Launched in August 2008, ThemeForest quickly established themselves as the biggest source of WordPress themes on the internet. Their marketplace allowed developers to release designs to a huge audience that no other service could offer and it gave WordPress users a wonderful variety of designs that dedicated theme stores couldn’t match.
ThemeForest set the standard that all other WordPress marketplaces aspire to but very few have managed to reach the dizzying heights that ThemeForest have. The closest is Mojo Themes, which is a great marketplace for WordPress themes and plugins in its own right. Large theme stores such as Woo Themes offer customers over 100 unique designs however with over 350 WordPress themes to offer, Mojo Themes can lay claim to offering WordPress users a better number of options.
350 designs pales in comparison to the number of WordPress themes available in the ThemeForest marketplace. In just 33 months ThemeForest managed to reach the milestone of 1,000 WordPress themes being released through their marketplace. This was nothing short of spectacular, particularly when you consider that no other store or marketplace has yet to come close to that. That milestone was reached in May 2011 though it looks like they are looking to smash their own record and and break the 2,000 theme milestone in early August 2012. Releasing another 1,000 WordPress themes in just 15 months is amazing and I have no doubt that they will reach the 3,000 theme mark before the Summer of 2013.
As someone who has been reviewing WordPress themes for years, I log in to ThemeForest regularly to check the latest designs. I also run a few blogs and lots of small content websites so I’m always checking out the latest designs. I have purchased dozens of WordPress themes through ThemeForest and WordPress plugins through it’s sister site CodeCanyon. Additionally, I have promoted ThemeForest extensively through my WordPress related websites and blogs. Due to this, I have a lot of experience with using their marketplace both as a customer and as a promoter.
Today I would like to don my Victor Meldrew cap and share with you the things that annoy and frustrate me about the ThemeForest service together with suggestions on how I think their marketplace can be improved. On the whole, I love their service, so I believe that evolution is needed rather than revolution. They get many things right though a few key changes would make customers, developers and affiliates a little happier.
Note: When I refer to the ThemeForest marketplace in this article I am referring to all Envato marketplaces including CodeCanyon, which is the store where users can purchase WordPress plugins. Theme and plugin developers may also be referred to as ‘authors’ as that’s what they are referred to on all Envato marketplaces.
1. Allow Removed Items To Be Downloaded
Marketplace items can be removed by Envato staff or by the original author. I can understand why authors would stop selling one of their products. Some may remove it if the product hasn’t been selling well. Others may remove products that have become outdated and don’t function like they should (which is common with WordPress themes that haven’t been updated in two years).
What I don’t understand is why Envato removes the download from customers who have purchased the item previously. When an item is removed from the marketplace, you will still see the item listed on your downloads page. Instead of seeing a download link for the item, you will see a notice that states ‘This item has been removed by either staff or the author and is no longer available. Contact support for more details.’.
When an item gets removed from the marketplace, customers who had purchased the item aren’t informed about it. As you would expect, you aren’t given an automatic refund either.
Unfortunately, a few of my purchases over the last few years have been removed. I created my WordPress Theme Gallery website using the Gallery Pro design by Chris Wallace a couple of years ago. The theme was very buggy and Chris was not responding to support queries at the time. He then provided a fix but it was still buggy. Shortly afterwards, the theme was removed from ThemeForest and was later sold via UpThemes.
Here’s the problem. Even if you complain and get a refund for an item, it doesn’t really help you if you have used an item on a live website. I had backed up a copy of Gallery Pro on my computer but when my hard drive failed, I had no backup. So when one of the core template files was infected with Spyware later, I couldn’t simply overwrite the theme. Due to this, it is prudent to always download marketplace purchases to your computer and to a cloud based service such as DropBox or Google Drive as well.
So how can Envato address this issue? I would like to see them allow customers to download all of their purchases, irrespective of whether the item has been removed or not. A small note could be placed saying that as the item has been remove and that the author will no longer provide support. This means that you will always have a backup of the items you have purchased via an Envato store. Until they resolve this issue, always remember to back up your purchases.
2. Improve Product Comments Area
Each item in the Envato marketplace has two tabs near the top of the page. One shows ‘Item Details’ and the other shows ‘Comments’. Some items have a ‘FAQs’ section too. The comment area was created specifically for authors to give support to customers. It does work like it’s supposed to but it’s very basic and far from ideal.
