A Hypercritical Analysis of $35 WordPress Themes

242 Comments

This editorial was contributed by WordPress theme developer Mike McAlister, whose themes are available on ThemeForest. You can read more about him in his author profile below the editorial.

Your site has those fancy drop-down menus you always see around the web. Not just the one that drops down, but the one that drops down and then out, and down and out with the really slick fading transitions. It took you zero hours to code.

Your homepage features a really unique display of your portfolio items, sliding and zooming them in and out with a custom effect (designated in a custom theme options panel, of course). Adding your portfolio items was as easy as sending an email.

Your site also has 20+ custom page templates, 50+ layout and styling shortcodes, color options, video support, custom twitter widgets and working contact forms. Not to mention it is professionally designed, coded, validated and supported by some of the best talent on the web.

Your site is absolutely amazing and it cost you a total of $35. Less than an oil change, especially if you have a coupon.

What are you paying for?

Themes definitely aren’t what they used to be. You used to get a zip file with a few PHP files and a brief help file telling you how to modify code (by hand, mind you). These days, even the less advanced commercial WordPress themes come equipped with custom options frameworks, template builders, advanced Javascript usage and extensive theme documentation with installation videos. Oftentimes, buyers don’t even have to touch the theme’s source files. Modification and customization can be done right within the WordPress admin panel. How convenient.

The problem is, price adjustments have not changed proactively to reflect the evolution of these newer, Skynet-like super themes.

And then there’s theme support. Support isn’t required on some marketplaces, ThemeForest included, but it’s the best way to stand behind your product. Many authors, including yours truly, even go as far as setting up their own support forums. Some even outsource theme support out of their own pocket. Remember, not a requirement. So aside from spending 10+ hours designing a theme and 40+ hours coding, we spend countless hours providing support for every sale we make. This “extra” effort simply cannot be reflected in a $35 download.

ThemeForest, the theme marketplace where I sell exclusively, currently sells WordPress themes at the $35-$37 price range. These days, most other theme shops are selling for an average of $65-$100. Some shops provide the PSD, some provide support, some provide neither and still charge upwards $75. On ThemeForest, most authors provide all of the above (and more) at the $35 price range. Now, a lot can be said about why independent theme shops like Press75 and WooThemes can survive at $75 per themes, but today we’re just looking at the value of themes, not their business model. That’s a conversation for another day.

It’s also important to remember that just because this discussion is revolving around ThemeForest, that doesn’t mean this is some kind of witch hunt. ThemeForest is where I sell themes and where I share experiences with other theme authors and buyers. They are definitely not the only marketplace selling at $35.

The price of doing business

The problem is, price adjustments have not changed proactively to reflect the evolution of these newer, Skynet-like super themes. Since my first sale on ThemeForest (in early 2009), WordPress themes have only seen one, seemingly random, price jump from $30-$32 to $35-$37.

Personally, I think high-end commercial WordPress themes should run about $125.

Jonathan Atkinson, a long-time top author at ThemeForest, would like to see theme prices raised by $10, which would place them at $45-$47. This seems like a pretty solid price increase, right? Buyers wouldn’t be too devastated and there would surely be a huge increase in sales for a lot of theme authors. But even with a $10 increase, you’re still only looking at a $45 theme, which high-selling authors will only see 70% of.

Personally, I think high-end commercial WordPress themes should run about $125. Compare that price tag to $125 in any other industry and see how far it gets you. Forget the cost of the actual theme files, the support alone for a year is more than $125. Will we see a base price of $125 for WordPress themes? Very doubtful. Definitely not on ThemeForest, but very likely not anywhere else for years to come.

What everyone else is saying

WordPress industry folks like Jason Schuller and Brian Gardner, top theme authors like Orman Clark, and theme buyers have all spoken up recently about the $35 price point for commercial themes. Everyone is in agreement that it’s simply not enough and that $35 themes could be devaluing the commercial theme market.

Obviously, one of the main issues with raising prices is how buyers will be affected. After all, they dictate the success of theme marketplaces and ultimately decide what kind of themes are going to sell. But have you actually talked with a theme buyer lately? The twist: they want to pay more for these themes. Yes, you heard right, theme buyers actually want to pay MORE for our themes.

Christopher Averill, a theme buying stud on ThemeForest, is one of the many buyers who recently spoke up about theme prices: “I couldn’t agree more. I don’t develop WP Themes but I consume them like mad. Authors need more for their work!” So if theme authors and buyers are on the same page, what exactly are we waiting for?

The simple fix

There isn’t a simple fix, friend. At this point, there’s no easy way to raise prices to reflect what themes are worth without causing some serious friction. Prices have been stuck at $35 for so long, that’s just what buyers have come to expect. You can’t just raise prices from $35 to $75 overnight without crippling the marketplace. Unless a more creative solution is put into place, we’re most likely looking at a slow price increase over the next couple of years. Let’s just hope those price increases reflect how themes will continually evolve so we’re not in the same situation in two years, selling themes at 2011 prices in 2013.

Even if that’s the case, raising theme prices at ThemeForest would only be a slow and temporary fix for a much bigger issue. The value of commercial themes as a whole seems to be in a perpetual state of confusion. Selling themes for $35 that are worlds better than most $75 themes makes no goddamn sense. Not for authors, not for buyers, not for marketplaces, not for our industry. Let’s try and set a standard of what commercial themes should be worth. It’s also up to the respective marketplaces to make more aggressive price increases to keep up with industry prices and standards.

It’s not just up to the powers that be. We are all responsible for educating buyers about what they’re getting. Not just from our themes, but from the WordPress solution as a whole. You aren’t just getting a template anymore. You’re getting a stunning, infinitely scalable website solution for pennies on the dollar. You’re are getting a website for $35-$75 that would cost $2000+ to have custom made. Probably even double that just a few years ago.

The good news

Within hours of this initial Twitter conversation, Collis, Overlord of Envato, spoke up tweeting “I must admit the amount of effort going in has changed since the early days of TF. I’ll put it to the SM team to review.”  It’s a good sign when you can tweet the CEO and get a constructive response almost immediately. And I expected nothing less from Collis.

Envato has always been active in the WordPress community: early adopters of the GPL, sponsoring various WordPress events, providing endless tutorials on Nettuts. If you’re reading this, I can almost guarantee that you’ve benefitted from the Envato network on numerous occasions. And it probably cost you nothing.

Envato pays my bills, and I pay theirs. And because we share this partnership, I feel like it’s important that we visit the various concerns that are going around the community that maybe they aren’t fully aware of. I really hope a public discussion like this can generate some fresh and creative ideas that the entire industry can benefit from.

We work in the greatest niche industry on the web. I wake up every day, design and code whatever I want, converse, conspire, and share ideas with some of the greatest minds in the WordPress community, and I’m able to make a living doing it. I am still truly grateful and lucky to have stumbled onto WordPress. You know, even if I’m stuck selling themes for $35.

242 thoughts on “A Hypercritical Analysis of $35 WordPress Themes

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Mike. Themes are nothing short of a bargain when compared to the costs of a complete design and development package. This ia a great article.

    • I have a simple solution. As you’ve said, theme support is not required on ThemeForest. So $35 for just the download actually seems like a fair amount for both sides.

      ThemeForest should offer two options for each theme:

      Theme Download = $35
      Theme & Support = $70

      Now TF wouldn’t have to increase their prices just offer an additional buying option. The theme authors would now only need to support those who have purchased the supported option.

      What do you think? Collis?

      • That doesn’t solve the issue at all. $35 is still way too low for a theme of the standards that we’re talking about, and $70 for a theme *and* support is insane, especially when theme authors on Envato only see 70% of that at best.

        • Well, if $35 is still way too low for just a download then you must also think that $15 for a novel that took an author a year to write should be more like $5000 a copy. ???

          Maybe $70 is still too low to include support but that is the high average around these parts.

          As for Envato’s cut… theme authors are getting an unbelievable amount of exposure and built-in ecommerce functionality when they put a theme up for sale on TF. Most sellers wouldn’t have 1% of the potential customers see their themes if they listed them on their own sites. They’re paying the 30-40% in fees the same way the a WooThemes pays 30% to their affiliates.

          • Joe, your book analogy is off the mark. People do not *consume* themes; themes are not recreational art. Themes are tools, that allow buyers to run their business/portfolio/whatever. It’s apples and oranges.

            Also, authors get advances up front. They’re not paid per copy sold.

            Just because ThemeForest offers great exposure — and it does — doesn’t mean their current price point is automatically right. It all depends on what people are willing to pay, and as this post suggests, they’re probably willing to pay more — for the theme itself.

          • Are we forgetting about the economies of scale here, even at 170 downloads at $35 per theme, that’s still around $6K right? If the argument is that a theme of similar quality is around $2000 or more for custom work than a designer is getting the equivalent of a custom project. The argument then isn’t that designers want to get as much as they are making now but want to grow and make more from a single project or product. WooThemes and Press75 have been in this game the longest and thus have the brand recognition to charge more for their themes, they choose not to sell on ThemeForest (I’m guessing) for that exact same reason so I see a price increase having less to do with wage issues and more to do with wanting to be on par with the higher paid design companies.

      • Joe, you’re spot on with your plan. This follows along the techdirt (http://www.techdirt.com/rtb.php) CwF+RtB mantra. The themes themselves can be given away fairly cheaply, but they are a way for the designer to get advertising and get fans of their work.

        The support should then be on top. It could easily be a lot more – $100+. The support is the expensive time consuming business.

        Also the theme developers can develop paid extra add-ons for their themes. They can develop newsletter themes that can be used alongside.

        I’m surprised the themes designed for e-commerce themes aren’t more expensive too – I’d have thought such an integration should be an extra.

        • But if you charge extra for support, such a high premium, aren’t you encouraging the author to code a theme that requires support?

          I buy WP themes, not everyone is bought for a client or particular project, some I buy to learn from. I’m prepared to pay $35 for that. I’m not prepared to pay £70 for it.

          Ergo, you’d lose my sales. Suggest if the Themeforest model isn’t to your preference use one of the other marketplaces where -perhaps- the author percentage could be less per sale?

          In my mind, Themeforest is an excellent venture. I’ve spent a small fortune on it – mainly for my own education purposes, but the maths is simple. Higher price = less sales, simple as really.

          • Darren,

            Actually math is not as simple as that. Many companies use this formula instead.

            Higher Prices = less sales but with higher margins = much more income

            You never base a pricing strategy solely on units sold.

          • Alan

            Which would you consider the more successful theme-selling website then, Themeforest, or one of the higher priced ones?

            My opinion was based on just that, my opinion. I was only speaking my mind.

          • Darren,

            I have no idea since I’m not privy to thier financials however I will bet there are many companies who make just as much (or more) as ThemeForest with a lot fewer sales. A $35 price point for a solid theme is low and even though I’m happy to pay $35 a theme forever I also think designers deserve more since it will translate into even better themes to come.

            I understand you were speaking your mind and thats all I am doing also. My point was just that your math was wrong.

          • Alan – I beg to differ. My math isn’t wrong, I think you mean you disagree with my viewpoint of “if the price per theme was higher, I would buy less”. No problem with that.

            However. I see no reason why authors couldn’t hike their price as their customer base grows. If they demonstrate consistent quality and service then they should be able to sell more.

            I agree with the post further down. If you don’t like Envato, start your own theme-site. There’s nothing stopping authors doing that.

          • Fair enough – however you want to say it. I would gladly pay $100 for a theme while you seem to say you wouldn’t pay $70. We are 2 different types of clients. $35 in the overall cost of a website is about as relevant as the cost of colored sprinkles on an ice cream. You may be a billionaire (I am certainly not) but its not a question of budget but a question of improving a marketplace that caters to all types of clientele and rewards its creators and owners with sufficient returns.

            Does Envato want to offer an option where higher quality themes can command more or do they want to simply cater to the people who say they would not pay (but probably will) without even exploring the idea of higher per theme fees and additional revenue options. You can have both pieces of the pie here.

            I am familiar with the “if you don’t like it go somewhere else” argument however its a dead end argument and doesn’t have any intelligent value to it. Certain clients will always find an excuse not to pay more but that does not mean any marketplace can’t expand.

            Most designers are educated people but that does not mean they are business people either so it’s a combination of the leadership skills of Envato and the talent of the designers which will ultimately combine together to create a better place for everyone. No one is really bashing anybody here or saying go somewhere else if you don’t like but rather voicing opinion and discussion on how the theme selling environment can improve. Compared to many other articles online this thread is pretty refreshing to see people wanting to work together for the betterment of the industry.

            The problem with Envato (from what I understand and man, I have been wrong before) – is that authors cannot determine their price. Theme Forest sets the price for them so theme makers cannot adjust their prices accordingly so no one can ever really tell if more or less would be sold outside of theory.

            It’s an untested theory so this post seems more like a question about not changing the current system but allowing for additional opportunities for both the designers and the company.

            And your math isn’t wrong – its just too simplistic.

            Anyway … off to see the wizard. Good luck.

          • Say hi to the Wizard for me Alan.

            But, wouldn’t it be interesting if authors on Envato provided support on their own forums, and sold themes on there too? Then the quality of one service should promote the other, no?

            Anyhoo. I’m about to spend a bit of cash in iKreativ I think, so you enjoy that Wizard feller Alan. Here’s 35 of my hard earned dollars to keep some hard done-by designer off the streets.

            :-)

    • I agree in principal but let me ask, if supply and demand define this economy; and competitors are willing to sell their themes at an undervalued price in the same marketplace, then doesn’t that make the argument rhetorical?
      It’s either provide more value that people are willing to pay for, or sell at prices which do not reflect the work and craftsmanship you put into the theme.

      • It’s either provide more value that people are willing to pay for, or sell at prices which do not reflect the work and craftsmanship you put into the theme.

        Bingo.

    • Have a look at WP.com premium prices. They range from $45-$75. The theme provider gets 50%, that is between $22.50 and $37.50 and for that they HAVE to provide support. ThemeForest prices range from $35-$37 and they pay the theme providers 70%, that is between $24.50 and 25.90 and they DO NOT need to provide support.
      If we want to complain we should first look at WP.com and ask why their prices are low and why they pay so little to their theme providers when they expect them to provide support.

      • Not at all. Download a ThemeForest theme, let’s say one of the top-sellers, and install it on your server. The options, customization features, adaptable elements, advanced settings and even JS snippets that really redefine what WordPress actually is (take the content composer for example, or Kriesi’s latest ‘post maker’), will leave you stunned.

        Trust me, the difference between ThemeForest premium and WP.com premium is huge.

  2. Fixed-price theme retailing favors the buyer by far. I can’t understand how this micro-market came about. Why fix it, and why at such bottom-feeding values?

    Does the average buyer on TF know much about the market? Are they more likely to be inexperienced and first-time buyers?

    People can spend $99 on a logo used in the Header and a third of that on the actual theme. That’s really not right.

    For the record I’m a happy customer of the iThemes ‘all access’ pass as it was perfect for my needs. (Pitching at small-business basic sites)

    All said and done I reckon $35 is 50% underpriced.

  3. Hey Mike,

    What a refreshing post. :) This discussion often times goes the other way and I can’t help but laugh when people try to argue that these highly complicated, extremely well supported Premium WordPress Themes should be free. So yes, $35 for a Premium WordPress Theme these days is pretty insane.

