Array Returns to Themeforest After Disappointing Experiences Selling on Creative Market and WordPress.com

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The Array theme shop, founded by Mike McAlister, is celebrating one year since becoming a completely independent operation. Array, formerly known as Okay Themes, pulled out of Envato’s marketplace last April to rebrand and relaunch with the freedom to further build the business.

At that time, McAlister said, “After fighting the good fight for five years, my body of work has officially outgrown the ThemeForest marketplace. Although it has been a great platform for starting my business, my own ethos and aspirations have evolved.”

In a surprise about-face, Array is returning to Themeforest with a selection of themes and selling as a non-exclusive author. McAlister considers this an expansion of their independent shop, which has experimented with a number of different distribution channels.

“The thing is, Themeforest dominates when it comes to market share,” he said in a recent post explaining the change. “With all of the various avenues we tried, none came close to the reach or revenue that Themeforest has provided in years past.

McAlister replied to a thread on WP Chat to clarify that the decision was not motivated by a lack of sales or desire to cut back on Array. Rather, they see Themeforest as an opportunity to increase exposure to the brand, despite the fact that Array will now make just $19 per theme sale on the marketplace while still attempting to provide quality support.

“We’ve definitely been selling more themes at the $49 price point in the short term, but we’re still quantifying that data to see if it’s where we want to be ultimately,” McAlister said.

Drawbacks of Selling with WordPress.com and Creative Market

Even more interesting than Array’s move back to Themeforest are the insights McAlister shared about selling via other marketplaces. After exploring multiple avenues of distribution during the past year, he found the most significant drawbacks came with Creative Market and WordPress.com.

“The first few months of our time on Creative Market, we’ve only seen ~20 sales per month,” he said. “Although there is a ton of activity for other kinds of digital goods, the WordPress category simply doesn’t seem to be thriving.”

Array’s experience with WordPress.com was similarly disappointing, due to the company’s recent promotion of free themes in the past several months and lengthy wait times in the approval queue.

“The review process on WordPress.com is long,” McAlister said. “I’m not talking about weeks long, I’m talking about months long. Each Array theme review has taken at least a month, usually longer. Our latest theme for WP.com, Camera, took four months from the day I submitted it to the day it was released.”

While his experience may not represent that of all theme authors on WordPress.com, the structure of the selling process makes it difficult for authors to build a reliable source of income.

“At any rate, as you can imagine, releasing products this far apart makes it difficult to gain momentum, predict sales figures, and establish a reliable stream of income,” he said. “On top of that, because theme sales aren’t calculated until after the refund window has passed (understandably), it can be several months until you see return on a theme.”

McAlister’s disappointing experiences with Creative Market and WordPress.com contributed to his decision to move back to Themeforest. Although Array is currently bringing in double the monthly revenue it was making on Themeforest previously, the shop still relies on outside distribution channels.

“It would be super great if Array was suddenly wildly successful and we could just sell themes solely through the site and not rely on marketplaces, but that’s not the reality of the commercial theme world right now,” McAlister said in response to comments on his announcement.

No marketplace is perfect and each has its own unique drawbacks, but Array’s experiences this past year re-established Themeforest as the clear winner for the shop’s current needs.

Furthermore, as poignantly stated by Philip Moore recently, there exists no better or more accessible platform for developers to distribute commercial WordPress themes right now. WordPress.com isn’t accepting new partners, Creative Market doesn’t have a sustainable market for themes, and starting a new theme shop without an established following would be nothing more than an exercise in futility.

McAlister hopes that Array can have a positive impact on the Themeforest marketplace, instead of remaining among those that criticize from the sidelines.

“Given that we spend a great deal of time crafting themes to high standards, in both form and function, we want to help further promote the idea of design-driven, feature-conscious themes, without sacrificing quality or selling your soul to the devil,” he said.

“We want to show people that you can, in fact, make a living creating honest products.”

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15 Comments


  1. Smart move, in my opinion. Creative Design is a pretty good place to pick up design assets, which is what I use them for, but to me it seems like more of a designer/creative side, vs. developer/WP side(to make sweeping generalities) thing. WP themes isn’t Creative Design’s niche.