Due to the basic nature of the item comment area, it has become very common for authors to point all customers to their own support forums. For example, top ThemeForest author Orman Clark does not offer any support to customers via the comment area. They are instead directed to create an account at his company support forums, associate the ‘item purchase code’ for the item they purchased and then post their query there. I’m sure that many authors are taking these steps to give them more control over customer support though I have no doubt that many authors would not create their own dedicated support forums for customers if they Envato improved the marketplace comment area.
Comments Are Not Searchable
I recently spoke to my friends Kevin Mackay and Sam Sinton from Underground Marketing and Pippin Williamson from Pippins Plugins about how ThemeForest could be improved and all three brought up the fact that the comment area is really poor.
Both Kevin and Pippin raised the point that comments are not searchable. Pippin noted:
One of the biggest improvements I feel needs to happen is with item comments. Most popular items will end up with hundreds and hundreds of comments, but the comments are not searchable, so finding information buried somewhere in the middle is almost impossible. I’d love to see comments get the ability to be searched, and also for comments to be able to be tagged by the submitter as a certain type. For example, some comments would be tagged with “Support Request”, some would be “Praise”, and some would be “Complaint”. Then being able to view just comments of one type or another would be hugely beneficial.
Currently, due to many authors not providing a good FAQ area on the ‘item details’ page, customers need to search through dozens of pages of comments to get answers to common questions. A simple search function would help customers find answers to simple questions without having to post the question again or emailing the author.
Cannot Get Email Updates From Author Comments Or Member Comments
When you leave a comment on an item, you get the option of email updates whenever your comment leaves replies. This is an important feature for those need support from item authors. This is the only type of email update you can get. You cannot subscribe to the whole discussion thread, only to updates.
As you can imagine, this makes following the progression of a theme or plugin rather limiting. Many authors use the comment area to update customers about updates, fixes and tips. The only way to get these updates is by checking the thread manually periodically. A subscription option which emails you whenever the author leaves a comment is sorely missed. An option to subscribe to comments from all customers would be very helpful too as many customers post good tips for others in the comment area.
Only One Discussion Thread
Each item in the marketplace only has one comment area attached to it. A traditional forum user interface would be much easier to navigate in my opinion. As it stands, popular items have pages and pages of comments. Take the best selling Big Feature WordPress Theme for example, it currently has 61 pages of comments.
3. Offer Product Updates
One thing that really annoys me about Envato marketplaces is that after you have purchased a product, you aren’t given an update when the product is updated. On countless occasions I have logged onto my account to find that the plugin I use on all my websites has been updated several times recently and I’m still using the outdated version which is buggy. Or I find that the theme I use on one of my websites has had new page templates added and the code has been tidied up.
They really should automatically update customers whenever a new version of their item has been uploaded by the item author. Customers could have the option of opting out this email though on most occasions I believe that people would be happy to receive an email informing them that the item they had purchased had been updated.
Currently, the only way authors can update customers is by leaving a comment in the comments area confirming that a new version has been added and customers should download it. This isn’t an ideal situation, particularly when you remember that customers cannot subscribe to all author comments for an item and therefore have to check the comment area frequently in order to check for updates.
Some authors are addressing this problem themselves by building automatic update options in their themes and plugins. Some allow their products to be updated directly through the WordPress admin area in a similar way to how free themes and plugins and WordPress.org are updated. Others are encouraging their customers to sign up to their newsletter so that they can send them an email whenever their item gets updated.
It would be great if ThemeForest automatically emailed customers when one of their purchased items was updated or gave authors the option of contacting users whenever they upload a new version of their item.
4. Improve Search Functionality
Searching Envato marketplaces is a mixed affair. Results can be sorted by relevance, rating, sales, price and date. You can also fine tune results by category and sub categories (however deep the categories go). You can search through results too/
Searching isn’t as functional as it could be. Pippin Williamson noted that:
The marketplaces need advanced searching ability. There used to be a semi-advanced search form, but it was removed for some reason. Potential buyers need to be able to define a variety of parameters for their search query, including “author”, “category”, “rating”, etc. Currently, if you want to find all items by a particular author, you have to view their portfolio, but the only way you can view their portfolio (without knowing their URL) is by finding one of their items. It’s currently impossible to search for authors.
As mentioned earlier, you cannot search through item comments either. With the comment area being setup with only one discussion thread per item, the ability to search through 50+ pages of comments would be a great help.
