Envato Continues to Rake in the Cash from WordPress Themes Packaged as Complete Website Solutions

envato

This week Envato published stats on how WordPress product sellers are doing within its economy. Theme authors make up the bulk of WordPress-based earnings on its marketplace and continue to dominate sales.

Inspired by his interaction with the WordPress business community at Pressnomics, Ben Chan, director of Growth and Revenue at Envato, penned an insider brief about the WordPress segment of Envato’s economy. The post makes it abundantly clear why theme authors continue to sell their products on Themeforest, despite the marketplace’s poor reputation among WordPress consultants.

Envato’s steady pipeline of traffic is the deciding factor for many commercial theme authors. “In September 2014, ThemeForest was the 88th most trafficked website in the world (according to Alexa.com), at the time ahead of Netflix,” Chan said. “The traffic it receives is more than just eyeballs; these are buyers looking to purchase a theme and many are introduced to WordPress for the first time.”

This volume has made it possible for 31 authors to sell more than $1 million dollars worth of products through Envato. “We have authors earning tens of thousands of dollars from our various product types, but it’s WordPress authors who currently dominate our Power Elite wall of fame by holding 30 of the 31 Power Elite spots.”

Competition is fierce among WordPress themes, yet even moderately competitive themes can make a decent chunk of change. Envato’s heavy traffic virtually guarantees sales for new theme authors. Chan reported average earning data for a single theme during a single month:

  • 50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $1,000 in a month.
  • 25% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $2,500 in a month.
  • 15% of WordPress themes have made at least $5,000 in a month.
  • 7% have made at least $7,500 in a month.
  • 5% have made at least $10,000 in a month.

Theme authors who make their products responsive and compatible with WooCommerce and WPML tend to have much higher earnings, which indicates that people are building WordPress sites that will be optimized for mobile traffic and global commerce.

Poor Standards Lead to Security Vulnerabilities and Loss of Data Portability

Envato remains the dominant marketplace for commercial WordPress themes, despite rampant security concerns surrounding its products on a regular basis. Last September, 1,000+ Envato products were affected by the Slider Revolution security vulnerability. This particular debacle was fueled by theme authors who were lax in patching their products, as well as Envato’s poor standards, which continue to allow authors to bundle plugins with themes.

If Envato required theme authors to adhere to industry best practices by clearly separating their theme and plugin products, the company would have had no need to publish a list of 1,000+ themes potentially affected by a vulnerability that was being actively exploited since its disclosure.

Obviously, the data presented in Chan’s insider brief was designed to convince more authors to sell on Themeforest. Several of the theme product examples he showcases are packed full of functionality that belongs in plugins, i.e. automotive listings, filterable inventory, custom categories and taxonomies, etc. The products do not clearly differentiate what functionality is included in a plugin vs. the theme itself.

Additionally, many of these top-selling themes offer accompanying plugins that are only compatible with that specific theme, a desperately myopic development practice rampant among Themeforest products that locks users into that theme/plugin package.

What would be even more fascinating to know are the stats on WordPress theme products that do not bundle any plugins whatsoever. How well are the products doing that are pure themes with a clear separation from the plugins they support? Where are the stats for themes that absolutely guarantee unobstructed data portability for customers?

Envato theme authors are making large sums of cash by selling themes that are packaged as complete solutions for online businesses, because that’s what consumers have been trained to expect – the bigger the package, the more appealing the product. This can cause serious problems with data portability for customers down the road and remains a continual source of frustration for consultants who are hired to support poorly built Envato products.

Source: Avada theme on Themeforest
Source: Avada theme on Themeforest

The marketplace’s loose product standards allow theme product authors to thrive on selling full website solutions, as Justin Tadlock discovered in his Themeforest experiment. Envato continues to rake in the cash from products that undermine best practices designed to protect users:

ThemeForest is in the business of selling WordPress themes. Selling anything else is underhanded at best and false advertising at worst.

If you want to sell a “Web site solution” or whatever you want to call it, you’re selling on the wrong marketplace. Go create your own site and sell these applications for WordPress.

If the marketplace were to change its standards and encourage theme authors to build themes that respect WordPress’ plugin system, it would most certainly result in a loss of profit. Envato currently has little incentive to move in this direction. As with the case of GPL licensing options, the company historically drags its feet until forced to comply with most basic requirements.

The WordPress community continues to pressure Envato to hold theme and plugin authors to standards that would better ensure the security and performance of users websites, but Envato isn’t likely to enforce stricter standards anytime soon.

The company continues to parade its top sellers as incentive for new authors to bring their products into the marketplace. Changing theme product standards would require the restructuring of virtually all of its top-selling products. Envato’s bottom line will continue to drive its standards until either the market or the community force the company to change.

84 Comments


  1. The theme industry is in major decline, long gone are the days of making $50K/mo as a startup theme shop.

    Themes have become a commodity, it’s not all ThemeForest’s fault, but it certainly doesn’t help. The success of marketplaces like this makes selling themes a race to the bottom. I think a few shops that really differentiate themselves can still be successful, but I don’t envy the challenges they will face.

    A few authors making bank off of bloated themes is nothing but bad for the WordPress industry.

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    1. + 1,000!

      Their attempt to introduce more strict guidelines in 2013 was softened by their leading (aka best selling) “authors”.

      They constantly failed to take responsibility to end this mess. It’s going on for years now.

      Beyond a few exeptions from great authors with standard compliant themes (and even a few 100% GPL themes!) you cannot and should not use a ThemeForest theme for all the reasons laid out over the years on hundreds of blogs around the world.

      The Envato leaders have proven they are unable or unwilling (or both) to end this mess and establish better rules & standards. Sadly, because design-wise there are still some great themes over there…

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      1. While I agree there are a great deal of themes in the Envato Market that are poorly developed, sweeping statements to not use any ThemeForest theme is bit unfair to the developers who are selling solid, 100% GPL products there.

        I think it’s worth acknowledging that there are a number of authors that have consciously decided not to join the race to the bottom and, in exchange for lower sales, continue to develop with the standards WordPress has set for us.

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      2. Well said Jami. There are tons of solid Authors on Envato who adhere to high standards and don’t sell the kitchen sink.

