WordPress.com Formally Opens Its Marketplace to Theme Developers

In 2011, WordPress.com began offering commercial themes to its users. The service now has 105 commercial themes to choose from. In order to sell themes on WordPress.com, you either had to be invited or reach out to Automattic. Those days are over now that they have launched a new landing page for theme sellers interested in tapping into the WordPress.com market.

WordPress.com is a huge market and considering there are less than 300 themes in total to choose from, now seems like the perfect time to get involved. It’s hard to say how much income commercial theme sellers have made selling on WordPress.com since the sales figures are not publicly available.

105 Premium Themes Available On WordPress.com
105 Premium Themes Available On WordPress.com

I reached out to two companies selling themes on WordPress.com to see how well they’re doing and what advice they have for those looking to join the WordPress.com marketplace.

UpThemes Experiences Exponential Growth

Since UpThemes relaunched, three of their four themes available are sold on WordPress.com. Chris Wallace, founder of UpThemes told me WordPress.com is its largest source of income. The company has experience exponential growth since launching its latest theme, Photolia, in December of last year.

Photolia By UpThemes
Photolia By UpThemes

When UpThemes published its open letter to the community back in February, one thing was clear. The company would no longer create themes filled with options, shortcodes, and sliders. The open letter was the company’s renewed commitment to keeping things simple. As it turns out, their new focus on simplicity is aligned with how themes are created on WordPress.com.

When we relaunched UpThemes, one of the main goals was to make it extremely easy to get up and running with our themes. WordPress.com lines up perfectly with that strategy. It allows us to sell, distribute, and update our themes very easily, ensuring that all customers are running the current version of each theme and have not made destructive changes that would render future updates unusable. This is the absolute best scenario for both our customers and our team.

Yumblog On WordPress.com By UpThemes
Yumblog On WordPress.com By UpThemes

I asked Wallace what advice does he have for theme authors wanting to sell themes on WordPress.com. He said, “You should bring your best design skills because these premium themes can’t be overblown with shortcodes, widgets, custom post types, and option frameworks.”

Themes on WordPress.com don’t have the luxury of having a million options and according to Wallace, customers don’t want those types of themes, “Bloggers don’t care about options, they care about getting noticed and making an impact. They don’t need 40 alternate homepage templates, they need a theme that makes a bold statement and works flawlessly”.

Wallace is excited to see the marketplace open up and wants to see more theme authors join in. “I look forward to seeing more theme authors jump on board with WordPress.com because it would validate our thought that simplicity is the correct path for themes in 2014”.

MH Themes Has A Positive Impact On Sales

Michael Hebenstreit is the founder of MHThemes.com, a company with the goal of creating magazine type themes which are suitable for News Websites, Online Magazines and other editorial Projects. MH Themes only sells one theme on WordPress.com called MH Magazine but Hebenstreit told me it’s done very well for the company.

MH Magazine by MH Themes
MH Magazine by MH Themes

He said, “Selling on WordPress.com has had a positive impact on theme sales”. Since WordPress.com only has 250 themes available with 105 being commercial, it’s more likely users will notice a commercial theme. When asked how difficult it was to join, Hebenstreit replied, “The team behind WordPress.com is amazing, provide great support and do their best to help you launch your theme on WordPress.com.”
Hebenstreit offers this advice to new sellers:

My advice to potential theme sellers on WordPress.com is to provide something unique which isn’t available yet. Due to the fact that there currently are not many themes available, unique items are still possible and will sell better.

It’s Not As Hard As You Think To Sell Themes On WordPress.com

Sami Keijonen who runs FoxnetThemes.com recently published his story describing what it was like to go through the process of becoming a theme seller on WordPress.com. There are a lot of interesting tidbits from his story such as what’s discouraged from being used:

  • CSS Frameworks
  • Theme Frameworks
  • Shortcodes
  • Widgets
  • Custom post types
  • Metaboxes

He also includes some educational information on how to properly escape strings, remove defaults, and using the theme customizer. While I initially thought it would be difficult to sell a theme on WordPress.com, Keijonen’s experience proves it’s not as hard as I thought.

Advice From An Automattic Theme Wrangler

I asked Automattic Theme Wrangler, Ian Stewart, what advice would he tell sellers before submitting an application. He said “We’re looking for amazingly beautiful themes inside and out. My advice on getting there is to start with _s and make it easy for WordPress users to understand your theme.”

A Starter Theme Created by Automattic
A Starter Theme Created by Automattic

_s is short for Underscores, a WordPress starter theme created by Automattic that is the foundation of every theme built on WordPress.com. While basing your theme on Underscores may raise the odds of being selected to be part of the WordPress.com marketplace, it’s not a requirement.

Open Registration Will Hasten The Trend Of Simplifying Themes

During the past few months, we’ve written about the trend of WordPress theme authors creating simpler themes without locking users in through the use of shortcodes, custom post types, etc. These are the types of themes perfectly suited to be sold on WordPress.com. Opening registration will hasten the trend of which the entire WordPress community will benefit.

