WordPress Theme Developers: Should You Sell Your Themes on ThemeForest?

Over the last few years, the market for premium WordPress themes has gone from strength to strength. And, as the WordPress juggernaut rolls on towards 50% market share, these could be very lucrative times for theme developers.

Love them or hate them, the Envato marketplaces should take a lot of credit for developing the commercial side of WordPress. Their theme marketplace, ThemeForest, is largely responsible for bringing premium WordPress themes to the masses.

ThemeForest logo

But is ThemeForest really the best place to sell themes? Should new developers jump at the opportunity to partner up with ThemeForest, or should they brave it on their own?

Today, I’ll do my best to answer these questions, by taking a look at the pros and cons of selling themes on ThemeForest.

It’s worth pointing out that, although today’s post focuses on themes and ThemeForest, the same opportunities and drawbacks apply to plugin developers considering selling via CodeCanyon.

With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the treasures potentially on offer at ThemeForest.

Selling on ThemeForest

In February, Envato published a remarkable insight into the WordPress economy, offering us an inside look at author earnings on ThemeForest. Here are some of the more eye-catching statistics:

  • 30 theme developers have made over $1 million selling themes (this figure has increased to 40 since).
  • 50% of ThemeForest WordPress themes have made over $1,000 in a month.
  • 15% of ThemeForest WordPress themes have made over $5,000 in a month.
  • 5% of ThemeForest WordPress themes have made over $10,000 in a month.
  • Only 4% of themes have earnt less than $1,000 in their lifetime (this figure includes new releases).
  • To date, 1,116 authors have shipped more than 1,000 units (this data wasn’t included in the report but is available here).
  • 354 authors have sold more than 5,000 units.
  • 67% of 2014’s top-selling themes were released during that year.

This last statistic is perhaps the most important: it proves that ThemeForest isn’t a closed shop, and new theme developers can still make a splash.

If you’re considering signing up to ThemeForest, this is very good news.

Pros of Selling with ThemeForest

But why are these selling statistics so impressive? What makes ThemeForest such a viable option for new theme developers?

1. Large Audience

Two words: Qualified buyers. And lots of them.

This is by far ThemeForest’s biggest attraction: the marketplace is frequented by huge volumes of traffic, much of it actively looking to buy themes. Competition is fierce, of course, but this still makes the job of selling themes significantly easier.

For example, let’s say I’m an unknown developer releasing my first theme.

By default, ThemeForest sorts WordPress themes by the newest releases. That means my just-released theme will, for some time at least, sit proudly at the top of the ThemeForest search page. That’s guaranteed eyeballs without any advertising.

ThemeForest screenshot

If you’ve put together some great sales copy (and, of course, your theme is top-notch), that means you should see some sales almost immediately. Those sales generate your first ratings and reviews, and all of a sudden your theme has traction.

Could a first-time seller selling independently expect the same results?

No chance. Not unless you’re prepared to invest heavily in paid traffic sources. And with no traffic, there’s no sales.

So that’s one big tick in favor of ThemeForest.

2. Affiliate Scheme

ThemeForest also has an established affiliate scheme in place. That means you can directly incentivize other marketers to promote your theme for you.

ThemeForest offer affiliates 30% of a new user’s first deposit. If we say that the average theme costs roughly $50, that means affiliates pick up a cool $15 per theme. And because ThemeForest is a relatively trusted name, it’s not overly difficult to drive sales — ThemeForest paid out over $2 million to affiliates last year, so there’s money to be made.

In fact, most top WordPress blogs are already signed up to the ThemeForest affiliate scheme. If you reach out to them, many bloggers will be willing to review your theme, giving you some free advertising in the process.

3. Easy Logistics

You should also consider the logistical benefits of selling with ThemeForest: because sales take place through the already-established ThemeForest platform, you’re saved the headache of configuring your own storefront.

Just upload your theme and let ThemeForest handle the rest.

Cons of Selling with ThemeForest

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

With ThemeForest, there are actually three of these “buts,” so I’m going to break them down into separate sections.

1. High Author Fees

The first, and most controversial, are the author fees.

In exchange for access to their huge audience base, ThemeForest takes a cut of the revenue. And this isn’t a negligible amount, either.

In my opinion, ThemeForest are a little deceptive when it comes to advertising their cut, due to a fixed 20% buyer fee on top of the variable seller fee. That means that ThemeForest pocket more than the 12.5%-37.5% advertised for exclusive themes.

