5 Years with ThemeForest: Power Elite Author Inside Experience
Let’s be honest, surviving in a WordPress theme business is not easy today, even Power Elite Authors at ThemeForest could confirm that, and this is the story about one of them. Henry Rise the owner of ThemeREX Power Elite Author account has shared some valuable information about his experience with ThemeForest.
Things have significantly changed since we’ve started our business 5 years ago. ThemeForest became a popular market and you have to compete with thousands of developers across the globe. Promoting your themes as an independent vendor requires spending a significant amount of money on advertising and brand building.That is something not everyone can afford. However, there is another option. You can join a marketplace.This is, basically, what we have done joining ThemeForest in 2013 when we started ThemeREX. We have created 140+ WordPress themes since then and looking back, we can say that was a right direction to go. It gave us a possibility to focus on building quality products and supporting them, instead of worrying about marketing.
General Facts: Exclusive vs. Non-exclusive
As you probably know, Envato charges a certain fee from each sold theme. You can choose whether to sell your items on Envato market exclusively or to become a non-exclusive author. Depending on this and your activity on Envato the fee will vary from 55% to 12.5%. Of course, 55% might be a high barrier of the entrance, especially for beginner authors. However, with growing popularity of your themes, the fee is significantly decreasing. Although it still may seem like a decent sum of money, think about it as the marketing costs for the exposure your items get every day.
The idea with all this exclusiveness might be a little bit confusing when you just enter the market. However, ThemeForest states it quite clear that they give a much higher priority to exclusive authors. This means you can’t sell themes, which are on stock on Envato market anywhere else. Otherwise, the percentage you get from the item’s purchase decreases considerably. That’s why a majority of authors decide to be exclusive vendors and get the maximum amount of money they could get from a theme sale. We’ve tried both ways, but it seems like Envato is way more important than all of the other marketplaces combined. In a word, if you are a beginner it would be better for you to stick to an exclusive license on your themes.
The Most Challenging Step for Beginner Vendors
Probably the most difficult step a beginner website developer might have on Envato is to have their theme approved in the first place. ThemeForest have a strict review process that pays special attention to theme’s design and code. Your design has to be unique, and feature a clean visual hierarchy, readable typography, semantics, etc. We are not going to delve into all the specifics here, but many vendors are facing dozens of theme rejects before their first item is approved. That’s why many of the beginners start out with something simple, such as a PSD template, or an HTML5 template. In such a way you can get a better understanding of ThemeForest’s design and code guidelines and it would be easier for you to get your other items accepted in the future.
There was a funny story with our first theme on ThemeForest. On our first day, we have uploaded several products. However, considering all this reviewing process, some products are accepted at once and others have to struggle their way through the reviewer. You can’t predict, which one gets out first. So our first theme was…funeral bureau. We did not plan this, it just happened. That was really funny, especially considering that it was the only theme in our portfolio for the whole first week. However, we are not superstitious. Especially, as it brought us lots of sales.
Another thing that might be difficult for the beginner is that the support system on Envato is not that prompt. Perhaps, this is quite understandable, as they are having lots of authors. To interact with all of them and to answer every query they would need to have quite an extensive team. In a word, if you are a new author and you are not making much sales on Envato don’t expect your question to be answered sooner than a week. Then, when you start climbing Envato Elite ladder you get some perks. One of them is better support. Now, when we become Power Elite Author the response time is 2-3 days. At first, it was a bit frustrating. I guess we are quite accustomed to such communication mode and understand that there are lots of people contacting support every day.
Pros and Cons of Selling Themes on ThemeForest
Perhaps, the biggest advantage of working with Envato is that it manages to provide you with exposure and traffic you would hardly get on your own. Practically, you do not need to advertise your themes. At least, you did not need to do that a couple of years ago. You just created a great product that was it. Only when multipurpose themes came to the playground, things changed once and for all.
Another great advantage is that you become a part of the community (this has a reverse as well, but we will talk about it later). You have an opportunity to talk to real developers like yourself. You can learn from them, you can share the thoughts and pick up some interesting ideas yourself (and let’s be honest, not so many of us invent things nowadays). And Envato is actually like a big copying machine that has lots of authors of “the second and third waves” as we call them. Those who see a prosperous business and rush into it before everyone else has done it. Good or bad, it makes the market overflowing with themes and most of them are cheap, so it is definitely good for Envato and end-users, but not for the other authors.