ThemeForest and WordPress.com Have A Potential Customer Base That Is Unmatched

One of the biggest reasons theme authors use ThemeForest is the size of its audience. Until now, it was the place to go to sell themes to the widest possible audience. Since WordPress.com hosts over 76 million websites,  that’s 76 million potential customers all in one place. However, nothing stops sellers from utilizing both marketplaces as WordPress.com requires no exclusivity to sell on its platform.

ThemeForest and WordPress.com give sellers the chance to have their products in front of millions of people. This is an audience that even the most popular commercial theme companies can’t match. In fact, companies like StudioPress, The Theme Foundry, and WooThemes are already benefiting from being listed on WordPress.com.

I encourage you to submit your request to WordPress.com. There are few opportunities to sell WordPress themes to a relevant audience of millions without having a huge marketing campaign. Currently, commercial theme authors would be competing against less than 300 themes. Since sellers can determine the price and keep 50% of the sale, not doing so seems like it wouldn’t make much sense.

If selling themes is not your cup of tea, consider putting in a job application to be a theme wrangler for Automattic. They’re hiring.

27 Comments


  1. I’m confused, the join page required the theme shop URL. Does this mean that individuals with no theme shop can’t submit their theme to be marketed on WordPress.com?

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    1. You should be a “shop” in the sense that you’re ready to support and maintain a theme for your users. That said, I changed the form to read “Your home on the web”.

      When are you contacting us? :)

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  2. I’m still building the theme and hoping to submit it for review relatively soon. So the field supposed to be a specific URL to theme page details?

    Since I am supposed to be “ready to support and maintain a theme for your users”, so basically I need to provide a working URL to the theme with all details, support form etc?

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    1. Just “your home on the web”. It could be your theme shop site (for a lot of theme providers) or your blog. Probably not your twitter or facebook profile. :)

      It sounds like you’re still getting started. Contact us when you’re ready and we’ll take it from there.

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  3. Thanks for the article!

    I still think it’s really really hard to sell any of your products. But putting it out the different marketplaces is lot easier as WordPress.com now opened up. Oh well, creative market invite has been pending like a year:)

    I’d like to add couple of extra notes on the subject. We chatted with Marc from Obox Theme and we hope that quality stays top notch and reviewing process won’t get overload as in WP.org sometimes.

    There should be some quidelines also. You should have at least one theme on WordPress.org before you can try to send theme in WP.com. It’s crucial that you already know how theme review guidelines work and know how to make solid themes. Perhaps you should be even listed in WP.org commercial themes so that already are serious about creating themes.

    I hope that quality stays top notch and reviewing process won’t get overload as in WP.org sometimes. I also updated my post with questions and answers what I had in mind before submitting my theme. I hope it clears things for some people.

    – Yes you can have demo site on WP.com and you can manage the content. Actually you also get sandbox demo site which is pretty cool because you can test all the toys and whistles before they go live.

    – You can set the price of a theme. You’ll get 50% and we get 50%.

    – We use SVN for sending theme files. First we use review repo, and then live repo.

    – We have themerlobby (for themers only) blog where we update all the important things happening in WP.com theming.

    – You should participate in our support forum.

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  4. Our strategy at Obox has always to be on as many marketplaces as possible. Themeforest and WordPress.com do stand out though and in terms of revenue per-theme, WordPress.com is mega.

    We all knew that at some point WP.com would open the flood gates, it had to happen as this industry is simply too lucrative to turn your back on.

    That being said, I too hope that the high coding standards that are expected of WP devs remain. Their reviews of our themes have been a huge lesson for my team and everything we apply to our .com versions eventually filter down to our Themeforest/Obox versions.

    To those of you who are new to the marketplace, I wish you all the best! :)

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  5. What the reasoning behind not allowing the use of css frameworks?

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    1. They can be OK if they’re licensed correctly but they also might slow down a review of your theme. We don’t encourage the use of them.

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      1. This post, and the one over on Foxnet, state that css frameworks are not allowed.

        For the sake of clarity, could you state if it’s ok for themes to use Bootstrap or Foundation – both of which are released under an MIT license (which is GPL compatible)?

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      2. “Options or CSS frameworks: in general, we won’t accept frameworks or libraries”. No big deal but this should be said in other words in WP.com then.

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  6. I have a few theme ideas, almost realised. I’ll submit them in the next week or so. I started designing / developing on underscores, as soon as I read Sami’s blog post. This will be big and I want in early!

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  7. Great article Jeff.
    So if my themes look good and adheres to all the standards set It’ll be accepted? I know a certain popular marketplace that has a very secretive review process.
    I believe opening up the shop to more developers will definitely improve the coding standards in the community and reduce theme feature overload that we’ve seen over the recent years.

