How did ThemeForest become the red headed stepchild of the WordPress community?


Last year at WordCamp Chicago 2009, I mentioned to some attendees (no, more like exalted) how a marketplace like ThemeForest had enabled me to create a web development business without the overhead of hiring a staff or spending dozens of hours creating custom themes for my clients. I even demoed a few sites I completed using these marketplace themes, including my own blog. Those fairly new to WordPress took great interest in my claims of these “beautiful and unique themes for under $25”, while other attendees…well, they, not so much.

What will always stick in my head about that WordCamp was how the developers there scoffed at my usage of ThemeForest. One developer even whispered to me, “don’t say that around Brian [Gardner]”. To this day I can’t understand how buying themes from ThemeForest became such a dirty proposition. What made this service so poorly regarded compared to buying themes from StudioPress, WooThemes or any other of the big WordPress development companies?

I think this question is especially apt with the impending launch of Theme Garden, from Jason Schuller. Jason also runs one of these big development companies,, so do I think Jason’s marketplace will receive the same kind of cold shoulder his competition has received? Absolutely not! Because of this, I’d like to compare ThemeForest, Theme Garden and a few other services to try to figure out what really makes ThemeForest the red-headed stepchild of the WordPress community.

Author rates

I know Jason has instituted a very generous seller deal for Theme Garden (100% of the sale goes to the author), so were the relatively high hosting kickbacks enough to earn ThemeForest a hushed exclusion from every WordPress community site and discussion?

From what I can tell, the authors on ThemeForest are happy enough to sacrifice a percentage of their sales in exchange for the massive exposure and promotion the Envato Network provides them (Envato is ThemeForest’s parent company and owner of other sites, such as Nettuts+).

Also, at the end of September, all ThemeForest author rates are increasing to very much non-slavery levels, so the rate argument becomes even weaker. Of course, if theme authors were truly being screwed on ThemeForest, they would likely have taken their business elsewhere, but there is little evidence that they have. In fact, there are quite a few prolific developers submitting themes monthly, if not weekly, adding up to a total of 829 WordPress themes of the site. Everybody gets their cut of the action, and Envato, the authors and the end-users all seem to win because of the deal.


At first, I thought this might be the answer I was looking for, but I’m sad to say that as of August 4, 2009, all ThemeForest WordPress themes became GPL compliant. That’s almost a full year before Thesis adopted the GPL and really, this was around the same time that most big WordPress theme companies began adopting the GPL en masse.

If you were wondering, ThemeForest’s licencing works just like Thesis and several other theme sites; all the PHP code is open-sourced, but the themes’ HTML, CSS, JavaScripts and images have a proprietary licence, so no, you can’t buy a theme from ThemeForest and turn around and resell it as-is.

To note, Jason mentioned on WPBlogger back in February that his Theme Garden themes would also use this split licencing technique, but I’m not sure if that’s still true, since he has relaunched the service as an open marketplace since then.

Theme Quality

This is a tough issue to address because there are so many different authors and different themes on ThemeForest. Since very few of these themes use the same framework or options menus (my biggest pet peeve in WordPress themes), it’s very difficult to judge the quality of any marketplace theme before purchasing it*.

Personally, I’ve purchased over 30 themes from the site, though, and I can say that from day one, those themes have always been beautifully designed. In fact, these items are exponentially more usable and pixel perfect than the themes that regularly appear on and often, the ThemeForest themes are a lot better looking than something WooThemes or one of their competitors might sell–at a much higher retail price, as well (Woo’s 3-for-1 deals not withstanding).

I can’t really account for best coding practices, but I’ve spent enough time tweaking and editing ThemeForest authors’ PHP to know a well-organized developer from the others. Not coincidentally, the highest selling authors often have the most easy to understand code/logic (probably due to having the income to hire extra help). Kriesi is a good example of a ThemeForest developer whose code probably rivals that of a say, StudioPress (blasphemy, I know!).

As a sidenote, I’ve actually got a solution to solve any issues of quality that pop up on a theme marketplace; have the best authors create an open framework for all themes on the site (or for the whole WordPress community, for that matter) and then mandate that framework for all newly submitted themes. If the backend can be separately upgradable (like the WooFramework), even better.


Since I’ve come up with few sound arguments as to why ThemeForest is so loathed by WordPress community, I’ve going to go ahead and play the race card–I think it’s because Envato is an Australian company.

We live in a crazy age where if you’re Australian, you’re probably not going to get the welcome map when competing again American businesses (you may not want to bring up in polite conversation that WooThemes is based in South Africa, either).


Obviously, I’m just kidding about the Aussie racism part (but not really) because I still don’t understand what makes a service like ThemeForest–which makes available almost 300 themes now–the outsider in what is an otherwise very cohesive WordPress community.

Yes, I know it’s generally frowned upon to lean on other developers’ templates to build out client sites but that’s why so many the other theme developers exist, too. If I missed something in this writeup, though, feel free to add it to the comments below. I’d love to read your opinions on the matter.

P.S. If you’ve never seen it, there’s another theme marketplace a la ThemeForest called MOJO Themes that you may want to check out, as well.

