How 92% of us stiffed ThemeThrift in its first week


On Tuesday evening the countdown clock on ThemeThrift counted down to zero, and the week-long experiment that theme developer Jake Caputo began on a whim came to a close. For seven days his theme Modest was available via a pay-what-you-want model, with options ranging from $0 to $50. By the time the clock ticked to zero the theme had seen downloads from 272 people, 8% of which opted to pay something for the theme.

When I spoke to Caputo this week he said he expected to see a bit of activity on ThemeThrift when he launched it last Monday. I asked him to clarify, thinking he meant to say he hadn’t expected that. But he said  he did expect some attention, since the idea was a bit off the beaten path and, well, risky.

Low down dirty numbers

Kudos to Caputo for sharing numbers on his experiment, particularly for me to share here. He told me the Modest theme saw 272 downloads in its time on ThemeThrift, 200 of which came within the first 72 hours the site was live. Eight percent of downloading customers paid for the theme, or 22 people, at an average of less than $6 per purchase. The rest chose the $0 option from the list (which included $1-$50 also) and went on their way.

He was also kind enough to offer a Google Analytics screenshot (see below) in addition to the aforementioned statistics. The week-long traffic chart follows suit with a number of his observations in that the bulk of the attention came in the first two days and trailed off a bit after that.

(Click image for larger view.)

Not all numbers were quite that low, though. A majority of those that downloaded the theme also signed up for Caputo’s email list — 254 additions to his list, he said. While not everyone was willing to part with cash for the theme, it seems parting with their email address was easier to do.

More than earning nothing

Yesterday we recorded and published a new podcast on WPCandy called WordPress Roundtable. Caputo was at the mic, along with fellow theme developers and ThemeForest sellers Mike McAlister and Chris Molitor.

During a discussion around theme pricing and the standards set at ThemeForest, ThemeThrift came up. Caputo explained how reviewers turned down his theme Modest during the ThemeForest review process. They told him ThemeForest had a lot of minimal themes available at the time. After that the theme was just sitting on his hard drive. It was McAlister who pointed out that even a — pardon the pun — modest return on the ThemeThrift experiment was better than the theme earning nothing sitting quietly on Caputo’s computer.

Molitor also said he was interested in the idea and watching it, while all three agreed that they enjoy seeing something different and unique happening in the theme space. I had to agree.

(Above) Jake Caputo’s workspace, complete with his business logo printed on his mug.

The experiment continues

The new pricing options noticeably lack a $0 option.

The ThemeThrift experiment will continue beyond a single week, it seems. Another theme is available, though not without a tweak or two to the system: the new pricing options noticeably lack a $0 option. The theme, called ReStored, is available at $10, $25, $50, or $75, with the two higher options coming with a bundled plugin as well.

The ReStored theme is a collaboration between Caputo and Pippin Williamson, who runs and sells plugins on CodeCanyon. As Caputo put it on Twitter:

Pippin and I released ReStored at ThemeThrift today. You should probably buy it because he has his first child on the way.

You really can’t argue with that, can you?

While still evolving, it doesn’t look like the ThemeThrift experiment is coming to a close any time soon. Caputo said that space for other themes is available on ThemeThrift for any developer interested in trying this idea out.

Well. Any takers?

15 thoughts on “How 92% of us stiffed ThemeThrift in its first week

  1. That holds pretty true to what I saw with my ebook (PWYW, 3% of people who downloaded it donated something). It’s really a tough call. Do you go pay from the start, so no one knows what’s in it and what it’s worth, or…? Bleah.

  2. This isn’t surprising to me. But not because people are just a bunch of stiffs (which many are). I’d guess many of the people that knew about the theme wanted to download it and feel around. Perhaps if they *knew* they’d use it more would fork up a few dollars. But they probably don’t want to pay for something until they need it.

    I doubt many actually needed the theme, but rather had heard about ThemeThrift through WPCandy or somewhere else, and wanted to check it out.