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      1. Emil, while you have a point (for this reason developing themes for Themeforest is appealing from a purely business standpoint), you’re not accounting for what Envato takes on top of that, which is as much as 50% maybe more. So that $7k becomes $3.5k, then you need to factor in support – which could be a lot or a little depending on the theme and your theme’s user base. Even if support costs $1000/mo (based on lost time) that’s $2.5k which, from my understanding is the going rate (as of WordCamp SF 2012 I think) for a custom theme anyway. At that rate does it become worth it to sell on Themeforest or do custom jobs?

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      2. How do you view TFs freedoms? Personally, I think they restrict you a bit by controlling pricing, support, and paying you a lot less if you don’t sell exclusively with them.

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      3. support? It’s easy, most of case in support you can solve in 1-2 minutes, you can do what you want, of course it must meet some standards and requirements but you have freedom with item style, updates, you do what you want to do, I am on TF for over a year and it’s a dream job for me after many years of working with regular customers

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    2. I disagree that this is bad for the industry.

      Widely available, easily accessible and affordable entry themes like what you see on Themeforest were my first foray into the market. I quickly learned that I needed/wanted something quality. My wife’s business however runs just fine off a $70 theme with some CSS changes.

      Products created for the mass market vs. the professional / developer market are always going to have vastly different quality levels.

      Looking at it another way: We were all encouraged to raise our dev prices and rightfully so. Y’all didn’t think that all consumers were just going to pony up did you?

      I applaud anyone that creates a product that their market embraces. In this case, people that don’t know or don’t care about code quality and just want it to work.

      It’s a great debate and, if I may, it’s one they’re going to be talking about at Prestige Conf this weekend.

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      1. What it says about the theme market is there’s a gap, for an envato equivalent selling fully compliant products. If the pricing was comparable, envato would respond in kind to protect their market share.

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      2. Moz, the customer does not care / bother about compliance. If that was a marketplaces ‘differentiating factor’ it would fail in a day.

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      3. I was going to leave a similar comment.

        There’s clearly a “need” in the market and that’s why so many people are buying these themes… me included!

        Rather then being annoyed about, what’s seen as a poor offering, why not create something better, after all, buyers are already saying they want/need something like a BeTheme, X Theme, Bridge, The7, etc.

        This seems more like an opportunity rather then a problem.

        In just over a year, the x theme has sold over, 43,229.

        How is that not something that excites a developer…

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  2. It’s an interested representation of the numbers though. For example:

    50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $1,000 in a month.

    A good percentage of these themes receive, say $300 in month two and another $300 over the next few months. So $1,000 in a month is not really “every month for the next two years” or so. And for those $1600 total, they take 50% of the exclusive authors who have just started, and you probably have to declare the rest to the IRS (and pay the corresponding taxes). Given the rough review process, the packaging and of course the development itself, that doesn’t seem like a lot. And 50% of the people don’t receive that either.

    That said, while it’s probably the best place to sell WordPress themes if you don’t have any other marketing channels (and want to pay your rent/food), the quality standards are far away from “standards”, and the code reviews being implemented there don’t really cover the essentials – the hundreds of options, shortcodes, content types and other embedded plugins in the themes. And at that price point it’s not going to get any better.

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  3. I’d love to see a detailed investigation as to the actual components and code of one of ThemeForest’s best selling themes.

    Can we get Justin Tadlock on it? :)

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    1. I’d be willing to do an open, honest, and public theme review of any top-seller who wanted me to.

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      1. I would like to see an open, honest, and public theme review of the top 10 popular Multi-Purpose Themes: Avada, X Theme, Enfold, Bridge, The7, Salient, BeTheme, Jupiter, Brooklyn and Total. This would have a big impact on Envato and the theme authors. I’m willing to supply 2 themes + $200. Are there more guys who would like to join forces.

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      2. What if someone bought Avada, and then paid you and Emil to review/audit it with the stipulation that they could publish the results of the audit?

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      3. Ideally, I’d like to have the theme authors on board so that we’re actually helping them to improve, but that’s not necessarily a necessity.

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      4. I’ve asked Kriesi if he is interested for Enfold.

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      5. @Jeff
        That is what I’m saying: “I’m willing to supply 2 themes + $200. Are there more guys who would like to join forces.”

        @Justin
        It will encourage Envato to introduce more strict guidelines, it will encourage theme authors to improve their themes and it will give users a real transparency about the quality.

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      6. Just Tweeted to Theme Fusion about this, I also would like to have author on board as well.

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      7. Hi Justin,

        I remember your Themeforest experiment. It failed (in terms of sales) because while you are one of the most respected developers out there (At least I have deep respect for your work, learned so much from your blog / framework) you aren’t a designer.

        Do you know what would be great? To collaborate with a great theme designer, build a theme, provide solid documentation & support, sell it on Themeforest and show the world how it’s done.

        Can’t see the real value of a review for a top selling theme really. It will just gain more traction ending up with more sales. Even if the author accepts your precious feedback (they should be crazy not to) it’d be impossible to apply the changes without rewriting the whole theme from scratch. In other words, isn’t going to happen any soon.

        Themeforest should be treated as a feedback gold mine. Wouldn’t be great if WordPress core contributors and Themeforest sellers (even just those who sell 100% GPL products in there) sit on a table and discuss all things WordPress? Wouldn’t something substantial come out of this discussion?

        P.S I’m a WordPress theme designer, part of a 4-member team running a small WordPress themes shop outside Themeforest with a gross revenue of $400k/ year. We are also selling 5 niche themes (100% GPL, no bundled plugins) exclusively on Themeforest with a gross revenue of $70k / year. I’d be more than happy to work with you on a new experiment and donate all earnings for a noble cause like an event where elite Themeforest authors (even just the ones who sell 100% GPL themes/plugins) get to discuss with WordPress core contributors.

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      8. I remember your Themeforest experiment. It failed (in terms of sales) because while you are one of the most respected developers out there (At least I have deep respect for your work, learned so much from your blog / framework) you aren’t a designer.