Jason Pelker runs Item-9, a Chicago-based WordPress consultancy. Since starting Item-9 in March 2009, he spread the beauty of WordPress by working with dozens of small businesses, speaking at WordCamp Chicago, and most recently, helping build a WordPress plugin that imitates the NYTimes’ “next article” functionality.


To really get inside Jason’s head, you’ll probably want to subscribe to the Item-9 blog or follow him on Twitter.

70 thoughts on “How did ThemeForest become the red headed stepchild of the WordPress community?

  1. I really think the issue is about quality and support. Although there are many very qualified authors on ThemesForest putting out high quality, well supported themes, there is also a lot of junk.

    You’re right – a lot of them are great looking. I’ve purchased several for just that reason. But of the 10 of so themes I’ve purchased from ThemesForest over the past year, only 1 is actually in use. The rest of them, once I started working with them, ended up being too limiting in one way or another, had serious coding problems, conflicts with plugins or other, major customization roadblocks and very little to no support from the author.

    I’m a fairly geeky person who can muddle through figuring out how to customize themes myself, most of the time. But I’m not a coder, so there’s a limit to what I can do. I think there are a lot of people like me. Woo and StudioPress and other premium theme authors provide support for their themes that allow us middle of the road users to get where we want to go. ThemesForest mostly doesn’t.

    Maybe once the prices go up as you mentioned, the support will improve. But I’m much more leery about buying a theme from ThemesForest than I used to be. ThemesForest is cheap, but you get what you pay for. I spent more money for a theme from StudioPress and guess what? It worked right out of the gate, I could customize it easily, and any questions I had were promptly answered by the support team.

  2. as on of the 3 top buyers of the envato marketplaces, I do love the support, the authors, and all around helpfulness of the site(s), i generally go there first before wordpress.

  3. As one of the developers of a popular commercial plugin I can speak on themes from a different perspective, one most people don’t hear about… plugin conflicts caused by themes.

    A lot of users don’t realize that poorly coded themes can cause conflicts and break plugins just like a poorly coded plugin can. They work the same and if they aren’t coded properly they can cause just as many problems.

    I have been supporting our plugin for over a year now and I can say without a doubt the largest number of theme related conflicts and support issues we encounter are due to Theme Forest themes.

    In fact we have never had a conflict caused by any of the leading theme developers (StudioPress, WooThemes, etc.) due to poor code. Sure we have run into CSS related issues, but that isn’t what I am referring to here.

    Theme Forest, hands down, accounts for almost all theme related issues we encounter with our users. The biggest culprits being Javascript related issues where the theme developer doesn’t enqueue their code properly *AND* the implementation of the “NOFORMAT” or “RAW” shortcode.

    It seems like almost every Theme Forest theme implements some of the same shortcodes, and the “NOFORMAT” shortcode is one that they need to stop using. It changes how WordPress parses shortcodes and causes problems for plugin developers who rely on the default way WordPress parses shortcode.

    If you want to know what i’m referring to with the NOFORMAT or RAW shortcode, see this post:

    Note to theme developers… don’t implement this functionality.

    They have cost us countless hours in wasted support time for issues that can easily be avoided if the theme developer knew what they were doing. Issues that were not our fault but we had to provide our customers with guidance on how to correct them.

    So from my perspective, Theme Forest themes have been the biggest pain in the ass. Thumbs down from me.

    • That’s why I’m a big proponent of a ThemeForest framework (that doesn’t suck).

      Before that, though, I think it’s also important to recognize that ThemeForest contains almost 300 themes by more than 200 different authors. These numbers almost make the site incomparable in the coding irregularities you might find in the themes.

      I can say that a theme created for the site in September 2010 will be better coded than a theme created in September 2009. That community is learning (like every other one–albeit a little slowly) and I think that WordPress 3.0 was an eye-opening moment for a lot of developers there. Their customers are starting to become a little more savvy, as well, and they’ve begun to demand more features and, even more importantly, code that plays well with others.

      But yes, the support forums suck, but……the themes are generally gorgeous.

      Comparing them to StudioPress themes (that often rock that 2006 look) is a stretch. Brian has his priorities, but as a marketing professional, I have mine, too. I’m drawn to sites with beautiful layout, typography and pixel-perfect background imagery.

      Basically, I really like themes that look like I hired a $2,000 designer, but instead, I paid $30. To me, it’s a whole lot easy/cheaper to hire a PHP developer to plug the programming holes than to hire a designer to construct a site from scratch.

    • Well put!

      Sadly, the fact remains to this day nearing 2 years on from your comment. 90% of theme issues I get on plugins I maintain come from ThemeForest.

      You’d think they’d have some sort of quality control, but there can’t possibly be (at least from a coding perspective).

  4. I absolutely love ThemeForest. The main reason for this is it enables me to not have to turn away clients with very little budget – I can create them a website that far exceeds their expectations for very little outlay. I’m completely up front about the templated nature of the themes, but when they just want a decent web presence they are astounded at what I can produce with a decent TF theme.

    I’ve bought about 30 themes from them so far and only 1 wasn’t up to scratch (it had a few annoying errors (which others found too) but rather disappointingly TF wouldn’t refund me). Generally though, I can’t praise them highly enough……… and the Aussie connection doesn’t matter one bit (I’m a Brit btw).

    Will give that MOJO themes a try too though – looks equally as good.

