WPWeekly Episode 184 – Inside Envato With Stephen Cronin and Will Herring

Marcus Couch and I are joined by Stephen Cronin and William Herring of Envato to discuss ThemeForest, Envato, WordPress themes, and several other topics. We discover how ThemeForest reviews themes and discuss what the company is doing to improve the quality of themes sold on its marketplace. After the interview, we cover the news and wrap up the show with the plugin picks of the week.

Stories Discussed:

WordPress 4.2 Beta 1 Now Available for Testing
Pods Framework Security Release Fixes Severe Vulnerability
Tidy Repo Launches WordPress Plugin Recommendation Service
Jetpack 3.4 Adds Protection Against Brute Force Attacks

Plugins Picked By Marcus:

TEXT2SPEECH allows you to automatically transform any text to an HTML5 MP3 player where Google voice will read it.

Equal Height Columns lets you easily equalize the height of various columns and elements.

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Next Episode: Wednesday, March 25th 9:30 P.M. Eastern

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6 responses to “WPWeekly Episode 184 – Inside Envato With Stephen Cronin and Will Herring”

  1. I’d like to know what TF themes Marcus thinks are adequate enough to refer people to, since he mentioned this once or twice in the show. I’m willing to believe there are some TF themes that are possibly on par with the best non-TF themes, but frankly I’m skeptical. I have only ever worked with TF themes when forced to, in order to bail out or support an existing site that was always bad for all the reasons you mention in this episode. I’m not surprised to learn someone was selling a TF theme that relied on the deprecated Google Maps 2.0 API only days before Google finally shut it down, and then the theme vendor never issued an update.

  2. Why are people so critical of Theme Forest?

    IMO, it’s at least in good part because a lot of designers/developers would much rather charge a client $thousands than for them to pick a pre-made theme. (and especially on the design side, some of these same people also recommend not upgrading WordPress because doing so breaks things… eekkk!)

    And, then there is Marcus’ experience of having a theme developer stop support or have poor support (yes, that happened to me on my first pick too many years ago, and after that I did a lot more investigation of support, history, etc.).

    And then, yes, there are a lot of not-so-great themes on there. But, it’s kind of your job (if you’re helping a client) to pick something good with a good support track record as the starting point. I suppose you can’t always figure that out, but you can get a pretty good idea with a bit of digging.

    Dan, just curious, but what non-TF themes are you recommending?

    • I don’t think you’d see the same resentment of ThemeForest if they undercut designers and developers but with high quality work. What would there be to say then that’s not just sour grapes? There has long been a great deal of frustration with TF for many things other than their pricing. A common complaint and one I share myself is that TF sends me clients who have set up with a TF theme and then need it fixed, maintained, and eventually replaced. It’s not exactly fun work, but it’s not terrible either. It’s just frustrating to have to work backwards and undo the unrealistic expectations, bad assumptions, and poor habits TF themes typically establish in their clientele.

      You see to be assuming that TF is a good place to start when you are in the market for a new theme, and that it’s a good place to go for themes you might use for client work. I disagree. I think this would be widely regarded as not only a bad idea but less than professional unless you are relying on a very short list of known good sources of themes on TF.

      I have not commented here to recommend themes, but if you would like some recommendations feel free to contact me privately.

      • Hey Dan,

        That’s an entire industry problem, though, not just a ThemeForest problem. A *lot* of websites are just built and then abandoned to a problematic future. It’s more a problem of lack of support and knowledge (not just technical, but about what a website is and how to use it!), TF or not. But, I think there is some sour-grapes too.

        As mentioned, I just left some comments in response to a popular designer’s podcast a couple weeks ago, where they recommended not upgrading WordPress and plugins, because doing so often breaks things – and they’ve poked fun of TF and off-the-shelf themes as well. How many custom-designed themes are in the same boat? At least TF provides incentive to keep themes up-to-date.

        And, what about SquareSpace or Wix? Similar problem with setting expectations with clients, yet this is where many people start. And, apart from them running across you or I first, it might not be a terrible starting place. ;) (They could certainly do worse.)

        So, for WordPress developers, ThemeForest is a good resource, and for people creating a WordPress site, I think it is as well… with the caveat that you shouldn’t pick just any TF theme and go. Hopefully clients do some homework when picking TF themes, just like they’d have to do when picking a WordPress developer, or they’ll likely be in the same boat. TF is a marketplace and quality will vary.

        re: recommendations – I was just curious as I’m only aware of a few things I’d consider outside TF as well (ie: Genesis). Whether from TF or elsewhere, I think something more akin to a theme framework by a team supporting it is a good idea, or yes, a theme developer who has a good track-record of updating their theme(s) over a long period of time.

        If you do a good job of reading the change log and support threads on TF, you can usually get a good idea. I don’t recommend custom designs that get turned over to a client, and for that matter, custom designs at all unless the client has relatively deep pockets and maintains a relationship with the developer.