        There are several factors determining sales. Then, there are additional factors in each microsystem such as ThemeForest. As a “non-designer”, I’ve managed to keep one of the oldest and longest running theme clubs in the WordPress ecosystem. Granted, I have teamed up with an awesome designer on some of the themes, but those are the least-downloaded themes I have available (except one). I honestly believe I’d do very well in sales with a few more offerings on TF. It’d take some time to build up my rep and learn the marketing angle, but I think I could do it.

        Do you know what would be great? To collaborate with a great theme designer, build a theme, provide solid documentation & support, sell it on Themeforest and show the world how it’s done.

        That would be great. Maybe it’s something to consider when I get the time to take on such a project. A single theme is a few months worth of work, which is not something I currently have time for.

        Can’t see the real value of a review for a top selling theme really. It will just gain more traction ending up with more sales. Even if the author accepts your precious feedback (they should be crazy not to) it’d be impossible to apply the changes without rewriting the whole theme from scratch. In other words, isn’t going to happen any soon.

        I don’t see more sales as a negative thing. That’s why I’d prefer to work with the theme authors. If we can help them code better themes, they deserve more sales.

        Well, that’d really depend on the theme itself. There’s nothing that Emil and I haven’t seen. I haven’t personally looked at the code of any of the current top 10, so they might be well coded.

        Themeforest should be treated as a feedback gold mine. Wouldn’t be great if WordPress core contributors and Themeforest sellers (even just those who sell 100% GPL products in there) sit on a table and discuss all things WordPress? Wouldn’t something substantial come out of this discussion?

        I think so.

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      9. Hey Justin,

        Personally, I would be honored to cooperate with you in a “public review” for our latest WordPress theme on ThemeForest called Voice. As a big fan of your work I guess it may come up really interesting. It is on top-seller page on ThemeForest for around the last 10 weeks in a row (since it has been released) so I guess it fits in your “top seller” criteria.

        On the other side, I’m concerned that it might not be a “proper” example because we avoid to do “all in one” themes and I think it will probably disappoint some people here which spread the bad voice about ThemeForest in spite of some very useful and well developed themes down there :) It’s “just” a highly flexible blog/magazine theme which also supports one of your great plugins – Entry Views.

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      10. Hi Bojan,

        We would gladly help!

        You can arrange a review from here: http://themereview.co/arranging-a-review/ I am not sure if this is a large theme or not, if so please select option #3.

        This would not be a public review, but if you wish to be that’s something that you guys can do on your own. I alone performed over 2600 reviews since 2010 http://goo.gl/wKoinP, just to add what Justin said, we’ve really seen everything :)

        P.S. Sarah, I used Google shortener because trac link is enormous and it would probably be broken.

        Thanks,
        Emil

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  4. On one hand I am well aware of headaches Envato generates as fast as their sales tick. I have always been for (thoughtful) standards application and adoption, it pains me when developers consider it a little to none priority.

    On other hand I think that treatment they are getting (lead by example from the very top by Matt personally) isn’t likely to get much reaction out of anyone other than warm suggestion to go… do bad things to yourself.

    We can chuckle and point fingers at bundled plugin monstrosities. But the reason those monstrosities exist include WordPress strategically for years disregarding need for third party infrastructure and dependency management. It’s telling that it has been priority so low, that even backwards compatibility was broken on related parts of core without a second thought.

    Want Envato to change? Stop offering them insults, start offering them solutions.

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    1. My thoughts exactly.

      Even JetPack is “bundling plugins” with their plugin just because it is easier and works around the whole dependency management issue they should actually be trying to solve.

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  5. One the one hand we have Jetpack being paraded as the only way for WordPress to continue to grow (because its a big all-in-one solution that is so easy to use) and on the other we have themes being ridiculed for trying to do the same.

    Both are making huge sums of money by following what the community generally considers bad practice.

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    1. Yes, but this blog is a WordPress mouthpiece, so you can’t criticise their plugin. We only bash Envato here.

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    2. An important difference here is that we’re talking about themes vs. plugins. Offering features isn’t a bad thing in itself. But it needs to be done in a way that best supports the user’s freedom to change themes or plugins.

      For example, some themes provide functionality that should be handled by a plugin. If a user installs and then changes one of these themes, they risk breaking or losing access to some of their content. This can end up locking users into themes that they outgrow or simply wish to change.

      On the other hand, Jetpack is theme independent. So you can go through different theme and plugin iterations without losing Jetpack’s functionality. This allows you to decide if the Jetpack plugin is worthwhile for your site, without necessarily locking you in.

      Full disclosure, I work for Automattic. But I just wanted to drop a note to share my thoughts on the comparison.

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      1. By having WordPress on a self hosted server the user by default has access to everything regardless of theme.

        The user may not have a ui to access it, but the data is not stored on another server nor do they need to be connected to another service to get access to any of that data.

        The argument presented for Jetpack is that we *need* it for WordPress to grow. Well if we depend on it so strongly then why could you not *need* a specific theme (for a specific purpose) and then change its styling through either a child theme or customization.

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  6. Envato/TheneForest is aware of how they are perceived in the WordPress develop your community and they are trying to clean up their image there. But I fear some of their efforts are misplaced.

    Envato wants to remain the top marketplace for WordPress products. There are two customer bases for what they offer: other developer and agencies, and regular business owners who want to build a website on their own.

    Here’s what’s dangerous about ThemeForest encouraging authors to position their themes as complete solutions. It gives business owners the impression that they will be 100% able to build their own website, by themselves, for 50 bucks. Of course I’ve yet to run into a single business owner who has pulled this off successfully without hiring a developer.

    The expectation is that setting up these (often horribly coded and documented) themes Will be a walk in the park. The business owner has their expectation anchored against the cost of the team. They are reluctant to spend any money hiring a developer. The vast majority of them would rather spend months fiddling with the theme on their own. Eventually they realize that they cannot do it by themselves and hire a developer. The price that developers quote back is a shock to them. This was not what they expected at all.

    Now they feel that word press the platform is difficult. They feel that all things are laborious and hard to set up. They also feel that WordPress developers are trying to scam them somehow, since there a theme cost so little, and developers cost so much in comparison.

    Positioning WordPress themes, by themselves, as complete solutions is bad for the overall ecosystem of WordPress.