    • I’ve had a nearly identical experience as you, Bren. I’ve purchased 30 or so themes and 29 worked just fine. Envato refunded me for the one that didn’t work (which I later fixed with the help of a freelance developer).

      I’m very happy with the variety of the themes I’ve purchased and I’m obviously very happy with their prices, as well.

  5. I have bought 2 themes so far from ThemForest, one for me, and one for a client. The one for me was coded a bit…oddly, let’s say, but it’s manageable. The one for my client, well, it looked nice and had a wicked-nice options section, but the way it was coded.. wow, spaghetti code here we go! Every time I had an issue and looked deeper into the code, the more I felt like I had fallen in a wormhole that I wouldn’t be able to get out of.

    And that’s the problem. You can’t examine the code before buying, so you have to go on trust; if this author has sold it 300 times and has lots of comments helping out the buyers, cross your fingers and hope it’s ok (though in my case, it wasn’t!).

    An official support system FROM the authors would be nice, as well..

  6. I have also come across a number of ThemeForest customers that have had numerous problems with getting themes working with some popular plugins.

    A majority of my work involves using/working with Solostream, WooThemes and StudioPress templates and I rarely see conflicts to do with plugins because the themes are coded good.

    In my opinion you get what you pay for when it comes to buying themes. I would not expect a top notch product or support for anything under the $30 mark, There might be some rare cases where things are top notch, check out Hybrid themes by Justin Tadlock for instance, great stuff!

    The only thing that is letting ThemeForest down is that there’s no quality control. Maybe a quality control system should be put in place or some sort of star rating system, for example one person with a fair bit of theme creation knowledge and who knows how to create a theme properly could examine the themes and give them a rating.

  7. Nice write up, interesting post to say the least. Your point about creating an open framework is not a bad idea too. That could solve a lot of the issues you brought up.

    Also, Carl brings up a good point about plugin compatibility. Great feedback looking at it from a different angle. Definitely updating or creating a “best practices guide” for our sellers is in the works for this very reason. All themes should work out of the box and be compatible.

    An approach we’re taking with MOJO themes is we’ve recently announced on our blog a new category for Child Themes. We’re currently receiving uploads under the category and are looking forward to seeing them up on the marketplace soon.

    Not only does this allow theme developers & designers to build themes on top of popular frameworks like Genesis, Thematic, etc. but this gives buyers confidence and ensures quality framework code on the marketplace.

    On the other hand, those frameworks aren’t for everyone and there’s still room and a need for stand alone themes. Bottom line though, is yes, theme companies create great themes but there’s plenty of theme developers pushing out themes that can stack up against any other themes out there.

  8. I can’t comment on the coding practises of most of the authors on Theme Forest, however I work for Kriesi and I know 1st hand that the quality of the coding is top notch.

    Usability and flexibility are a core part of every theme and aside from the odd tweak here and there the code is 100% when the themes are released (aside from new functionality such as WP 3.0’s custom menus which is added later on).

  9. Outside of my usual WordPress work, I often take on smaller jobs fixing code problems for users. Many times, this work directly deals with themes. Which theme company do you think I end up fixing most problems for? Theme Forest.

    I see a ton of crap code every day (sometimes written by myself). Theme Forest themes often make this code seem like the Holy Grail of development.

    My beef with Theme Forest is that it’s powered by a large company that’s taking advantage of its users for profit because there’s no quality control. Mostly, I’m just tired of taking on these jobs and have been considering turning down any offers to tweak themes from Theme Forest.

    • There are a hundred-thousand theme sales from ThemeForest and sooner or later, it might make sense to bring their parent company, Envato, better into the WP community so that as we bring up the issues mentioned above, the chances of them being resolved increase dramatically.

      As it stands, it seems like they’ve been shut out of the WordPress community and, as the article poses, I’d like to know one good reason as to why we pretend ThemeForest doesn’t exist or that, even worse, it’s some diseased operation that no one should go near.

      • I can’t really speak for the rest of the community. That’s just my personal experience with them. I’ll happily work with theme authors from the site to help them create better code.

        Any one of the theme developers from most of the other major theme companies know they can contact me at any time for help, feedback on my own stuff, or whatever. I don’t have that relationship with a single theme author at Theme Forest, and maybe that’s part of the issue.

        How are the theme authors at Theme Forest involved in the WordPress community (serious question, not rhetorical)? I don’t know any developer that puts themes up for sale there and how they’re involved in the community outside of simply selling themes.

        • You’re definitely accurate regarding one of the biggest holes in the Envato business plan–not involving individual content authors in a bigger community than just that of being a seller on that particular marketplace.

          I think the bridge begins, though, with recognizing Envato as an important WordPress community member and hopefully, they can then pass the values and philosophies of WordPress down to their authors.

          (I don’t think my definitive framework idea is a bad one, either)

    • I have also had to provide support to clients using their themes. One of the big issues I saw was using php and mySql queries that could have been handled by the WordPress API and one of them was copy and paste code from Kubrick.

      On others I have seen 14 or 15 jQuery files called in the head and I haven’t seen one that uses wp_enqueue_script(). Talk about breaking plugins..

