Last year at this time, Justin Tadlock announced that he would be conducting an experiment on ThemeForest. The goal of the experiment was to see if it was possible to get other theme authors to write better code and enable better compatibility with the thousands of other themes and plugins for WordPress. Justin has now published the results of that experiment.
Instead of preaching from the outside, Justin created a theme that passed the Theme Review team guidelines which not many ThemeForest themes can claim. It was everything a seasoned developer would want. Without any marketing other than his announcement post, he generated $2,017.50 from 99 sales. There are a number of other things Justin mentions in the post that I highly encourage you to read, especially if you’re thinking about selling themes on ThemeForest.
From a consumer standpoint, Justin’s experiment proves how important it is to pick the right theme that won’t lock you in. I can’t imagine the common user knowing about shortcodes, post types, etc and factoring those into their decision on which theme to buy. As has been the case for a long time, choosing themes is like walking down the street looking at each storefront window to see which one looks best. Between all these dependencies with shortcodes, etc. someone could really screw themselves by investing time and money into a theme that does everything wrong.
I think Justin should be commended for trying to change the attitude and culture from within but unless the culture is changed at the top of ThemeForest both on staff and the top theme sellers, this is just a problem that will be compounded in the future. It’s also disappointing to see sellers skirting the rules by recreating the same problem using a different method. Two major changes that have taken place during the experiment include the ability to select a 100% GPL license and revamped theme submission requirements. While Justin can’t be solely attributed to these changes, his influence and involvement within the conversations helped get these two items to become a reality.
A Video And A Question For You
Justin linked to a video within his post that I found very interesting. It’s a presentation by Brandon Ryan Jones: The Anarchist And The Patriot from WordCamp Los Angeles 2011. Despite being two years old, much of what Brandon talks about is still relevant. If you haven’t watched it yet, the actual presentation is about 20 minutes in length with the second half dedicated to questions.
After watching the presentation video including the questions segment, I thought the most interesting question asked from the audience with respect to the overall theme of the presentation was “How do I differentiate myself from the next guy on ThemeForest?” if not having one more cool slider, or 1 more extra color is not the answer. I posed this question to Justin Tadlock in which he replied:
That’s actually the toughest of all questions in business, right? It’s not just on ThemeForest or with WordPress theme companies in general.
How do I differentiate myself from the other guys?
If I had the answer to that, I’d probably be wealthy enough to pay a gardener to cut my grass, a maid to clean my house, and a farmer to clean out my chicken coop. But, I don’t. I suppose it just comes down to working hard, continuing to educate yourself in your field, and trying new things. Comment From Justin Tadlock – The ThemeForest Experiment One Year Later
Looking at that slide, I will ask you the same question I asked Justin. How do I differentiate myself from the next guy on ThemeForest? If adding a slider other themes don’t have or 10 more color schemes is not the answer, what is? I think Justin’s follow-up experiment with separating plugin and theme functionality is a partial answer to the question. If we could get to a place where there are a set of standard or canonical plugins for ThemeForest authors to use for Portfolios, forms, grids, tabs, accordions, etc. and they could just concentrate on creating beautiful presentations around those components, I think we’d be in a better position. The biggest challenge Justin faces is getting ThemeForest authors to adopt these plugins instead of doing things on their own.
While I did focus my experiment on ThemeForest, the plugins I’ve built and those that I plan to build I think would be better for all theme authors and, by extension, users. If we can get some folks to adopt a few standards, it’d be great.
On the specific example of portfolios, I know I had mentioned the same issue to Brian Gardner at StudioPress last year because they were adding the post type to a theme. I don’t know if that’s changed since then.
So, this isn’t necessarily a ThemeForest-specific problem. It’s just more prevalent there.
It makes sense to adopt standard plugins from a theme development point of view. There’s less code work. You can just focus on the markup and design. Your users get updates without having to update their theme. Users’ content doesn’t disappear from the admin when they switch themes.
The two best plugin examples to me are WooCommerce and bbPress. WooCommerce already does this with products. bbPress already does this with forums. How many themes do you see with built-in products or built-in forums? Theme authors have adopted these plugins as the standards to build from. We need to continue down the path that these plugins have paved.