    The other half of the equation are the WordPress developers that rely on ThemeForest to build client sites. Envato has a large selection and is convenient. It allows them to keep it more if there are margin and choose from a wider array of themes. The big problem here is most of these themes have security vulnerabilities, because theme authors are still encouraged to bundle endless amounts of plug-ins in their themes.

    But until the larger word press community stops buying themes at ThemeForest, nothing will change. No amount of community pressure will make Envato enforce better code standards. Not until we vote with our dollars.

    There are hundreds of dedicated theme shops with sustainable support models. We need to highlight more of those, and not rely on a single market place to be our largest provider of themes. There is a deep need for education even within the web development community about where themes can be purchased. Solve this problem, and the pressure will be on Envato to do something about their lenient code policies.

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  7. The subject of multi-purpose themes is one that’s a thorn in many areas of the community… including many other Envato Market authors.

    Laying entire blame (or responsibility) on Envato isn’t reasonable. The market is driven by buyers and Envato runs a relatively free market in that respect. So if there’s blame to be handed out, it should be towards the authors who are creating these beastly themes.

    If we’re going to continue to knock down Envato for independent WordPress developers creating poor products then you should also blame all of the other theme marketplaces.

    Let’s have more energy educating buyers and WordPress developers and less energy throwing mud, please.

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    1. The same thing happens at Mojo Themes.

      I’m not sure if Creative Market even has a review process or standards for themes.

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      1. Justin and I talked about this and that’s why I sent this Tweet https://twitter.com/emiluzelac/status/570665382865870848 to Aaron Epstein from Creative Market earlier today. Forward-thinking FTW :)

        Since we are talking marketplaces it’s worth mentioning that one of the oldest out there, Template Monster just joined WPORG with their first theme and went 100% GPL.

        I had a great pleasure of working with Helen from TM and help getting the GPL stuff done right and also to review their great theme, which was based on Underscores BTW.

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    2. Developers cant set their own prices on ThemeForest so the price decreases, theme dilution etc is all on them.

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    3. Envato takes a 50% cut to begin with, and that’s if you’re exclusive with them. At that rate, they are shouldering huge responsibility. It’s their marketplace, they are taking huge cuts for selling your work, they should take that much responsibility with the quality of the work.

      I’m not saying that developers and clients should not be educated more, by all means they should. But we can’t take blame away from a marketplace raking in cash when they could be doing more, but decide not to because of how much money they are making.

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  8. The whole thing is simple and accusing Envato of bad practices is bad – buyers want a multi-purpose themes, they want big and powerful themes, they buy them so the authors create them, for many authors here is simply rule “Adapt or leave”.

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  9. Had the official theme repository not sucked so badly for years (the themes there might have followed all the standards, but design-wise were very poor), maybe places like Envato wouldn’t be so popular now.

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  10. So as an end user perspective here, meaning I develop my own sites and reply on the words authors use to promote their themes. I do use Evanto but after reading a lot of the comments here who appear to have more knowledge than me in regard to the actual coding of the theme, you are all telling me most of themes there are poorly designed.

    And for other comments people are telling me themes on WordPress.org suck as well, so where does a little Guys go to find an honest theme developer who sticks behind his theme and keeps it up to-date so it does not fall over at at a major or maintenance update of WP itself.

    I don’t like bundled packages because the plug-ins are not the theme developers. In some cases you are not even able to get support for these packaged plug-ins.

    So all of you on both sides here – where are all these great themes and don’t tell me the official sites has them because I agree a lot of the themes held there really suck, as do the plug-ins. Not been updated in years, so why are they carried and not compatible with the current version of WordPress.

    I waste so much of my time trying to find authors who design according to standards given by WordPress, who stand behind their product whether it be a theme or plug-in and give the support they should, but this is becoming a nightmare to manage.

    How about less words, and more action by the bold and courageous and do something about these issues. Stop having meeting after meeting and stand on one side or the line or the other. Help me, help you and I will buy your products be the themes or plug-ins.

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    1. I will just add here, that I was going to buy avada, wont be happening now as none of you here give me any confidence that it is coded correctly and will continue to be supported.

      Do not care that it has 1,000 of buyers, all of you destroyed any faith I had in any product Evanto markets along with the other theme developers you mentioned and I wont be using Evanto again either.

      Words are powerful, they can either tear down or build up. Not saying one cannot critique some product as long as it is honest and has no hidden thought behind what they are doing and saying.

      From my perspective as a user if I am looking for a theme seldom do I use what is built into WordPress, I search the net for what I am looking. I do for the very reason I have mentioned above. Plug-in are a different story, I will search via WP admin but research the plug-in to see if it supported and the like before using it.

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    2. Ian,

      I recommend the Genesis framework. I bought in to their Pro Plan four years ago, which gives me access to every child theme they ever develop.

      It’s great fun to see new child themes come out and know they’re mine for the downloading.

      At first, I used the child themes as child themes – I’d pick one to start with, then make changes to colors and typography, then change a few things here and there to fit clients’ brands – and they’d have a site.

      Now I look to the new child themes as a fairly automatic way of knowing how design trends are changing, because I have met a whole lot of designers over the years whose styles ossified ten or twenty years after they started working. I don’t want to be one of them.

      The new child themes also come with new code, so I can see how folks do things.

      Plus, there’s a lot of stuff baked in to Genesis that I miss when I’m not using it … SEO, hooks and more.

      M

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      1. I love the Genesis framework and the company behind it. I also have the pro plan and love seeing new designs coming out…

        But, for me at least, the designs are quite plain and if you’re not a developer, the customization options are limited.

        That’s the appeal of these other themes, the BeTheme, X Theme, Bridge, The7, etc.

        They LOOK better.

        They may be coded more poorly, they may load slower, the support may not be as good as you’d get from the studiopress team, they may not meet WordPress best practices. (All of which, for a non technical person, or new to WordPress, you probably wont even think to look at when choosing a theme.)

        But to the buyer, they LOOK better. And they look like they’ll have more customization options.

        And, in all honestly, to the non technical person, they DO offer more/easier customization.

        In fact, to easily make changes on genesis, you need to get a plugin on top of the theme, such as http://my.studiopress.com/genesis-design-palette-pro/ or http://cobaltapps.com/dynamik-website-builder-pricing/.