5. Improve Support
Support for items comes directly from authors whenever you purchased from an Envato marketplace. As such, the quality of support you receive varies greatly for product to product. Some of the top authors have recognised how important good support is and offer fantastic support to their customers, either directly on ThemeForest or through their own support forums.
Unfortunately, good support isn’t guaranteed. I’ve purchased many items in which the author provides little to no support. This is perhaps unavoidable in a marketplace but I’d like to see Envato do more to encourage good support.
Improved Ratings System
Envato does have a basic ratings system integrated into the marketplace. To leave a rating for an item you have purchased, visit your downloads page and choose a rating between 1 and 5 stars for each item. Ratings are shown on the sidebar of the item details and item comment area. A ratings column is shown in item listings and search results. Users can sort results by rating too.
The rating system isn’t that useful in my opinion. You are not able to leave a comment or review with your rating: you only have the option to give a rating between one or five. There is no guide that confirms what a rating means. Some members may leave a rating of 3 stars if they believe a WordPress theme was good but not great. Others may leave a rating of 3 stars for themes they believe were really poor. Without a guide as to what each rating means, the ratings become a little meaningless.
ThemeForest member quosik posted about this issue recently. He made a suggestion to ignore all 1 star ratings, pointing to the fact that 1 star usually means a product wasn’t working, which he says can’t happen because all Envato items are reviewed before being released on the marketplace. I disagree with this idea greatly. Ignoring ratings kind of defeats the purpose of letting people rate items in the first place. Secondly, Envato don’t test items as thoroughly as users do. I’m not aware of the steps they take to review items though I do know from personal experience that most new WordPress themes and plugns released in the marketplace have lots of bugs in them. I’ve even purchased a WordPress plugin that produced critical errors on a fresh installation (which suggests the item wasn’t actually reviewed).
Quosik did make some great suggestions such as making users leave a comment if they rate an item under 5 stars (i.e. explain what was wrong with the item), only show ratings from the last year or two so that ratings are relevant, and giving customers the opportunity to re-rate items after the author has updated the item and fixed bugs etc (though there shouldn’t be any pressure on users to re-rate items).
I can understand the frustration authors have with inexperienced users giving items poor ratings because they didn’t know how to install or modify a WordPress plugin or theme correctly, however, I do believe there is great value in an anonymous rating system where people don’t have to justify the ratings they give.
Poor ratings often come from inexperienced customers and not faulty items. And if they come from faulty items – items usually get updated and ratings don’t.
The current rating system only works for items. I believe a multi rating system would be much more useful. At the very least I’d like to see a separate rating added for authors. This would allow customers to rate the quality of support they received from an author, a factor that is just as important as the quality of an item to many people.
I’d be hesitant to buy a top quality WordPress theme from an author if I knew they provided little support to buyers. If a multi rating system was introduced it would allow us to rate the author’s item as 5 stars but their support as 1 star. Experienced users place less emphasis on support but it would be an important rating for beginner and intermediate users.
Improved Support From Envato Staff
In my 4 years of using ThemeForest and CodeCanyon, I’ve only asked for two refunds. On both occasions I was slightly disappointed with the way things were handled.
The first time was in regards to the Gallery Pro theme being buggy. The theme author was on holiday so did not reply to my emails. After opening a support query with ThemeForest, they assured me that they would look into the matter but didn’t respond to any queries of mine for 4 or 5 days. In the end, they gave me a refund and put another $15 for the poor service I had received. It turns out that a new staff member had closed my support query in error.
The second item I got a refund for was a social media plugin called Social Bytes which I purchased specifically for a review. I had asked the plugin developer for a test copy of the plugin but he was not comfortable doing that. The plugin was cheap (only $6) and I knew many readers would be interested in it so I purchased it for the purpose of the review. I soon found that the plugin didn’t work.
I voiced my concerns in the comment area for the plugin, as did many other disgruntled buyers. The developer spent more time trying to point the blame on customers than actually trying to look into the errors. The comments from me below illustrate what I had to do to try and encourage the developer to fix the bugs in the plugin.
It’s Kevin Muldoon from www.wpmods.com.
We spoke before about reviewing the plugin on the site. I just purchased the plugin and was planning on testing it on the site. Like many other people, the plugin doesn’t work for me. I test dozens of plugins every week on a test blog with no other plugins activated and I can assure you that this isn’t an issue with other themes or with other plugins. I tested the plugin with more than 5 other designs and the plugin causes errors.