    And I must agree with your statement that we certainly do “work in the greatest niche industry on the web”. :)

    Eric

  4. Well said Mike, thanks for sharing your honesty about the state of the theme marketplace.

    …but from the WordPress solution as a whole. You aren’t just getting a template anymore. You’re getting a stunning, infinitely scalable website solution for pennies on the dollar…

    This is so true and something that needs to be communicated more often to all WP users, not just clients.

  5. Initially I was really excited about cheap themes and bought loads. At $35 you can afford to buy them just to take a peep under the hood and learn how a theme developer has put the code together for a particular function. Now clients are starting to find a theme for $35 and then ask you to customise it for the price of a bag of peanuts. This I am not so excited about. The client only sees how much they are getting for $35 and doesn’t understand how many man hours seemingly small custom changes can take.

    It used to be that clients at the very least needed help with their menu customisation. Now some can get themselves up and running without needing to know any code.

    I’m not sure the current race to the bottom is so great for long term business. If themes make the same leap over the next two or three years then my services may well become obsolete.

  6. Too bad Collis doesn’t respond when I tweet about specific problems with ThemeForest themes that needs to be fixed due too poor development practices.

    ThemeForest themes sell for $35 because the majority of them are worth that much.

    Supporting one of the most popular commercial plugins on the market and dealing with conflicts caused by theme developers has taught me one thing: don’t buy from ThemeForest. They account for 90% of theme related conflicts we run into that are caused by theme developers not using best practices because they really don’t k ow what they are doing.

    Are there good themes on ThemeForest? Certainly. Unfortunately the bad outweighs the good.

    Until they crack down and start requiring theme developers to follow simple best practices, I can’t recommend them to our user base. Sour grapes? Yes, because they cost is money in countless hours troubleshooting customer support requests caused by bad theme code.

    Things as simple as only outputting JavaScript and CSS when necessary are ignored by your average theme developer on ThemeForest. This means they output ALL of their scripts and CSS on EVERY page… This includes every ADMIN page which means every plugin admin page. This is a recipe for conflicts.

    It’s a shame because there are some good theme developers on ThemeForest but they are overshadowed by the bad ones.

    Don’t like selling themes for $35? Then don’t sell them on ThemeFost. Start a real company, market your own brand, and sell them at a premium. If they are good, you will make plenty of money. Worried you’ll lose sales? Who cares. At the increased price you can afford to sell LESS and support LESS customers because you would be selling them at a higher price.

    Quit devaluing your work. The only person that benefits from this devaluation is Envato. You lose. Customers lose in the end when the support isn’t up to snuff, let’s face it… How can you provide a good product with support for $35?

    • Good point. About starting your own theme shop. Quite a piece of work in terms of marketing (that’s the main benefit of TF) but then you have total control over pricing.

    • I came here to say pretty much exactly this.

      There will always be someone who has extra time on their hands, or lower costs, or whose time is worth less, and is willing to produce themes for free or cheap. So what? Make good stuff, market it well, and charge accordingly.

      …but today we’re just looking at the value of themes, not their business model. That’s a conversation for another day.

      Those two things are inextricably intertwined.

    • ThemeForest themes sell for $35 because the majority of them are worth that much.

      Amen. A concise, accurate summary of the majority of themes, templates, etc, that I’ve bought from Themeforest.

      TF is a nice resource, but it can’t be compared to the support for Genesis, for example. At TF it is completely hit-and-miss as to the quality of support or adherence to decent coding practices.

    • I am not a regular purchaser of themes whether they be on TF or anywhere else but I agree with this post by Carl. I’m sure if you can make fantastic themes, you could easily setup your own theme marketplace or join one where you can sell them for an increased price. I do understand that themes are hard to make and to provide support for (the good ones anyway!) but like everyone else theme coders and designers need to be practical and either best make do with the situation or find a more appropriate alternative. This post doest really touch on any of that but instead suggests $35 themes are no longer good enough and higher prices need to be eased into marketplaces at one point or another. That may be the case for some top-notch designers but most themes I have seen are worth $35 at the most. In fact I purchased a theme off TF for as little as $12 I believe and I was impressed with it. It was worth $12-20 dollars but nothing more.

      This issue is one which only affects the best of the best of the designers and coders of themes and really its probably they themselves who can sort out what to do about it collaborativly.

    • Sadly, I have to agree; I’ve bought — and then abandoned — quite a few Themeforest themes after discovering they had pretty front pages, but lacked basic functionality (one author was astonished when I suggested his theme should support captions).

      I now follow a couple of theme developers who have done consistently good work, but pretty much ignore the rest of them.

      Given the amount of time I’ve wasted on dreck themes, I’d happily pay more, but would expect better QC and functionality in return.

    • Exactly, thank you for saying that. I’ve purchased dozens of themes from TF (and others) over the past couple years. I currently use 3 of them. And 2 of those are from the same author. All the others required so much work to get functional and were so badly documented that I might as well have created the sites from scratch, which I still do on occasion.

      I would have gladly paid $100 for the 3 themes I found high quality BUT in retrospect, I wouldn’t have paid more than $15 for the others.

      I’m not sure the solution is an across the board price increase. $45-50 (or especially $75) for a bad theme would be even more aggravating than $35.

      Perhaps a much higher standard and more stringent review process, combined with a flexible pricing scheme would help. If the theme author puts in a minimal amount of work and the theme “functions” but isn’t really that put together, maybe it’s $20. If it’s a feature-rich, well made theme, maybe it’s $75. If Envato told me up front that THEY thought a theme was worth the higher price, and told me WHY, I’d be ok with it. But if I got a worthless theme and paid $75 for it, I don’t think I’d ever come back.

      Something also needs to be mentioned, in terms of pricing, to the fact that at the end of the day we’re developing themes for an open-source product. People using WordPress themes have paid ZERO for the platform their site is running on. It’s going to be hard to convince someone that doesn’t understand the nature of the industry that they should pay extra to “make something pretty” when they invested nothing up front on “getting it to work”.

      Essentially you’re selling bottled water. You can, for free, find water all over the place. The bottled version is just cleaner, easier to drink, and isn’t too expensive. That’s about the best analogy I can think of (but it doesn’t really get the point across).

      I’m not defending or condemning, just pointing out a perspective that someone might be coming from. To reuse the water analogy, some people are ok with just drinking from the tap. Higher prices aren’t going to help change their minds. Just a thought.

    • First off, you people that bought a theme and then abandoned it because it lacked some things have no one to blame but yourself. Should have taken more time to review it in the first place.

      Secondly, even if the theme is lacking a few features that you want, $35 for a theme and $100 for a developer to include some custom functions is still REALLY cheap.

      The superiority complex in this thread is overwhelming.

  7. I completely agree. And another issue I find is that people are paying $35 for a single license but still using it to run all their client sites. There is not really a good way to keep people from using your themes just once. That said, even the single license should be increased. I’ve spent 3 weeks building up my latest premium theme which I will be releasing today and for all the features (and even more importantly the support I will provide in the future) $35-$40 simply doesn’t do it justice.

    It’s strange too, because there are many high-priced themes out there $70+ themes, that in my opinion are a piece of junk – especially compared to work from top “themeforesters” like Orman. Don’t forget though that people are choosing to buy your themes because they are affordable.

    • The customer buying your theme because it’s affordable is the customer that is going to bleed you dry when it comes to asking support questions. Customers who complain something is too expensive because it’s not dirt cheap are generally customers with unrealistic expectations.

      Look at Apple. They focus on the high end of the market. Why? Because it’s more profitable. If you price higher you may not sell as many units, but you’ll make more money and do so while supporting less customers.

      Sell dirt cheap and sure you’ll sell a lot of units, but that means you have to support even more customers on less money per head. Not a very smart business decision.

      • Yes and no…

        The person paying a higher price may also expect more support because of all the money they paid for the theme. “Hey I paid you $125 so I should get $125 worth of support as opposed to $35 worth of support.”

        Honestly, the support argument comes down to a per person basis.

        Overall, yes I think premium themes are under-priced for the most part. But if you start raising your prices someone else with the same amount of skill and support will provide a comparable theme for a lower price and out sell you.

        Luckily if you are a premium theme seller you have the choice to set your price – so charge whatever you want.

      • Totally agree with Carl on this point. It’s the price of doing business. People who are focused on cost are also desperate and trying to squeeze every cent out of their dollar. Run into this problem in web development. So I avoid clients who aren’t willing to drop $1000 upfront. Shows commitment.

  8. We are living in a free society, most people want everything digital to be free. If FREE iPhone app gets over 250k downloads and a similar paid 99c app gets few hundred, you know we have a problem. Same with WP Themes, Free themes get thousands of downloads and paid ones few hundred if you lucky. With so many free alternatives, your stuff better be amazing if you wan to charge money for it.

  9. I agree with $35 is quite low compare with “10+ hours designing a theme and 40+ hours coding”, but themes not sell for one or several people. If the sale is good, them it worth for author.
    I think the price is depend on quality and sales.
    And the price should different between categories. (personal blog themes might do not need much support)
    The price might need increase, but need research to find marginal benefit between sales and price.

    • I agree 100% – sure $35 isn’t a lot of money but if you sell $1,500 copies, I think that is a pretty good pay for making 1 theme and supporting it.

      Also, a lot of WP theme developers are doing A LOT of copying and pasting for their new themes.

  10. Great post and I hope it will start a revolution. :) Even though low $35 price tags attract huge volume, the designer’s share after Envato takes their piece is itsy bitsy, especially when you consider the ongoing support factor.

    I say raise the prices $10 per year for the next two years until the prices hit $50 to $60, then adjust pricing yearly as needed to remain 20% less than the top indy theme shops. Why less? Because the indy shops allow for use on multiple sites and you can often get more than one theme for the price ($70 at Woo gets you 3 themes, $100 at Press75 gets you ALL) plus these types of shops often have multi-staff support. And lastly, because TF’s lower prices have had a lot to do with their healthy sales volume.

    I don’t think personal users will like price increases at all, so many of those sales will be lost. But how many are personal users anyway (does anyone know)? As for professionals, the difference between $35 and $75 is nothing when you’re passing the cost onto a client that’s already happy to pay several hundred for the whole project, so the loss of sales to these types of customers I think would be minimal.

    In reality I don’t think price increases would affect profits very much. Higher price means less sales. The advantage would probably be that quality is not under-appreciated and the designer can focus on more and better themes rather than support for a massive amount of low-paying customers.

    And with all that said, I do think $125 is an even better price but every marketplace and every high quality theme shop would have to be on board with that in order for it to work.

  11. Interesting discussion. Although my Convention Scene site was built off a StudioPress theme, I’ve become a fan of ThemeForest, and they are usually my 1st stop when looking for themes for my other sites. You can still find some really nice free themes sometimes, but I was comfortable making the leap into the $35 range and would probably be okay going closer to $50. When I see themes for $80 and upwards, though, I really look to see if they are offering anything unique. For higher prices, you should get more bang for your buck, and to my eye, most do not appear to offer more than their cheaper alternatives.

    • Remember this… it’s a good rule: You get what you pay for.

      You want to know what the other themes that are higher priced from the bigger named theme shops like Headway Themes, Press75, iThemes, Organic Themes, StudioPress, WooThemes, etc. have going for them? Quality. Quality code, quality support.

      More bang for your buck? Maybe initially. But who do you run to when that $35 theme costs you countless hours fixing problems and issues that it causes in the form of plugin conflicts due to it being developed with poor development practices?

      ThemeForest themes are for the most part beautiful looking. But most of that time that beauty is only skin deep. Under the hood it’s rotting.

      My experience comes from supporting a very popular commercial WordPress plugin for the last year and a half. During that time I can pinpoint where the majority of theme conflicts come from: ThemeForest themes.

      Are all ThemeForest themes bad? Certainly not. Guys like Orman Clark do good work. If all ThemeForest theme developers were as good as Orman Clark i’d have no problem recommending ThemeForest and giving it the thumbs up. Unfortunately he’s in the minority.

      • That’s why I really wish we could separate themes from support. Part of the fun for me is doing my own theme mods, and I almost never ask for support. I’m a customer of yours, and I don’t think I’ve ever asked for support.

        I think it would be nice to buy a theme for one price and let support be an add-on for an additional charge.

  12. Absolutely great article Mike.. As a serious Theme purchaser (for clients) and (BuddyPress) Theme Designer I can talk from both the consumer and the developer standpoint. And it’s pretty easy to say that both Mr Jekyll and Dr Hyde agree with you; Quality Themes should cost more.

    When the current pricing model is kept on being used, then both the theme authors and theme buyers will suffer. It’s simply not worth spending countless hours on creating awesome themes, if the profits are so low. This will result in (even more) sub-par and poorly developed themes. Can you blame them? It’s like complaining at MacDonalds that the hamburger on the BigMac is not up to par with the $40 T-Bone from a steakhouse. Quality themes these days allow you to set up a professional and great looking (corporate) website, and the price should reflect that better.

    Personally I avoided ThemeForest and set up my own shop. I make less sales, but I can keep every penny, build up a solid relationship with my customers, and so far have had only happy customers. I charge between 40 and 70 bucks depending on the “extra” stuff added to my theme, and this works well.

    As a consumer I’m leaning more and more towards buying or subscribing to freelance developers or theme shops, because the support and community feeling is better then a $35 ThemeForest theme can buy. I hope that in the future the talented developers go the extra mile and start up their own business. I know where to find them, and it would be great to know that all you $ goes straight into their pockets. They deserve it.

    • You have a very valid argument about issues with plugin support but I want to point out that all themes approved at least since the beginning of the year require javascript to be called with wp_enqueue which should alleviate the issues you’re talking about. So this is an issue that has been addressed and all current themes should be supporting it.

      • Incorrect. While it is a best practice to use wp_enqueue to output scripts and CSS within your theme, this doesn’t solve the problem of outputting scripts and CSS on EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. including the WordPress dashboard. Enqueue merely checks to see if a script has been output before doing so to avoid the script being output multiple times.

        If the theme developer doesn’t isolate his script output to only the frontend, or only on his theme option pages in the admin, then it’s going to be output on EVERY page on both the frontend and admin regardless of the use of wp_enqueue.

        So I commend the use of wp_enqueue but until the theme developers on ThemeForest start learning how and when to output the script and to limit it’s output so it is only done when it is necessary on not on every single page… ThemeForest themes are going to continue causing plugin and WordPress conflicts.

        • You’re correct, Richard. But the point I wanted to make was that Themeforest has been taking active steps to alleviate those problems you’ve noted.

        • Well you certainly got a point with that but authors wont learn that any faster with you complaining in twitter and comments :)

          Just recently the WPML team which obviously had similar problems created a thread at the themeforest forums to work together with authors and teach them how to properly code themes to make wpml integration as painless as possible.

          You might say that its not your job to do that and you are certainly right, but with every author you teach how to code properly you might reduce support requests (not to mention themes that are ready to work with your plugin out of the box, which might lead to additional sales)

  13. There are some badly-coded, nightmare-to-modify themes at $35, and there are some amazing themes for the same price. If I could have a guarantee that the theme code was critically analyzed in depth before being added to the marketplace, I would definitely be willing to pay more. Right now, I feel like every purchase is a gamble (my 1st purchase ended up being a monstrosity!), a gamble that is acceptable at $35, but wouldn’t be at $75.