        Something which nearly all new themes (theme forest and non theme forest themes) now include as a standard.

        And again, that’s the appeal of these themes on theme forest, they LOOK like they offer the same as the genesis framework, but, with easier/more options and at a cheaper price.

        But then again, I haven’t sold over 134,000 themes, so maybe I should just be quite ;)

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      2. Not at all. Those Themeforest themes DO look better, to the point that Ive been tempted to buy a couple just to see how they did something! (So I could then rebuild it in Genesis.)

        And I’m the last person who should be criticizing anyone’s poor code – I’m sure some of mine, anyway, would curl the hair of better devs!

        Lately I’ve come to realize that Genesis is for developers. The child themes are very nice and getting better all the time – but as you pointed out, there’s plenty of room for embellishment.

        That’s perfect for me: last Saturday, someone asked me why I liked Genesis so much, and my answers were all about how the files are organized – and how much I like the hooks and filters.

        So if a person isn’t willing to learn a little presentational php and a lot of css, I can agree: Genesis/StudioPress are going to be a long exercise in frustration.

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    3. @Ian, the thing is, you have to be prepared to do your homework to find good themes, whether free or commercial, just like you do with plugins.

      There are lots of excellent themes available free on wordpress.org. Many of the best are from commercial theme shops that offer additional features for paid versions. This approach helps me to have confidence in a theme author, because they have to understand how to meet the wordpress.org requirements, and how to meet GPL requirements, but they are also monetizing, which means they’re more likely to be able to support their products over the long term.

      There are quite a few well-established, independent theme shops. Most of them offer dozens of themes, so you between them you have a large selection of high quality free and commercial themes to choose from. Some that come to mind easily, in no particular order, are StudioPress, iThemes, Elegant Themes, Theme Foundry and CyberChimps.

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  11. some of the best selling themes have a horrible code base, tf should be refered to as nice design ugly code, if you look at avada, the best selling theme, going through the code is a nightmare

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  12. Can anyone suggest a marketplace doing it right, other than Genesis or the TM example already cited?

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  13. Hey Sarah,

    First, I better add the disclaimer that I work for Envato as Quality Team Leader for ThemeForest (and CodeCanyon).

    I’d just like to point out that themes available through ThemeForest normally do separate functionality into an accompanying plugin. I’ll use the Automotive theme as an example, as it seemed to be called out in the following paragraph:

    Several of the theme examples he showcases are packed full of functionality that belongs in plugins, i.e. automotive listings, filterable inventory, custom categories and taxonomies, etc

    On activation of the Automotive theme, it prompts the user to install an accompanying plugin called Automotive Listings (here is a screenshot). All the Custom Post Types and shortcodes, etc that are used by the theme are registered through this plugin. If a user changes themes later on, they don’t lose their data.

    Although technically not in the current submission requirements, we have been telling authors that they need to separate functionality into plugins since September 2013. For example, yesterday I responded to authors wanting to use a new framework, telling them we’d only accept those that install it as a plugin, not those that bake it in.

    There are some older themes (pre-Septemeber 2013) that don’t follow this yet, but it’s always been the intention to add this to the requirements. We’re hoping to update our requirements some time this year and we’ll be looking at ways to ensure old themes do adopt this.

    You’ll notice in the screenshot linked to above, that Automotive does recommend Revolution Slider. If the user chooses to install it, it will be installed as a normal plugin. When we talk about bundling plugins, this is actually what we mean (I find some people think the code will be baked into the theme).

    If a WordPress.org plugin is bundled with a theme, then it is no different to the user installing the plugin themeself (except it’s quicker). It shows up in the plugin screen and has access to any updates that come along etc.

    When commercial plugins are bundled, they are still installed as normal plugins, but whether they have access to updates or not will depend on the plugin in question. Some will have updates. Some will not. In Revolution Slider’s case, there were updates, but only if you have the full license (and this was the problem).

    We are still looking into changes aiming to fix this problem – it’s turned out to be more complex than I’d thought! But we’ll get there.

    If you have any questions about our current requirements, etc, I’d be more that happy to answer them. :)

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    1. Stephen,
      Thanks for the clarification. I think the confusion lies in the fact that the product doesn’t specify whether or not these features are offered via a separate plugin. Additionally, Chan’s article indicates that it’s included as part of the theme: “The theme includes a vehicle comparison page which makes it easy for customers to compare the price, look and value of two vehicles. This kind of niche-specific functionality is essential.” The larger issue is that the “theme” products are marketed as complete website solutions, so authors aren’t inclined to be transparent about what is part of the theme vs. what is included via plugins. Many times these plugins don’t work with other themes, so it’s not true data portability, just a super specialized plugin that will never work outside of using that theme.

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      1. Hey Sarah,

        You’ll probably find that 98% of buyers don’t care if it’s in a plugin or not, just that it does these things – so authors typically don’t waste marketing space on that distinction. Note: I’m not saying that’s wrong or right, just that’s what happens.

        As for data portability, I find real examples always best when I explain this (I sometime explain to authors why they need to put functionality into plugins instead of themes).

        Here’s a screentshot of that vechicle comparison page with the theme active: http://envato.d.pr/1diG2/2ztwCcCV
        Now here is the same page with the theme turned off (Twenty Twelve instead), but the plugin still on: http://envato.d.pr/tf4o/51lsiicu

        Okay, we have to clean up the menu, but the comparison table is still there, the data in the CPTs are still there. In fact, in this case, you could probably swap themes without too much of a drama.

        Of course, not everything always translates this nicely, but it’s much better than having all this functionality in the theme, which would leave it looking like this: http://envato.d.pr/193js/3xjyGeu2. Ergh… Yes, it means users have to keep running the plugin and they are locked into that, but there’s no way around that.

        I’m always going to advise theme authors to reuse an existing solution if there’s one available (for example, support WooCommerce instead of writing your own eCommerce functionality plugin), but if you need to create functionality yourself, then it has to go into a plugin. As far as I’m aware that’s best practice at the moment (although certainly not always perfect).

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      2. Stephen, thanks for that example. I have updated the post to clarify, based on your feedback.

