The Pros and Cons of Selling on ThemeForest

This insider’s experience has been shared by Henry Rise, the CEO of ThemeRex, Power Elite Author on Themeforest.

Five years is a very long period in anyone’s life, especially if you are talking about the life of the IT business. Five years in the IT business could be regarded as 20 years in any non-virtual business, because the market is developing at such a fast pace. WordPress does not wait for anyone. It grows and grows very quickly, so the competition gets tougher and tougher.

Just keep in mind the fact that WP themes are now taking almost 85% of entire market on ThemeForest. It is huge. Not only people find it easy to develop WordPress themes, but the world seems to love WordPress above all the other CMS platforms. ThemeForest authors have to make necessary changes in their strategies, like it or not. Aggressive tactics that multipurpose themes used to jump to the top of the selling lists have resulted into a decrease of sales for the teams who placed their entire business solely on Envato’s hands. Choosing not to run a marketing campaign for your brand, regardless of whether you’re an elite seller or whether you’re just looking to learn WordPress theme development, does not seem reasonable nor affordable in today’s competitive atmosphere.

Pros vs Cons

Advantages of working with ThemeForest:

I am sure everyone knows it, but it has to be said anyway. There is really no competition when it comes to building a theme/template business (actually building a business, not just creating a theme once in awhile). No other marketplace has the stability and security in the future that Envato gives to its vendors.

1) Huge traffic. Your themes get exposed to lots of relevant people. Not just some random traffic, but those who are already familiar with the topic (and sometimes know more than you do about it). All you have is to convince them you have a good product.

You’d be surprised how quickly your website grows in monthly traffic. Starting from scratch ThemeRex.net has grown to 200K visits per month in no time. However, don’t get to overwhelmed with that – most of that traffic comes from demos. The majority of “your customers” never get to see your homepage. So make sure you actually use that traffic. Show them more templates on demos, or use banners, etc.

2) The choices are really yours. I am not talking about the strategy here (multipurpose vs. micro-niche themes, for example). I am talking about the freedom of choosing the prices for your products. It is totally up to you, whether to join the “race to the bottom” for the lowest price and sell your half-a-year work for $1 in revenue just to build your name and climb to the top. Or, go in the opposite direction, like some at the high end of the charts, setting your price at hundreds per theme.

I can’t speak for others, but at the start we did not have that much of experience of selling themes on marketplaces or elsewhere, so we had to rely on Envato. And there were just two ways to choose from – Multipurpose theme or lots of micro-niche templates.
The choice was obvious for us. We simply had no funds nor experience to wrap up something shiny for the world to see, so we’ve done lots of quality micro-niche templates people could use to create their businesses on. The prices are moderate so anyone can afford ThemeRex WP Themes.

3) Another big choice is the exclusivity. Some choose the non-exclusive method of selling their themes everywhere, not just Envato, and are happy with 50% revenue. But most are sticking to Envato and selling their themes only there. The fee then depends on the gross sales, but you can get it as low as 12.5%.

Personally, we’ve never considered any other possibility than selling themes on ThemeForest. We’ve given Creative Market a shot, but it was nothing like ThemeForest, so there was not decision to make for our business.

One thing you should not follow us in though, is marketing. We’ve depended solely on Envato for a very long time. Five years without proper marketing – can you believe that? Just quality products and premium support, nothing else. Now who else could give you 35K in sales except for Envato on such terms?

4) Envato does care about you being recognized as an elite/power elite author. Lots of perks, badges, wall of fame inclusion, interviews on their blog and other significant boosts. Like for example the new theme boost — your theme gets on Envato’s homepage when it is released and gets super-exposure in the first days.

ThemeRex Profile

At least, that is how it used to happen. Now it does seem to take more time and effort to happen. Envato team does have to manage millions of requests with the number of vendors and customers growing.

5) You get to raise good money on Support! Though quality of support does matter a lot.

Ever since customers have had to pay for support, the support department practically pays for their own salaries, which has worked out really good for us.

6) Finally, last but not least, the community. You have an opportunity to talk to real developers like yourself. You can learn from them, you can share thoughts and pick up some interesting ideas yourself, and let’s be honest, not so many of us invent things nowadays.

On one hand Envato has become 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 idea and quickly adopt it for themselves. But again, it seems like the market has enough room for everyone so far, it is just harder to get to the first place spots.

I am not sure whether we have suffered from this significantly. But the mere fact that I don’t know this for sure actually proves that the impact isn’t that big.
I think it is mostly due to the fact that we’ve concentrated on the success of our business in general, not any specific product. Quantity vs. versatility (multipurpose-ness) sort of thing.