In my current design the theme causes tons of errors and won’t work. I got the widget to display on one theme I tested but it displayed errors throughout the site. This makes the plugin completely unusable.
I encourage you to test the plugin more and try and resolve these issues. Can you please process a refund in the mean time. If you can resolve these issues later I will purchase again and do a full review on my site
The plugin does not work. I tested it on a demo blog with no plugins installed and it did not work with several themes. I wouldn’t advise anyone purchasing this until these errors have been addressed.
On 2010 and 2011 there are errors in the backend and Twitter icon isn’t showing.
I tested it on several themes – free and premium. The plugin causes fatal errors that crash the website. This makes it unusable on 99% of websites that have a functions.php template. It isn’t fit for purpose.
Please test this yourself on several themes from the WordPress directory and you will see this for yourself. The plugin isn’t working.
I had tested the plugin on a test blog with no other plugins installed using the default WordPress themes Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven. Many other members shared my frustration with the developer not acknowledging the fact the plugin caused fatal errors that stopped a live website from working.
The plugin never worked for me. Tried on both blogs and got me plenty of errors.
Deactivated and deleted.
THis plugin Sux….. Asked Author for help? With my Issue – Spits our Errrrors after its activated Errors Mentioned above.
Over 2 weeks still no answer :-/
REFUND ME PLEASE
After activating BIG mess ! errors like
notice: Undefined index: page in //admin/theme_options/option_settings.php on line 10
I have deactivated it, and probably delete it .and ask for refunding
I have never had so many problems with a plugin. After installing and activating it half the screen was covered with php error messages!
I can only give this advice: keep your hands off!!
What will you expect for six dollars?
If author will read this, please send me a refund.
As you can see from the comments above, the vast majority of customers were unhappy with the plugin, so you would expect Envato to process a refund pretty quickly. They didn’t.
I contacted them with a detailed breakdown of the errors the plugin was generating, explained that the plugin had been tested in a test blog with the default theme with no plugins installed, and included a link to the comment area which showed complaints from lots of other unhappy customers (examples above). $6 isn’t a lot of money but I didn’t want to pay for a broken product out of principle, particularly when the plugin developer was reluctant to help. I took the time to write a detailed email to Envato about it so that other people wouldn’t have to go through what I did.
The email fell on deaf ears. After an automated email saying my ticket had been received, I received this response after 3 or 4 days.
Thank you for your message to Envato Support. Due to the nature of our product, we can’t swap and don’t provide credits for an item unless your request falls into one of the following categories:
* The files are malfunctioning or corrupt.
* The files are not what the item description claims.
We would be happy to proceed with your refund request if you feel that your item fits one of the above criteria.
Here’s what we will need from you:
Please explain in detail how it is malfunctioning, corrupt, or not as described. We will then ask one of our reviewers to look over the file, and if we find you are correct we will be more than happy to credit your account for the cost of the item. This process also allows us to identify and fix any problems the file/description may have.
Please also note:
We do not issue refunds for insufficient item support from an author. Although we encourage it, theme authors aren’t required to provide support of any kind.
We do not issue PayPal refunds. For more information, please read the following:
http://wiki.envato.com/support/legal-terms/legal-membership-terms-and-conditions/ | 13. Payments from Member Ledger
Also, if by chance you are having issues with a WordPress theme installation, please see the following URL for video and text instructions – http://wiki.envato.com/buying/support-buying/solving-broken-theme-issues/
Envato Support Team
This highlighted a lot of support issues that Envato need to address:
- Their response times to customers is really poor. Taking 3 days or more to reply to a query such as this is unacceptable.
- They don’t read customer’s support queries. After waiting 3 days for a reply, the very least I would have hoped for is a member of the support team to have read my email. Instead, I got a standard email reply which asked me questions I had already answered.
- Author’s aren’t required to give support for the items they sell.
After a few more emails and a few more days waiting, Envato did refund money to my account in respect of the broken plugin. To their credit, Envato always seem to refund customers when the customer has a valid reason for a refund. The problem is, you need to send a few emails to them in order get them to reach this decision and that will probably take between 3 and 7 days.
On a side issue, I find it worrying how the developer of Social Bytes has handled the bad feedback that myself and other customers left. Rather than acknowledge the problems the plugin has, he has added a banner on the item details page which states that support will only be given privately. Seems to be a rather crude way of stopping people from posting about problems publicly.