        • I wasn’t commenting on abandoned sites or people who get in too deep and can’t adequately support what they build. I was describing people who start with the kind of shoddy theme that has been virtually unique to ThemeForest: plugin functionality and content types are baked into it, possibly along with insecure and inefficient code and a refusal to use WordPress’ automatic update capabilities in an appropriate way.

          The changelog/frequency of updates is immaterial because the end user/victim of this kind of theme is having a trap sprung on them. Even if they are tuned in enough to the WordPress way to create a child theme (which is rare and has not been emphasized at TF), they’ve still got a theme they can’t easily leave if they fill it with a lot of content. So even if they do progress up the learning curve and want to do things better, that’s going to be way more costly and difficult than it would be otherwise. This wouldn’t have happened if they had gone almost anywhere else for a theme, even one that’s far from the cream of the crop. Worst of all, if they did not set up a child theme for their settings and changes (which is typical), then they cannot run updates from their TF source safely. This is the typical scenario TF themes have generated. I think things are improving somewhat, but this is still the prevailing pattern.

          For all these reasons and more TF is *not* a good place for anyone to get themes, least of all a “developer.” If you’re letting client “choose themes” from TF or anywhere they want, I think that’s a mistake unless they cannot be reasoned with on this but are not unreasonable people, and you wish to work with them. Why would you do this? Because they have worthy goals, a viable business, and they are not paying bottom of the market prices. Probably they are hiring you primarily to help them achieve some business goals — not just deliver “web design” services for “a website” in exchange for a fee and after that the relationship is over. If you find yourself in this position you can explain the drawbacks, hold your nose, mitigate the technical problems, and plan ahead for the future redesign.

          I definitely don’t recommend doing custom work and then leaving it to the client to support unless they have people capable of doing that. You should stay involved or it may come back to you (or someone else) in unpleasant circumstances. An ongoing relationship doesn’t require “deep pockets” if the client is a profitable business. Here’s a good example of how this can be done well: http://controlyours.com/

          Have you taken a look at Layers from oBox? It sounds right up your alley — a well-made “builder” theme with many customization features done right and well. You’d use it as a base “framework,” and child themes for it can be sold by anyone — the first crop of them is available now in a special section of ThemeForest.

  3. Hey Dan,

    I agree and disagree (classic) :)

    Indeed yes, I had to recently work on a theme for a friend that he bought from TF. Miserable code is not the word for it. I ran a view source through the W3C Validation gizmo, its not surprising to see errors, but over 1300?

    Buckets of plugins installed and alot of theme did not come from the theme but from WP.Org.

    Div’s inside span elements, I could go on and on.

    I dont hammer on TF because of this, I mean, hey, Template Monster had same issues and never took any responsibility for much anything, TF does and they really dont have to, in fact, from a more legal end of it any service offering third party sales actually can have issues “by” intervening in commerce.

    On yet another side of this, if things were not GPL then commercial .vs. not is partitioned appropriately. Those that do things out of their good graces do so, those that have commercial interests do things their way and things are happily partitioned inbetween. Microsoft has both, Adobe has both, Apple has both, Oracle has both and it works.

    For whatever reasons in Open Source the two often collide and its not the users that cause the collisions, its the developers and core application end.

    Here’s what happening in Joom. They went GPL required sorta basically. They cited reason as “in the spirit of open source” basically. The real reason (fact) was because the commercial people were capitalizing and producing the “best stuff”. That injured those others who all basically cried “why would we bother to produce GPL stuff when clearly the project is sorta being taken over by these commercial interests”. Valid? Not? Truth being truth, All being GPL benefited Joomla before anyone else. Commercial entities which ioncube and protect their work. But “as long as someone is using it, thats one more operation under wing”. In other words stated reason was not fully quantified and primary reason was more users of the application.

    Yet, as I said, there are lots and lots of commercial operations that happily have commercial and open source exist happily together. A user will always go, “Free is good”.

    As you noted, how many webmasters with WP couldnt code a lick. So why should they care if they have access to code or whether its ioncubed for example?

    Just as many GPL developers get upset when they see their stuff included in say themes where someone else is making money and they get a whopping zero. But then in the same sentence will whatall, run a client firm building webs for others, getting paid, using others work and they too see no royalty. Yes, they do take care of their clients but not for free.

    Perhaps the right solution is Envato spawn a new WP Forest and through it begin “proper teaching” to webmasters where they can learn more about how to take care of their webs and charge for it based on a subscription. So webmasters or new developers have a one stop place to learn. Or, they could deploy their own service for webmasters who need modification or coding done.

    Lots of things could be done “IF” its all about being “webmaster centric” and they could provide the service still cheaper than private web firms. They can do hourly wage to coders and will have a pluther of them.

    If I am a webmaster and a private firm is telling me $2500 or $3500 to set up a WP site and in doing so what I am doing is taking someone elses application. Someone elses theme, modifying it, someone elses plugins and slapping it all together .vs. a place whom has “Here it is” for $60 and provides programmer support directly or enforces the authors of themes, which do I choose?

