69 Responses

  1. Steven Bradley
    Steven Bradley Published |

    Thanks for doing this Justin. I know the people behind Envato are good people and want to do the right thing. At the same time I also understand this is part of their business and they want to do what works for both their developers and their customers. I think all things being equal they’d do the right thing.

    It’s a shame to see some of the theme developers finding creative ways around doing things the right way, but I suspect some are less concerned with how WordPress does things and more concerned with how to make the most money as quick as possible.

    On the bright side I don’t think that’s true of all the developers there. Hopefully your experiment has some long lasting and positive impact.

  2. The ThemeForest experiment, one year later : Post Status
  3. Michael
    Michael Published |

    Just curious, how much time did you spend on design, development, documentation and support?

    $2K sounds nice, but with the work involved, plus maybe 1/3 going to the government, I imagine there’s a lot of pressure on theme authors to “score” with every one of their themes. (And with many of them, I’m sure this contributes to the “my theme needs five custom sliders!” mentality.)

    1. Jason Pelker
      Jason Pelker Published |

      I bet he saved a lot of time re: support by creating such a streamlined product.

      Have you ever seen some of these themes’ ThemeForest comment pages? Each feature requires exponential support effort.

      Justin made the right call by separating form (theme) from function (plugins). All ThemeForest authors should take a cue. They’d lower their expenses and make their customers much happier.

  4. Manuel Vicedo
    Manuel Vicedo Published |

    Not too surpirsed with the results, as Themeforest is a sector where interests are essentially conflicted.

    We experienced this when trying to submit our own themes and saw that users, reviewers, and theme authors all want different things. We designed our themes to make them as powerful as possible without hampering portability (like leaving out the majority of shortcodes, or not adding any SEO options either).

    On the other hand, users simply wanted features, features, features; whether these features would add value to the theme or not, most users simply want the best bang for their buck, and pretty much the only way to get that is by comparing the sheer amount of features. I think that’s part of the reason that the top themes are so neutral and instead focus on sheer customizability.

    As for Envato… well, we found their review process inconsistent and sometimes frustrating. There were times when we added a feature or made it so it was more compliant with the WordPress core, and got instead rejected saying the theme was bland and lacked distinction. It also didn’t help that they don’t take the potential of a theme into account (that is, whether the way templates and options are used to do more with less), but rather what features they have.

    So yeah, they have their own little details that sets them apart from normal theme shops. I don’t really like where all this is headed in the theme arms race, but it’s essentially inevitable as more “compliant” themes simply will not sell.

  5. beth
    beth Published |

    I love you! You are a voice of reason in the Wordpress community!
    Your well thought out articles and this TF experiment shed light on
    the not well lit corners of the huge market place.
    I have purchased several themes from TF. Well maybe a dozen and now I work on a
    team on a single site.
    I still look at themes and love having a better understanding of what goes on its like
    not going to stop sales it just helps a person make a more informed choice.
    At least in my opinion. Right? hell ya!

  6. Dan Knauss
    Dan Knauss Published |

    I want to echo the gratitude and praise for your efforts on this, and for your integrity in the work you do so well out in the open to help others learn.

  7. Jason Pelker
    Jason Pelker Published |

    You’re awesome, Justin. Great experiment and great recap. Keep fighting the good fight.

  8. Jeffro
    Jeffro Published |

    Congrats Justin on successfully completing the experiment. What I took away from your post is how dangerous picking the wrong theme can be from ThemeForest. I can’t imagine the common user knowing about shortcodes, post types, etc and factoring those into their decision on which theme to buy. As has been the case for a long time, choosing themes is like walking down the street looking at each storefront window to see which one looks best. Between all these dependencies with shortcodes and the like, someone could really screw themselves by investing time and money into a theme that does everything wrong.

    You should be commended for trying to change the culture from within but it seems like unless the culture is changed at the top of themeforest both on staff and the top theme sellers, that this is just a problem that will be compounded in the future. It’s also disappointing to see sellers skirting the rules by recreating the same problem using a different method.

    However, the GPL licensing change and the themeforest review guideline revamps are huge steps in the right direction. Speaking of GPL licenses on themeforest, I think it’s pretty bad that there is no way to browse 100% GPL licensed themes on the site. The only way to find them is to Google the text as explained on a post I wrote. http://www.wptavern.com/how-to-search-for-100-gpl-themes-on-themeforest

    Thanks for repackaging the theme and putting it on the Theme Repository!

  9. clayton Miller
    clayton Miller Published |

    I’m glad I came across your article. I have been considering creating a theme to place on the TF marketplace. I do very small customers on a freelance basis. Its a goal I set for my self to “try and sell a theme”.