Better Refund Policy
You may have noticed in the email Envato sent me that they do not issue refunds for insufficient item support from an author. This is a little bit of a cop out in my opinion. I appreciate that the responsibility of support lies with the authors who develop items for the marketplace however if an author flat our refuses to help someone with an item, they really should consider refunding the customer, particularly if they have valid questions.
I also don’t like the fact that they do not issue PayPal refunds. I do understand that any website that sells digital products has to deal with a small percentage of members purchasing an item, downloading it and then asking for a refund. It is however a little unfair to treat honest customers in the same way. This rule means that someone who purchases a product via PayPal will only get a credit added to their account if a refund is processed. This isn’t fair. I’m sure there are people who only need or want one item from the marketplace. If that product is found to be malfunctioning or is simply removed from the marketplace, what good is ‘store credit’ if there is nothing else there they need.
I hope that these rules are just to scare away time wasters and scammers and Envato do take the time to consider refund requests on an individual basis.
6. Improve Their Item Review Process
The ThemeForest review process was created to ensure that all items listed in the marketplace are of a high quality. They examine four key areas: design quality, concept, code quality and documentation.
It does seem like a pretty strict review process as they check that things such as depreciated WordPress tags and PHP short tags are not used. I do feel that this review process has improved over the last few years. The first few WordPress themes I purchased through ThemeForest were so buggy I couldn’t even use them. Things have certainly improved since then but there is still room for improvement.
My main gripe with the ThemeForest review process is that themes aren’t tested as thoroughly as I would like. It’s great that they check the quality of code and the quality of the design however they should also test themes work with popular plugins such as WordPress SEO by Yoast and W3 Total Cache. I know it isn’t practical or possible for WordPress designs to work with all plugins though these plugins are used by a large percentage of WordPress users so accommodating them makes sense.
Perhaps more importantly, they need to try out the theme for themselves and see if options and features work the way that the author states they do. ThemeForest authors proudly promote all of their design’s great features though they are frequently not implemented as well as you would have hoped.
My review of the Zwin vCard WordPress Theme in April 2012 illustrates this point. I purchased the design for my personal website. I am still using the design and I still love the way it works, however it did have lots of bugs.
- Text fields still showing on the page whether you completed the field or not.
- Social media profile images showing even if you didn’t complete the social media fields.
- Website address field only permitting you to enter a domain with 8 characters. Domains with more characters would have the end cut off.
- Contact page not displaying correctly if you didn’t choose to show people where you lived (it relied on Google Maps)
As someone who has a basic knowledge of coding, I was able to resolve these bugs myself by modifying the template code myself. WordPress beginners would have had more problems with the design. The bugs weren’t critical though they were significant enough to stop a WordPress beginner from using the theme correctly. If the ThemeForest review process put aside 15 minutes to test that a design works like it should, they would have found these problems quickly.
The review process for CodeCanyon needs improvement too. I spoke earlier in this article about purchasing a social media plugin called Social Bytes that produced critical errors and stopped any website using it from working. This error was shown directly after activating it on a test blog with no other plugins installed. This raises the question as to whether CodeCanyon even tested the plugin at all.
They need to spend more time testing WordPress plugins and themes to avoid this happening and to maintain the high standard they have become known for. If Envato are taking no responsibility for support, they should at least make sure they test items thoroughly before they are approved for the marketplace.
7. Don’t Dictate Prices To Developers
My friend Kevin Mackay says that ThemeForest have a ´Soviet Style Central Planning´ for pricing. He noted that:
They don’t let anyone do a market test for pricing which is obviously fundamental to business and the free market.
- $25-30 – Simple or single page themes. For example mobile themes
- $35-40 – Standard themes
- $45-50 – Themes with advanced functionality. Includes flexible themes or niche applications.
- $55-60 – Highly complex themes. Typically this would be eCommerce, BuddyPress, job board or payment gateway integration.
Until this announcement in early June, nearly all WordPress themes were priced between $25 and $40. The additional two bands were added for more complex themes. Whilst no items dropped in price, most items went up in price by at least $5 after these changes were announced. This annoyed a lot of ThemeForest customers as the price hike hadn’t been advertised so those that had planned on purchasing a certain design saw an unadvertised price increase of $5-$30. When compared to other WordPress theme stores, I believe the pricing scheme is still good for WordPress users as the quality of WordPress themes released there over the last two years has increased considerably.
The question is: Is this fixed pricing system good for WordPress theme developers?