      The other issue is updates. Do you get updates to the themes as WordPress evolves?
      Envato must only

  10. Theme Forest has way too much of that “themes are like a box of chocolate” thing going on. I downloaded one once and it was just as unusable as most free themes out there. Won’t do that again. For the most part now I’m building out child themes for Hybrid.

    • Almost 300 themes, and because one was lame for you, you denounce the whole site? The have a term for that:

      Hasty generalization is a logical fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence. It commonly involves basing a broad conclusion upon the statistics of a survey of a small group that fails to sufficiently represent the whole population.

      • So you think I should keep trying for a better piece of chocolate after getting burned on the first? Why, when I can just create my own and know what’s inside. Our just try out the hundreds of other options out there.

        Not really sure what you think I am hastily generalizing on. Saying you never know what you are going to get is not a generalization at all. Exactly the opposite.

        I’m not denouncing the site, just not planning to use them again is all.

        • How much time do you spend building your own themes? If your personal hourly rate is $100, can you say that you spend less than 20 minutes designing and developing each one of your themes?

          So, that’s the general economic breakdown of ThemeForest vs. Building Each of Your Themes Individually.

          Stick to authors you know and trust and the “burnt chocolate factor” become negligible (that factor also exists when hiring employees or freelancers, btw, but it doesn’t mean outsourcing work is a bad idea, either).

  11. Jason,

    You sure are going a long way to cheer & defend ThemeForest … most of the themes there are like much of the crap found on the WordPress repository … poorly coded themes by wannabe themers.

    Sure, there may be some good ones on TF & even WP, but once burned, makes one twice shy.

    So really there is no good defense & I agree with Shanna … if I am going to spend money, it is going to be with a business that gives great support, has beautiful designs, and has a reputation for solid coding of their products; like StudioPress, WooThemes, Press75, etc!

    I don’t understand why you think people need to create their own, when they can get developer packages from any of the major premium themers, in some cases, a one-time payment to use their themes for as many sites as you need … sure beats buying a theme from TF for every client you do a job for and you don’t have to worry about a poorly coded theme.

    • I’m sorry, but I can’t agree that StudioPress produces beautifully designed WordPress themes. The other two companies you mentioned have great looking themes, but only release new ones on the average of 1-2 a month.

      I’d certainly measure Kreisi’s (and a few other TF authors’) themes against those three. I think we’d see that a lot of the TF themes are worth their $30 retail prices. There’s also a lot to say for uniqueness, which tends to plateau in proportion to how many designers a team staffs. Btw, here’s a link for some themes (and some other files) I like on TF:


      Regardless, the argument of this post centers on why ThemeForest is ignored as a WordPress community member–not why is or isn’t lambasted for offering hundreds of themes (all ranging in quality) from hundreds of authors (all ranging in expertise).

      Also, I’m very curious to see if ThemeGarden’s themes get heavy attention on the community blogs, while the ThemeForest themes continue to be maligned.

      Will those ThemeGarden themes really be that much better than the other marketplaces’ themes or will the project be better supported because Jason Schuller is involved? How much does a person[ality] effect the way the WordPress community does business?

      • Just to clarify, ThemeForest was never on my radar as an entity to compete with in regards to launching In short, I noticed a space in the WordPress community that was not being filled. That is a 100% WordPress, 100% GPL theme marketplace where theme authors receive 100% of their sales. As for quality and support, I am requiring the ThemeGarden authors follow the same principles that I have established with my own business. Quality and support come first. If your end game is to released a ton of themes looking to make a quick buck… then ThemeGarden is definitely not for you.

        • ThemeForest is your competitor, though (and MOJO themes, too).

          You’ll likely find that some of the authors submitting to these sites end up submitting to yours, as well. And because of the nature of the beast, I have a feeling that you’ll face some of the same complaints that ThemeForest has encountered in this comment thread, too.

          I’m interested to see if a double-standard will exist once those issue occur, though (that was one of the points of this article).

  12. one of the biggest holes in the Envato business plan–not involving individual content authors in a bigger community

    If you’re looking for one good reason more people in the WordPress community don’t seem to know about ThemeForest, describing their near total lack of engagement in the WordPress community as a “hole in the business plan” is probably a good place to start.

    If they do want to be more involved with WordPress as a whole, maybe they could use one of the existing freely licensed framework? That way, they can give something back rather than just making a sales pitch.

    • Sometimes you have to engage before you can be engaged.

      The WordPress community can affect folks like Envato, but so far, we haven’t really done so. That’s one of the purposes of this article–to reach out to the ThemeForest team and let them know that there’s a rift.

  13. If you are an active part of the ThemeForest community (such as myself), you know that Envato is constantly upping their standards, from design quality to author support. The top authors on ThemeForest are the top authors for a reason. They have the best themes and 99% of the time, they have the best support.

    So you’ve been burned by a theme or two. Welcome to the internet. At least Envato hands out refunds to compensate for the bum themes, and if it becomes a recurring problem, the author is held accountable. To write off ThemeForest because of one author (of nearly 500,00) is ludicrous.

    If you don’t want to take a “risk”, only buy from the top 50 authors on the site. With an average 5 WP themes per author, that’s 250 themes to choose from. What other site has that kind of selection of premium themes under $40?