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      3. Thanks Sarah,

        Though I’m not sure this reflects what I was saying:

        many of these top-selling themes offer accompanying plugins that are only compatible with that specific theme, a desperately myopic development practice rampant among Themeforest products that locks users into that theme/plugin package

        The screenshots I gave above show that the accompanying plugin *is* compatible with other themes. There is virtually no difference in the content between the original theme and Twenty Twelve.

        And far from being “a desperately myopic development practice”, putting functionality into plugins instead of themes is actually considered best practice.

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  14. Lots of energy on this post. Cool. I think @marybaum makes a good point. Start with a framework like Genesis, Headway or PageLines for your projects and you’ll have a little more stability, longevity and code quality (not to mention support). Data portability is still a challenge but at least with a framework, you can continue to iterate on the same base rather than reinventing the wheel every three months as a new trend or ‘must have’ theme comes along.

    I will also say that there are many amazing, high quality, well coded themes on Theme Forest. For designers/developers looking to build their business, Envato is a great incubator that gives them the freedom to generate revenue early, put food on the table and figure out how they’re going to be involved in the community.

    I’m also on the record as being for key functionality being kept in themes rather than hollowing them out in favour of some utopian function-free design.

    Articles like this keep the conversation going but the answer isn’t swinging from one side to the other but like all things, finding balance in the middle. Good design, well-coded core functionality and a vibrant add-on ecosystem, in my opinion, is the best of both worlds and the right way to go.

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  15. I’d guess that to at least 90% of those who venture to the Forest or Canyon, any “ugly” code is totally transparent.

    Envato is quickly turning into a sales site for a just a small group of Themes and Plugins with wannabees popping up daily, hoping to grab their piece of the over-hyped pie.

    As a code-illiterate user, I like (or liked) Envato. To wit – my list of purchased themes and plugins that have been abandoned.

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  16. Envato is one of the best things to happen to the WordPress ecosystem.

    One reason WordPress continues to be the platform-of-choice for more than 20% of the web is because anyone can build an awesome site for $58 – in large part thanks to products sold on Envato’s marketplaces.

    WPAllImport.com uses the Total theme from ThemeForest. I personally designed it in Visual Composer, a bundled plugin. I never thought I could design, but look at the site – It’s beautiful! It cost us $58 + a bit for customization.

    We use EDD to sell WP All Import, and the author of EDD got started on Envato. He’ll probably gross $1m+ in 2015.

    I think we use some graphics from GraphicRiver too.

    I don’t give a fuck what the “community” thinks a theme should be.

    I care what the USER thinks a theme should be.

    Don’t like “everything” themes? Don’t use them!

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  17. “All-in-one” themes are very inconvenient for users, especially for beginners. Billion settings, a lot of pages, dozens of plug-ins. I do not understand why users buy a headache for their own money.

    Over time such bulky monsters shall consign to the past, having freed the road to highly specialized, niche and simply themes.

    Versatility = congestion.

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  18. Great points about quality and standards.

    Still, the average person buying a theme looks at just a few things: price, the feature list, and maybe they’ll read some ratings. The end. :) They have no way to tell inner quality, so they will succumb to the utopian sales language. A hardcore geek may be able to deduce more than the newbie, but unless they get their hands on the code, they will also be in the dark, too, as to quality.

    People mostly respond to visuals, so if the theme is cute, it will sell, unless maybe it has horrendous ratings and no support.

    Even if the Themeforest oh-so-perfect and wonderful theme doesn’t do what the client wants and they have to hire me to fix or modify it (a common occurrence), the sale has still been made. So Themeforest wins anyway.

    I will say that the TF themes I see lately do seem to be better quality than before. And TF does have a big list of things they want you to have before your theme passes muster to be in there. But even the nicely coded ones are so gigantic that they’re hard to work on. (Hello Avada, One, etc.) Clients may be surprised to hear that it takes more hours to fix/modify their “perfect” theme than something leaner and meaner, whether it’s Genesis or something else.

    Dave

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  19. Bonus points for the typo on the Avada testimonial! Spelling is just so last century.

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  20. I’ve been searching for a new theme for weeks now and have perused hundreds of theme demos from around the web. It’s surprising to me how many buggy demos there are….and Themeforest are the king of buggy themes. I counted 7 blatant bugs in one popular theme alone. The author acknowledged the issues but has yet to fix them weeks later. It’s sadly all about quantity over quality with most theme providers.

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    1. Valid points. If people keep finding stuff they don’t like, they could go crazy theme shopping, when every theme’s sales language and promises are almost identical. :) And at the risk of sounding alarmist, it may send them away from WP. I used a whole bunch of systems before using WP, so I know there’s a big world out there.

      On the other hand, there’s a simple engineering principle that pervades much of this: the more features you put into a product, the more points of failure there may be. For some reason, people don’t accept or grasp this.

      To a degree, the theme developers are simply responding to the permanent “arms race” of features that customers are demanding. So quality will suffer, especially if people aren’t willing to pay for increased quality.

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      1. Well said Dave. Personally, I prefer simpler minimilist style themes. Some of my favorites (Expositio and Touchfolio) are no longer supported unfortunately. There are very few in that style being created.

        All of these aesthetic bells and whistles (fade in text sliders, % counters, animated effects, etc) on themes these days are definitely contributing to more site problems and slower load times…but yeah, based on sales, that’s apparently what most people want…so that’s what they get. Some quality control would be nice though…and I’m not seeing it in 99% of theme demos I view.

        I’m surprised there isn’t a theme provider out there who’s providing products that have it all (good aesthetics, attention to detail, minimalist styling, good support, and lots of features). As a buyer, it’s like you have to chose one benefit or the other.

        For example StudioPress gets rave reviews for their system and security, but their themes are quite lacking in the aesthetics or originality department in my opinion. Elegant Themes has great pricing but their themes are quite gaudy visually. Themeforest templates have plenty of options but they’ve become cookie cutter, buggy and bloated.

        If someone could provide the best of all worlds, I see no reason why folks wouldn’t pay $200 for a theme. I surely would, if I knew the support would be better and the code was cleaner.

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  21. Quality of themes/support is not problem of Themeforest. Tons of independent or dependent designers/developers make and sell junk with same level of support. Some of them are better with support, some with quality of code, some with design, almost nobody with all these.

