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.

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