    At the end of the day, Envato is a company. They do business, and they do it damn well. Are they a part of the WordPress community? Depends on how you look at it. On their Nettuts sites, they often have free tutorial series dedicated to WordPress development, plugin development, frameworks, and the like. With ThemeForest, they give theme developers and “wanna be theme developers” (as Sarah says) a platform to get started with WordPress and to make money.

    I met many of the Envato staff members at a meetup in Chicago a few weeks ago, including the CEO, and they were all the nicest and classiest individuals I’ve probably ever met. To say they’re out for a quick buck couldn’t be more off point.

  14. My own experience has been much like some of the others here — I’ve been called in to help clean-up ThemeForrest mishaps. However, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not totally negative on the marketplace.

    Now, to be fair, my experience is more limited. For the last year or so, my full-time job has been as a technology reporter and writer; I have very little freetime to do any one-off consulting projects.

    This is what I’ve seen with ThemeForrest, and while not a sweeping generalization, it’s too common to be rare:

    * Lack of updates. Some of the really successful theme authors update their themes to add features, fix bugs or address new WordPress functions. A whole lot more don’t. The problem with this is that the theme looks great. The demo works. Joe Consumer might not realize that because it uses old functions or does things in a certain way, it’s not going to work with newer WordPress features or some plugins.

    * JavaScript Soup. Now, this isn’t a ThemeForrest problem, this is a THEME problem. Like Carl described above, I see this all the time. Hell, my own website (which is in the process of getting a new design — I seriously have no time right now though) needs to have its JS significantly refactored, I’m not immune — but my stuff also doesn’t break anything else.

    * Plugin Incompatibilities – This is usually directly related with problem 1 — lack of updates or fixes.

    The big advantage that places like Woo Themes and Studiopress and Thesis have over places like ThemeForrest is that there is a central point of support contact. If something breaks on a Woo theme, I know they’ll release an update. Their business depends on that happening. If there is a conflict with a popular plugin, they are going to figure out what is going on.

    ThemeForrest isn’t the same way.

    To use a crude analogy, it’s like buying an expensive camera. If I get the camera from Best Buy or or B&H and I get it home (or it gets delivered) and doesn’t work, I can take it back, exchange it or get my money back. If I buy that same camera at some grey-market camera store in Chinatown, the price might be incredible, but if it’s broken when I get home or it stops working soon after, I’m probably SOL.

    Some ThemeForrest developers have good support systems and their sales indicate this. Most others I think see it as a way to sell digital goods without doing the support thing. It’s stock photo but for themes.

    That’s all well and good, but that can cause real problems for users that don’t understand what they are buying.

    I do agree that you can find a lot more forward-looking designs. That’s a big reason that people buy the themes in droves. In many cases, the themes work fine if they are used sans plugins or customizations.

    Sometimes it’s not too bad to remove the unnecessary calls or replace a few functions, other times, the time and effort involved isn’t worth it because you end up re-writing the entire structure of the theme and then having to try to retroactively apply the styling. I’ve had that happen a few times and I’ve stepped back and said, “OK, for me to fix this, it’s going to end up costing you way more than it would if you just bought another theme and we customized its design to look more like this.”

  15. Hey all! I’m Collis and I work at Envato/ThemeForest.

    What an interesting read both in the article and the comments. I must admit I don’t think I realized ThemeForest was looked down on by parts of the WordPress Community. After I add this comment I’m going to have a chat with our site management team to look at ways that we can address some of the criticisms mentioned here, there’s some good ideas for us there!

    In terms of the engagement with the community, after reading this article, we will definitely try to improve in this area!

    In our defense, I would point out that we do participate and contribute a fair amount:

    * I coauthored one of the most popular books on WP theming
    * Nettuts has published some of the most popular WP tutorials online
    * ThemeForest is far and away the largest premium theme marketplace
    * CodeCanyon is (i believe) the largest marketplace for premium WP plugins
    * We submit plugins regularly to when we create them for use on Tuts+, which I’m pretty sure is one of the larger installations/uses of WordPress. * As the article points out we adopted GPL on all our themes quite a while ago after Matt asked us to.
    * And we’ve been active proponents of WordPress for years, it is after all a staple of our business 🙂

    I guess I’m open to suggestions on what else we can do though! We’ve never contributed to the WordPress core code. I’ve only been to one Wordcamp, and as a previous commenter pointed out we could start supporting one of the major theme frameworks.

    Other suggestions are always welcome!

    Thanks for the great article Jason, and for the great feedback fellow commenters!

    • Collis,

      I appreciate your team’s feedback on the article and I’m glad to know you’re always looking to improve your products. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have a company if it wasn’t for your marketplaces. I bet there are a lot of other freelancers feel the same way, too.

      I guess that the point of the article was to try to understand why so many at the head of the WordPress community look down on ThemeForest and the themes it puts out. The comments here probably did a lot better job than my article at putting some of the chief complaints out in the open (although, as I mentioned, being Australian may not help your case:) j/k


      Anyway, I can think of one other reason why so many bloggers and developers love companies like StudioPress and WooThemes: they have much (much) better affiliate programs than ThemeForest.

      [To note, ThemeForest provides affiliate payout, but only for a customer’s first deposit. That doesn’t really provide any compensation for selling to people who have already purchased an item from one of the Envato marketplaces. The other theme companies have more traditional affiliate programs–a percentage of each sale for referring customers.]