    Majority of theme shops sell themes builded several years ago, many of them instead of developing just write blogs and do referrals for hosting companies …
    Price for theme is low and quality is on the same stage.

    How @needforname mentioned … I would pay $200 for quality theme, but these kind of themes does not exist.

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    1. Peter, you’re wrong…quality of themes is a huge problem on Themeforest. And I’m not just talking about older themes.

      I’ve literally perused hundreds of Themeforest themes, and at least 90% of them have had blatant bugs in their demos…on popular devices and major browsers. And these were issues I found in just a few minutes of exploring the demos. There’s no reason the developers (theme authors) shouldn’t be finding these before releasing. There’s a lack of quality control and it’s wasting everyone’s time.

      If you need examples, here you go: On my iPhone 5s, if I open the theme by NagaEmas titled “Helium”, and access the menu and try scrolling down, the menu disappears completely (in vertical and horizontal mode). I even tried a refresh. It’s not like I’m finding these problems on a 5 year old phone with a dated browser…it’s the world’s most popular mobile device with up-to-date software.

      Have a look at the “Ganymede” demo of the “Jupiter” theme by Artbees…a popular seller with high ratings. Two weeks ago I reported multiple problems with the theme. For example…flickering of social media icons as pages load, pages not loading on my tablet (unless I refresh each page)…with high speed connection and attempts over multiple hours (not a speed issue), poor text scaling when browser is condensed horizontally (see “about” page at around 10″ browser width), home page text displays off the page in the demo on my iphone 5s,

      Two weeks later and still no update with these issues. If this was my theme, the fixes would have been addressed immediately. So yeah, I’ll say it again…there is a huge problem with quality control on Themeforest. Those were just 2 examples of many. And these are some of the top sellers on the site.

      So yeah…if I could find a theme provider who had the best of all worlds, I would definitely be willing to pay a lot more for the peace of mind. If you can recommend any specific theme authors of consistent quality, I would love know who they are. I’m having a very difficult time finding any. Thanks.

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      1. I meant that low quality of themes are not only on Themeforest. I don’t care much about Themeforest, I don’t like it at all and I don’t use it and will not buy anything from there.

        Actually I use Make https://wordpress.org/themes/make/ on more sites, I like how its flexible and designed. Still prefer more lightweight themes, but did not find some at the same level.
        I hope some new quality theme shops will arrive soon.

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      2. Ah…thanks for the clarification. Yeah, I’d love to see some new shops arrive as well. I think there’s a huge opportunity for anyone who could combine quality, strong aesthetics, versatility and clutter free structure.

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      3. Hello there,

        Just to let you know after someone notified me about your comment here, I’ve already clarified the issue on your question on the item page :)

        Really sorry for that, but it’s not that the theme is not tested before releasing, but it’s not always possible to test it on different devices for authors like me, who handles everything all alone and do not have access to many devices.

        Many developers on ThemeForest have this theme business as the only source of income, so it’s not that we do not want to address the issue immediately but we also need to work on other themes to continue providing the best quality themes to our customers. I really do feel bad when a bug does not get resolved even after many people complained about it, really. But everyday we receive tons of support requests, emails and comments so sometimes updates get really delayed.

        Just for your info :)
        Thank you!

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  22. As the overall percentage of site owners nowadays are probably non-developers, they might simply want to get their WordPress site up and running by themselves, in as little time as possible. Which is exactly what ThemeForest themes (often) offer and deliver. If not, you “wasted” $50, maybe you can even get a refund. If not, stop crying and move on. Still less damage than to contract a dev/agency to develop on your new site from scratch, which you end up not liking.

    You can think about Avada whatever you want, but I look at the numbers and see a 2.5 year old theme, that is in active development, has 9.320 ratings with an average of 4.75/5 stars. And many Avada customers have probably switched themes after Avada. Thousands of them could have given a 1 star rating because of data portability issues. Yet the overall rating tells a different story.

    Yes, data portability is important, but if all the average theme customer can and wants to do is to upload a theme zip file, and is not concerned about (or aware of) data portability, than don’t blame the theme dev all day long for the fact, that (s)he is actually giving the customer what (s)he is asking for.

    After all: if getting your site, and for many people its their very first site, up and running, is the most important factor, when deciding which theme to purchase, then I can only quote Louis Reingold:

    I care what the USER thinks a theme should be. Don’t like “everything” themes? Don’t use them!

    Having a “100% Portable” badge or something like this next to each ThemeForest WP theme would at least help people, who consider this an important factor, to find such themes.

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  23. I also doubt that at this point any plugin that sets out to prevent a customer of the lock-in effect will gather enough momentum, to be of any significance and real help when it comes to switching themes. With hundreds of independent theme shops, it is extremely unlikely, that a customer switches to a new theme, that is build on this exact same plugin. Therefor WordPress is probably already way too widespread.

    How about a plugin that can export my otherwise locked-in data, and that has the functionality to create the CTPs, taxonomies etc. that I want to use again in my new theme?

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  24. This was a really good read (took a long time because I read most of the comments too). I’ve been following Theme Forest for many years and watched the progression, especially watching select authors that have been there a long time such as Kreisi. As a theme designer, I will admit seeing what kind of money you can make there is like being a kid in a candy store.

    Theme Forest is an enigma because when you see certain themes get crazy sales from the start and continue until you become like Enfold, The7, Avada, and several others, you sit there scratching your head trying to establish what is it that caused the sales to climb from the start. To say that the more features, the more plugins included, or simply being a multipurpose theme is not entirely accurate because most themes there are all those things. Still to this day I try to analyze what causes this phenomenon where certain themes generate millions of dollars. At this point in time, Avada has 117,107 sales ($6.8 Million). Avada was the first theme by the developer(s) and look at what happened in just 2.5 years.

    Theme Forest provides the WOW factor for the end-users. They see themes saturated with so many features, they are quick to buy. For the record, when you first see the theme demos, many do look amazing in visual effects, so why wouldn’t someone be enticed! Which is why the elite authors there are so happy if they reach the crazy sales that many achieve. Standards are not on their minds, only creating the wow factor is what is important….whatever it takes to make $$$$. The same goes for Envato, because they are running a business to make money and as much profit as they can get; one has to respect that.

