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.
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.
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.