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.
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.
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.
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.
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?