This is a difficult question to answer. You need to remember that non-exclusive authors only get 33% per sale whilst exclusive others get 50% per sale, increasing to a maximum of 70% when sales of $75,000 has been reached. This means that on average, authors get around $20-$25 per sale via ThemeForest. This is extremely low when compared to the $50-$100 most WordPress theme stores charge for their designs. Of course, ThemeForest make up for this with the sheer volume of potential customers they can offer authors. Most top authors are making tens of thousands of dollars every month.
To find out more about this I read all of the announcements about changes in Envato pricing and all of the comments from authors. In particular, the discussion threads Price Adjustment Tool and Envato Elite Updates, Price Increases and WordPress Category Pricing Changes.
It seems that whilst some authors seem content with ThemeForest handling the pricing side of things, many authors, particularly elite authors, have been a little more vocal about them having little control over pricing.
This proved to be a very unpopular move. The tool gave elite authors some freedom on how their themes were priced on the marketplace. Elite authors such as Orman Clark were very vocal about the removal of the tool, especially as ThemeForest tried to lighten the blow by offering elite authors a fancy badge on their profile instead.
Is this an actual joke? No seriously? I was half expecting Jeremy Beadle to pop up from under my desk when I read this.
You’re removing the ability for authors to set their own prices and test the impact of different price points on their businesses and replacing it with a custom forum title? This has to be a joke, right?
As someone that operates their entire business through ThemeForest, and has managed to grow a small team around it, substituting one for the other is not going to wash. And while everyone can always learn something new, 12 months access to Tuts+ is hardly a worthy replacement or incentive based on the assumption that Elite authors have already got some skills to pay the bills.
Getting straight to the point, these are things authors need to run their businesses more effectively, myself included:
- The ability to test different price points and measure impact.
- Analytics which allow us to track click to sale. Without any analytics we’re playing a guessing game with promotions, advertising and essentially ANY marketing activity.
- An open rating system which allows us to see why people have rated an item poorly. Without being able to see this information we are playing yet another guessing game and have no feedback loop to improve from.
These are things authors don’t need to run their businesses more effectively:
- A custom forum title.
- More badges.
Orman also disagreed with pricing themes based on the number of features a theme had:
Give us a baseline e.g. $40 and an upper limit e.g. $70 and let us price our own products.
Features do not equal quality.
During the discussion on how themes should be priced a few months ago, he said:
This sounds like good news. There’s no doubt every item could do with with a price bump – great stuff if it is indeed happening – but I do hope authors don’t have to include teleporters in every theme to justify a higher price. By teleporters of course I mean 635 shortcodes, 45 sliders, 675 theme options, 24 portfolio layouts, kitchen sinks and their granny.
Pricing, and therefore competition, based on feature count sounds a bit pants, so I’m sure authors would be disappointed to see it go that route – I know I would.
Still think you should allow authors to set their own prices, within a bracket which you define perhaps. We’re all grown folk around here, sometimes.
The lack of control over pricing is something that Orman and many other authors were unhappy about:
And that, for me, is the point. None of us have any evidence, of anything. If we had control over the price of our own products (within a bracket), we could test the effect of different price points on the bottom line. Who knows, maybe $39 is the optimal price point for finding that sweet spot between number of sales vs revenue vs support – maybe it’s $69. I would suggest that not even Envato know what the sweet spot is either, considering the lack of price testing.
Of course it’s not ALL about $, and those who’s moral compasses point towards wide availability could price their items at the lower end of the scale.
Blanket price increases are all good, I’m completely in favour of them as all of our products are undervalued right now, but, would love more control over my business and products.
These discussions contributed to the announcement in June that saw WordPress themes being priced according to features. More complex themes can now be priced at up to $60, which has perhaps softened the blow for some of the authors who lost the ability to price their own themes.
I have no doubt that the lack of control that developers have over their products is still a hot subject. I quoted Orman Clark above as he brought up lots of great points during the discussions between authors and Envato. A fixed pricing system doesn’t suit everyone. More bells and whistles should not automatically mean an additional premium on a theme either. Many designs are being released with hundreds of shortcodes, page templates and features that myself and other WordPress users don’t need, yet under this new pricing scheme these themes now cost around $50. Should a standard theme that doesn’t include these ‘bells and whistles’ be priced $15 lower just because the author hasn’t tried to dazzle the customer with features that aren’t vital. $15 may not sound like a lot but that price difference is per design. Top authors are selling their designs in the thousands so this represents a large drop in their earnings.