    • True, more is expected from something that costs more. If TF were to raise prices they’d have to be extra sure to weed out anything that is lousy.

      I wonder… with all the new marketplaces appearing this last year, has anyone thought about a low volume, high price marketplace for themes of only the absolute best quality? I mean really, really perfect, guaranteed themes from select designers. That’d be neat to see.

    • You’re correct, Richard. But the point I wanted to make was that Themeforest has been taking active steps to alleviate those problems you’ve noted.

  14. As Carl said above, quit devaluing your work and start your own company selling your wares. Not sure how? Reach out to the community and look for partnerships or advice.

    Don’t want the headache of running your own theme portal?
    Reach out to the community and look for partnerships.

    Mike, I’ve looked at your themes, and I think they’re great. I’ve been around the WP block like many here, and everyone has there dev platform preference when considering themes. I’ve settled into Genesis in the last year, but my one complaint is that many of their child themes look pretty similar.

    Maybe it’s time to reach out to StudioPress (or others) and ask if they have any interest in your themes. What could it hurt?

  15. I would just like to say that I love, love ThemeForest and it’s pricing model and back end services. Why? Because of the pricing. I have bought several $35 themes from there because of the pricing. I am less like to invest more than $50-60 in a single theme at any one time, no matter how many bells and whistles the creator throws at me, or how many hours he might have put in.

    Maybe it’s a mental block, or I just can’t get past the price. But under that magic number? Well, the proof is, I’ve bought more and spent more because of that price-point and all that comes with it. And no, I would never go back to free templates simply because they have no back-up, no guarantees and no support. You get what you pay for. Nor will I ever by my themes from somewhere with a subscription based pricing model. I find those utterly incomprehensible, and almost insidious in nature.

    So yes, I agree, maybe the pricing could bear going higher without scaring too many sales away, but you have to see what the market will bear. Studiopress is a point in case, when you see how many times they’ve changed their setup and or merged with this or that other company in order to survive as they kept putting their prices up without actually giving you the support they kept promising.

    That said, I wonder why designers don’t come up with base themes and then, incorporate everything end users might want as pay-for plugins? So the base comes at a reasonable $30 and the plugins at 2-3 dollars a pop depending on complexity, that users can buy to add to the initial theme. There are a lot of templates that look great but which I don’t need all the widgets that come with it, which seems kind of a waste.

    Oh, and as someone who edits words for a living, try working at a penny a word. No one wants to pay to have their novel edited anymore by a professional, why pay $800+ when their mum will read it for them? Yeah. That’s why you are not a published author.

    • I agree with this part.

      That said, I wonder why designers don’t come up with base themes and then, incorporate everything end users might want as pay-for plugins? So the base comes at a reasonable $30 and the plugins at 2-3 dollars a pop depending on complexity, that users can buy to add to the initial theme. There are a lot of templates that look great but which I don’t need all the widgets that come with it, which seems kind of a waste.
      _________________
      People love cheap and free goods and you can’t change that fact. Unless you can differentiate yourself like WooThems etc you will find it hard to charge more. Themeforest is not going any where and will only raise the price if the market will bear it. What the price should be and what the market will bear are two different things. The majority of people buy Apple products becaue of their marketing, not because they are reliable. People think iPhone “Cool…” If you want to charge more? Convince people it’s worth more.

  16. However, if you raise the prices continually, then my guess is that a good portion of your business—that is people who can actually afford a 35 dollar theme and would consider buying one vs. people who can actually afford 135 dollars and would consider buying them—would disappear. I find the theme selling business to already be kind of crappy because there is no way to really assess whether or not the included features are exactly what I need. If I’m going to drop cash on a theme, I’d like more than a live demo on content that isn’t my own. It feels like a bit of a scam, since if I’m peeved that something doesn’t perform as expected I can’t exactly get my money back. I just have to bite the bullet.

    • Fortunately, buyers who can only afford $35 are not the majority anymore. Even the potential value of a $35 theme is worth the gamble if you consider the alternative of having to find an agency or developer and pay full price for it.

        • Probably not Jarel but the fact that other theme shops are seeing *millions* in annual revenue with higher price points suggests that there is some truth to it don’t you think?

          • Without facts to back it up, it’s just speculation. Stating speculation as truth is very wrong in my eyes, and potentially very deceiving to others. To be clear, I’m not trying to argue as to whether there is truth in it or not, just that such bold statements shouldn’t be made on speculation.

        • I think what Mike and Orman, meant was there are theme shops which run into millions in annual revenue purely by selling themes at a reasonable price, and providing support. There’s no speculation here, these are known facts. Facts? WooThemes was covered by 37signals last year for crossing over a mil in revenue. Read it here. If you run the math, at a pessimistic number with their current 36046 users.. you’ll end up with some significant revenues. Quality Themes = Reasonable Standard Pricing. Period.

          • Fortunately, buyers who can only afford $35 are not the majority anymore.

            This is the original statement in which might be based on speculation. Just because certain marketplaces are reaching great levels of revenue, doesn’t mean the above statement is true.

        • No, I don’t have ANY factual data to support that statement. It’s only supported by common sense and shared experiences with hundreds of other theme buyers and developers that I encounter on a daily basis.

          To be clear, I’m not trying to argue as to whether there is truth in it or not, just that such bold statements shouldn’t be made on speculation.

          I just don’t see how this kind of criticism is constructive or conducive to this article. I’m not a professional writer and this isn’t CNN. We’re all just sharing our experiences and ideas in the comments of an opinion-based editorial.

          Whether you’re here on behalf of ThemeForest or not, it makes me wonder why you wouldn’t better use this discussion to talk about the issue at hand rather than call bullshit on comments?

          • This might be an opinion-based editorial, but it sways the opinions of those reading it, and potentially misleads them with statements that may not be true — in which case the end result may be destructive to one or more parts of the issue at hand.

            We’re all just sharing our experiences and ideas in the comments of an opinion-based editorial.

            And I’m responding to what you shared. Am I not entitled to do so?

            I’m not here on behalf of ThemeForest. What you don’t realize is that I’m not trying to fight or argue with you. I’m just trying to get you to think a little deeper before making statements others will believe to be true without evidence. The end result of that is that maybe you’ll actually go get data supporting your argument, which will make a far greater impact than just speaking speculations as facts.

            If you want change, reach for it with data driven arguments. ;)

          • Haha, maybe when/if he sees this he will. I would love to see that data myself as well.

            Authors: why not organize a poll or survey to gather some of this data? It would take some organizing but could be invaluable. ;)

          • Or, rather than go through a process of gathering data blah blah, we can just all accept that yes, people are willing to pay more for themes. The end.

          • Well, everyone including me is anxious to see some Themeforest number. I am not really interested in revenue. I would be fine with number of sales per day/week/month/year.

            I think Themeforest is at a point where you make so much money that its better to hide it.

      • I share part of Phil comment, and would develop as follow:
        First I’m used to buy themes (or plugins, or…) just “to see”, because 25-35$ is not a big loss if finally I do not use it at the end. I would do that less at 45$, and not anymore at 75$.
        Second, you (Mike) mention a bunch of nifty features included in your themes. Fine. But what if I don’t value this additional features, but do value … your theme! ? Thus, one alternate suggestion would be to sell a “bare” theme (basic widgets/features, if any) at 35$ (or even 25$), and a full-featured (all options included) theme at 90$ (sorry, I’m afraid a price above the 99 barrier will be harder to “sell’).

        PS: I love the fact that you do include support by default. Removing support means, from my point of view, “this theme is not well designed, providing support costs me too much”…

  17. I don’t really get the can’t afford $100+ to buy a theme. A large number of themes being sold on marketplaces are sold as business themes, estate agent/realtor themes, e-commerce themes etc. If you are running a genuine business this is a tiny sum to pay relative to how much a good website is worth to a business. Actually if you can’t afford at least $500 for a well coded realtor theme surely you are in the wrong business?

    For $35 I am not really sure that you should expect much at all from a theme – $35 is cheap even for a hobby site.

    • My clients that have used Themeforest include a 1-person non-profit, and a couple of hobby choir groups with small budgets. $300 for my work and a theme was already a lot for them. TF prices make it easier for them to have a working theme with a nice design.

      • You have to remember that the size of their pocketbook doesn’t change how valuable our work is. Themes should be priced fairly to everyone, not just catered towards those who can’t justify more than $35 for a theme!

        • Of course. What my comment meant was that not all themes are being bought for business, and thus, not all clients CAN afford a $100 theme, contrary to his statement. However, you are correct that those cases shouldn’t dicate the price for the rest who probably COULD afford a $100 theme.

      • Many times if the WP Theme isn’t really worth the $35 price tag, I look for the HTML version and just build it in WordPress myself. Sure it may not have ALL the bells and whistles the original author put in it, but it works for me.

    • In it’s current configuration is doesn’t work but an equivalent of in-app purchases would work great. Maybe $1 for additional page layout etc.

  18. A few quick thoughts…

    1. Quality shines through time and time again. If you sell a shitty product at whatever price, you’ve burned a bridge with that customer and they’re unlikely to come back for a repeat purchase. That in turn just means that you may profit in the short term, but you’ll never be able to grow a business.

    2. Capitalism along with supply & demand dictates that as long as there as buyers of a product at a certain price, that market is a valid one. Even if ThemeForest stopped valuing their themes at $35, the next guy / girl would still do it, because there are people who only want to pay $35 for a theme (as that is their perception of the value thereof).

    3. An integral of any marketing campaign is the education of the customer you are marketing too. For us, at WooThemes, this means we need to educate our customers on the value of superb design, superior code and a standardized, native approach to developing our themes. If we manage to do that well, we sell more themes regardless of whether someone over at ThemeForest tries to sell a similar theme for half the price. The onus is still our own.

    4. There are many people buying WP themes every day, yet only 1% of them know about this conversation, know that they should buy from reputable developers and realize that clean code + good support are integral components for a “good” theme. So the problem isn’t pricing, but instead it is education of these users. Most customers just aren’t involved in the greater WP community.

    5. When a customer gets burned by purchasing a shitty theme from a developer that won’t / can’t support it, they don’t suddenly become unlikely to ever purchase a WP theme again; they just find another theme elsewhere. I’ve always been happy to work with those “wounded” customers and show them what a great theme + after purchase support structure should look like. If I manage to impress them, I get an exponential win in terms of the word-of-mouth marketing.

    • Point 1 is huge. I’ve bought a number of themes form different designers and have been burned by some poor coding on a few of them. I then never buy from that developer again. I’ve purchased multiple themes from Jason (press75) and been very happy. I also use themes from WOO and ElegantThemes and have been happy for the most part.

      The support provided is also a big factor. If I don’t get good support (on a legit issue) then that turns me off as well. I know Jason has had issues with support and how much it costs him in some cases to have multiple points of contact with a buyer. The cost of that support needs to be factored into the cost and some people just don’t understand that.

      Dan Ariely has some great thoughts on money in his books http://danariely.com/

    • Thanks for dropping by Adii!

      Capitalism along with supply & demand dictates that as long as there as buyers of a product at a certain price, that market is a valid one.

      I hate that this is true. While clearly there is a market for $35 themes, that price is mostly based on theme development standards of 2009 and “magic number” mentality. Theme developers have evolved at a exponential rate while theme prices haven’t budged.

      That’s where education comes in. If you want to price to evolve, the buyer has to evolve as well.

      • Just a quick thought. If you applied this thinking to the consumer electronics industry, what kind of prices would we see today? Electronics development standards really are growing exponentially, right along with the technology itself, yet this has led to more affordable electronics (specifically personal computers) than ever before.

        Having said that, don’t misunderstand, I’m not against the thought of raising prices, just within reason and based on buyer data.

        • Envato has raised prices at least once before, it would be interesting to see what happened to sales numbers and revenue since that change. My guess, they both went up regardless.

        • The consumer electronics industry is notorious for exploiting second and third world countries for their labor, which lends to their competitive pricing. Because of that and many other unknown factors involved with manufacturing, I don’t think we can make an informed comparison to that industry.

          We all want to raise prices within reason and based on buyer data! So do the numbers show the first $30 to $35 price increase helped or hurt ThemeForest? I can’t imagine it hurt the marketplace.

          And of course the current data is going to show the $35 model works. But just because it works doesn’t it’s not broken.

          • I wouldn’t be so quick to disregard the consumer electronics industry. That industry has many similarities to others that are just as applicable. My point being that the $35 price point for themes may not be based on what you think.

            Remember, the “magic number” mentality has proven itself successful. Apple and the iPod, iPhone and iPad is a great example.

            But just because it works doesn’t it’s not broken.

            I believe that to be a false statement. If it works, I don’t believe it can be broken as they’re opposites. It either works or it doesn’t, but not both. However, that doesn’t mean that a working system couldn’t be made better.

            To be clear, I’m not arguing against the idea of raising prices and/or quality for WP themes but rather against your arguments for it (as I see them as potentially misleading and/or false). (No offense.)

        • I believe that to be a false statement. If it works, I don’t believe it can be broken as they’re opposites.

          Again, you’re just being super technical when it comes to my wording rather than the point I’m trying to make. You are correct. Technically, when something works, it’s not broken. Let me be more clear: What about a theme marketplace where theme buyers are happily buying $35 WordPress themes but the top theme authors are unhappy and looking around for another medium to sell their themes? Working, but obviously broken.

          • Yup, I’m a bit of a stickler for semantics. But I believe that when you’re criticizing something or someone, you owe it to them to say what you actually mean, without assumptions, speculations or inaccuracies.

            In your example, I see that as a working system that could be made better (but isn’t broken). I could dig into that example deeper, but I’ll leave it at that.

        • Fair enough! Well, no matter how you word it, I think the seemingly-harmonious response in this article alone let’s us know that we should at least try to reevaluate a few things.

          • Absolutely agree, looking forward to Collis chiming in. I’ve talked with Jason the overall marketplace manager in the past about pricing and he’s agreed it should be bumped up a bit — depending on features, market, etc…

          • I look forward to it too! Don’t think I’ll be the one forwarding him the link though. :) (Please help me.)

          • @Chris – I think he’s tasked it to the site manager team to handle (and I do believe they’re looking into it). Collis has a new family member so he’s likely a little preoccupied at the moment. ;)

            @Mike – Don’t worry, someone mentioned the link to most of Envato’s staff. I imagine most of them have (or will soon) read the post. :)

    • Quality shines through time and time again. If you sell a shitty product at whatever price, you’ve burned a bridge with that customer and they’re unlikely to come back for a repeat purchase.

      An integral of any marketing campaign is the education of the customer you are marketing too.

      Should we all say “triple” highlight! :D

  19. I’m a hard-core theme buyer, and I make a living building web sites based on them. I’ve had a full-on pass for iThemes, Studio Press, WooThemes, Thesis and more, and have purchased individual or developer’s licenses for many others. I’ve even paid for a couple of custom themes. I can code, but you guys are just better at that. I’m a content guy. I agree with your premise, and I feel kinda guilty when I buy a $35 Theme Forest theme and it’s a great theme. A solid well-designed theme SHOULD cost more. But honestly, that doesn’t happen often at the $35 level. I’ve purchased perhaps 20 TF and other $35-range themes – ’cause I guess I’m a sucker for awesome visuals and sizzling sales copy. However, less than five of those have been used in live sites . . . the others have proved to have serious problems with coding hacks, kludges, poor documentation, compatibility, customizations and support . . . in short, they were unusable. So by my real-world math, that means I’ve actually spent something like $700 finding those five themes . . . which cracks out to $140 each out of my pocket. I’d LOVE to just shell out double or triple those prices for themes I wasn’t taking a gamble on. Be clear, I’m a big Envato fan. The marketplace is wonderful, and I’m excited about having not only themes, but plugins, graphics, multimedia, etc., all in one place. But someone above was correct . . . you get what you pay for. I want you guys to make a living, because I make a living on top of your work, and am glad to see you get your share.