      So, in the end, it may be the lack of economic incentive that keeps folks quiet about ThemeForest (although maybe they want to keep the service a secret, as well. Who really knows?).

    • I’m so impressed with the way that Collis, Jeffrey and the other Envato employees have responded. It’s truly refreshing to see that.

      In my comment, I neglected to mention just how impressed I have been and continue to be with the content that the Tuts+ network puts out and with how well I think the commerce side of ThemeForrest is.

      Any of my criticisms aren’t at ThemeForrest per se, just the realities of a multi-vendor marketplace.

      I think that to say that Envato hasn’t contributed back to WordPress is unfair. Just because people aren’t core committers doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing in raising awareness and encouraging new skills in a platform. I’d argue that more lay people get introduced to the world of WordPress through sties like those in the Envato network than through official channels.

      That doesn’t mean more couldn’t be done, but I want to clarify that any of my criticism of specific aspects of ThemeForrest aren’t based on Envato or its participation with WordPress, but just the realities of a multi-vendor marketplace.

    • I just wanted to point out that my comment about not being involved in the WP community was not directed at Envato. It was directed at the individual theme authors. You’re not the one making the content for Theme Forest, the theme authors are. Those are the people that I believe to be giving Theme Forest a bit of a bad rep in the WordPress theme community. Listing what you or your company has done, doesn’t really change that. Most of us are well aware of those things and are happy to have your contributions.

      I won’t personally ever buy a theme from Theme Forest because I’m a theme developer myself. But, I do deal with end users that have gotten burned on more than one occasion by themes from Theme Forest. Holding your theme authors to certain levels of coding standards and best practices would be a good start.

  16. Hi everyone. My name is Jeffrey Way, and I was the site manager of ThemeForest for two years, before I switched over to Envato’s recently launched (where we also sell Premium WordPress plugins, among other things).

    I think the idea of an Envato developed framework is a fantastic idea — and, I’ll tell you that one has been in the works for a couple months now. It should be released to the community soon.

    Now, as Collis mentioned above, I must admit that I, too, take issue with the fact that we’re not invested in the WordPress community. As I see it, that couldn’t be further from the truth. 🙂 Collis and I have written WordPress books, I’ve published countless WordPress tutorials (written by our awesome staff authors) on over the last two years, and we run the biggest marketplaces for WP themes and plugins. Not to mention, as Collis noted, Envato is widely known for its adoption of the WordPress platform for our education-based sites.

    Now, is there room for improvement? Absolutely. In the time I ran ThemeForest, we raised our quality standards at least four times, as the community expanded. We’re now to a point where many, many authors work full time selling some of the best WordPress themes available on the web.

    It’s important to remember that ThemeForest is a community of thousands of authors, as opposed to a subscription-based site which produced 1-2 themes a month. The two really can’t be compared.

    Now, as far as a more hands-on approach to participating in the community, I agree with you, Jason. I’d like to see Envato help sponsor WordPress meet-ups and things of that nature. 🙂

    We’ll definitely take this article to heart, and have a chat with the full team.

  17. Hi everyone, another Envato staffer here 🙂

    My name is Drew and I look after the support side of things at Envato, but I’ve had a lot of experience at ThemeForest both as an author on the past blog and an author of the marketplaces. While I am a bit surprised to see that we may be looked down upon by parts of the WordPress community, I do think we’ve contributed quite a bit.

    In addition to all of the links and articles mentioned above, we also ran the “WordPress for Designers” series. This was completely free and showed users over the span of about 20 days and screencasts how to create a WordPress theme from scratch.

    I’ve read through a lot of the comments and taken some notes as to how we could be more hands-on. I’d really love to hear from anyone who has suggestions or ideas on how we can connect more with all of the WordPress community. We’re open to ideas 🙂

    Thanks for the nice article Jason and the feedback from everyone here so far!

    • First, Drew, I’m completely bummed I missed that Meetup here in Chicago last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about it until after it happened. Otherwise, I definitely would have been there.

      Second, I know that your team is spread around the world and I can’t see why more of your staff hasn’t appeared/spoken at the WordCamps equally spread around the world. Shoot, I spoke at WordCamp Chicago in June and you see how little I represent the zeitgeist of WordPress.

      I also think that there needs to be more communication like this in the WordPress community. We’re not going to improve the project if we keep bringing the same people to the table, all with the same background and opinions. Obviously you and Envato as a whole as very valuable to WordPress.

      ThemeForest won’t improve, either, unless the experts let you know what needs to be improved with the themes you approve.

  18. Hey Guys, yet another Envato staffer!

    For the last couple of months I’ve been working on an admin framework for ThemeForest and we’re in the process of working out the final few bugs. It should be coming soon and free.

    Also, I submit plugins to the WordPress Directory as much as I can. Anytime we make something that we think will benefit you guys we try and make it available in the directory. Granted I’m not bursting over the edges with free time so I can’t always add everything I want but I would still consider myself a big supporter of the WordPress community and an author at Themeforest & Codecanyon. You can support both!

    The most difficult issue here is that the Envato marketplaces can’t support every authors theme/plugin and having a bad experience with just one makes it hard to trust all the other great authors out there.