    You definitely pointed out some things that I would have otherwise included in my theme had I not read your article. You have very valid points on why not to include all those features so people can move to another theme if they like, and encourage use of plugins for such functionality. I like that. I plan on running any theme I develop through the WordPress tests to follow those standards.

    One thing I question is why everyone is really pushing for open source? And why some want to protect their work. I’m not against it by any means. I just want to make sure I understand the importance of that topic completely.

    I also want to put a theme on the WordPress repository. But here’s a scenario, if I were to have a lite version on the WordPress repo, and a full version for sell on a market place. What would some example advantages be if I follow your suggestions of not packing functionality into a theme and put that into a plugin, or rely on one that supports it. Does that toss out that approach essentially? I’m just trying to have a good understanding to the benefits of doing something along those lines in theme development.

    Thanks for the great article, I definitely learned some things!

  10. Noumaan Yaqoob
    Noumaan Yaqoob Published |

    Thanks for sharing this, we can just hope that your experiment will inspire more theme authors to follow the community guidelines.

    The quality of themes on ThemeForest is awful and their authors are aware of that. But they simply don’t care because it is working well for them. Some theme authors are just reselling basically the same themes with different images, colors, and fonts.

    There are some great themes too but it is very hard to find them among those flashy, slider filled, so called feature-rich themes. Clients usually search ThemeForest, pick up a WordPress theme, and then contact a designer/developer to customize it for them and its a nightmare for the developer.

  11. Japh
    Japh Published |

    Thanks for this review of your experiment, Justin. A really insightful and useful read.

    When I started working at Envato as their WordPress Evangelist, two of the things I wanted to address were theme submission requirements, and a GPL licensing option.

    Your example and your contributions to those discussions in the forums were definitely a big help.

    I believe a lot has changed over the last 2 years at ThemeForest, and will continue to now that phase 1 of the new theme submission requirements is underway (as of September 9th).

    Your contributions in terms of standard plugins is fantastic too! I’d love to hear what ideas you have for additional plugins along those lines.

    I too have noticed that some of the most successful authors on ThemeForest are doing things well, but don’t contribute much to the discussion in the forums. I’m not sure why that is.

    Thanks again for your efforts! I hope we see you selling on ThemeForest again sometime 🙂

  12. Flick
    Flick Published |

    Thanks for a great summary post regarding your experience – as others have pointed out, it has been an insightful read. I cannot add more to the bigger picture at present (GPL, submission guidelines etc.) so will just say a simple thank you for now.

    p/s: I have used the Grid Columns plugin and just love how it works – really looking forward to trying out Custom Content Portfolio and Whistles now that I know about them. Presumably a link to the new theme will be posted here once the theme is available publicly (Repository)?

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  15. Johan
    Johan Published |

    I’ve been following this quietly for a while, and I really like it!

    Been thinking of submitting a WP theme to ThemeForest for some time, but have always been put off from the sheer amount of special-ĂĽber-awesome-this-and-that options needed.

    With the help of your plugins, especially the column and portfolio ones, I finally think that pushed me to go for it! Thanks! I’ll keep a look out for the Unique theme for some further inspiration on how to best go about things.

    Btw. I’ve used the column plugin on a couple of client sites, and it’s been great! Even (quite) easy to get the not so data savvy customers to understand it! 🙂

  16. Sue Surdam
    Sue Surdam Published |

    Thanks for the update on your experiment and how Theme Forest is tightening up theme development requirements. Quite a few of my client request them and it is nice to know that Envato is responding to requiring best practices. I’ll be looking for your theme on WP.org.

  17. Justin Tadlock Publishes The Results Of His ThemeForest Experiment
  18. Mario Peshev
    Mario Peshev Published |

    That’s great, finally seeing the results from the experiment. I’ve been somewhat involved with ThemeForest theme authors and I have also been monitoring the updates they have been announcing (such as the GPL-license call and the new theme review process).

    While both theme review process (of WordPress.org and Envato) are contradictory and leave enough space for subjectivity, it’s great to see some restrictions for authors to submit dangerous and incompatible code to Envato.

    Justin, in my humble opinion about 50% of the sales were your blog readers and probably another 20-30% came in the first month (from GPL-related posts or around the fuzz about Envato and licensing). Since I have been doing freelance for several years, monitoring my job channels I see dozens of weekly job entries for customizing dumb WordPress themes or fixing some incompatibility since clients (not agencies) are a large group of the marketplace and all they look at (most of them) is the design and the description on the theme page.

    I have also been checking on several GPL-submitted theme on ThemeForest but found not a single one even close to a top-seller – Japh, any chance you guys could submit some stats on the 100% GPL themes since you introduced the update?