  20. I totally agree! I sell themes for $25 and one of customer paid over 250$ on a logo, and as the support was included in the theme I had to respond to over 60 questions and make a quick fix for 250$ logo because the freelancer that made it didn’t respoded to any mails, so… the price should be way higher. We have to teach our customers that they can’t have a ready to use site for a bargain and included in the price a year of full support.

  21. What a great article, a couple of years ago I thought about selling themes through a certain theme market, the trouble is you only get a percentage back from the full price ($30) and you have to sell a shed load to make it worth all the man hours! Man hours for something that might not even get approved for listing!
    Also I’ve noticed a rise in Consultancy’s who offer a complete package including a web design service and I know full well that they just buy themes.

  22. Mike,

    I absolutely agree with what you are saying. I’ve paid for themes on the low end and the high-end. There’s been very little to no difference with the quality of work and support. Sometimes I get amazing support on a $35 theme and crappy support on a $75 theme.

    I don’t choose a theme based on price. Sometimes I don’t even choose it based on the files it comes with (though I’ve gotten burned by that in the past). I really choose a theme based on my needs for that site.

    I’m all for capitalism. Everyone should get paid for the amount of work they do. I hope you champion this effort and get some change going on.

    -Jonathan

  23. I agree with what most are saying about Price Point and poorly coded WP Themes. If you shop on ThemeForest long enough, you will eventually find a lemon in the bunch… Longer? You will find MANY. But where do you go from here? To be honest, TF just doesn’t have the Themes that really catch my eye anymore. All the Themes look the same. Same horizontal menu. Same slider (death to cu3er!). Same look. I know a while ago they were going to prune out all the duplicates, but they need to go through again.

    • “Death to X” is NOT funny. I do hope the Administrator deletes Brett’s remarks as completely unacceptable in what has so far been civil discussion.

  24. As a consumer of premium themes, and most definitely not a coder, I can appreciate the amount of time and energy that goes into the development and support of these slick themes. However, I do know enough that it is easy to develop a core theme panel and options, then build around that. Elegant Themes does a great job of this. They have a common theme panel and settings, then build all of their themes around it, which I’m sure means many new themes have reduced development time. I could be wrong, and please correct me if I am.

    However, the other nice thing that Elegant Themes does is providing a subscription based service. For one fee I get access to ALL of their themes and support. If I choose not to subscribe any more, then I lose support and updates to themes I use, which is really where I see the value. I think the subscription model is a much more viable one as it makes it less likely that someone is going to pay for a single theme, then distribute it across multiple sites in violation of the EULA, and discontinue subscription payments; the risk of losing support and updates alone is something I would never consider.

  25. Just a note in support of quality themes over $50… I charge over $2500 for custom wordpress themes for clients. If a (quality) $75 theme helps save my customer over $1000, I’d say the $75 was well worth it!!! If you can show that your theme is up to web standards, it should be so easy to justify $75 versus a cheap, copycat and poorly coded $35 theme. The customer (either the end customer or those like me) will be able to tell the difference with the attention to detail.

    • Well said, Josh! Developers like us oftentimes benefit from the value of themes more than anyone. Themes provide a great starting point that can save us countless hours on a project.

  26. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – folks who want to sell “stuff” in the WordPress community have a far better chance swimming alongside a big fish, rather than try to become one themselves.

    In most cases, there’s a much better chance at people making good money by developing themes (or add-ons) for frameworks such as Genesis, Canvas, Builder, Headway, Thesis, Catalyst, etc.

    This allows the development to work alongside an already stable platform, and focus on design and extendability. (which also removes the issue of “bad and inefficient” code)

    It makes sense to me that someone new in the community should let the marketing machines of the aforementioned frameworks do the hard work of promoting and pushing the product. Besides, in most cases I’ve seen – those frameworks and their marketing teams encourage and promote those who build for it.

    • Brian, this is a great point because it touches on the sellers model, which I didn’t have the breath for. Aligning yourself with a framework allows you to carve a niche in a stable, well supported platform. I grew fond of this concept while building DocPress for Genesis. While I found Genesis perplexing and infuriating at first, I quickly saw the value of developing within well-coded bounds.

      The only hesitancy is becoming too dependent on a platform that may not be around forever. It’s an unlikely situation these days, but definitely something to consider.

      • I definitely hear you on the perplexing thing – but that’s because my brain was trained to work with PHP files and template tags. Nathan encouraged me to open my mind to custom functions, and I’m so thankful he did because now I “get it”.

        As for the seller model… think of Apple. (amazing how many cases use them as an example.)

        I think I’d much rather develop and iPhone case, or a backpack for a Mac than try to build my own computer. I mean the distribution channel makes it SO easy to do that.

        Rough numbers indicate that a 1/4 million sites are running Genesis. I’d say that’s a stable environment to build for.

        And if someone is worried, than do what game developers do – create something unqiue and special for all consoles (Wii, Playstation, xBox). A great example of this is the folks over at http://themedy.com who’ve taken great designs, and ported them to multiple platforms.

        • I had one of those moments recently, where I all of a sudden “got” Genesis. From then, development was a breeze. This is definitely something I’m going to consider in the months to come.

          • I’m glad to hear someone else “gets” Genesis. When you have operated that theme, or a child of that theme, it is impossible to go backward and operate with these other themes. From an enduser standpoint, why in the world would anyone want to touch a line of code if they don’t have to? On the other hand though, the disparity is becoming to extreme that Automattic should really consider buying StudioPress and incorporating the entire ecosystem that is Genesis into their main code. How many times did I install how many plugins for a bazillion different things – and for those of you that code, how many times did you code the same crap over and over and over – and why?
            I would argue that with Genesis being what it is today, if you’re giving a client a custom coded theme that can’t be upgraded without the expertise of a programmer then you are scamming your client.
            But here’s my gripe, really: I expected StudioPress to be just the first of many frameworks I would purchase for my library of tools. 2 years later, where are the dozen new frameworks!?!? Man do I love love love Woo Themes, but if I can’t massively change the look and feel of the site without coding, then I’m simply not down with that. I mean why should I when I don’t have to? The logic behind using child themes is just too compelling for all of you to not have jumped the bandwagon from these individual theme sites altogether. 91 comments in a day on this blog post? I just can’t imagine that you all take the risks to buy such crap and give your business to this seemingly shady ThemeForest guy. ew.
            I mean the point is made by the guy who said raising his price to $50 resulted in more sales. I don’t have any respect or the time of day for ThemeForest simply because their themes ARE that cheap – I’m expecting crap. Not intersted. If I need a theme I’m not going to the thrift store of theme stores, I already own Armani – and let’s be real here – Genesis is $59!!!! But then again, I’ve eaten the caviar that is Genesis. What in the world can anyone afford to offer for $25 (net) that is worth my time, money, aggravation and a few thousand dollars in PHP classes when I buy StudioPress I get a framework, I pick any StudioPress plugins I need to further customize my work and my clients are utterly self sufficient.
            I am passionate about this because I believe blogging and WordPress have democratized not just the web, but by democratizing the web, we spread democracy throughout the world. I know it’s a grand statement but I stick by it. I can’t believe that every person commenting on this article hasn’t said whatever they said along with, “and of course I own a copy of Geneis”. It accelerates quality development and reduces ongoing support requirements that I just really am that blown away that this isn’t more ubiquitous on this list. And don’t take offense, I respect all of your expertise and the way things used to be done, but that keeps people shackled to a programmer, and for the democratization I speak so highly of to reach new heights, I think theming off a framework is the only way to go.

    • I actually don’t agree with this… If you have the willingness to invest (time / energy / possibly $$$) in your own marketing / branding, then you should be starting your own business, instead of necessarily building your products on an existing framework. I think that this is a great choice if you decide to go with a framework, but I also don’t think you can – for example – build a million dollar business on top of someone else’s products. So I guess it all depends on what your aims are.

      So this is actually very much a “horses for courses” approach IMO. Many designers / developers would be better off extending existing projects / products / businesses, but we also need enough designers / developers to do their own thing and be unique.

      My latest blog post touches on the need for uniqueness & innovation within the WP ecosystem. Simply releasing child themes for example doesn’t really benefit the holistic ecosystem, instead it only adds *another* theme option to the end user.

      • I hear what you are saying but thoroughly disagree. The main reason I would disagree is that the feature set that StudioPress is putting forth in a version 1.6 of the program is insane. Even if you do code, there have got to be things in there that you didn’t know existed. But, I did say that it’s getting to the point that the features StudioPress is offering alter the usability and userfriendliness that StudioPress is offering that Automattic should consider acquisition. I do declare it is almost a crime against the humanity of WordPress for it to not be incorporated into every WordPress installation.
        You’re thinking about signing up your local chamber of commerce as a regular client. Maybe you hook your coat tails on to the next Huffington Post. I’m talking about bringing the freedom of speech everything that comes with it to people all over the world. I think there’s just that much genius in what StudioPress has brought to WordPress. I think it’s unwise to create unnecessarily dependent relationships with technology clients.
        I’d love to hear a good counterargument that results in lower cost, time and support and keeps a client just as happy. Is Genesis perfect and as user friendly as it could be? I doubt it. But I see what floats around there and it’s some nasty rigid stuff! I feel like $35 themes are like shopping at the bargain bin at the Outlet Mall. I mean isn’t just likely that most everything left is gonna suck?

      • I see both sides to this – mine and yours Adii. And it really depends on who we’re talking about. For some folks who are excellent designers and don’t have much code experience my scenario works well for them. Perhaps they are in it to make some side money, and don’t have time to invest into building a full blown business.

        For others, such as the guys at Organic Themes, they obviously have the talent to pull off building a business from top to bottom. In that case, you are correct in that serious entrepreneurs should do their own thing. Retain ownership, etc.

        For full disclosure, I am friends with Jeff Milone at Organic, and at one point asked if he had interest in us porting over their designs to Genesis child themes. To his credit, he passed on my offer, and I think both he and I would agree it was a good decision by him.

      • Interesting –

        but I also don’t think you can – for example – build a million dollar business on top of someone else’s products

        Isn’t that precisely what a massive handful of companies have done on top of WordPress?

        • Good point. :)

          I guess what I’m thinking is that it is easier to build a company of that size on top of a big company with X million users (WP) compared to doing the same with a company’s products that has 50k users (Theme Company A).

  27. Without giving too much away, Obox will be raising theme prices soon across the board.

    At one point last year we committed to a $30 price point for our themes. The strategy backfired (it was a scary time) and we had returned to the normal $50 point. Guess what happened? Theme Sales actually increased since then.

    People say that customers are used to a certain price and therefore won’t pay more but I do not agree with this at all. Price increases have been happening since the beginning of time and as long as you increase your prices gracefully and through clear communication than the good should outweigh the bad.

  28. I agree that something needs to be done with the price point of some of the nicer WordPress themes. The design work alone that goes into these themes is amazing. Add in support and the price point should be well over $35 dollars, IMHO.

    But I have to agree with Ben above… Elegant Themes is a great start and offers top-notch support for a reseller like me.

    Great post!

  29. Mike, great post, one that I agree with wholeheartedly.

    Both the price, and quality, needs to be raised over at ThemeForest (perhaps other marketplaces too however I have no experience of those). When I first stumbled upon ThemeForest perhaps a year ago, I was a little horrified. Yep, horrified. I was concerned that designers/developers were undervaluing their work, or being taken advantage of even, by not only having to sell at a lower price point than the wider market, but by only receiving 40% of the sales in their pocket – didn’t seem like a place for me.

    Since then, with some initial persuasion, I’ve released a few themes on ThemeForest and things aren’t quite as bleak as I originally thought. Authors can make a decent living through a marketplace (top authors earning up to $40,000 a month if you’re into hard figures) but there is still a way to go in my opinion. My all time pet peeve is being labelled as low quality, or ‘crap’, purely by association – man that bugs me. I truly believe that a rise in price, and quality, could begin to relieve ThemeForest of it’s reputation and for it to be taken seriously in the theme space. Of course I mean seriously in terms of reputation, not revenue, it’s not short of the latter.

    While a living can of course be carved out of marketplace selling, sometimes something just doesn’t ‘feel right’ about it. For me personally, getting rid of this low-cost, low-quality perception would go to help a little but until that day comes, I fear some authors, myself included, may be looking to alternative options.

    Higher price, higher quality, let’s be taken seriously.

    • I’ve bought about 10 themes in the past year and only two of them were quality. The last one was one by Orman Clark (Classica). You’re the best man! Most themes are worth $35, a lot of them aren’t worth a dime, but for Orman’s themes I would pay $100. There is only one reason. Beautiful design, neat code and very good support. Alternative solution? Please yes.

  30. Bravo to Mike for writing this article, because it really hit home for me. For anyone that thinks WordPress themes are too expensive… I invite you to sit by my side for just one day to see what it takes to run a theme business. After that day, you can tell me how much I should be charging for my themes.

    I get plenty of potential customers on a regular basis complaining about my “outrageous” $75 price point compared to other theme providers. The question is, am I losing potential customers for this reason? Obviously, the answer to that question is “Yes”. So, with that in mind, why don’t I lower my prices knowing that I am losing all of those potential customers? The answer is quite simple… I cannot justify a price point lower than $75 based on the time and effort that goes into every single Press75.com customer.

    As consumers, we need to realize that in order to purchase a product, there is typically a business that has been established to provide and support that product. With any business, there are operating costs involved in running that business which are not limited to product development, maintenance and support. I am not just talking about money, but also the time (endless hours) it takes ever day to maintain any business. I realize that the typical customer doesn’t care about my operating costs, but that doesn’t mean that I should ignore them just to make everyone happy.

    Sure… I could lower my prices to $25 per theme and have three times (or more) the number of customers I do now. Do the math… 3 x 25 is 75. Each Press75.com customer asks an average of (lets say) 25-50 support related questions per year. Take that 25-50 questions and times it by several thousand customers each year. I spend hours of my own time as well as thousands of dollars every year just support my current customers. I’m happy to do it because I believe in and am passionate about my business and the product I provide.

    Really think about what you are getting when you purchase a WordPress theme. Just 5 years ago, you would have had to pay upwards of a few thousand dollars to have a custom website bult that doesn’t even come close to the average WordPress theme you can buy today for less than $75. I get so many customers looking to put together a website for their business who email me stating that they simply can’t justify the $75 price tag for a theme. Seriously??? If you can’t justify $75 (not much more than a tank of gas) to build a complete online presence for your business, then maybe you should re-think running your own business.

    • “If you can’t justify $75 (not much more than a tank of gas) to build a complete online presence for your business, then maybe you should re-think running your own business.”

      That made me chuckle. :) So very true!

      Eric

    • Jason is correct about the customers who don’t want to buy. I’m a buyer in the non-profit world. There are so many nonprofits that have dreadful websites and are proud that they spend $0 on their host, theme, domain name, etc. I wish you guys could convince them of the value of your themes.

