Lately I’ve been stumbling upon a lot of discussion about the premium WordPress themes market. Is it worth trying to sell WordPress themes?
TL;DR Yes, definitely. It’s not 2009 though. It’s harder to claim a spot in this market but I think there’s still room for great themes out there. Competition is fierce. Most importantly, it totally depends on you.
Is it worth it? What’s the market size? Is the market crowded? Saturated? Do we need more themes? What kind of themes? Can I make a living out of it? Is there a theme (or 10) for every possible niche out there? Should I just give it a try?
(Back To) Basics
Do You Have What It Takes?
By releasing a premium WordPress theme out there for people to use, you are basically committing yourself to a rather painful but also really exciting long-term process. If you are looking to get into it just for making quick buck, sorry, you’ve picked the wrong game.
A WordPress theme, as the name suggests, isn’t a standalone product. Every 3 or 4 months a new major version of WordPress is being released. Things change, sometimes radically and your theme should be compatible with these changes. What about users who already use your theme and haven’t upgraded to the latest version of WordPress? Wait, what about users who have the latest version of your theme but haven’t yet upgraded to the latest version of WordPress? How many major WordPress versions should your theme be compatible with? See where this is going?
To put it simply, you need a plan. A solid one.
Yes, yes, but is it worth it?
The other thing to consider is your distribution channel(s). Sell through Themeforest? Creative Market? Mojo Themes? Some other marketplace? Your own website? Use all of them? Let’s see.
Building your own brand
Probably the toughest plan of them all. Now you have to develop 2 assets. Your product (themes) and your brand. If you’ve built other online products in the past and feel confident about your marketing skills then go for it. Just do not expect immediate results from your effort. Remember, it’s a crowded market and no matter how great your themes are (or rather, you think they are, you don’t have any feedback yet) well, to be honest, it will take a considerable amount of time before you see some tangible results (sales). Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter how great your themes are. If you choose to pursue this path, there are a couple of important things to consider before jumping in. Obviously, you must let people know that you are open for business (so they can evaluate and eventually buy your themes) but most importantly you need to convince them that you are here for the long run (Support & theme updates).
How to do that? Well, that’s way beyond the scope of this article but here are a couple of pointers. WordPress is famous for its vibrant community. Get involved. Share your short-term plans with your potential customers. What are you working on? Are you going to release a new theme next month? What about updates for existing themes? Anything important they should know about your themes related to an upcoming major WordPress update?
Some top authors (your future competitors) share their experience in detail on their blogs. Find them. Study them. Just don’t blindly follow. What works for them doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.
Oh, and don’t forget to actually talk to other authors. Email them. Call them. Go find them in meetups and WordCamps. You’ll be surprised by their replies (at least in my case, many kindly replied with a handful of really useful insights).
The biggest advantage of this route is that you are in complete control of every single aspect of your business. Everything depends on your decisions and your ability to claim a spot in the market.
Selling on marketplaces
In my opinion, it’s the safest route, especially if you are just starting out. In my example I’m going to use Themeforest mainly because it’s admittedly the biggest marketplace out there. At the time of writing, there are approximately 7,000 WordPress themes listed with around 5 themes being added every day. I know it seems intimidating at first glance, but if you look closer you will easily spot 2 things. A pattern and an opportunity.
Visit the “Most Popular WordPress Themes” section. Make yourself to believe that you can easily develop a “similar” theme in a couple of weeks and earn a place in the hall of fame. Rinse and repeat. Well, no. Please, for the love of god, don’t do that.
For every theme that you see in there with more than 100 sales per week, there’s a team, a story and a process behind it. I’m sure you are already checking out their demos, trying to figure out what makes those themes so popular. Well, you are looking at the wrong place. Instead, focus on the people behind the themes. Hint: Most of them actively promote their themes outside Themeforest quite aggressively. Affiliates love them too. Also, don’t be surprised when you find out that Themeforest itself promotes those items as well (Newsletters, social media, landing pages, testimonials etc).
I’ve had a few conversations about the latter with people who expressed their concerns on that and my answer has always been the same. It’s not personal, it’s just business. Themeforest needs to make money and, to be perfectly clear here, when you decided to upload your item, you also agreed to play by their rules.
Here’s the real question though. Do you really need to get in the most popular section to make a living? More on that, later.
The biggest advantage of a crowded market is the feedback accumulated over the years. For example, go to Themeforest and visit the “Blog/Magazine” category. Now check some popular themes. No, not the demos. Check the comments left by people who have either purchased or are about to make a purchase. Now go check some recent releases. Check the comments again. One would think that newer items would have taken advantage of the comments/requests left on older, popular themes but that’s not the case. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that an opportunity? I think (and 6,800 sales later I’m sure) it is.
Other opportunities are just right there, waiting to be exploited. In this blog I’m going to share my thoughts in detail for some of them but right now, this is not what you should be focusing on.
Back to basics, again.
You are ready to make the big leap but something’s holding you back. You feel confident about your technical skills but you are still skeptical about everything else. Should you go full-time with it? Maybe keep your 9–5 job and work on it at night? Find a partner and share responsibilities?
Well, here’s an indisputable fact:
You won’t be competing with a store across the street but with authors across the globe. This basically means that if we had the chance to invite 1000 theme authors to provide an answer to your “Is it worth it?” question, ALL of them would come up with a different one. Why?
Because the perception of “worth” is different for each and every one of us and correlates highly with some basic factors, like our geographic location or our interpretation of success. For example, what’s the cost of living in your area? What’s your financial status? Can you afford working without getting paid for 3 – 4 months? How much do you really need to make every month in order to make ends meet? What about your ambitions? Will this make you happy?
Let’s do some basic math. Your brand new theme just got approved in Themeforest. You will be selling exclusively which means that you will be getting, for starters, a 50% commission. Your item was priced at $49 and congratulations, the first month closed at 100 sales. You just earned $2,500. Is that enough? Totally subjective. Why? Read the previous paragraph once more. That’s why.
Enough already. Is it worth it?
Yes, I think there’s ample room for great themes out there. Themes that tackle one problem at a time. Niche themes. Can’t really say anything about “multi-purpose” themes though. I despise multi-purpose themes. Careful there. I’m talking about the themes, not their authors. They have their reasons for releasing such themes. You are on your own here and basically that’s all you will ever read about this kind of themes in this blog.
My whole point is that there’s tons of information out there about every single aspect of running a WordPress themes business. Just find it. What you won’t find is insights about you and your personal goals. Sort this out, lay down a plan and go for it.
Good luck with sales.
Also published on Medium.