Disadvantages of ThemeForest:

I guess, that we are slowly coming to these points that could be referred as disadvantages. A one should always keep in mind that some might actually find diametrically the opposite. Especially if you ask a developer’s web studio or marketing agency. Not even talking about vendors that use different strategies on selling their themes. I can’t claim this is the one and only approach towards reading the situation, this is just ThemeRex story and our insider’s opinion based on 5 years of working with Envato every day. And trust me, we love ThemeForest, we understand it clearly that we have to thank Envato for making good money and making our life easier. Regardless, there are certain points that should be mentioned in this section.

1) High Standards. This seems a little complicated at first, even frustrating at times, especially after a few hard and soft rejects, but what does not kill us, does in fact make us stronger. Like it or not, Envato has to have these high standards to maintain their level of quality and avoid condescending looks from the WP community.

I think everyone knows about the standards. It is necessary and good, there is no arguing here. People have to love Envato, thus people have to love the products that Envato authors. Sometimes, I get the feeling like ThemeForest has this temptation to press the “red button” and kick out everyone who somehow does not meet the profile. But that is just a conjecture, nothing more.

I’ve seen how these guys work every day to improve the quality of their products and pour enormous sums of money into marketing. Just get it once and for all, the world has changed already. There is no room for talk like “devaluing the product” by getting 50 themes in one for the same price. The standards are getting higher and higher (I think that Envato might come up with new standards really soon) and vendors have to learn to adopt. The strongest will survive.

2) Here comes a real “disadvantage” everyone has voluntarily sign up for – the faceless factor. This does not have such dramatic effect as it did in the old days, but still is a significant factor. Customers buy from Envato, not from your brand. We used to have hundreds of support tickets addressing us as the Envato support team, which does not help the brand-building, not at all. Especially for the new vendors.

However, we fully understand that it is the price we have to pay for all the opportunities Envato has given us. We have to learn how to stand out from the crowd on our own. Start doing some marketing at some point!

3) This corresponds with the previous statement, but it is seldom very pleasant to understand that you are just a cog in the machine.

The factor that does bug me here is actually not being just a link in the big chain, but the fact that you can’t actually influence the big picture. You just come to the community forum, which by the way seems rather abandoned and see vendors complain about the drop of sales and other recent topics with no reaction from Envato whatsoever. Not even some forum moderator. And I honestly feel sorry for these people. ThemeForest used to care more about its authors, not just the top authors, and it might be a big problem. Authors are the engine of Envato. With this part I agree.

4) This leads to another big issue — the prices. It seems fair that everyone gets to set their own prices on their own products. However, this made things very complicated. Some authors abused the system to get their products listed as the most expensive items, listing them at simply ludicrous prices. Or the themes that are being sold with almost 0% revenue for the author, just for marketing purposes. And that’s not even talking about the multi-skin templates that in fact could be used for building lots of websites for the price of a one.

I have an ambiguous opinion about this. From one point of view, I am deeply convinced that everyone is responsible for their own actions and decisions. No one stands in your way of doing the same and succeeding. You could be been their first to win the market over in your favor, so you should not not claim somebody else’s win as your personal loss.
However, the “game of thrones” (prices) teaches us one simple thing. Lots of people die! Well, in this case they don’t literally die, of course, but they do end up left out, cheated, and disappointed. Price chaos has never resulted in something good.

5). Another huge thing that should not be overlooked is the starting point. It is incredibly hard to enter ThemeForest right now. It is the time when big players are starting to really feel some shoulder shoving in the ranks. Starting a new business at this point seems like it could be difficult.

We felt it when we started two our partner projects (power elite AncoraThemes and elite author AxiomThemes). It wasn’t that easy to jump into a fresh start in 2015 , I can’t even imagine how it is to start right now. Especially when Avada alone made more sales in April 2017 than all our three accounts with 300+ themes overall.

With the price markdown tactics and the overflowing market of quality products, adding an extra value seems rather challenging to me. And don’t imagine you can get some answer from Envato. Even Power Elite authors have to stand in line to get their questions answered. Sometimes it takes up to three days to get a simple yes-or-no email answered.

6). The last but not least. Or perhaps the main “con”. You can’t survive without marketing now. Like or not, you are going to lose your positions on Envato without making extra efforts to get your themes exposed. The numbers don’t lie, ThemeForest needs to get at least 2 extra million people buy their WP products in order to keep the same level of the market it is right now. Let me say that again for you. Two million people a year just to keep it the same! And who knows how large the demand could grow. WordPress usage is only growing, and people are dependent more and more on the internet and websites, but that still seems like a huge number to think about, anyway.

Megaphone

Wrapping it all up.

I can summarize that we we’ve been glad to be a part of such great community of Envato vendors and build our business around it. There are certainly some drawbacks and minor disadvantages, just like in any other business that involves a lot of people. We are happy with all the decisions we’ve made concerning ThemeForest, and I hope that it is going to continue like that!

If you feel like telling your story, whether you agree with what we’ve experienced, or disagree, please go for it in the comment section!