    Abandoning WordPress.com because of slow operations is an obvious decision, but it highlights an example of poor management going on. Again, just in my opinion. That process should be far more streamlined and developer-friendly.

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    1. We actually haven’t left WordPress.com and we don’t intend on it either. Although it’s been slower than we’d hoped, we’re still happy to have our themes available to those users and still think the platform has plenty of potential. Hopefully we can work with them to create a more streamlined review process going forward.

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  2. I’d like to know how theme authors are finding Mojo Marketplace. They have a huge advantage in terms of being integrated with webhosting companies.

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    1. Hey Peter,

      We did experiment with one theme on Mojo but haven’t found it to be particularly vibrant, as with Creative Market. One theme isn’t really a great test of a marketplace’s potential, but it did provide us with a little glimpse into the Mojo world.

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      1. It feels like Mojo Marketplace is still under performing, given the advantage they have. I still think they might grow into something bigger given time.

        I hate that Themeforest is forcing sellers’ hands so much by being so successful and big. Authors are almost forced to publish there. They come across to me as bad for the seller and bad for the customer. I don’t dislike Envato, it’s just the reality it, having this marketplace that just isn’t offering a good deal for sellers while also creating unhealthy customer expectations.

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      2. I hear ya. It’s hard times, Peter! The theme game done changed!

        See my comment below about the renewable support options coming to ThemeForest. It’s a good example of how they are using their reach to improve things, such as buyer expectation.

        At the core of it, it’s a step in the right direction from a company which has, what I believe are, good intentions and that’s hard to find on the internet these days. Amongst countless other contributions, they introduced a GPL license option so one of their authors would be allowed to speak at WordCamps. They met my personal challenge to raise theme prices back in 2011 and introduced higher prices and the Elite Author program. Beyond all the regurgitated rhetoric around Envato, there really is something to work with there. Now, how people utilize it, that’s another story. ;)

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  3. Howdy folks,

    Thanks for the write up! It’s been a crazy year but also very rewarding watching Array grow as we’ve tried out several different avenues mentioned above. Just wanted to clarify a few points here for those who have been following along.

    “despite the fact that Array will now make just $19 per theme sale on the marketplace while still attempting to provide quality support”

    Although I can’t go into this in too much detail, we are actually not operating at the typical non-exclusive author rates, as most would rightfully assume. We’ve worked out a mutually beneficial agreement with Envato that gives us a little more room for experimentation and bandwidth for providing quality support.

    Furthermore, we’re excited to see that Envato will be rolling out renewable support options soon, which was a major factor in our decision to return. Unlimited everything is entirely unsustainable and sets unrealistic expectations for customer service. Support is a top priority for us (and hopefully for anyone looking to be successful in this space) and this move to renewable support will help educate buyers on the value of our services, not just our products. This is a great example of how Envato’s reach can be used to educate a large consumer base and hopefully re-wire expectations.

    Finally, I’d like to say that there is never going to be a single solution or model to running a successful theme shop, especially these days. As you can see, our path has been one of experimentation, iteration and rolling with the quickly-evolving theme landscape. What works for us, may not work for you, and vice versa. There are tons of avenues to explore, but you really have to put yourself out there and see if they are right for your business.

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    1. What kind of support questions do you have to answer? I mean, with a theme, doesn’t it either work, or not?

      If they don’t know how to use WordPress in general, is it your responsibility to provide support for that?

      Are you getting support questions that are specific to your theme?

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      1. Louis,

        The questions depend largely on the theme. Most of our themes are limited in options, so generally speaking we don’t get a lot of support questions. But, many people don’t read the manual, as you can imagine, so sometimes it’s just linking them to the appropriate documentation. Sometimes they ask us questions about something we failed to document, so we add that to our documentation.

        Sometimes people have questions about how to customize things, which we usually don’t cover in support, but occasionally we do depending on the circumstances.

        Sometimes people just generally don’t understand the WordPress user interface, and while that might not technically fall under our domain, we like to help the people that help us.

        Sometimes they find a conflict with a plugin that is stomping on our styles, or maybe a plugin update broke something (https://github.com/Automattic/jetpack/issues/1253). We help them address it even though it might not be our technical problem. In the case of the linked issue, we finally did our own workaround because the lack of movement on that ticket.