      There could be a business here for someone. Just like so many cereal boxes say “Organic quality assured by QSI Inc” or some such thing, why can’t there be a similar seal of approval by some agency for good theme design? Say you charge a developer $5/sale to use your seal. The seal would insure that the code is good and plugins do in fact plug in. Just an idea. I just purchased a theme (EvoLve Advance) and I found the consumer process confusing. Again, some seal of approval on the better themes would have been comforting and a great help in reducing the huge number of options.

  31. Hey guys, I’m not a theme developer but I recently bought a theme by Orman Clark on ThemeForest and was actually stunned at how low the price was… of course for me it was more of a pleasant surprise, but I agree with this post for the most part. I agree that you guys deserve more for your work, and especially factoring in the support – I’ve been nothing but pleased with the support I get with Orman’s Premium Pixel theme. I don’t know if raising the price will make the themes feel that they are of higher quality. The reason I say this is because I feel the same way about the Addy awards for designers. I’ve recently felt the Addy’s were for the most part, worthless, because of how many mediocre designs I saw receive awards over the years. This past year the rate for submitting Addy’s to my region went up a lot, in hopes that it would make the awards seem more prestigious. Really what they need is better quality to feel this way. I don’t know if there is a screening process or anything at ThemeForest, in fact the only theme I have ever bought was from Orman and I didn’t question the quality because I was already a fan of his blog, dribbble, etc… so I can’t even say that there *is* a lack of quality at ThemeForest – I honestly don’t know. Anyway I’m rambling. Great post!

  32. If people don’t want to use your themes and complain ask them to go to a web design co and get a site that looks as good as one of your themes… the cost would be more than $35 or $75.

  33. Hello all,

    First I’d like to thank all the developers for creating the possibility for me to run my website via wordpress for $35, $75, whatever. ALL these prices are insanely low. I assumed I’d have to pay more to begin this process. The following is intended to show you from one users perspective how you could get more from me.

    I run a single site and hope to make money off of it. I have been searching for days for a better platform for my site and have searched every possible theme. You know what? I can’t find what I want. Would I pay $45, $55 or even $75 if I did? Of course!! But I can’t. So when something doesn’t seem perfect, I pay less – even $35 seems high to me when I have to start coding and changing CSS.

    My suggestion to those of you who want to charge more mirrors what Orman Clarke says…. quality, support and fit/design gets more money from me. Happily.

    However, here is why I don’t pay more:
    1- Sadly, you can’t test drive any of the themes to actually see if they will work. So when buying blind, I have to pay the least. I start there and move up.

    2- The ‘demo’ sites aren’t descriptive enough for non-developers like me. Stating 50+ shortcodes is somewhat meaningless to me. 11 color schemes? So what. I want the color scheme I want. It should be ‘fully customizable color scheme’. Do you have an easy to use Admin area? if so, please show screenshots. And finally – show me what can/cannot be removed on the layout(s) – with ease. I search and search and you show me layout after layout – but don’t really show me exactly how customizable your theme is (without coding CSS). Please remember, not veryone is a developer. You aren’t writing english… the nomenclature you use is too hard for the layperson.

    Because of this I’m going to have to buy 3 themes that are $35 ea and test them to see which meets my needs. Sad that… because I’d happily pay $100 for the theme if it was exactly what I needed. So to those of you who are only getting $35, its because you aren’t explaining your quality/difference well enough to those that find your theme is a fit.

    Good luck all and keep up the coding! Much appreciated.
    Shane

    • It sounds like you should just hire a developer/designer to make you what you need. Template websites like Themeforest can’t possibly create EXACTLY what one person needs to accomplish a particular project. They’re template for a reason; to appeal to a mass public.

  34. Oh and one other thing… showing actual websites who use your theme is MOST helpful. Almost no one does it – but when I can see HOW themes are actually customized… I am MUCH more likely to buy them (aka pay more).

  35. Mike,

    I’ve went on your portfolio and actually added together every sell you’ve made. The total sum (after cutting 30% to envato) was ~ $73,000.

    http://cl.ly/6Qyj

    First of all, $73,000 in two and a half years isn’t that bad for 9 pieces of work. Secondly, if you hadn’t provided support (which is -as you say- not obligatory) how much of those $73k would you have made? Maybe half, maybe less. I think the facts aren’t very straight in your post. Support means more sales == more money.

    Your efforts to support people are paying off with more sales.

    • First of all, that number is incorrect. You’ve made several assumptions, one of them being that I’ve always made 70% commission, which I haven’t.

      Secondly, your comment is missing the point. Support isn’t optional these days, we all know it’s crucial to theme sales. So comparing sales with and without support has nothing to do with the actual value of a well-developed WordPress theme.

      • I am aware there’s a scaling system on Envato’s commission and I should have clarified that the number is probably less, sorry about that. It’s an estimate nonetheless, which also does not include any prospects or exposure you get from the marketplace (not you, generally).

        I’m not trying to bash your work or object to your point, in fact I’d love one day to be even half as a designer as you are. All I’m saying is that I find your post a tad exaggerating. But to each his own I guess.

        What really troubles me is that the impact on the value (not monetary) of themes a potential inflation of price could have, would hurt the web design industry even more. But that’s a whole other topic.

  36. My business partner and I decided, last year, that we would enter the Theme Forest marketplace as an experiment in creating passive revenue for our company. Our main trepidation centered around how to successfully execute a potential theme release, with a reasonable ROI, that took into account the amount of research, design, development and support hours necessary to deploy said theme for a $35 price point (of which we would receive 50% as a new provider). This was not going to be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

    With that said, I understand the price point and revenue sharing scale, if you are a new provider that does not represent any equity to Envato. I even appreciate that there is a structure in place to increase your revenue share based on sales volume. What I don’t understand is, if you are a proven commodity (a provider who’s product excels from a design, development and support criteria which should be reflected in your sales volume) shouldn’t you be allowed to set their own price point? Should you not be rewarded with the freedom of valuing your product, on your terms, and not be shackled with whatever algorithm comes into play when the staff at Envato determines the price of your latest release? I believe that, just as there are customers who are willing to pay $35 for a theme, WooThemes and Press75 are clear examples of customers willing to spend north of $75 for a theme when the level of quality has been raised.

    But, coming from the music business, I am well aware that high volumes of sales is not synonymous with quality so I know my suggestion is inherently flawed. But, there has to be some sort of mechanism in place that would continue to make Theme Forest an attractive option to providers who take care to provide the highest level of service. Otherwise, I foresee many of those providers, like yourself, branching out on their own.

    • Some theme marketplaces, particularly ThemeGarden, allow you to set your own price. I sold on ThemeGarden when it first opened and the freedom was exhilarating. Their focus is on the quality of the themes, not babysitting the authors. Because their system is invite only, they can invite only the good authors and don’t have to worry about overseeing their every move. Definitely a welcomed feeling. Decide your own worth, play with prices, test your own selling model. It makes perfect sense.

      I just hate to see some of the talent going to waste. There are some incredible theme developers on ThemeForest, but I fear that will change if some progressive changes aren’t made.

  37. ‘You pay what you get for’… that’s for sure. And Mike, I am indeed one of those who is willing to pay much more for themes. The fact WordPress is already free is enough! But the problem with buying themes is that you only know the quality of what you bought once you’ve unzipped the file. And the problem with ThemeForest is that there’s a lot of choice, thus a lot of bad quality themes. What I dislike most in new themes is that everything seems to be customizable in the back end. But that’s just like fake shining gold. Let users customize themes as they want – and yes if they want to they’ll have to learn some basic coding. I don’t know how much time and effort you developers guys spend on making these back end customization possibilities, but it’s not worth it I think. At least for me I would be better off without!

    I’ve bought about 10 themes in the past year and only two of them were quality. The last one was one by Orman Clark (Classica). You’re the best man! Most themes are worth $35, a lot of them aren’t worth a dime, but for Orman’s themes I would pay $100. There is only one reason. Beautiful design, neat code and very good support. Alternative solution? Please yes.

  38. Hey guys,

    I just wanted to chime in, this is *exactly* why we started Designs Vault, our own theme marketplace. We got tired of people expecting low prices and Envato taking such a large cut of the designer’s sale. The biggest pain point we have been dealing with is getting actual themes onto the site, but we will post them for $45 a theme happily.

    Help us build a better theme marketplace!

  39. Great article, I’m a buyer and I could’t agree more, authors should get paid more for their work. It’s very sad to see authors who put in a ton of work to create a beautiful theme and then no one buys it.

    A price increase to $45 would be the best solution, although we also have to keep in mind that there will be a decrease in sales. I know many buyers on TF, mostly freelancers from Asia, who are already having a hard time paying $35 for a theme, With a price increase, less of them will be able to afford new themes, and they’ll start reusing the themes they’ve already bought.

    A positive effect of raising the price though, would be that buyers would actually start using the themes. I know many buyers who pay for themes and never use them because they turn out to not fit the current project. That’s why I often wish there was a money back guarantee or a way to test the themes before you purchase them…

    So, I definitely think the prices should be raised, but while authors would earn more per sale, the total money earned per theme would go decrease as there would be less sales.

    On a side note, Collis came up with the prices at Envato without doing any market research.

  40. Pricing is how you choose your customer base, as Jason and Carl alluded to above the bargain hunting customers cost 10x in support costs.

    When we launched page.ly people thought we were loco for charging 3-5x over godaddy and bluhost and charging near the same as mt gs but only allowing 1site instead of infinite.

    We purposely chose our customer base, one that saw the value prop of security and managed updates and tended to be a little more technical savvy. Had we not we would have been buried by support and churn from the tire kickers.

    Themeforest does not code the themes, they just make a margin off a huge quantity of sales… their model makes money regardless if it $35 or $75. It is not apple to apples when compared to woo, press75, or studiopress.

  41. Hypothetical brain dump…

    I think the answer might be to seemingly slowly raise prices. What would be wrong with putting up the cost of a theme say $10 and then again a few months later. And then to continue to raise pricing so as to match things like inflation. Every other industry on the planet does and they don’t get torn to shreds by angry teens with huge expectations ;)

    To not change pricing to match things like inflation shows the youngness of this market. My guess is that we don’t all come from business backgrounds, rather we come from backgrounds of passion where we make stuff that we love and that we think is cool. Then we’re like “holy cow!!!” how can we afford to keep this going… so you introduce a cost structure and probably without too much thought.

    When we initially priced the WP e-Commerce Plugin ($15 back say 5 years ago) I just thought about a price that felt right. I didnt go seek business advice – but maybe I should have because that would have allowed us to grow quicker and make improvements sooner.

    We’re charging around $45 at the moment for our Gold Cart add-on and its probably almost right. Certainly charging a little more would take some pressure off us – but don’t worry we’re not doing that right now. We’re way too busy to think about that kind of thing!!

    Perhaps what the professional WordPress space is missing are mentors around this stuff. If you want to see a cool business model check out the Gravity Forms pricing page. Notice how they offer 3 pricing structures – thats business 101. Good on them!! Plugins like this help other businesses, who might not be sold on WordPress yet, take us all more seriously… its awesome to see :)

    Peace.

  42. Not to compare apples to oranges, but this conversation reminds me of the micro-stock photography biz. While there are talented designers and photographers alike out there, they too usually get lumped together with the masses. I, personally, “own” a few dozen of premium themes not only from Theme Forest but other theme retailer outlets as well. I agree that there is a line that needs to be drawn in regards to revenue for what developers distribute. Several of the themes I have purchased put me in tears. Not only because of the beauty of the design and layout or even the full and complete exposure to how to do literally anything with the themes (some even include video walk throughs), but the fact that I don’t have to write it per page by hand for what seems like forever. This niche of design and layout has quite literally changed the way people approach web design (myself included). The time and effort you save many designers such as myself is so worth more than $35. I think it is safe to say, whatever the rates get raised to, people are going to pay for it with even questioning it. My two cent.

  43. I’ve stopped buying Themeforest themes because they’ve become so bloated. Perhaps a return to simple, light, easy-to-use (not overloaded with a truckload of options) themes at the $35 mark is the way to go. As a designer who likes to customize themes for clients, I’m not looking at Themeforest anymore – I’m looking at frameworks I can skin.

  44. Hi all! I just wanted to say great post here from Mike! Very thought-provoking. And it looks like lots more to read in the comments. Like an old-school guy I am printing them all off to have a thorough read through before posting my thoughts.

    And since it looks like a lot of the discussion is around ThemeForest, I’ve written to Ryan Imel (WPCandy himself) to ask if I may write an editorial back here on the blog as well :-) Hopefully he lets me! So anyhow, response coming :-) Just didn’t want anyone thinking we (and I) weren’t paying attention!

    Meanwhiles not sure about my apparent ‘Overlord’ title. I think if I tried to actually use that, our team would give me a big kick in the pants – and rightly so!

    Anyhow thanks for the article Mike, and what looks like a great read in the comments. I’m always happy to hear these discussions going on, open discussion is essential to a thriving community!

    • Welcome Collis! We were just talking about you. ;) We’re all really looking forward to hearing from the big man. Thank’s for stopping by.

      I surely hope you didn’t read that “Overlord” title as an insult! I see now how that could be taken the wrong way, but it was all in good humor, of course.

      • hehe oh no not at all. Just want to make sure no-one thinks that’s what I call myself :D

        *answers phone* Collis the overlord speaking …

  45. Jason Fried – co founder of 37signals has an interesting piece on this topic in Inc Magazine. http://www.inc.com/magazine/20101101/go-ahead-raise-your-businesss-prices.html
    He charges $10 for an app that many would charge $1 for. Why? He doesn’t want the kind of customer that only wants to pay the lowest price. He wants to feel good about giving the kind of support that his customers want and getting paid for it.

    I’m not a creator of themes – I’ve used some free ones and am in the process of having one customized for a redo of my site. However I’ve had software providers as clients of mine (I do consulting) and am familiar with the price struggle. If you do the math, you can determine for every $10 price increase, how many fewer customers you can have and still net the same money. It’s a calculation worth doing. Then test things to see what happens.

    There’s no answer that’s right for all situations – you need to look at it in context. WalMart is one of the biggest companies in the world selling stuff cheap. But they have tremendous infrastructure and need tremendous scale to make that work. Boutiques can’t pull that off and therefore can’t compete on price. So they have to offer something different than WalMart if they’re going to charge more. Sometimes that doesn’t scale, but in Jason Fried’s case it scales enough for him.

    Hope that helps a little. This is a great discussion.

  46. Well what a wonderful post Mike, thanks for sharing.
    And thanks to wpcandy.com for providing the soapbox for this piece. This post sure measres up to your “The best WordPress news blog on the planet” byline. Please keep on with this work, it can only make our community stronger.
    cheers,
    Johan

    • Thanks Johan! I definitely didn’t expect to get such a response but I’m glad I did. Seems to be something that’s on everyones mind, but no one really talks about.

  47. Very good article. WordPress designs have dramatically changed over the last few years where graphic designers are spending the bulk of their time designing, re-designing and supporting themes. I remember back in the late 90’s hiring a designer to create a website and asked him to do a mockup. He then decided to bill me $1,000 for his time as the going rate was $90 an hour or so for a graphic design done by “hand”.