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  8. Great article! I’m happy to see that more and more theme shops make the right choice and start developing good looking themes without the features madness. I have a question tho. How is possible to keep the content portable between themes if some of them use custom page builders? Take a look at this one for example: http://theme.wordpress.com/themes/basis/

    I really like the flexibility that page builders give you… but isn’t that one of the reasons why most of us don’t like Themeforest themes? (The garbage code it leaves after you switch themes)

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    1. Basis doesn’t leave any garbage code behind you when you switch themes. You don’t lose your content but naturally lose your styles and content layout.

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      1. That makes perfect sense. I thought for a second that their page builder was using custom shortcodes, like Visual Composer does… but basically, it is simply creating completely valid HTML code and doesn’t leave any garbage when the user switch the theme. Awesome!

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  9. Hi all,

    Very informative article, and the one the brought me to WP Tavern for the first time! My partner and I are dipping our toes into the WP theme business and have become a little disillusioned with ThemeForest – it seems, as others have noted, that they favour themes with hundreds of options over themes that offer simplicity first.

    We’re happy to hear the WordPress has opened their doors to all developers now, as we have a theme that’s just about ready to go, although after reading this post it seems I (being the developer half of the team) will have a few tweaks to make.

    I see the WP suggests using _s as a starter theme – I used a starter theme called Quark to build our theme, and I was wondering if this isn’t a big deal or if it’s worth rewriting the code in _s?

    My second question is: is it considered appropriate for me to link to our finished site design here for feedback before submitting to WP? It would be great to deal with any design issues the community here might find before sending if off to WP.

    Thanks in advance!

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  10. I think that WordPress.com did a major step forward and that this will popularize simple themes. End users shouldn’t be playing designers, they should spend 10 minutes customizing their website and be able to immediately start publishing.

    Does anyone know what payment gateways WordPress.com offers to theme sellers?

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      1. Thank you so much, Sami.

        I enjoyed reading your “Becoming a theme author in WordPress.com” article and the experiment you’re running with Mina Olen. It seems that no matter what quality the code or design is, it’s endless features and a lot of marketing that sells a WordPress product (which is a shame).

        I suppose WordPress community has to work a lot more on educating end-users.

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      2. You’re welcome!

        You’re right that selling a WordPress product (theme or plugin) is a lot harder than creating one. But there are lot’s of benefits creating public themes even if those don’t bring food to the table.

        1. You really learn how to do it right. Others can review your code and you’ll get better over time.
        2. You get customer work more easily.
        3. You can do custom themes a lot faster for customer. Sometimes child theme is enough.
        4. It’s still kind of fun. At the moment it stops feeling good I’ll start doing something else.

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      3. Those are all valid and noble reasons.

        Having a portfolio with several good WordPress themes is a great thing if you’re serious about the work and want to establish yourself in the WordPress community.

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  11. I’m not sure I understand the avoidance of CSS frameworks. I’m currently using Mystile theme from WooThemes and it’s pretty good, one of their few free and responsive themes. But I miss Foundation Framework. When I try to change the header and footer, quickly the layout falls apart. It’s very hard to change a responsive theme that is not based on a framework. You may be searching far and wide to find the CSS applicable to an area of the site, and to understand the logic behind the responsive features is nearly impossible. Personally I’d always prefer either Foundation or another responsive framework as it would make swapping areas much easier. Yes I can imagine if you make a theme dependent on a framework then only developers familiar with it will want to buy it. Yet I’d rather make a product easy to use by a few, then a product that is difficult to use for everyone or that has a sharp learning curve. Perhaps the question is how often do buyers of themes either create a child theme or want to change the layout of the main areas?

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    1. It’s very hard to change a responsive theme that is not based on a framework.

      I completely disagree. It’s just CSS.

      But I don’t think you should even try to do big changes in parent theme layout structure. It gets harder and harder to maintain parent/child theme relationship.

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      1. To better illustrate my point, if I am working with a framework and I want to change the layout of a given row using for instance Foundation, I can simply read the classes applied and change them or replace them. For instance if I see “large-4” and “large-8” which means a 4-column followed by 8-column grid in a row, it would be easy to change that to “large-6” and “large-6” making two even columns, or I could reverse the original order the classes are used in to move a sidebar to the right instead of the left. In contrast, without a framework, that same change may require reading 500 lines of CSS in order to identify the way in which a sidebar has been floated, to find out how the row has been cleared, to find out what logic is holding it all together. The code applicable may be found in as many as 20 different locations in the style sheets broken down according to what area of the template it applies to, or different media queries. And possibly, it will take 10, maybe 20 experiments with different CSS or different div placements to find a solution to the same problem I described above. I might find for instance that a certain column is created by a class that reads “width: 70%; max-width: 750px;” but when I change those values, the layout breaks and now the search begins for what other changes need to be made to keep the layout held together.

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