    Perhaps if Jake had a way for people to ‘pay later’ in case they use it down the road, he may get someone to do that now and again in addition to those that paid upfront.

    • That’s a good point. Of course, if ThemeThrift hangs around long enough, people can always come back and buy another theme for a little more since they took Modest for free.

      Or for that matter, they could just buy another one of my themes at ThemeForest.

  3. Re: the traffic drop screenshot is noindexed in its meta robots tag. I don’t know if that’s intentional.

  4. Your target audience also plays an important role in this type of a model. Commercial users that have their own client sites or services that depend on a WP product, are less likely to see cost as a barrier to entry.

    As a commercial user, I WANT to pay for quality products because over time I’ve seen there’s a higher chance of receiving better support and updates with paid services / products … not always the case but is most of the time.

    Non-commercial users have less skin in the game (their phone isn’t going to be ringing if a client site is broken or not functioning correctly), lower price tolerance and may have less of a NEED for a product, but may want to kick the tires to learn how it works and may not feel a need to pay since they may not end up not using the product. They may also have less experience on the dev side of the equation, which means they’re going to be less sympathetic to the work involved in an ecosystem that has valued and thrived on a model with many, many free themes and plugins.

  5. I love the site, but I really hate this headline. Stiffed is a really emotionally charged word and I am not sure it stands up to examination.

    When I read about the experiment, I was reminded about Stephen King’s similar experiment several years ago, which also ended largely a failure. In both cases, it is the way the experiment was set-up rather than the audience itself.

    In many “pay what you like” cases there will be a lot of non-payers. Like out and out piracy, there will be a substantial number who wouldn’t have bought/paid anyway. But that wasn’t the problem here, the fact that it was on sale for a limited time, made it worse. Limited times sales work, if people really want the product and you want to give them that extra push to lay down their money. That’s why a lot of the bundles of software, are set-up that way. But in this case, most of the non-payers probably weren’t sure if the wanted/needed another minimal theme.

    So imagine getting into their heads for a moment, it’s easy for me as although I didn’t download it, I had the exact same thoughts. “Hmm.. this theme looks good, but I am not sure if I need it or will use it” “But if I don’t download it now, I’ll lose the chance” “But if I don’t really want it, should I pay for it? If I pay is it just out of guilt or for the theme? I won’t pay out of guilt, but since I’m not sure if I need it I can’t say I am paying for the theme”

    In the end, you will have three types of people (very broadly speaking), one will download and not pay, one who will download and pay a little but maybe not for the theme itself but for other reasons, and finally a group who decided not to download it. I was in the final group. Didn’t you find the fact that there were only 272 downloads in a week interesting?

    If it was me, and I was going to continue with the limited time condition I would pre-sell it maybe weeks in advance. I wouldn’t offer a $0 option but would make sure people really want the theme, that they are literally banging on my door asking me to accept their money. Or if I wanted to continue experiment in the pay anything you want even $0 direction, then I wouldn’t combine it with the limited time offer.

    I would love to find out the results of these modified experiments. You know what Edison said about the failed lightbulb experiments?

    • It’s more sarcasm than emotionally charged. Both Ryan and I are very laid back and don’t take ourselves too seriously.

      I mean, this post is about me and my site and I think the headline is hilarious.

  6. I’ll +1 to the argument that many people who didn’t pay for the download probably won’t ever use it. I downloaded it as a evaluation/review copy and would never had paid for it anyway.

    I don’t agree that the word “stiffed” was too emotionally charged in the article title. As with many of the posts here on WPCandy, the author’s personality shows through. He made the choice to be a little cheeky with the post title, while I feel the rest of the article is pretty factual and straight forward with no value judgement. The personality and editorial style of the authors at WPCandy are what keep me coming back for more. This is still a blog after all.

  7. Pingback: Hermes Themes and the thought process behind a $200 theme

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