Some authors may want to reduce the price of their WordPress design in order to encourage more sales i.e. to hit the sweet spot that maximises sales and profit. $50 isn’t a lot of money but it is far from being a bargain either when there are companies like Elegant Themes offering 75 quality designs for only $39 a year. That price also guarantees high quality support, something which ThemeForest says authors do not need to provide.
The bottom line is, authors, particularly elite authors, need to have more control over how their themes are priced. This will allow them to test the market, offer older designs at a discount and high quality designs at a premium. If this doesn’t happen over the next year, I expect we will see a lot of the best designers moving away from the ThemeForest marketplace.
When browsing the ThemeForest forums I read one comment that said in the future we may see authors building up their reputation and brand through the ThemeForest marketplace and then launching their own theme store. A quick look at the ThemeForest Top Authors page suggests this could happen at any time.
The current top 5 authors at ThemeForest are:
- Kriesi – Owner of Kriesi.at
- peerapong – Owner of ThemeGoods (not officially launched yet)
- templatesquare – Owner of TemplateSquare
- epicera – Owner of MDNW
- OrmanClark – Owner of ThemeZilla
Between them, these 5 designers have sold over 168,000 items designs through ThemeForest. With the exception of epicera’s website MDNW, all of the top author’s main website has been set up like a traditional theme store. They have a themes page, blog page, about page and a contact page. The only difference between their stores and a store like WooThemes is that when visitors click on the buy button, they are redirected to ThemeForest so that they can purchase there.
All of the top authors are encouraging their customers to visit their theme store and note that support is handled solely through their website, not ThemeForest. If they decided to leave ThemeForest, all they would have to do host their WordPress designs on their own servers and remove the buy links to ThemeForest. For the sake of the ThemeForest marketplace, I hope Envato do more to accomodate elite authors so that we don’t see a mass exodus of talent. Will this happen? Only time will tell.
8. Improve Affiliate Program
The affiliate program has been at the heart of ThemeForest’s success. Bloggers like myself have promoted them heavily on our websites and spread the word about the themes there. Many authors and customers may not realise how important affiliates are to the ThemeForest marketplace. I honestly believe that the site would never have been a success it is today without the help of affiliates.
Their affiliate program helped ThemeForest get their brand on thousands of popular websites. Without that traffic, ThemeForest would be a shadow of what it is today and couldn’t have attracted half talented people that are releasing designs there.
Despite their affiliate program being so important to their success, Envato’s affiliate program is incredibly poor. In no particular order, here are some of the things that Envato need to look at.
Affiliate Commission For First Purchase Only
ThemeForest affiliates get 30% of the first purchase or cash deposit of any new customer they refer.
Refer new users to any of the Envato Marketplaces and you’ll receive 30% of their first purchase or cash deposit! Every user automatically has a referral code. Simply paste a link or image button on your site using that code. If a new user clicks your referrer link and proceeds to sign up an account and purchase an item or deposit money via any Envato Marketplace, you will receive 30% of that person’s first cash deposit or purchase price. So if they deposit $20 into their account, you get $6; if they deposit $100, you get $30; if they buy a $200 item, you’ll get $60!
Their sales pitch (above) may sound great but it’s a pretty poor deal when compared to other theme stores. The average WordPress theme costs around $45, which would generate an affiliate income of $13.50. Unfortunately, that’s all that member will ever earn you through ThemeForest. ThemeForest does give you up to 3 months to convert a sale though many affiliate programs will allow you to make other commissions during the tracking period. This means you would get paid for any additional purchases the referred member makes during that period.
For example, if the person you referred followed up their $45 purchase by spending $150 on any Envato marketplace, you would earn an additional $45 in commissions. StudioPress offer a 60 day tracking period in addition to a 35% commission rate and 5% commissions for referring new affiliates. Elsewhere, member sites like WooThemes and ElegantThemes offer affiliates recurring commissions. Sadly, this is not the case with ThemeForest therefore affiliates may find it difficult to increase their earnings through ThemeForest over time. When compared to the payment structure of nearly all other WordPress theme stores, ThemeForest comes up short. I’m sorry to say but this is something that I doubt they will change in the future given the size of the marketplace now.
ThemeForest offer affiliates a wide range of banners. In the zip file there are 27 banners in total including banners for the following sizes: 125×125, 180×100, 260×120, 300×250, 468×60 and 728×90. The problem is, these banners haven’t been updated since ThemeForest launched. As a result, all of the banner tag lines are incredibly outdated.