    While the internet has produced numerous venues like Theme Forest to purchase themes only a handful of companies like Envato’s group of sites have a such a strong percentage of high quality designers. $35 a theme is cheap – so cheap that anybody who argues about the price are exactly the type of clients you do NOT want.

    When the cost of a logo can be $500 or more yet the actual foundation of your website is equivalent to a 12 case of beer and a travel pack of Advil for the morning after how can anybody say $35 is expensive?
    Of course, from a supplier’s standpoint you need to find a balance between supply and demand and if all themes were priced at $200 the marketplace wouldn’t be where it is today.

    However, re-pricing themes and adding solid lifetime support options for minimal additional fees should be expected and warranted. Personally I would like to see the stats on how many buyers are purchasing more than 5 themes vs. the one time buyer.

    My guess is anybody buying 5 or more themes is not going argue about a price point less than $100 per theme since its nothing compared to (a) how much they are making from development or (b) the price they are charging their client.

    The one time buyer is hardly ever going to complain about something priced under $100 either and the percentage that do will have no effect on your business. Why, because people who know their stuff will automatically respect the Envato marketplace as one of higher quality than the others simply due to the higher price tag.

    The internet is evolving and so should price structure based on quality. Envato has committed to quality ever since their beginning and the emphasis should be on retaining, rewarding and promoting the designers but also emphasizing the quality of the work available.

    Designers should also be able to incorporate an add-on option much like logo.com and all those companies where for a certain price point they could provide a custom logo and other elements to complete the theme.

    Envato doesn’t have to be a store just for themes but a home for quality designers to have a storefront.
    In full disclosure I do not develop themes, I buy them and whether its $100 or $200 for a theme you would be a fool not to buy the theme you need at any price available in today’s marketplace.

    In fact, every time we buy a $35 theme there is lots of laughter around here about what a deal we just scored.

    Raise your prices .. designers are the foundation of every company’s online presence.

  48. Great post Mike….I buy themes from TF for myself and clients but will only buy from what I consider the top WordPress Theme Developers who provide quality support…(Orman Clark, Webtreats, Mike McAlister, Kresi, etc) – I would def pay more for those top developers themes because I truly believe the more I support top authors the more impact you guys will have on the industry – In turn impact my life. I want the best developers getting the opportunity and the tools to be great!

    PS…I think you guys should consider coming together and starting your own online marketplace and take a piece of the pie…Webtreats has already moved away from TF.

    Peace!

  49. After 130 comments (wow), I’m shocked no one has mentioned the Theme Check plugin.

    Would it solve every issue? Nope. But it would solve a LOT of them. If every theme author ran their theme through it, and made sure every warning, notice and recommendation was met, I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with paying $99 or so for that theme.

  50. Well said, Mike.

    Unfortunately buyers don’t appreciate that they’re saving $2000 buying a $35 theme.

    I cringe that you are charging so little – that would mean selling at least a 100 of every one to make it worthwhile.

    It reminds me of when i was providing IT services 15 years ago. I began charging $25/hr because I just didn’t believe what I was offering was worth any more than that, or that people would pay more than that.

    Within 2 years, as my experience and confidence grew, I’d upped that to $40/hr. And no one batted an eyelid. It was still a bargain.

    Not long after, I quit and went back to a job, because I wasn’t earning enough. (In hindsight the mistake I made was I wasn’t charging enough! I was only charging enough to keep the business afloat, but not enough to draw a liveable income.)

    The moral, you can charge more, and you almost certainly need to.

    If you look at the likes of Headway (who I work with), Thesis etc, they are charging folks to build their own themes – and charging more than you are for pre-built ones! And people are willingly paying for it. (Part of the reason I think is the thrill of creating it themselves)

    To be honest, if I was buying themes, I’d assume WooThemes to be significantly better than ThemeForest simply because of the price. (There’s many a story of people putting up their prices on something and finding they got more sales.)

    A lot of people want quality, and $35 doesn’t say quality to me. It just makes me wary.

  51. How about some kind of royalty system? A percentage of profits generated by the web developer when using a particular theme could be paid to the theme author.

  52. It’d be interesting to run a poll to see the demographic of theme purchasers. Personally, I buy themes for clients that don’t have a lot of quid to spend on a website, but I do agree that prices are way too low. $125 is definitely not unreasonable for some of the themes I’ve purchased for clients. Some of these themes I wouldn’t be able to build myself for under $10,000.

    On the other hand, I find most themes way too bulky and complicated to use. The most I expect from a theme is just simple functionality. Anything extra I’d rather just use plugins.

    Great post. Thanks Mike.

  53. You were just entertained for 3 hours straight. You’ll probably lose yourself in the crazy world of birds and pigs for another 20 this week. You enjoy the game so much it’s starting to impact your productivity and your sex drive.

    Angry Birds is absolutely amazing and it cost you $0.99, or free on some platforms, less than anything in the dollar store.

    There are over 372,000 apps in Apple’s app store, 55k categorized as games alone, and the average price of a game is $1.06. (source)

    How can any game developer make a living in this sort of environment, especially considering that the bar for games has gone up so much? The mechanics are so sophisticated these days that you need years of experience to be able to get it right, even if the game appears simplistic and childlike.

    Even at the high end of the market, the situation is unsustainable. Halo 3 reportedly cost over $30 million to develop, but I can buy it on Amazon right now for $18.22. (Not even five gallons of gas.) Be careful and remember the rule of a wise WP premium plugin developer: You get what you pay for. (As an aside, the quality control on Amazon is terrible! There are so many games on there that are almost unplayable.)

    A movie entertains you for 2 hours (if you’re lucky) and costs 6-14x than Angry Birds, not counting drinks, candy, or popcorn. Personally, I think iPhone games should run about $12. Compare that price tag to any other industry and see how far it gets you.

    There’s good news, within hours of having this revelation I emailed Steve Jobs and he replied, “Yep. Sent from my iPhone.” It’s a good sign when you can email the CEO and get a constructive dismissal almost immediately.

    Matt is a decent part-time iPhone games developer taking refuge from a hectic WordCamp world tour schedule. You can see his games on his computer and follow him on Twitter @photomatt.

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  55. Great post Mike – judging by the amount of comments on this post it seems as you’ve opened Pandoras box :) I’ve taken to time to read each and every comment and am riveted by the follow on comment threads. I make a living from WordPress themes and building WordPress sites. But I don’t sell themes standalone – I build custom themes as part of an overall web development project. I made the decision about 18 months ago to not go down the road of selling WordPress themes either via any of the big marketplaces or off my own steam.

    Why?

    I can’t sell themes at $35-$50 and make a profit – simple. The level of functionality that has become the expected norm for what is effectively pocket change when it comes to the cost of building a website is nuts. A lot of people in the comments have been talking about raising prices. Don’t think twice about it – do it today. But understand something – this is a buyers market. Themeforest is a marketplace and like any Economics 101 textbook will tell you, the market will generally set prices based on supply and demand. As theme developers, we cannot “set” prices – we don’t have an equivalent to OPEC for WordPress themes – yet :) Your ability to sell at a higher price will be based solely on your ability to convince customers why they should spend $100 on your theme instead of $35 on another. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as I think the majority of theme buyers have no idea how to recognise the value proposition of a $100 theme vs. a $35 theme. Apple provide the best case study for how to differentiate your product in an extremely competitive market, charge higher prices and still make more profit than everyone else.

    We as theme developers need to innovative our approach to selling themes. A superior product alone is not enough. Superior marketing is the way forward.

    Ed

    • Right on Ed.

      Majority of theme buyers have no idea how to recognize the value proposition of a $100 theme vs. a $35 theme. That’s the main issue here. The low-end segment of this industry is racing to the bottom. Most people don’t know Great Design from Just Ok Design and for the right price the difference is negligible. It’s sad but we’re not the only ones being affected. Depending on where the buyer or their client is, just ok will serve them fine.

  56. I’ll drop one more in here since I’m out of moderation purgatory.

    Charles Revson was founder of Revlon and ran it for over 50 years.

    “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”

    You guys make themes, but you sell something else.

    • You guys make themes, but you sell something else.

      This is great. It reminds me of the benefits vs features ideology. We make WordPress themes (and iPhone games) and tend to focus on the “features” list, as if ten list items actually represents your theme. But the true value is derived from how people will benefit from it. It’s the difference between calling it a “theme” or a “solution”. This could partly why some theme buyers are hesitant to pay even $35 and some would happily pay upwards of $125.

      Sell the benefits, not the the features!

      P.S. You should run that Inception-like iPhone editorial on TUAW. :)

    • Completely agree with Matt. We’ve been selling niche themes designed to be end-user solutions since last year, and haven’t looked back since. There’ll always be someone undercutting on generic themes, but there won’t always be someone creating end-user solutions for niche industries. Create your own market, dictate your own prices.

      • I agree whole-heartedly with Noel. You need to pick a niche and create themes tailor-made for their needs.

        Themes for photographers are completely different to themes for accountants. On one hand you need lots of thumbnails and galleries, on the other you want to strip out all the thumbnails because it will have limited imagery.

  57. Just want to share my thoughts again:

    1) In general I agree, however, increasing the prices abruptly will just result in less sales and the complaining will continue. I think the best way, especially for ThemeForest, would be to increase the theme prices by $2,3 and see how the buyers respond.

    2) Talking about Themeforest particularly, increasing the prices by $10-30 would immediately result in less sales. If you look at the buyer nationalities and the sites stats, you’ll see that most buyers are from Asia and for Asian buyers a $10 will make a big difference.

    3) I think the buyers who complain about the prices on Themeforest are mostly the ones who have no idea how to market their themes. It always amazes me how sellers create niche themes without even checking if there’s a demand for them. It also amazes me how sellers simply upload their themes and think that they’ll magically become top sellers. If you want to be a successful theme seller you have to build up a relationship with your customers and drive traffic to your themes. Orman Clarck (hope I spelled right) is one author that has done this correctly. He has built up a huge following, due to his freebies on premium pixels, which he’s using to sell his themes. The only way you might be successful selling a theme without any marketing on Themeforest is by creating a business theme, as most buyers on Themeforest are freelancers creating websites for clients in the $150-300 range.

    • As it has already been pointed out – fewer sales doesn’t automatically mean reduced revenue.
      My day job is in legal services catering for the higher end of the market, charging in excess of $500 an hr.
      When I first started working here I was shocked at the fees, but soon realised that we had no shortage of people willing to pay.

      In recent years we have tried expanding and competing with cheaper firms taking on less experienced staff at lower rates. The result was actually more hassle with more people complaining about bills than before.

  58. Question: How much should a theme design put in the back pocket of the creator?
    There are now 1000 WP themes on TF – is it fair to check the turnover on item 500 for a rough average? It comes out at about $6k.
    170 *35

  59. At UpThemes, we put a lot of work into our existing themes, so you’re not just paying for a set of PHP files one time, you’re actually paying for a piece of software that is updated frequently. You can’t put a $30 price tag on something like that, it’s invaluable to folks that don’t want to hire a programmer to update their WordPress theme when new features are released. Paying $50 (less than most programmers’ hourly rate) is extremely awesome to get future updates and support.

  60. I’m a theme buyer. I’m not a developer. I buy themes often.

    I’m the Director of Marketing for a modest company (1,700 employees), that provides a premium service. Our size / overhead disallows us to compete on price alone with 90% of our competition in a service industry that they would easily love to commoditize. What do we do? We know our demo, we know our value proposition, and we go after it!

    Brilliant Mr. Godin said:
    “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t,”

    So for Themes… find your value proposition, find your niche’, find your demo and sell!! if your selling themes, like Mike said sell BENEFITS. I would pay as much as $400 for an exceptional theme (maybe more), but why should I when I can get a theme that’s looks just as good for $35? Why should I? Tell me! (that’s rhetorical). If your theme is worth $125 tell me why and if I believe you I’ll buy it! Creating a great product is only half the equation, you have to learn how to position it, and who to position it too. Again, the company I work for cannot compete on price alone (most of the time) with 90% of our industry, but we are the 3rd largest in the US for what we do, we know how to position ourselves.

    (I’ve probably purchased about 10 themes from Themeforest)

  61. Mike, thank you for a thought provoking article. As a newcomer to the world of web/Wordpress development I am a potential purchaser of themes. When someone tells me that their product is of high quality with good support I expect them to deliver exactly that (after a bit of checking for supporting evidence such as strong sales, good reviews of this and their other products). If they cannot earn a return on the price that is their problem, not mine (unless I anticipate requiring a lot of support).

    I accept that $35 is too low to provide high quality code and good support; so you must either charge more or deliver less. If your marketplace will not allow either of these things you must go elsewhere. Whatever you decide to charge (and I doubt $45 is enough) I do not expect to see a general increase in prices because the barriers to entering this market are very low.

    Have you thought about offering support packages separately from the theme itself? That way you separate theme pricing, which is best served by low price/high volume, from support where covering the real cost is important.

    A final point, which may be of comfort, when faced with two apparently similar products, without other information, people will assume that the more highly priced is better. Good luck.

    • so you must either charge more or deliver less

      Bingo.

      I never considered offering support packages but that’s a great idea. The only thing is convincing a buyer to make two purchases. Some buyers are so hesitant to even pay for a $35 theme WITH support!

      • Some buyers are so hesitant to even pay for a $35 theme WITH support!

        Are those people really your target market? Is that extra sale really worth getting?
        Your problem is that you are selling two things: code and support. Code is a low variable cost business: you have already invested time in creating the code, the incremental cost of what you sell is practically nothing so setting price low and getting high volume gives the best return. Support is the opposite, the variable cost (your time) is high so you need to cover that in what you charge.
        Drop me a mail if you want to discuss the impliciations of this.

  62. The question we should be asking is not whether theme prices are too low but on whether or not this industry which has gone from specialization to commoditization. I was a web designer back in the early 90’s when CSS was just starting out and we still coded everything within a single perl file. I got out of the design business because the fact was that within a few years prices dropped drastically, it had nothing to do with the lack of work available and had more to do with the influx of new designers and developers that were willing to work for cheaper rates.

    I moved on to other forms of development but was eventually forced to move back into the web game because of clients that also wanted me to take care of their website along with everything else I did for them. At that point I decided to stay out of the design business because I felt it was too commoditized, you can tell when a business goes from specialized to commodity when the growers ask the market to make you pay more for their corn. I think there a lot of talented WordPress developers out there but seeing as I buy many themes for my own corporate needs, I do feel like WooThemes and Press75 are over priced for what they do, they’re designs are great but considering I don’t see much of a great difference between designs I’d much rather pay for a $35 design on Theme Forest that blows me away than a $200 design on Woo that looks like everyone of their other designs.

    I don’t say all of this to upset to industry but the fact is that the web design and theme industry has always been a specialized business and when you go from making $2000 a web page in the mid 90’s to $35 for a fully functional site almost 15 years later, the business has commoditized and needs to think in terms of scale. I think the ThemeForest Model works because the designer can still make a substantial amount across multiple customers instead of making a ridiculous amount from a single customer. Wishing and hoping that this price point would change doesn’t better your industry, it just opens the doors for other less known dev’s to come in and corner the market with cheaper and better product.

    I think the future in theme development has less to do with actual themes and more to do with individual themes allowing for greater customization from the end users. I see SquareSpace.com as the gold standard for what theme developers should strive to emulate and other companies like iThemes and Headway have already started doing this with their ridiculously easy to customize and modify themes while creating their own internal marketplace for customer creations. It’s no different than normal software development, things will get cheaper and forces people to innovate and add greater features and functionality at the same price. I think designers for too long have made good money with custom work while these new technologies are slowly making it easier and cheaper for others to enter the industry quickly and efficiently.