It’s people, and people again. Envato does not only expose your products to probably the largest relevant audience in the world. It also gives you the opportunity to meet real people and change real lives. See how your products help real people earn their living and change their lives and that is truly amazing.
I guess we could also mention that Envato used to help the new themes. It does not have such an impact as it used to be, but that is how lots of Power Elite authors got the necessary boost in the first place. New themes used to skyrocket in page views and sales only due to Envato’s promotion, and that meant a lot for authors.
However, there are lots of things you need to consider. First of all, keep in mind that you become a part of Envato community, another author at the marketplace. Regarding this fact you might experience certain problems in the brand building. Facing the truth, the majority of the customers don’t really differentiate the authors. Moreover, some of them don’t even understand that the templates are created by different authors. For them, these all are ThemeForest products. Thus, if your primary goal is to build your own brand, this is not your way.
Another downside is the pricing policy. Presently, the authors are allowed to set their own prices for their items. And here everyone chooses his own strategy. Some authors prefer setting the lowest possible price for their items in order to get more sales. They might benefit from it. However, such aggressive pricing takes a toll on the other authors’ sales. The customers got used to buying cheap themes. Although an average theme on ThemeForest costs less than a theme from the majority of template providers, it has no impact on the competition inside the marketplace.
There is no secret that Envato has certain standards for its authors. On the one hand, this is quite fair, as all the vendors are equalized and customers are getting a high-quality product. On the other hand, it does not go well with WP community. The “cold war” has ended a long time ago, and it was never really that big, but still, you can see that theme providers split down the middle on this issue right now. Those, who sell their themes on Envato and those who use WP resources like WordPress.org for their freemium model.
It does mean that you necessarily get to be hated by WP community just for selling your themes on ThemeForest, but lots of hardcore WP geeks are going to say that half of ThemeForest’s WP themes are mediocre quality and damage the reputation of their beloved open source platform.
Do You Need Additional Promotion of Your Products?
Although ThemeForest provides you with a solid and traffic-heavy platform with decent exposure, the number of themes is growing and it becomes harder and harder for theme authors to get noticed. Previously, Envato was giving a boost to the new themes for a week. Now the situation has changed a little. Still, the exposure is quite good, but if you want to get even more that’s where an additional promotion comes into place.
Being just another theme vendor won’t pass, so you need to build a relationship with your customers and establish a brand, no matter how difficult it might seem. Even though you still sell themes on a third party’s platform, nobody can forbid you from developing your own online presence, running company’s site, a blog, building a newsletter and being active on social media. If you have additional budget, you can spend it on ad campaigns and promote your themes via AdWords or other banner networks.
If we are speaking about our personal experience with ThemeREX, honestly, we have never been preoccupied with any marketing issues. We have launched our own ThemeREX website, participated in the community life from time to time. And that’s it. Still, now we are Power Elite Author with 35K+ of sales. So, as you can see, Envato gives pretty good exposure to your items. However, with a smart and thought-through marketing campaign, you can not only increase your sales but also boost the popularity of your items on ThemeForest, which in turn also results in increased sales.
Recipe of Success on ThemeForest
When we were starting out there had been already established market players, so it wasn’t easy for us back then, but now the competition has gotten even tougher. The market is getting to the saturation point where it would be very hard for beginner developers to differentiate their work and bring something unique to the table. There are already some established vendors in the game, who gain most of the profit in the theme business.
However, there still could be a place for new vendors to enter the marketplace and gain a sufficient amount of revenue. It’s up to you to choose the strategy. You can go for multipurpose themes or niche templates; funnel all your energies into one theme, or produce a dozen of themes weekly. We had tried all of those things before we found our way. Now we focus on micro-niche themes. We are not conservative and open for the new ideas and we would probably try some other approaches sometime. Still, now we are quite content with what we have.
If you have just entered the market probably the best way to start would be to carefully analyze every niche and micro-niche, and come up with themes that improve existing solutions or add new features that most of the niche-specific templates in that category might lack. If you’re building an insurance agency theme, try adding something unique to it, for example, a loan calculator. The idea is to build a quality theme with functionality that can be used out of the box and would be relevant to the topic. In order to do that, you need to do a proper research of the market and understand what customers really want to see in a theme.