So how much can you expect to take home? ThemeForest have provided an interactive tool to help you out, but here are the headline figures:

  • If you offer your theme exclusively on ThemeForest and you make over $75,000 revenue, you earn 70%.
  • Dropping down to $50,000 revenue, the figure becomes 63%.
  • At $25,000, it’s 56%.
  • And at $0, it’s 50%.
  • If you offer your theme non-exclusively – in other words, if it’s available elsewhere – then you earn a fixed 36% of your revenue.

In my opinion, this means ThemeForest is only worthwhile if you sell exclusively. ThemeForest is by far the biggest marketplace, so you won’t generate enough sales elsewhere to justify the drop to $36 per $100 generated.

2. Fixed Pricing

By selling via ThemeForest, you agree to forgo all control over pricing.

This is because ThemeForest has a fixed pricing structure. After submitting your theme, a reviewer will assess your theme and place it into one of four pricing bands – the main criteria is the theme’s complexity.

These are the four bands, lifted from the ThemeForest Pricing Information page.

  • $28-33 – Mobile or simple, single page themes
  • $38-43 – Standard themes
  • $48-53 – Themes with advanced functionality
  • $58-63 – Themes incorporating eCommerce, compatibility with BuddyPress or exceptionally advanced functionality

That’s a fairly rigid pricing structure, with little opportunity to sell at a higher price — you’re looking at $63 at the top-end.

In fairness, the prices are competitive, and it’s unusual to see themes selling for much more than this.

3. After-sales Support

Next up, we have the issue of support. This is the most overlooked ThemeForest drawback, but, in my opinion, it’s arguably the biggest.

Now, this is important: ThemeForest do not insist that you provide extensive after-sales support.

The problem?

Theme buyers will. And if you don’t provide sufficient support, you’re going to get hit with poor ratings and negative reviews. That’s going to seriously impact sales.

The more themes you sell, the more time you’ll have to commit to providing support. If you aren’t prepared for high volumes of sales, this can catch you off guard. If you can’t keep up, well, you’re going to have a lot of disappointed customers on your hands.

Before selling via ThemeForest, try to factor in the cost of providing support — remember: the cost of customer support comes directly out of your pocket.

Compare this to an independent theme seller, who has the opportunity to charge for a year’s support. Not only is this a great source of recurring revenue, it also stops support costs from eating into your profits.

Final Thoughts

ThemeForest is certainly a great option for a new theme seller — don’t let some of the negative press put you off.

Is it right for you, though? Only you can answer that question, and a lot of that will depend on your long-term goals.

Looking at our list, it seems like the ThemeForest negatives outweigh the positives. This is deceptive, however, as ThemeForest’s large audience base potentially trumps all the negatives combined — if you can sell ten times more themes by going with ThemeForest, all the negatives melt away. And those sorts of figures aren’t unrealistic, either, as the forty ThemeForest millionaires will attest to.

Want my advice? If you just want to sell a few themes quickly, go with ThemeForest. If, however, you have aspirations of growing a recognizable brand around your themes, selling independently might be the better option.

Do you sell on ThemeForest? Why did you make that decision? What has your experience been like so far?

AuthorShaun Quarton

Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.

9 replies to WordPress Theme Developers: Should You Sell Your Themes on ThemeForest?

  1. I’ve been watching Theme Forest for many years, and a few years ago I hesitated, only to now wish I had gotten in. If an author has not entered that marketplace a couple years ago, your chances now are very low to succeed with the saturated author list and the growing list of Elite authors (including Power Elites) who are grabbing the big numbers).

    Shaun is correct, unless you are exclusive, it’s not worth the effort and anguish of the high rejection rate due to the sheer number of submissions they get every day, they cannot review and approve every single one. I estimate only 1 in 10 gets approved.

    I used to sell on Theme Forest, but I decided to go for my own theme site which gives you a higher chance of success (if you know the market well enough). It’s a saturated market now.

    In my opinion, if you plan to go into Theme Forest now, you better make sure you have another source of income or a BIG bank account because it’s going to take at least a year to get anything substantial. Likewise, if you go in non-exclusive, make sure you have another source of income. Going non-exclusive could provide you with some added exposure and sales from your own site (100% of a sale too!). For myself, I plan on going back on Theme Forest, but this time, I will be non-exclusive because my site, Shaped Pixels, is doing well enough.