        Sometimes they have questions related to another plugin. For example, if they’re using an ecommerce theme, they might ask us questions that are really related to the plugin. But, customers don’t always know the difference. They don’t always make distinctions between what the theme is doing and what a plugin is doing. It serves the customer, us, and the greater community to provide support and education in these cases.

        We find that most people don’t have support questions after the first few months. Obviously some people do, but most don’t. Renewable support options are great in these cases. It’s a common concept and model in other software industries, and it’s nice to see it becoming a norm in the WordPress software world.

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  4. I’ve always loved Array’s themes, so clean and minimal and now have 3 in 2 years.

    That being said their’s a limit to how many themes I need.

    Thanks Array I hope you find the market that tickles your fancy. M

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  5. This may be crazy timing or just luck to a degree. However I have just set up a marketplace for selling WordPress only items such as WordPress themes and WordPress plugins.

    I’m not looking to compete with the big boys, it would be foolhardy to even attempt it. Is there room for a WordPress specific marketplace? I think so and I personally would be delighted to work with any theme or plugin authors looking to sell their digital wares.

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  6. I’m so glad I read this article….I sold a very successful theme site back in October so that I can move to designing strictly for wordpress.com and to write tutorials. However, after doing so, I find out they suddenly suspended submissions (talk about bad timing). I later found out they are suspending new authors signups, but existing authors continue to submit new themes. I contacted Automattic to find out how long things were shutdown, where the answer was not comforting by what they said…perhaps by June (if that, as well not really spilling the beans as to a more accurate timeline and to what changes they are doing). The theme wrangler said to that my idea I was working towards was a bad business plan to depend on.

    I’ve tried Mojo before, but it was really lack luster results after a year. ThemeForest I got in with Joomla templates, but wasn’t able to do WordPress there because of the licensing at the time were in conflict for me to have themes at wp.org as well…obviously this has changed since then with the option to go 100% GPL.

    In the end, I had to create a new theme site quickly due to the events of wp.com suspending new author submissions, but also after reading Mike’s observations and experiences, I better start getting more themes out soon on my site being as I am starting from 0 again :) Perhaps I will consider adding Theme Forest as a resource as well. I’m just now getting back in the .org theme repository…which I don’t mind because it gives me a chance to continue giving back to the WordPress community with free themes.

    It’s true that no market is a sure thing, but as Mike said “there is never going to be a single solution or model to running a successful theme shop, especially these days.”, I believe that.

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  7. Always loved Array’s themes, theirs code is clean, design is top notch and everything runs smoothly. Looking forward seeing them on ThemeForest since there are way to many bloated themes out there.

    I was disappointed when I read that WordPress.com was failure, too. Their fault is slow review process and promotion of free themes. We (meks) are already selling themes on ThemeForest, it is going well for us and we where planing to try WordPress.com as an experiment and after I have read this I’m pretty sure that we won’t try :)

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  8. Agreed mostly with sentiments above about quality themes etc. The only thing that keeps me at bay from buying from array again is that previously we bought all our themes from them on themeforest (quality code) then they decided to leave to rebrand their company (cool) but with that done we lost any and all future updates to our themes as they were all removed from themeforest.

    Now they are coming back as a new brand with out the old themes. Will the same thing happen yet again so they can break their contracts with people who buy the themes through themeforest.. Alas.

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  9. Hey Mike,

    Sorry you feel slighted. We allowed ThemeForest customers to transfer their purchases to Array for free for over a year, and then another 6 months at a discounted price. Unfortunately, TF doesn’t give us information about buyers so we couldn’t make contact with you directly about this move. We did leave a notice on our TF page during that time, as it was our only option for notifying buyers. As far as our time on TF now, we’re operating under a different philosophy and contract with TF than before (and so is TF for that matter), and we have no plans of going anywhere.

    When we moved off TF, we rewrote several of the themes under the hood to bring them up to date with the latest coding standards. I know that doesn’t make any difference to your situation, but several of the “old themes” aren’t as old as they may seem.

    Feel free to shoot us an email here if you’d like to chat about your past purchases or anything else. https://arraythemes.com/contact/

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