Besides the product itself, you should pay a higher attention to the product presentation, including marketing copy, product features, screenshots, product icon, etc. If you build something super useful, but it doesn’t look cool, or doesn’t look cool from the first glance, the chances are it simply won’t be noticed.
Starting a successful theme shop on ThemeForest isn’t easy nowadays, but still, it is possible. Now besides a beautiful design and robust code you also need to develop a plan and strategy to get your first sales. Do a proper research of your niche and competitors, and offer something that can change the game and make you noticeable among other vendors. It’s worth paying attention to details, especially when it comes to product presentation. Remember that you don’t have much time to impress your visitors, so make sure that your offer sticks out. Running additional marketing campaigns and building relationships with your customers is also an important factor in becoming successful theme vendor.
Hopefully, this article has given you a clearer picture of what it means to be a ThemeForest author and pointed you into the right direction.
P.S.: We’d love to hear out about your experience with ThemeForest, both as a customer and as a vendor.
This Post Has 7 Comments
Wow, 5 years on Envato is a long period of time. You guys rock. I’ve made only 60 sales with my two themes so far. But I am glad somebody could succeed, it means I can do it as well. How long did it take you to start getting at least 20 sales per month?
Thanks a lot, Bob. Keep trying and pushing for micro-niche themes. It worked out for us. I would recommend starting with something really rare and exclusive, where is less competition on the market and take it from there. First, you build your name, then it works out for you. Good luck.
Great write up Aigars! It’s really interesting to get your thoughts on ThemeForest and how it evolved over time. As you mentioned, the dynamics changed a lot due to the growing inventory and the race to the bottom after Envato changed their pricing policy.
I’m not a ThemeForest seller, but I did quite a comprehensive unit economics research on the marketplace and the numbers are not encouraging for new sellers. For example, an average new theme will generate $17,355 in annual gross during the initial 6 years. This is a nice number, but not enough to make a living when you are located in a western country. You can read the full analysis here:
Also, another good tip to start building a stronger relationship with your customers and building better products is using an opt-in mechanism for usage-tracking and emails capture:
Many thanks Vova. We might adopt one of your ideas.
Thanks for opening up about your experience as an author, great insight! I noticed you’ve stuck with the niche market. Do you feel this is a better strategy than building multipurpose themes?
You are welcome, Sarah. Hope it helps your business too. We’ve considered a possibility of building a multipurpose theme many times, but the market is just overflowed with multipurpose themes, and most of them have aggressive marketing tactics that are very hard to compete with. We don’t want to spend a couple of months developing one theme, while we can create 10 and gain more revenue in the overall.
Finally, it is all about making the client happy and actually helping him/her building a real website. That is a true value. So we believe that micro-niche themes for specific purposes work better for such clients than heavy (and bloated) multipurpose themes that offer so many solutions, that 99% of customers are never going to use anyway.
I have been a member of Themeforest for more than 5 years. Purchased several WordPress themes, Plugins and Stockphotos over the years. This is my opinion. Their are too many copycats WordPress themes. No originality same boxy look year after year. No innovation in design. Last innovation was parallax themes, then everybody jump on the bandwagon and was bring out a parallax theme.
Anyhow some of the authors on Themeforest are questionable. Themeforest say they checked these themes before they are place for sale on the market place. Well many customers would tell you otherwise, since there are more than a few themes that are hit and miss.
You purchase a theme that never does what it say or shown in the demos and some themes are just full of bugs etc.
Some Authors are terrible with support They say they are offering support in the purchase price and also offering extended six (6) months support and then when a customer has an issue you have to wait days for a response. Oh and don’t ever get a problem over a weekend. You will just have to shut down your website until happy weekend is over.
Mind you their are authors who have lovely themes that work great and their services are tops, i would always pay for their support. But then their are authors on Themeforest who just want to take customers money and run.
It is time for Envato/Themeforest to deal with these type of Authors. It is not doing them any good for their reputation with the online community..
Anyhow that’s my two cents. In the words of some Authors ‘Cheers’