Whispers from the woods of Themeforest
Chanting birds and magical creatures used to welcome every stranger who’s feet brought him to this place. The woods offered sanctuary and shelter for wonderers of any kind.
As a front-end developer, I am proud to be part of an Elite Envato author team. I enjoy building beautiful WordPress themes. I enjoy the community and sometimes even the support. However, I also feel the urge to share some concerns about what Envato market has become and the path it is taking. This post can’t be written without at least some criticism.
This post is intended for ThemeForest authors. It offers some helpful information and interesting data. But I must also warn the reader about possible side effects of my personal views, which may include increased blood pressure and diarrhea. The views are my own and don’t necessarily reflect Anpsthemes’s views or views of other ThemeForest authors.
They also might make me an ex-front-end developer for Envato author, after my boss reads what I’ve posted.
Becoming an author used to be a no-brainer. As long as you’ve had the know-how and sense for visual aesthetics, publishing a WordPress theme on ThemeForest was easy and exposure was awesome. The results of effort yielded fast.
We at Anps are lucky. Our themes sell above average, we have entered the marketplace soon enough and already have a decent client base.
Times change fast on the web. For someone who is considering entering the e-market as an author with their first WordPress theme, the situation is quite different.
Themes have become much more extensive and complex. Developing a proper theme demands 5 to 10 times more production time than it used to. The review process also takes up to 15 times as much as it did. Building a theme from scratch and successfully publishing it on ThemeForest can take up to 6 months. And the sales the theme gets, might not be exactly like the ones from Envato success stories. We’ll look deeper into this further on.
Nowadays becoming an author feels pretty much like a bare-feet marathon in the middle of Siberian winter. From the perspective of the early bird authors, it seems one must be pretty much crazy to start walking this path now.
The challenges of a becoming an author
I am just going to assume you know how to build a theme and skip all the technical stuff, so let’s focus on the other things that you need to put in check.
The review process
At the time of writing, the estimated time for the first review is 24 days. You can check the actual time here. This is just the first review and if you would expect a multi-page document, with all things that require changes in your theme. You will be pretty much frustrated when you will receive no more than a few sentences from reviewers. The response will be either hard reject or a soft one. How they differ from one another?
The hard reject looks like “Your theme does not meet the minimum requirements, it just sucks.” And a soft reject looks like ”Bummer, your theme isn’t quite ready. It kind of sucks, but can be improved…”, following by extremely short guidelines on what to change.
When you get the latter one, you should actually be happy because almost never, a theme is accepted without a soft reject.
When you improve on all the issues pointed out by the reviewer, you will need to upload your theme again and wait. Most likely another short list of new issues will be posted to you in a couple of days (if you’re lucky). Again you will need to rewrite some of your code, upload the theme and wait. Then wait some more. And some more. This is usually the point when you realize that you’ve already lost a month of sales and you start asking yourself why you didn’t publish your theme to Creative market or some other alternative marketplace.
To prevent unpleasant surprises, make sure to carefully read Selling and being an Author and especially WordPress Theme Submission Requirements.
Waiting for approval means hard work too
In few days, you’ll probably stop refreshing your inbox every few minutes. During this time, you can start setting up your support platform. You can choose from wide range of solutions like Ticksy, Freshdesk, Zendesk, Helprace, Helpscout or any other.
If you’re not from the US, then you will also want to do your paperwork to avoid overtaxing. This includes the W-8 form. You can read all about it here. Dependent on your country laws, you might need to get your international tax identification number.
The theme got approved, yaay!
When an author finally publishes the theme, it hardly gets much exposure nowadays. Hopefully, if the theme is visually attractive and packs some nice features, the sales begin. If you’re lucky it might even pay off the long development time, the purchased extended licenses and stock images.
Now the buyers need help. They paid for it, they demand it. Support takes much more effort, as it used too. Buyers are less tech-savvy as they used to be. The majority of buyers used to be web agencies, but now many of them are end-users. Some of them never installed WordPress before and expect authors to teach them how it’s done, some don’t even know where to login in their site. Authors must teach them how to configure php.ini file, how to make their 420 x 600 px image fit the fullscreen slider and all other stuff that doesn’t have much to do with the author’s theme.
Sure, an author can simply refuse this kind of help, it is not part of Envato support policy obligations anyway. But in this case, the author risks getting the theme killed by one-star ratings in the very start.
If the theme sells, the effort is rewarded. Some authors get damn rich here. Just check out the ThemeForest flagships and Envato success stories.
But let’s take a closer look at sales on ThemeForest. How much can a new author expect to earn with their’s first theme?
If you decided on being an exclusive author and agreed not to sell your themes anywhere else, you’ll get 50% of the earnings from Envato. If you don’t agree to this, then your share is just 36%.
I also must not forget to mention here, that you will need to wait for the money too. The earnings can be withdrawn on the 15th for the previous month.
How many sales does an average theme get?
An average, of all WordPress theme sales, is 8.3 per week. Not bad, right?
But if we sort all the themes from the one with the least sales to the one with the highest sales, and check the middle one. How many sales does the middle one get? It gets only 2,4 sales per week.
How is this possible? Well, the later result is called the median. It is much smaller than the average, due to unequal (skewed) sales distribution on ThemeForest. As a new theme from a new author, achieving the median sales is much more probable, than the average.
Sure the first week the sales are likely to be better while the theme is listed among the new ones. But on the long run, it will most likely drop below this number.
Distribution of sales
If we make a graph (involving the latest 6000 WP themes on themeforest.net) arranged by number of average weekly sales, we get this:
See this green line on the left? That is where the majority of themes are. And on the far right, there are the flagships.
Most buyers choose a theme from the top list. Can’t really blame them, they want to buy something that is tested and is loved by many. The top 1% of all themes account for one-third of all sales on ThemeForest.
The top 10 week’s best selling themes will probably stay on the top 10 list next week and the next one. It is nearly impossible to get on this list. Here is a comparison how the weekly top 10 list has changed in the last three years:
If you notice any difference, it is because all the top selling themes have changed their thumbnail image at some point.
These are the millionaires, the heroes, the honorable mentions in songs of Envato success stories, used by their marketing team to attract fresh author blood. Many of great themes have tried to make it on this list and failed. Their source code now lies buried deep down below the fold of the top list.
Only if Envato, by some miracle, would decide to either kill this list (like it did in the PSD section) or expand it by following mobile markets examples, the winds would carry a clear message of the new era of diversity, prosperity and glory across the Envato underworld. Such message would mean a true and warm welcome to all newborn authors. Like a gentle sound of fanfares, it would draw a proud smile on their faces while filled with honor, they would walk through the Envato castle gate.