    However, I have purchased a few themes over the last year or so, and I can definitely say that although the demo for the themes look amazing, their code is an absolute NIGHTMARE, even elite authors code (no names to be mentioned, but they are popular theme millionaires). If you want to make any custom changes, good luck with that. Even as a developer myself, I looked at the code and file/template structure of one theme in particular and I was thinking, OMG, forget it! As for standards? I yet to see a theme that would pass any review process from wp.org/wp.com ….The theme I tried out uses a popular page builder, so I wanted to see what happens if I used this theme then switched themes….long story short, it was a complete disaster. Here are some details about this one theme:

    • 19 CSS files loaded
    • 26 javascripts
    • And a mess of code – compliments of the Visual Composer page builder
    • Their widget columns, 6 nested containers for one text based widget.
    • Over 27,000 lines of CSS
    • The functions.php and the additional “includes” of other function files go well over 20,000 lines of code…the functions.php itself has 1800 lines of code.

    One thing to consider is how much support (if any) these TF theme authors are having to provide to their customers, because when you look at most of them, they are quite busy, and they have to provide several updates. That should tell you something right there.

    I’ve designed a lot of themes in the past, but I believe the way to go is to make them look amazing but to ensure code is “quality” and kept to the WP standards. The idea is to keep the non-developer end-users in mind so they can have themes that are scalable, flexible, stable, compatible, and capable of switching themes without discovering your pages and posts have psychedelic looking layouts and code showing up. Overall, most of the themes on TF are built for developers and not so much of the typical end-user who may want to make some custom changes.

    Envato is definitely making insane cash, but I would love to see them work side-by-side with WordPress to ensure standards are used and code quality is enforced. I will admit that some of the elite authors there are quite talented, but they use that talent to bloat their themes.

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  25. Guys,

    I am seriously considering going for creating WordPress themes. I know my way around it since version 2.3. I kinda lost touch over the last 3-4 years, but other than that, I seriously want to get back strongly on WordPress and create themes, maybe even plugins.

    My problem is that I don’t know what framework to use, because I will submit themes to ThemeForest. I appreciate reading this and going over the comments. It gives a different point of view. I do not want to end up making code compromises to create the next big selling, shiny thing.

    I have read about Bootstrap and Genesis. Genesis seems very rigid so far, Bootstrap looks really bloated. What are my chances of going with just a responsive CSS grid and then build my themes without any framework help? I don’t mind the hard work and learning curve. I just want to create WordPress solutions from technical and aesthetic points of view.

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    1. Hi Shack….never too late to get back into theme development. To be honest though, you do not have to use a framework because you can be successful without one. I use the front-end framework Bootstrap v3, but I only use the grid structure only; you do not need to use the whole thing. You of course, also have the option to do your own responsive layout.

      Regarding Theme Forest, that is of course an option for you, but you may want to consider making and providing themes on your own site too. Theme Forest reviewing is as I said, can be controversial and I estimate 1 in 10 themes submitted get approved. I would not make theme forest your primary job unless you have another source of income to depend on while you try them out.

      The other option in addition to building and providing themes from your own site is to look to the themes directory at WordPress.org and .com as well (which is temporarily closed to new submissions). I’ve been doing this method for several years now and it’s worked well after I left Theme Forest.

      Start off by reviewing the newer updated theme development and theme guidelines at wordpress.org before you begin. Remember too, that just because many other theme authors, even those on Theme Forest, use frameworks and load everything in, including the kitchen sink, don’t feel like you have to. One thing to create success is to come up with something new and different, yet easy for the end-user to work with.

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      1. Hey Andre,

        Thanks for your reply.
        I’m definitely not going to use Envato as my main source income, because so far I’m freelancing on graphic/web design which is working really well for me. I’m looking to get into WordPress because I have a passion for it and I really miss the days when I was fiddling with code on 2.3 version, trying to get my theme look like I wanted in CSS, PHP, HTML and so on.
        That experience was what kept me coming back for more and optimize my theme.

        I remember going over hundreds of free themes until I found one that I liked, so that’s why I want to get into business. I want to provide themes that are focused on certain niches, while having a quality code, no extra dozens of features like on Themeforest.

        I’m looking to sell on Themeforest because of the large marketplace and yes, it’s about money too. If there is one place where you can get some passive income, Themeforest is a good place to go.

        I was also looking into underscores framework and it seems interesting so far.
        Anyway, is there a place besides WordPress Codex and WP Tavern where I can read (something like a blog) about how to keep my theme on WordPress standards and practices like building plugins instead of integrating everything into functions.php?

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      2. Good planning and especially having the passion for WordPress.As for Underscores, technically it’s not a framework, but more of a starter theme that you modify and use as a foundation…which I use myself. It’s a good starting point though.

        As for WordPress standards, it’s best to get that from the Codex because you are getting it right from the source. Using the underscores is also a jump on standards. I kind of wish I had my blog tutorials up and running on my site because this is what I plan on doing with my new site Shaped Pixels (technically my 3rd site), but for other sites, wpbeginner is a possibility, but I would say start here: http://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Lessons

        Regarding Theme Forest, it sounds like you want to try that out on the side, so that is a smart decision and to give it time to see how things go. I’d also consider reviewing their licenses thoroughly, but please note that if you plan to have your themes on the WordPress site theme directory, your themes will need to be 100% GPL.

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  26. I neither use Themeforest – I have not analyzed the code of the themes which are offered over there, but I do not like the licensing which is offered by TF and personally I dont like Themes which offers 100 different features where from 80% are not needed.

    Here in Germany a lot of Bloggers use the themes from http://www.elmastudio.de/en/ – The themes are minimalistic, decent priced and I would say properly coded. Maybe this is something for you guys as well.

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  27. I Will definitely prefer Envato over any other market place. I know a person who lives in my city (I belong to a poor south east Asian country) and he has already made 1 million dollars in 12 months by selling just one theme on themeforest. His theme is really good and innovative. Besides, this 1 million dollars in my local currency is a huge sum and a person can already retire after earning that much. :)

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  28. This was a very interesting discussion so far. Can anyone provide alternative marketplaces to envato where we can find high quality themes which are thoroughly tested?

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