    Our community has always been very vocal about its experiences, for better or worse. Don’t think we’re not listening and you can’t get some help. I personally answer emails and Skype messages about WordPress related issues for files I didn’t create all the time.

    Anyhow, great article and we’re always open to constructive criticism and looking for ways to make our community better.


  19. Glad to see the Envato team jumping in here. I don’t really have anything valuable to contribute besides that, I just like it when someone who is the focus of discussion weighs in. It’s always helpful to hear form both sides 🙂

  20. great discussion, and great feedback from both sides.

    just getting into WP so this is all new to me. that is one of my main questions I have about WP themes, how do I know if the code is good, and all of the back end stuff is competently created? I don’t really want to go by sales records, that is not necessarily a good measure at all.

    all of them look great in preview but that is not necessarily what you get when you buy. there is a lot of missing material to recreate the preview picture, not sure if this critical or not, but hope to learn this as I learn more about WP.

    Al, a WP newbie

    • Excellent question, Al.

      Right now, I usually go by the kinds of questions I read in the theme’s latest comments. If they’re all newbie questions (“how do I load the XML file?”), then the theme is probably fine. The amount of updates is a huge indicator of author involvement, too.

      Your question brings up a good point, though; with a marketplace, ratings are undeniably crucial. But the ratings on ThemeForest are worthless. They don’t collect comments, they don’t reflect version numbers and they aren’t specific at all. A great rating system needs to tell a product’s story quickly and concisely but a simple 0-5 star rating tells us little if anything about what we’re purchasing.

      Changing this would go a long way to improving the site.

  21. Hi
    Im a freelance developer and for a while I worked at both ithemes and Studio press
    in the support forums as a mod helping people with questions. I also have over the years as a customer bought themes and gone in to hang out at every major premium theme company support forum out there.. from woo to elegant themes.. I no longer help in the forums because it is so time consuming but I just want to point out that as elegant as the code can be at say studio press..most people who buy themes do not and never really will understand the code even the simplest thing like changing a hex decimal color in the CSS file..So that leads theme sites to add more easy options in the admin area but even still many people end up hiring a mod to work on the customizations they want..So my point is as to support or sloppy code the avg theme buyer is not able to get it anyway..Support is always going to be the real red head step child of the premium theme business..IF the premium theme companies only sold to developers and designers who understand code than they would not really make as much money..the market is the mainstream people from all over the world who at best handle basic posting, page creation and a few minor php and css code snippets and html code snippets..People who want to get on the net have a blog or promote a small business.. overall no one theme company really provides the necessary support that would really be needed.. only you guys here and the rest of the development community really get what is good code or bad..The real market never gets it but they are needed..So I just want to point out that as great as premium themes are for the avg user/buyer if they are serious in the end they all seek out custom help which I suppose could be a BIG business in and of it self for some enterprising developer out there..I like all the premium theme companies including great code only goes so far it is of course better than bad code but only we know..:)

  22. ThemeForest has the potential to beat every WP theme site out there. Well, it actually has by nearly reaching the Alexa Top 500.
    The themes are always well-designed, functional and useful. Although, I agree some themes are coded very badly, i mean awful! For instance, I purchased an admin skin (HTML) that has all the things you could dream of! But, to use it is a real mess. Code is not even organised. To create a simple dropdown requires many lines of code.
    Well, there are some authors whose work is always top-notch and if, I ever run into a problem with their items, they help. For example, epicera on CodeCanyon has partnered with ShaneAndPeter for WP plugins. Have a look at his WP themes! Kriesi, from Austria, is the top author on ThemeForest. He updates his themes every now and then and runs a support forum at He has hired a few people to help him with the HUGE amount of support requests he receives.
    One thing I agree with is that the quality of themes should be stepped up and the buyer should be given full details of the theme.
    One method that could work is that there be various ratings for a themes (code, customization, options, etc.) and also addition of Testimonials will help. Since most authors won’t like Testimonials on their theme knowing the consequences, they should have the choice of turning it on/off.
    Phew.. Hope somebody is listening.

  23. I have bought several themes from ThemeForest. Every theme has been of the highest quality and in each experiences I have received help and support from the developer, sometimes in ways I never imagined. For instance: There was a weird bug that was affecting just me. I, and several others, couldn’t figure out the source, never-mind a solution. When I mentioned it to the theme developer he not only figured out the problem, he rewrote the entire theme to work around that problem… all while I slept (he lived in Europe or Asia and I’m in the US).

    Yes, there are ugly themes on there, and ugly code. But that is true of all stores. Just because you bought a shirt at a high end boutique doesn’t mean it looks good or is made from high quality materials.

  24. Hi there,

    This is a very interesting conversation… While most of you are looking at the issue from a developer/designer angle, I would like to share thoughts from an end consumer angle.

    I have a fairly limited HTML/CSS knowledge, however, I like to do all my websites myself, it feels empowering somehow.

    I did my first few sites using Joomla, mainly though rocketthemes, I have to say, it took ages learning joomla and tweaking the themes to the way I wanted.

    A few years later, I got introduced to wordpress themes, took a look around all the major marketplaces, until I sumbled upon themeforest. I must say, the minute I got to themeforest, I never looked back.