    One thing to note, if you start off exclusive, you can always change to non-exclusive and vice versa at any point in time. You can even opt in for two accounts, on exclusive and one non-exclusive (providing you have enough time in the day to run two sites (one for each).

  2. Andre, thanks for sharing your experience and insights

  3. Hey there!.

    As i can see, all of us here had experience with Themeforest, what you said above absolutely right, and here’s my view in Envato market – general, and what we have to do.

    First, it’s about we dont have information about our customer, it’s so hard for not knowing customer’s email, of course you can get email by support system or something like that. If they grant access for google analytics for all author, it would be different.

    Second, the market itself doesnt enough for stable income, they take 50% fees / sale, and we dont know how they marketing for our product, at this time, i have to manually marketing for each product release, since we cant sit and hope customer will come, while envato still take fees. If you dont market, no customer buy, if you market, you get purchase, and envato sit around take fees? Fair?

    Bad competitors, recently i got some “naughty” competitors, they changes information in demo site, so customers cant access to demo site, of course not 100% authors there is bad, but you should aware of that problem when join in the market.

    As Andre said, you have to prepare for alternative income & stable the income while you build reputation, build customer on Envato market, i have to spend about $4000 each month to produce 1 plugin (not theme, im really not interested in themes, i will explain below), so, that’s quite expensive if you dont have enough resource to fight on that market.

    And why i dont like making themes?

    – Theme market just…full of people, when a good them out, a lot of people behind copy the idea then remake, change the name, design…you can see “multipurpose themes” out there, a lot of themes appear day by day, let’s see you have new product release, but not sure your product is listed in New section long, your products will be pushed and pushed then disappear, and you have to marketing for them.

    – Themes its self should be minimize for appearances not for functional, like “booking tour” themes?, an heavy theme with appearance and then tours booking system intergrated?, is it fair, and if one can buy a theme with those functions, where’s the market segment for codecanyon and alternative segments?

    – Themes are designed for users, but there’s a lot of “options” just for listing, not all of them is used, while users need just around some part header, footer, colors…etc.

    There’s my view, and for me, i would like to start from codecanyon with plugins than themes.

  4. I have always been tempted to try and sell on ThemeForest, but never got round to building any themes to sell, I just buy a lot! Nice post Shaun.

  5. Great thoughts, Shaun. I enjoyed the stats.

    I hear people complaining about high author fees but I disagree. Because…

    “Qualified buyers. And lots of them.”

    You have to hustle to market themes outside of ThemeForest and that hustle plus the additional time and costs of running your own shop will more or less equal what ThemeForest takes. The way they present things now is more confusing than it used to be but the cut they take is very fair once you sell enough to reach the top commission rate (and if you don’t, you’re not going to make it selling themes on or off ThemeForest).

    With that said, I am happier selling on my own shop than on ThemeForest. I’d rather hustle than be limited as to how I can price my products, refund them, provide support, license renewals, documentation and so on. Envato says authors are the “seller”, not theme, but we don’t even know our customer’s names. It’s things like that that make Envato frustrating to deal with, not the commission rate.

    In my opinion. 🙂

  6. Thank you Shaun for giving us insight. I buy lot from themeforest but also thinking to entering envato marketplace for selling. But I was confused about should I sell in themeforest or should I start my own shop. Thank you again for your great insight.

  7. Jabed, ThemeForest is a great place to “test the waters” even if you’d like to sell independently later. It gives you an idea of the quality that is necessary to sell (ie. getting past ThemeForest’s review) and helps you get comfortable with the support burden without going through all the trouble and expense to get started with your own shop (designing the site, setting up the e-commerce software, licensing / updates, support system, etc.). Try to collect your customers’ email addresses so if and when you fly solo you can tell them where to find your new themes.

  8. Go only for ThemeForest if you’re confident that your product will sell very good. Otherwise, it is not worth trying even.

  9. What are the strategy to be adopted to start your own online shop.

    Well if you keep on selling on Themeforest.net but keep on marketing your product as well so that you get good sales.

    Themeforest.net is a trusted market and if you pay them the fee that is fair enough to get your theme in the market place 24/7.

    Since the market is developed drastically but it is saturated as far as the theme authors are concerned due to more and more authors and many WordPress theme on daily bases.

    I think it is a good idea to sell your theme using Themeforest.net but you yourself keep on marketing your themes to get sales up to the mark.

    So what strategy you advise we should adopt to keep our sales up to the mark on Themeforest.net

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