    If things are “let the users decide” then they are.

    In the end it all tends boil down to money or not.

    Firms dislike TF because it gives them a big problem. Why do I use you .vs. $60 and I am off and running. And the responses are, “Well with me you get all this support and such”. Is that support free? yes/no. What if I dont need support? Will you match $60? Ummm no. $100? No. $200?!?? No.

    Envato taps mass market, thats smart.

    None yell as third party sales venues for example cream small business brick and morter if they can save $10 more or less thousands.

    For non-commercial entities, they care less one way or another however some will be upset as others monetize on their work. WP.Core doesnt seem to mind it, thats what the indie firms do, what firms who create themes for resale do. Fact Envato can sell “Better” is not because Envato is better. Its because they know what they are doing. Marketing, how to grow, seeking investment, providing what all sides “want”.

    With all things there are the ups & downs. If independent development houses creating client sites want “fair” they never attended a day of college courses regarding business as business is seldom fair. A “level playing field”. If they want a MORE level playing field then they have to go to the source, not the destinations. The source needs then say, “We support both commercial and GPL interests” in as far as developers go. Now, Woo Commerce may be “closed source” and charge $129 per install as an example.

    People love have their cake and eat it too. When we used to do alot more of this “we build websites” we faced such things. I completely understand it. But there are differing perspectives. There is self, there is core, there is webmasters and end users.

    If speaking from self-interest, then firms like Envato are goring my ox and I can justify that all sorts of ways from webmasters getting far worse support than *I* can give (sell) to “they are commercial and that brings all of us that much closer to big businesses taking over”. Ya, cept, umm, I am a small business, I dont make websites free, it keeps food on the table.

    In speaking of WP for example interests, its WAY better for Automattic to deal with companies who have money than those scraping it together building webs for others. One ensures helping keep / grow market share at speed. The other is thousands and thousands of small businesses who have far too much control over their interests. And yes, big commercial entities through that have power’s as well that need be monitored.

    For end webmasters its toss of the dice. Saying that a webmaster buying an TF theme now may face all sorts of problems for any number of reasons also stands true of private commercial firms. A TON of our business when we did alot of this stuff was referral. In fact, we took down our website for new clients back then as we couldnt handle any more. Most of them clients who jumped ship from others because of how we operated. We didnt build just websites. We ensured in as much as we could muster their success of those websites and did that freely. That means if a cigar shop comes to us from another firm (or not) we need to LEARN how they operate, their workflow, often about the entire business model. Then we look at what ideas we can come up with as well and present them. Not, “Oh, well we only do web design”. Web design/building sits hand and hand with Marketing. Even if its a free recipes site. Its marketing. In order to make web sites for others, marketing must be known. In fact, more known that engineering or design. Enavato knows marketing, engineering and design. Thats why they are succeeding. Nothing at all to do with web designers and coders in reality. Can have the best firm on the planet and its only as good as its ability to market. Most have no clue. “The work comes to them”. “We advertise on craigslist and some local print media and we have a website”. See, we market. Ummmm… No. Marketing is taking quantified risks that cost money, considerable amounts usually. And as such, its rather important to have the schooling or be taught the myriads of facets of marketing. Its FAR more complex than programming. FAR FAR more complex. Most programmers think marketing is simple in compare. Go to any business college and one finds really really really quick its the exact opposite. Programming is simon simple in comparison.

    Most think, “I buy things, I am a consumer, I understand because of that”. Not even close. I know about advertising? Really? I know terms? Horizontal? Vertical markets? Not even close. A good person in web marketing (more or less brand marketing) writes his own salary. Paid WAY WAY more than engineers.

    We spent MORE time with clients to understand their interests than it’d take to build sites on a magnitude of 5:1 – 8:1 and for clients where we knew “We cant really help” even after spending 60 hours talking and working on their business understanding / goals etc we told them, “We cant help you and here is why” spending even more hours. But THEY talk to others, we got referrals.

    When it was time to leap and grow had decisions to make. Do we put our houses on the line to invest. Do we seek venture capital of $1,000,000 which wants a 30%+ return within terms.

    The truth of all of it comes down to the same things in small operations all the time. Am I willing to risk it all to make it? Yet what they want is to “maintain and grow or not at the speed they so choose”. That never works in business. Basic business college 101. Look at what it takes to get an MBA in Marketing, programming is simon simple. WP even simpler, clear pre-defined boundaries .vs. say a .NET programmer who might need build everything from mobile apps to desktop apps to cloud apps to web apps.

    With 200,000,000+ WP sites if a firm gets .001% of that business then all is joyful. But when Envato hops into the fray, now even that .001% gets a hit.

    Preytel what do you think happens when WP itself jumps in on the scale Envato has? That .001% will turn into .00001%


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