    In essence, the experiment was great and every attempt of educating and leading authors in the right direction is worth trying. As for trying to do that for a living, just a few of the Elite authors provide plugin-alike functionality outside of the themes (closer to zero) or other good-to-have principles due to the fact that clients come first, some of them have zero WordPress experience, don’t read documentation, don’t watch videos and just act angry in support forums.

  19. Lucas Keiser
    Lucas Keiser Published |

    Hey Justin,

    This was a great read. I have been a member of the ThemeForest community for quite a few years and every I buy a WP theme, I ultimately regret it. I find that even top selling themes are poorly built with errors that could have been eliminated if the author had only cared to enable WP_DEBUG. Unfortunately, I see integration of function in themes that should be left to plugins and redundancy through the combined use of templates and page builders.

    I think you made a bold move and am thankful for like-minded developers such as yourself.

  20. Josh Podolske
    Josh Podolske Published |

    You have answered a lot of questions for me personally here. I have purchased a lot of themes off themeforest and I find myself in that situation currently regarding shortcodes. A site is built and then get populated with content using shortcodes, then the themes author stops updating, a new theme is purchased and all of a sudden all of your posts look like crap because of the themes shortcodes.

    I had always thought that column shortcodes should be a Wordpress feature, not a theme feature

    [one_half] is what I have seen most common.

  21. Josh Stauffer
    Josh Stauffer Published |

    Glad you got the experience and shiny new laptop. Glad we got the three plugins.

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  23. Rohit Tripathi
    Rohit Tripathi Published |

    This is simply amazing. The Custom Post Types and Shortcodes should never have been built into the theme. Buying a themeforest theme for a user who used CPTs and Shortcodes extensively, would simply mean that he is stuck with that theme forever.

    Kudos (Y)..

  24. Rudi
    Rudi Published |

    Now that’s a good read! I’ve been building some themes for fun for a couple of years and finished some, but left most in their early beta phase (if you can call it that way). Now after reading I’m thinking about joining in and acually finishing some theme, but I got one mayor question. As I’m german who’s working part in germany, part in italy, am I allowed to participate in themeforest? And how will it work out for my payment? Like if I sell any product on an american website, I’m kind of sure that I’ll have to pay taxes here in germany. Do you have any experience with it?

  25. waynoss
    waynoss Published |

    Some weeks back i posted what i thought to be a balanced, intelligent, def non-abusive point of view on this forum. And it has disappeared. What content was so unsuitable? Is this not an open forum? Was it the bit about a ‘purist wordpress’ attitude?

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  30. Rose
    Rose Published |

    This article was very helpful and has given me some interesting things to think about. I’ve been wondering whether to venture onto the Envato Marketplace, but was concerned about the bells and whistles. I still might give it a bash, but I will take heed.

    I’m also all for plugin functionality being separated from themes as much as possible. It’s caused me headaches before switching themes that have custom post types built in and I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment.

    Thanks Justin 🙂

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  33. WebDesign
    WebDesign Published |

    Hello Mr. Justin,

    This is a very useful article. I was wondering if you could help me regarding some things about Themeforest. Did you sell a template (front-end design) or a WordPress theme (where you work with php and javascript)? Could I make some decent money off web templates (1K/month would be exquisite)? Or would you recommend selling WP themes?

    I am looking forward to your answer.

  34. Muhammad Imran
    Muhammad Imran Published |

    Themeforest is a saturated market where most peoples theme got rejected and if someone’s luckily get accepted it takes hours to be piled up by other themes.So solution to this issue is that if you got some nice theme or template, submit it on those marketplaces which are unsaturated like themifycloud.com your chances of approval and sales will be much higher.

  35. kapil
    kapil Published |

    Envato Market is Cheater it won’t allow you download your purchased item. it will ask you to re-buy item. and again not allow you to download. so your decision to give them your money.

    for more details see http://www.codeins.org/get-cheated-by-themeforest-envato-market/

  36. Kelly Hobkirk
    Kelly Hobkirk Published |

    Justin – I wish I had seen this article a few months back. Just so you know, nothing has changed, in regards to this experience, at Envato. In spite of the fact that we design and develop WordPress themes, I purchased a Themeforest WP theme for a personal project… big mistake. The theme author did exactly what you have described here, creating a custom plugin and post format that works solely with his themes. The funny (or sad) thing is, the custom plugin download doesn’t work, so the theme is useless, while the author doesn’t reply to help requests. Envato’s useless response was to ask the author to fix it, offer an Envato credit, or send me the author’s email address. I am lucky actually that this problem manifested early on, otherwise, down the road when I change themes or design one, I would have to rebuild the content completely. I was lucky to locate an Automattic theme that fit the need perfectly. Thank you for conducting your helpful experiment.

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