The banners have one of four tag lines:
- Site Template and Themes – From $5
- 1000s of Site Templates – From $5
- Your Choice for Site Templates – From $5
- Blogger Templates – From $5
The banners were clearly designed before WordPress themes were introduced to ThemeForest. Since then, they have become the biggest part of the marketplace. There are currently around 2,000 WordPress themes available and they make up the majority of the purchases through ThemeForest. This dwarves the 25 blogger templates that are available. Despite this, ThemeForest provide no WordPress related banners or promotional material to help affiliates.
It’s bizarre that they have never updated their banners since launching or made any effort to produce additional resources to affiliates such as tips, articles, plugins for the latest items etc. Don’t they realise that the more banners, tools and resources they offer affiliates, the easier it is to promote their service?
This is a point which you may think I am probably being a little too picky about as most online affiliate programs are still tracking referrals using cookies however most people don’t appreciate how unreliable tracking affiliate referrals through cookies can be.
In April 2010 web monitoring firm comScore reported that third party cookies were deleted by 30-40% of users. This is concerning as if someone clears their cookies, the sale won’t be tracked. Likewise, if someone is referred by you to ThemeForest when using Chrome and then makes their purchase using another browser (e.g. Internet Explorer), the sale won’t be tracked. In both scenarios, the affiliate isn’t paid, even though they did make a referral.
The rise of mobile usage is also a concern. Devices such as the iPhone and iPad delete cookies very quickly, which means that anyone who was referred to ThemeForest whilst using a mobile device might not be tracked. When you remember that ThemeForest only pays for the first purchase or deposit for a referred customer, the idea that up to half of those referrals won’t even be tracked is alarming to say the least.
Some networks such as Affiliate Window are using cookie tracking together with back up methods such as IP-based tracking, etags and flash cookies. IP tracking is something I’d like to see introduced. ISPs that use a dynamic IP system can cause problems as the users IP address is changed every time they log in. However, when it is combined with cookie tracking it is a much more reliable method.
Any web service worth it’s salt will be making sure that affiliates aren’t being cheated out of the affiliate commissions they worked hard to earn. Surely companies like Envato should be taking the issue of un-tracked referrals more seriously by introducing back up methods for their cookie based tracking system.
Most affiliates are stat junkies. Checking stats too much can be a large drain on time though this practice should not undermine just how important statistics are to someone who is promoting a service or product. Affiliates test, split test frequently so need stats to be quick and reliable.
ThemeForest makes this very difficult. They only show click throughs, registered members, deposits and earnings.
This lack of information makes optimizing your income through ThemeForest a nightmare. You can’t see what pages are generating sales, you can’t see what websites are generating sales, you can’t see what links are generating sales. ThemeForest affiliates just need to promote the service as best as they can and hope for the best. It’s frustrating to say the least.
ThemeForest offers no additional tracking methods. Each ThemeForest account is linked to one ThemeForest member. It’s quite common for ThemeForest affiliates to use the same username to promote ThemeForest through several websites, even though this means that they have no idea which website is performing well and which isn’t.
I have brought this issue up with Envato on many occasions. The only alternative available just now is to create a new ThemeForest account for each website you want to promote them through. This makes promoting ThemeForest through several websites a real pain. Rather than logging into one account and checking how your websites have been performing, you need to login and logout several times. They also use Captcha so the whole process becomes very time consuming.
They need to give affiliates the option of creating different affiliate links for different websites, different pages and different keywords. Every other affiliate program offers this option so why doesn’t a behemoth like Envato do this?
I have been a strong advocate of ThemeForest for a number of years. It has without doubt the best selection of premium WordPress designs available on the web. Their sister website CodeCanyon has also developed into the best source of premium WordPress plugins on the web.
I criticise ThemeForest because the service could be so much more. It could do more to help customers by offering downloads of purchased items that have expired, emailing about product updates, improving search functionality and improving customer support. It could do more for developers by giving them more control over how their products are priced. This would ensure that top authors don’t take their designs outside of the marketplace. Last but not least, they could do more for the affiliates who work tirelessly to promote their service.
I’d love to hear your views on ThemeForest, particularly if you have a good idea on how their service can be improved. Also, if you disagree with anything I have said in this article, please leave a comment and explain why. I know many people will disagree with some things I said but don’t worry, I won’t be offended, debate is healthy :)
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Thanks for reading,