    If you think like a designer than you’re going to want to get paid more for doing less, if you think like a software programmer then you’re job will always be to innovate and create tools that make your own jobs obsolete allowing for greater scale of their time and efforts. I’m sorry to be the buzz kill here but I’m just looking at it merely from a numbers and business perspective. Ultimately I’m more than willing to pay $200 for a theme, but it has to do more than just look pretty, the ability to take a single design and use it for many things is what causes people to want to pay more, otherwise $35 is the perfect price to experiment with on a theme and see if it’s going to fit the current project I’m working on or not. Anymore than that and I would have less wiggle room to work with and would be stuck with the design I paid so much more money for. Think less like your industry, and more like your customers and you’ll dominate your industry hands down.

    • With 1000 themes selling at $30-$35 each on ThemeForest, and plenty more at a similar price elsewhere, is there any doubt that this end of the market is commoditised? It is time to stop thinking of a $35 theme as “premium”.
      As a consumer the hard part is finding the “good wood” in the forest of alternatives. Earlier in the thread someone suggested a sort of quality mark, which would be great, but I would settle for somewhere that gave unbiased reviews of themes rather than just cutting & pasting the advertising blurb.

  63. Never read such rubbish in my life; you obviously don’t believe in market forces? and by the way we live in a capitalist society whether we like it or not + themeforest authors are some of the best supporters of customers in the business and I could name you at least a dozen with bespoke support forums managed and staffed by the author – methinks this post is a cunning ploy to jolly up your prices? 1000 x $35 is a lot more than 100 x $125.
    Work harder
    Nick Garnett

  64. Fantastic article, Mike! I’m about to open my own theme shop, and before reading this our price point was going to be $39. We’re rethinking that now.

    My husband and I have been building custom websites for clients on our own for a few years, and we (like many of you here, I’m sure) have run into the same price point problem on a higher scale. With websites, you get what you pay for, and with clients, you get what you charge. The clients paying us $6,000 for their website have been nicer, happier, easier-to-please people than any of our $2,500 clients.

    I remember one client who had purchased a “premium” theme for over $200 and was trying to learn CSS so she could change the colors in the header. I checked out the theme and there were no customization options whatsoever, not even multiple color schemes (this was before custom menus, headers, and backgrounds in WP). I pointed her to Elegant Themes and she was astonished at the quality and flexibility of those themes for 90% less money.

    People like her don’t participate in the WP community outside of the occasional support forum visit, and she had no way of knowing the theme she paid for was worth the money—she had no idea what was out there on other quality theme shops. Are the grossly overpriced, spammy shops hurting the market by giving horrible first impressions of the possibilities of WordPress? Or are they good for the quality shops by making even $100 seem like a huge bargain? (They still ARE a huge bargain, but that’s beside the point.)

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  66. Alison makes an interesting point – customers who pay more are happier? WOW, now I know that I’m going to start charging lot’s more and make lot’s of people a lot happier – this is capitalism in it’s ultimate manifestation – money makes you happy. Does this mean that all market driven theme suppliers like Themeforest and Elegant have unhappy customers? – this is turning into a really cool discussion about capitalist philosophy, more please…

  67. There still seems to be an over-arching sense, for me anyway, that people in this thread think that there are no market forces – great stuff ia available for nickel’s & dime’s and it’s not going to change; I’m a new kind of web services business, themes from themeforest, developer labour from odesk and freelancer.com, I’m a really good project manager, providing services to very happy clients, they don’t give a stuff who’s doing the work; what you must understand is that people are going to move away, culturally, from ‘savile row’ type service. And what happens when we become the web, and our whole lives are online (some people’s are already), yes there are going to be some businesses selling tangible ‘sweat of my own brow’ services but the majority of customers will want to buy the most for the least. Customers are wiser now

  68. Just been reading through this (at some length) and it’s fascinating to see so many opinions from developers and from buyers.

    I for one sit on the buyer camp (not technically gifted, more of an ideas man) I have over the last couple of years spent roughly $500 on themes/plugins from Themeforest.

    Some were absolute junk (asked for money back) and some were absolute gems. Personally as a buyer, if I may:-) I do not mind spending more $$ on a theme, as long as there is decent support.

    Fortunately I am not a total idiot and do not ask support questions unless I have gone through every avenue possible (read google’d it).

    Perhaps a better solution would be a proper shop, I have a background in ecommerce etc so a proper web shop offering themes and a decent pricing structure which make sure the theme providers were indeed compensated for thier efforts fairly (better percentages of sales) rather than selling at $30-£35.00 themes could rank on level of support, buy out options (complete ownership of theme no more sales etc)

    I think that is what is missing, for me a simple shopping cart system, highlight all the themes, what YOU GET EXACTLY for your $70-$100. Giving potential buyers of themes a clear indication of what they are getting for their money would clean up the junk comments straight away.

    Would it create an elitist society of those with fantastic themes? Those spending lower amounts sites would look junk, it could potentially. As a buyer if I spent xxx on a theme the last thing I want is someone purchasing the same one and selling clickbank or affiliate stuff on there. it devalues the original theme and puts a downer on your plans.

    Perhaps we should all chip in and start up a proper shop, I like the seal of approval thing, I think that would be a tremendous thing to have. This theme is certified by XXX as 100% compatible with 3.1 etc.

    Just my ten cents if anyone is interested in helping me build something for developers, or if you think it’s got legs then feel free to email me on hello at fuzzly.co.uk

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  70. Theme Forest is like a record label is a musician – the musicians do all the hard work, and the record label takes the lions share of the proceeds for doing little more than running a marketing campaign of sorts, which more often than not costs them very little.

    Bad juju.

    So I think shops like Press75, WooThemes, AppThemes, StudioPress, and Elegant Themes – and more – are doing it the right way, the indie way. Maybe they get less numbers of sales, but every sale is worth much more both initially and in the long run. And there’s no overlord playing god over their products, pricing, and income.

    In fact, I think that Nick over at Elegant Themes is using a FANTASTIC business model that is unmatched by any of the competition: Stellar themes, all bundled for less than $40. Smart guy!

  71. I’d say the reason the price is stuck at $35 is not because of status-quo, but because of the relativity of code quality.
    While themes on ThemeForest all have fancy and slick design, nobody can deny that, in many cases their code is a mess. Buyers don’t know that, so they just buy the theme, just to conclude they bought a piece of rubbish wrapped in nice package. Often, they need to appeal to other developers to get their theme working as they wish, which is another money spent.
    Of course, there are quality themes on TF, which are worth the $75 and more and for the ones with low quality of code, I’d say they’re not much worth than %15.
    So why the price average of $35? Because users have no way to distinct code quality before they buy the theme.
    When the theme presentation will reflect its overall quality, their prices will be at what they’re worth.

  72. Was on Themeforest earlier and briefly went into the forums found the following posthttp://themeforest.net/forums/thread/themes-in-general-not-well-supported-or-documented/43774

    Would give substance to the support argument and whether an increase in pricing would include proper support.

    Perhaps a support network could be a thing of the future. A global support network for developers to lend support to there customers, without having to set up a support function on their own site and increase headaches etc.

    Developers get a login to administer their account and control of their own sub forum by theme.

    Just an idea.

  73. Want a good idea of what your $35 is going to buy you at ThemeForest?

    Read this ThemeForest thread:

    http://themeforest.net/forums/thread/themes-in-general-not-well-supported-or-documented/43774

    Apparently it buys you the privilege of being mocked and ripped apart by ThemeForest authors when you voice your complaints about your buying experience.

    If I were Collis and the Envato team i’d have a serious problem with this. A user complains on the support forum, some of his complaints definitely show he has unreasonable expectations, but the reaction and response by the ThemeForest authors towards this customer is just as unreasonable. Rude, unprofessional and immature is a good way to describe it.

    So not only does $35 buy you a clunker of a WordPress theme, it also comes with a side order of belittlement by the authors that create them.

    Judging by that ThemeForest forum thread, the ThemeForest authors could use some training on how to interact with customers.

    • Although I haven’t looked at the negative comments cited by Carl, I certainly support his assertion. When I worked for the federal government in surplus sales, many of the bureaucrats complained about our bargain-hunting customers. My response was always to say I loved the customers who paid on time. That is really all you need from a customer, for them to order your theme and pay.

    • Hey Carl, your posts tells more about you than anything else – “Apparently it buys you the privilege of being mocked and ripped apart “. Your comments seem to be in the same vein. Sure this not the best way to respond, but are you seriously suggesting that this is how Collis or Envato deals with its customers? People living in glass houses should not throw stones.

    • This thread in ThemeForest exposes a serious problem which we all face sometimes.

      We write ‘well documented’ and ‘guaranteed support’ and we mean one thing. Some clients mean something completely different and there’s a clash.

      When we sell WPML and we say it’s documented, we mean that it’s documented for end users and for developers. However, the documentation doesn’t replace basic WordPress background nor does it replace command over WordPress API (it you’re trying to customize things).

      The solution is trivial. It’s called a refund.

      That client didn’t purchase the theme just to cause problems. He bought it, understood that it’s not what he intended and is frustrated. A quick refund + personal note would have resolved it.

      Getting into a senseless war does nothing to help. Everybody involved (including Envato) loses.

      I think that Envato should allow an option for credit-card refunds. Maybe they don’t want to advertise it, but it should be made possible for cases like this. Clearly, this client should receive his money and go. If he buys other themes with the ThemeForest credit, he’s just going to cause more problems.

  74. I suspect one negative thread does not a bad business make – this is really like one great big sales training course; why people are worried about themeforest I don’t know, if you want to use them, use them, but it is very bad juju (thanks for the great expression) to knock people that are doing well – as I said before, if you can’t sell themes for $100 get another job. If I can get an adequate theme for $35 and make a customer happy I will, I’m not a socialist, well not financially anyway, or a communist, I’m a capitalist forged in the fires of the marketplace, I’m not going to pay more for something just because someone whines and moans – perhaps someone should tell Envato to stop being naughty?

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  76. The thread mentioned on TF was begun by someone who doesn’t know how to use WordPress in the first place, and expected the theme to do everything for him, without him ever learning how to use WP. Yeah. While most of us point and giggle, some of us may have a little light bulb go off in our heads about how there’s a market out there of people who would pay to pick a theme off your website, and have you customize it for them and then be taught how to do the most basic Editor role stuff. Just saying…

  77. What’s great is this is an Open Market. I’m going to chime on this article, because of my own past experience being a Add-on and theme developer for something called the iHTML Merchant eCommerce system. Pricing code can become a rather daunting mental exercise. My experience selling things, sort of violated my personal expectations. After all, one would believe, more people would be grabbing the Free downloads or the cheaper code, compared to forking out money for premium stuff? I found that people really did not have an issue with paying $75.00-$125.00 range for premium priced code. I was giving away some things for Free, then selling things in a number of ranges.

    $14.00 being adjusted low between 10-20 range
    $28.00 being adjusted high between the 20-30 range
    $58.00 being adjusted high between the 40-50 range
    $74.00 being adjusted low between the 70-80 range
    $98.00 being adjusted high between the 90-100 range
    $124.00 being adjusted low between the $120-130 range
    (I totally side stepped the 30-40, 60-70, 100-120 ranges altogether).

    Anyways, I had no idea in hell how this was truly going to work out in the long run. I just came up with 6 price schemes. Knowing that somebody would buy something from me.

    Whatever I wrote, I kept track of my time spent on the code. Then Multiplied it by my normal hourly rate that I billed people. This is what I used to figure out the (Break Even cost) and any income past that would be truly real profit.

    I would take the “Break even amount” and figure out how many of it I’d have to sell according to the different prices I established. I also factored in the amount of follow-up support that it potentially required. My support rate was the same as my normal hourly rate. Mind you, I did not have a problem answering questions or giving out quick basic support for simple issues. However, clearly at my own discretion if I opted to not charge for it. I simply did not advertise “free support”.

    First of all, there is only one of me, in this whole damn world. I only have so many hours in a day, week or month that I can spend on work. This is a harsh reality for any programmer who suddenly is faced with being a popular with many clients, and worse yet a growing client base. There’s only two ways to get control of this madness, to either turn down work or up your rates. I actually had to increase my rates twice in a two year period just to maintain my own sanity. I actually ended up with a slightly different client/customer base then when I first started out.

    I had no problem in selling the $74-$124.00 priced items. In fact most of these Add-Ons and template/themes were far more popular and in demand over the Free Stuff, or things in the $14-58 range. What I ended up doing to move some of the lower priced less popular items was bundle it with the higher priced stuff and Slap a Special Sales price on the package deal. This was because I had already broke even and was making a profit on the higher priced items, yet was trying to recoup my time invested in the lower priced items.

    I guess my advice, is this… don’t be afraid to offer things in a number of price ranges. Make certain to follow the golden rule of Break-Even. Everything else past that is profit. This will keep you from sitting around writing code and being broke. People will pay higher amounts of money for things, provided you have a reputation for writing code good. That the code you offer fills a want or need.

    Logically think about it! You can buy a pair of Jeans at Walmart for $14.00 or a pair of designer Jeans for $124.00 some place else. People buy both, just slightly different kinds of people. Also, what is the realistic amount of people you can support? Selling a lot something often translates to having to support it more. Which is also another aspect of code you write for sale. Quality code, means less support headaches. I don’t know many programmers that sincerely enjoy chasing their ass around while being in over their ears in support tickets.

  78. I couldn’t agree more with your comments Mike. Your average commercial WordPress theme today is ridiculous. I understand the concept of making something once and selling it for discounted rate to the masses, but like you said, I’m selling something that I’d charge at least $1500 – $2000 for $35? Something is wrong here.

    I think at the moment, prices should be increased to around $50 with bigger jumps coming in the nearish future. I understand that ThemeForest raising their prices wouldn’t immediately make the entire market take the plunge, but I think it would have a noticeable affect.

  79. I feel theme forest’s theme seems appealing, because of the nice pictures, but the functions are so similar. However, woo themes targets difference market. recently I am looking for a real estate them for my client, but I cannot even find a good one on themeforest, because you cannot get the full functions at $35.
    woo theme is $125. it is really paid off.
    i also buy theme at monster template. there are so many simple themes $65 (much more than $35), but when my clients have some complicated requirements, I can still find those kind of them at price of $125.

    themeforest is a good place for graphic designers to play around, but most of customers pay their attention on function, not the visual interface.

  80. Let me throw out a counter argument – I’ve played and downloaded at least 5 themes I will never use because of their cost. In fact, I bought one theme because I thought the framework was cool I just wanted to reward the author.

    If the themes were 70-150 bucks, I would be more careful about my selection and only buy a theme I was sure I could use. While 1 developer gets less money when its 150, 4 other theme developers got some of my money because I could afford to download a theme just to try it.

    Having said all that, every one of the themes I’ve downloaded was a steal.

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  82. I have to agree with some of the comments here about not purchasing themes with the cost were to be higher than what they are on themeforest. When I see a theme I like I pretty much get it without too much though which as allowed me to purchase a total of 10 themes in the last year. I haven’t even published any of them yet. I just play with them on my computer and that’s about it. Now if the cost were higher I would put more thought into buying a theme and chances are I would have made no purchases at all. It is the cost that makes me impulsively make the purchases. It is because of the higher cost for themes on a lot of the other sites that I have never made a purchase on those sites.

