personal, some financial some because they wanted ‘freedom!’ - hows it working out for them… well I can see signs that it hasn’t been a bed of roses. Keep an eye on those that left and you may see what I mean.

Let me finish this stupidly long post with a few key points.

ThemeForest is a fantastic launch platform to get reviewed (it’s actually not the walk in the park many people think these days), sell stuff, get a following and earn money.

Starting your own theme shop looks hard, you’re not the only guy/gal out there selling on your own you have just as much competition and some are ridiculous on their pricing.

I’ve got more to say, input and waffle about but I have a feeling that this, being my first post, I’ll come over as a dude who can’t stop typing, hates themes with options, wants to see Envato buried and has a nothing useful to say - trust me, that’s not the case :slight_smile:


(Stephen Cronin) #16

Hey @ericnicolaas,

Understand where you’re coming from about the pricing. As an author, I want to have more control!

It’s a complex issue though. While opening the pricing up would let me increase my prices (yay), it could else lead to a race to the bottom where we have $10 WordPress themes and no one wants that… The pricing restrictions protect against that as well as stopping people increasing prices.

But I totally agree about the race to bundle other products. Not sure how to combat that at this point, but it’s on my list…

(Jeff C) #17

Thanks Jonathan of Cr3ativ for writing that response. There’s a lot of gold in your reply that I hope others will read and learn from.

(Stephen Cronin) #18

Awesome post Jonathan (@Cr3ativ)!

I truly appreciate and respect your views on these sort of issues. I don’t agree with everything you say, but there’s a lot of truth in what you say and it’s good to hear it.

I’ll just respond to a couple of things.

You must also realize that Envato, ThemeForest are running a business. One that has completely different targets to the individual author

Actually the main company value at Envato is “When the community succeeds, we succeed” and I’ve seen that invoked in decision making. I think Envato could make a lot more money if they didn’t hold true to that value. That’s why they promote authors being successful - because that embodies what the company is trying to achieve - helping people be sucessful. It’s also why they ran the Tuts+ network at a loss for so many years, because it helps support that value.

That’s not to say we get everything right - far from it. We can be slow to change things (a lot of it’s pretty complex to change), the changes may not be enough (we can’t keep everyone happy), we probably get some things wrong from time to time, and in my opinion, we don’t actually consult the community enough.

But we are trying to address a lot of the issues you raised. It will take some time though and probably won’t please everyone though!

I could keep going, but I have a feeling I’ll come over as someone who has drowned in the kool-aid and thinks Envato can do no wrong… :slight_smile:


(Nate Wright) #19

I run a new independent theme shop myself. I would just reinforce what Jonathan said about the business side being a lot of work. It’s really very, very difficult to bring significant traffic to your site as a new entrant in this crowded market.

I’m sure there are better ways of launching than mine. I still spend 3/4 or more of my time on client work, so it’s been a very slow roll-out. A lot of “good-enough-for-now” marketing efforts, and my product line-up is still very small 8 months after launch.

When I first launched, affiliate sales were my lifeline. I simply wouldn’t have gotten any sales without them. Now I’ve been able to generate a small amount of traffic/sales from search engines and a pack of free niche plugins. I’d say affiliates, search and plugins each account for about a quarter of my traffic (and affiliates account for about half of sales – very targeted traffic).

But of those three channels, the only one with much growth potential is search traffic. And that’s the most competitive and difficult segment to build.

The other channels – affiliate and free plugins – won’t grow much by adding more themes. I’ll probably convert the traffic I get better (more choices), but I’m not sure how much growth potential is really there.

In short, eyeballs really matter. And they’re not easy to attract.

On the flip side, I’ve learned a ton about running a business online that I never knew before. That has informed my client work and really improved what I can deliver on that front. So while opening a theme shop may not mean I’m going to be the next million-dollar miracle, it has provided me with a small source of passive income and a great platform for learning. My WP knowledge has increased exponentially through developing and maintaining a suite of open-source products. Setting my own prices and giving away less of it to a marketplace keeps my earnings-per-support-hour high.

(Kalen Johnson) #20

Thanks for posting Nate. How are you managing support, on your own site? How time consuming is it would you say? Do you get a lot of “how do you install the theme” or “the theme doesn’t work” type support questions?