    Just my 2 cents.

  83. ThemeForest Needs competition, almost as much as the freelance authors do they want to help However, it will take another giant in the freelance industry to actually give a higher percentage to the authors… and no one wants to.

    One thing I would like to see
    Envato’s revenue from all of the marketplaces. Combined. For the year. They force their authors to show how much they make from the marketplace (Using “paws”), yet they themselves do not do this.
    It seems Envato’s main goal is to get people to purchase their themes as many times as possible, they get 50% or more after all. Therefor, they price the themes exceptionally low. However, if you have a $20 theme, you are bound to get “noobs” attracted by the low price, relative to WooThemes for example, that then expect support. We are encouraged to give support to every item. The Item Comments section of the item end up being a back-and-forth conversation between someone who is programming-illiterate and the author… Such a waste of time.

  84. The $35 mark is far too low. It almost devalues the product..

    Maybe have a $125 price point plus $50 for a theme install for people that aren’t too technically minded.
    This would reduce a lot of the comments on Themeforest in one go. And really if you’re serious about creating a blog or a small business website $200 is chicken feed.

  85. I don’t want to pay extra for support. I typically have one, sometimes two questions. Paying a separate fee for one question to be answered wouldn’t sit right with me.

    And there’s support and real support. I’ve been disappointed with the support I got from both Woo themes and iThemes. The forum response in both cases seemed too quick, yet off the mark. One issue was never resolved, another was a weak promise to maybe include my request in an upgrade, that never happened.

  86. I am a developer and I have to chime in….

    WooThemes and Thesis charge high and make more sales because they have an army called affiliates.

    If you develop a theme as a freelance developer and try to sell it by your own at a high price, then you will make very few sales. Not unless you have a Theme Design business where you have your own affiliate system to boost sales and a lot of advertising and promotions before you get your name out there and become popular.

    So here’s my point, develop great themes and put them on Themeforest. Let the charge be whatever it will be and just work hard. Here’s an analogy… Lets say you sell a theme for $70 and make 10 sales a month while you could sell it for $35 and make 50 sales a month.

    Which one is better? $70X10=$700 OR $35X50=$1750 and money is important, it puts food on the table, affords shelter, buy clothes and some toys.

    Lets not look at this from the developer point of view, but from the buyers/client point of view. I have been both and the buyer normally wants a better(lower) price for something good.

    What about support? Yes, develop a forum and good documentation. In most cases you will be getting similar support requests from customers and that’s where it becomes simple for you; just send the customer to a thread of a similar problem you solved months ago.

    In conclusion, I would rather work hard, sell low, earn more and keep on investing in other projects.

    After all these opinions and nothing has been done by Themeforest, and the question is why??? Why are they not reacting to do all that is being said by almost everyone here??? Its because they know a majority of people won’t be willing to pay a lot of money for themes. Yes, some people can pay more because they have a lot of money. And remember that some people are just starting a new site(venture) online and don’t know how its going to be and so are reluctant to spend a lot on something they don’t know how its going to turn out.

    One more thing… Themeforest is a great place to earn extra income… If you are a theme developer and selling on Themeforest, you should be thankful because you would make very few sales (and maybe zero sales) if you tried to sell it on your own system. The reason is because when people search on Google for themes, Themeforest ranks high and they keep going to Themeforest to buy themes.

    The solution here is, stop complaining about Themeforest, and if you are dissatisfied, build your own Thesis or WooThemes and maybe you will succeed OR work hard, build great themes that your potential and actual buyers will recommend and also build themes that have little or no errors.

    However good you are and not making the most money, then then something is wrong with you.
    Be a Microsoft, Not an Apple in terms of revenue.

  87. Hey, how about Eleganthemes which gives all their themes at only $39 per year. It gives 67 themes for only $39. And it’s their price. the support is included and everything else.

  88. Great article! Loved it!

    What I personally would like to know is what is the amount of time me as a designer and my friend would take to come up with a WP theme which is worthwhile to put up for sale? I am a good designer but have never done a theme to sell, so I would appreciate the help I could get.
    Thanks.

    • If you have never created a WordPress Theme before then I would suggest you learn WordPress, and spend A LOT of time building free themes with a goal of getting a few themes accepted into the WordPress.org free theme plugin repository.

      Theme development isn’t easy and it’s not something you are going to learn quickly. You can only learn it by rolling up your sleeves and doing it. But don’t let paying customers be your guinea pig or you’ll ruin your reputation before you even begin.

      Learn how to create WordPress themes and how to follow best practices to properly develop for WordPress. Buy some WordPress books, I recommend these:

      WordPress for Dummies
      http://www.amazon.com/WordPress-Dummies-Computers-Lisa-Sabin-Wilson/dp/1118073428

      Professional WordPress Development
      http://www.amazon.com/Professional-WordPress-Plugin-Development-Williams/dp/0470916222

      Why a plugin book? Because themes and plugins aren’t that different when it comes to best practices.

      Spend a year or more learning WordPress, creating free themes and being part of the development community. Then if you think you can monetize it, do it.

      There are a lot of BAD theme developers out there producing shoddy work. Don’t be one of those. If you want to get into themes because you think you are going to make a lot of money, you need to look somewhere else.

  89. Disgusting article! Well that is a bit of an overstatement and I want all theme coders to know your skills are amazing but ( BUT ) $35 is a fine price point, perhaps maybe even less would be more in line.

    When one frames the words like this “10 hours of design, 40 hours of coding” for only $35.. well then yes it appears the themes should cost more. If the theme was written only for me and only for my website I would agree $35 is much to low.. hundreds if not thousands to low however this is not the case.

    If a theme is really good selling 300 of them is not unusual, this would bring in $10,500.. is this fair for 50 hours of work? Is half of that… $5,250 fair? I think so and to see it another way is just silly.

    Somewhere above a couple of folks were talking about math.. well the math is this.. would you rather put up for sale a theme for $10,500 and not get a single buyer or a theme for $35 that nets you the $10,500? Charge more and you will make less more times than not. Profit by margin generally leads to less profit.

    Another issue with themes priced above $35 is that many times someone will buy a theme thinking it will work for their project and then turns out it won’t. It is hard enough to swallow a $35 loss let alone anything more.

  90. Pingback: Introducing Okay Themes by Mike McAlister | ThemeSorter Blog

  91. I’m a new Genesis convert and I’m planning to change the theme of my main site soon. I’m currently using Prestige Themeforest and been using too many shortcodes. I thought it very likely that one day there won’t be any updates and support for the theme. I also fear that it would cease to become compatible with wordpress. I imagine what my site woud’ve looked like if I had to change themes with thousands of pages in shortcode.

    I might have to learn a little bit more html and stuff to get what I want with Genesis but it could be well worth it in the long term.

    • That’s exactly why I have been sticking to larger theme providers for the last couple of years (using Genesis almost exclusively now). There is a bit of a learning curve in the way they do things, but once you get that…it’s infinitely customizable and extendable.

  92. I’ve developed a few websites on WordPress over the years, both large and small, and charged expensive professional rates to do so. So I’m always surprised when I see people selling their work at these low price points ($30-$50) with no guarantee of a sale.

    What puzzles me though is where this low price point originally came from? Who created the market that expected a WordPress theme for $30-$50? It certainly wasn’t the customers, as they wouldn’t have known any better, so someone had to start the ball rolling. Was it Envato, or one of the other theme shops? I’d be interested to know; it may shed some further light on this discussion.

  93. You create one theme, if it goes down well it sells 400 files, you see “70% of that at best”, let’s say 65% for arguments sake. 400 x $65 = $26000. For one theme? And that isn’t enough? LOL.

    If you are selling a dozen at a time then YOUR THEME ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. If I came to you and said “can you write me a theme” and you said “sure, $26000 please” I would laugh at you.

    Another consideration. If you take a contract to write a bespoke site and the client isn’t happy, guess what? You don’t get paid. Somebody buys a $35 theme and they don’t like it, 9 times out of 10 they stick it in a folder somewhere and buy another.

    I know people with hundreds of themes stored in files just so they can give clients a choice. They may take 30 clients a year, but might buy 300 themes a year. Your logic isn’t, well, very logical.

    I’ve had an awful experience of WordPress. I’ve previewed themes, paid for them, and ended up with entirely different files….. I’ve bought great looking themes which turn out to lag badly, have zero consideration SEO wise, and some which look like they have a sidebar but turn out the be non-widgetized…. which means I have to pay somebody (or spend hours myself) trying to work out how to stick a banner on the site.

    You can pretty much be guarenteed that there is more money in WordPress themes than there is in eBooks, or music for most people, or video production for freelancers.

    Just wait 5 years until five kids out of ten can code, you won’t be making much then, that day is coming…. the value of web designers is falling because the supply is rising. Really pretty simple.

    • If you take a contract to write a bespoke site and the client isn’t happy, guess what? You don’t get paid.

      Ummmmm, no. Any sensible business person will have drawn up a contract that ensures they get paid for work done. If the client’s not happy because they changed their mind or “don’t like” what you built, that’s not the same as the developer delivering something that doesn’t work. Clients don’t get a developer’s work for free simply because they “don’t like” what was produced — and that’s what contracts are for, to mitigate risk on both sides.

      As a provider, you don’t accept a contract drawn up by the client, you get the client to accept *your* contract. If you’re a developer accepting contracts from clients, you’re exposing yourself to massive risk and are basically doing it very wrong.

  94. Sorry, VERY bad maths (please publish this comment if you publish the other, lol).

    That’s $9100….. still, not a bad weeks work right?

    There is no doubt that ThemeForest can make you rich. Check this out:

    http://themeforest.net/item/striking-premium-corporate-portfolio-wp-theme/128763?WT.ac=search_item&WT.seg_1=search_item&WT.z_author=kaptinlin

    8895 sales at $50, 65% of that is $289088. For one wordpress theme. How many clients would he have needed to make that money?

  95. I’m doing research on this now and looking to get into public theme development for sale… I scraped the themeforest site to get some numbers and status on what works and why… and found some interesting things…

    One big thing that sticks up is that out of the top 5 authors on themeforest only 2 have 2 themes… the rest only have one theme… out of 450 authors there is only 30 who have made 10 or more themes

    if they’ve made sooo much money… why are they not producing more themes?? that’s a big read flag for me right now…

    There is a total of 450 authors… and a total of around 1600 themes… this is all in WP themes we’re talking about… which overall comes to about 3 themes per author…

    • if they’ve made sooo much money… why are they not producing more themes??

      That’s a good question. If they aren’t new to ThemeForest (and I’d be surprised if the top 5 authors are brand new to the marketplace) I’d guess that either they are busy handling support on one highly successful theme, or perhaps they are looking at other ways to sell themes.

      Or maybe they just had one solid theme idea and that was it.

    • I would expect the reason that successful authors don’t make more themes is because they are swamped with all the customer support. You may well make a lot of money by selling low value, high volume themes, but if you then have to offer high-quality support to people who’ve paid next-to-nothing for your theme, you should really ask yourself if that’s a business you want to be in. If supporting your customers is stopping you from creating more revenue streams, you have a broken business model.

      Personally I couldn’t imagine anything worse than supporting endless queries from someone who has paid $35 for a “professional” theme. It’s just a ludicrous proposition.

      You shouldn’t be giving support away to the detriment of the rest of your business. If people want support they should be prepared to pay for it.

      • Unfortunately a lot of times it ends up being other people that end up having to support these cheap, poorly developed, terrible themes.

        As far as theme and plugin conflicts go… cheaply made, poorly supported themes are the major cause of conflicts we encounter supporting Gravity Forms.

        If I could bill ThemeForest theme developers for every Gravity Forms customer we have helped with theme issues caused by poorly coded themes… I could create a healthy new revenue stream.

        Too bad that isn’t the case and we end up having to eat the cost in order to maintain our high quality standards.

        • Not to get off topic Carl… and I want to state I love gravity forms… for simple forms that is… I don’t want to tell you how many issues we’ve had that Gravity forms has caused for us as well… the paypal integration /w conditional logic works 90% of the time and then 10% of the time will just not work, same thing with media uploads… we had a major contest which was on tv and gravity forms would messup about 10% of the media submits…

          In the end we all have to deal with these issues… and as technology evolves so should themes and plugins but it’s always a moving mark…. personally $35 for a theme I think is a joke… anyone semi serious in running a website wouldn’t think twice about paying $300-$500 for a good theme… when we custom build themes they start at 2-3k easily and businesses pay without issues.

          • You are correct. It’s definitely off topic and a completely different subject matter and issue altogether. Unlike the theme developers who produce poorly developed themes, we actually care about helping our customers.

            If the the PayPal Condition functionality and the PayPal Add-On is not redirecting to PayPal the typical cause is A) how you have configured the conditional logic, B) how you have configured your pricing fields or C) a combination of both. The code is going to execute the same way every time.

            As for media upload functionality, there are all sorts of factors that come into play with file uploads. PHP max file upload size settings, PHP timeout settings, etc. Your server has to be setup and be able to reliably handle the uploads. Gravity Forms uses standard PHP file upload functionality.

            Have you discussed this with our customer support? Contact me via my personal email address at carl at rocketgenius dot com and i’ll be glad to assist you with these issues because they are NOT normal and can be related to how you have configured things (PayPal) as well as server settings (upload).

            We have no problem supporting our product and it’s functionality. That is what we are here for. We love helping our customers.

            This is precisely why we go out of our way to help customers with their poorly developed themes. We could easily tell them they need to discuss this with the theme developer, but we don’t. Because we know that theme developer likely won’t help them resolve the issue.

  96. Designers need to realize that in a marketplace like this, they are NOT providing a service any longer. They are providing a commodity.

    I love suits. They feel classy. I would love a custom made, hand crafted suit, but I simply can’t justify the price. In that situation, I buy a commercially produced suit that has qualities that I like. I then pay a tailor to make the suit fit perfectly.

    Nearly every industry has this kind of growing pain. You go from custom build solutions to assembly line products. This is awesome for the consumer. It lowers the price and offers tremendous value. What we run into are a bunch of ‘old schoolers’ that refuse to change with the times… they insist that their way is best.

  97. there are tons of great themes out there but the main thing i want is support – how do i change this to go here? how do i do this, that, whatever….i would pay $100+ for a great soldi theme that came with AMAZING support. i ask an get a reply in the hr….woo themes are great for supprt and eleant themes pretty good too if a little lsower, but support is the key for me!!

  98. Pingback: Theme Business Lessons I Learned Along the Way | Writing | Sawyer Hollenshead | Designer and Front-end Developer

  99. you can’t compare woothemes or other wp club with these.They offer developer plans that includes support.Remember we are paying for each of the site we develop and thats a lot of money to pay TF…so my suggestion is to get a few developer memberships and not to mention some wp frameworks are getting very nifty and will aid in reducing cost and development time.

  100. I read this very interesting article and all the comments, I’m willing to join Themeforest community as an author and I learnt a lot from this page.

    Prices has finally been raised in the last weeks. Would be nice to hear any following considerations by you expert guys. Wouldn’t be interesting to know how this raise has afflicted sales?

  101. Pingback: A Hypercritical Analysis of $35 WordPress Themes | Mike McAlister

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