    Their themes (themeforest) are way superior to other theme marketplaces from a design perspective. I keep checking the others like woothemes or studiopress, but they never look good enough to me, maybe they’re coded nicely (haven’t used them), but at the end of the day, I want a website that look great and function as expected.

    I understand that many of you are bringing the issue of poor coding, I bought one poorly coded theme at themeforest (out of probably 15), asked for a refund and got it.

    Again, as a non-developer, who want to run a site for my small business, I want a site that looks good and doesn’t crash. My visitors will judge my business based on my content and general appeal, not on how well the code is behind the hood.

    All themes I bought have updates whenever wordpress updates, but even if they don’t, I am not obliged to upgrade wordpress if everything works fine the way it is.

    these are my two sents.

  25. As a theme author, in many cases in my experience, I would say the buyer many times is to blame for a bad experience. Case in point:

    “Hey I bought your theme, uploaded it, and get a bunch of errors, WTF?”

    But what unfolds over the next few days of spending hours trying to help the person is where in the real issues lie.

    They dont tell you they took a downloaded zip file including documentation, source files, and theme files and uploaded it and tried activating it.

    Once you get that straightened out for them, they don’t want to read any documentation, they want it to function perfectly out of the box completely seamlessly with all of their 50-75 plugins currently installed at any given time.

    “Why doesn’t this work on my account, I want a refund!?!”

    “You mean I cant just put this on my server? What’s WordPress? Can you install that for me, please… I’ll leave you nice feedback and star rating, here is my login info to my server!”

    And those a who are actually a little WordPress savy expect either 100+ back-end options for changing every hex value, every layout imaginable, shortcodes, lightbox javascript spaghetti soup… and yet that has now become the standard, as to say that all of these are ‘features’.

    Or they expect a type of theme support that in their mind should include free customizations/modifications of the theme. You bought a theme, digital goods… you didn’t hire a web developer.

    Hands down any theme author would probably agree that the majority of time spent trying to offer support for a theme is actually spent desperately trying to educate mostly uninterested people on how to use WordPress because generally more often then not, they do not want to take the time to do this for themselves.

    Articles like this just raise the bigger issues within the community, and to put the focus of this squarely on TF is a bit misleading. It should be a testimony really, like it or not they are the industry leader now 😉 … just saying!

    Are there questionable themes and coding standards on there, yes I’m sure. But I’ve found some crap on par even with a few big names out there as well.

    This is a WP Community issue just as much as it is a TF one. I like TF because at least it is a place that exposes that, and as we see here in the comments, is also willing to address any concerns as well.

    Havent heard from Adii or Brian, Perel brothers… anyone out there?

    • I love this comment so much.

      I’m also beginning to think that the sheer quantity–not the quality–of themes on ThemeForest is what leads to the amount of grief the site gets.

      There are just too many opportunities for inept people to get into WordPress when, if not for the low cost of entry and large variety of sites, they would have hired a professional.

      There has been lots of conversations touching on this topic before, though:

      In the end, catering to the lowest common denominator always comes with a price.

    • Yea support can be hard but, if you develop a theme that is out of the box (possible), and any tweaking, etc is automatically done by the code, then it’s great. Add a lower price of below $20 a theme and you will barley get any refund requests – offer 30 days guarantee money back as well. Even if the code is not perfect but the design is outstanding, it will be well worth the client to keep it.

  26. Great article and an even better discussion. The Envato
    folks deserve a lot of credit for receiving and responding to
    criticism with a ton of class. I agree with Jason Pelker and the
    others who have stated how beautiful many of the ThemeForest themes
    are. No offense intended to any WP theme designers out there, but I
    am been dismayed at the just plain bland aesthetics of the
    overwhelming majority of the themes. TF truly is head-and-shoulders
    above the crowd in terms of the quality of design – IMHO. I think
    the quality of design is as all over the board as the quality of
    coding. I guess it isn’t possible to get burned by the quality of
    design, though, because that is immediatley obvious. I’m willing to
    forgive some shortcomings in the quality of the coding, provided it
    is not too terrible, because the designs are so beautiful. I’m
    content to do some cleanup on the code or even do a full conversion
    from static HTML templates to WP if need be. I understand, however,
    that a lot of folks don’t feel the same way. Jason, it might be
    really helpful to us “wanna be themers” (joking) if you could write
    a “Best Practices” article that includes a lot of the comments made
    here in the form of practical guidelines or a theme
    designer/developers checklist. Perhaps “Five Ways to Make Your WP
    Theme Rock Solid”? Just a thought.

  27. Good article about my favorite site. Well there is no doubt is the most popular site out there for wp themes.

    It always been my dream project to dev something like it. But recently I stumble upon this script and If anyone think that they got guts to start something like it of their own then I think its not that difficult any more coz got the clone script that does the same thing what themeforest does. Some might find it pricey but I think its worth every bit.

    You can check out the front and back demo on the following link:

    Cheers Mate 😉

  28. I wish I knew theme forest existed before I spent months learning wordpress full time in order to help myself.

    I spent quite a bit of money hiring and then getting burned by so called “designers” who use one of the well known standard themes from a company mentioned above and I don’t mean themeforest and apply only superficial css to customize,

    I spent over 2 months learning css and html and an understanding level of php, but nothing like to actually write a php line to call some functions. Add a few items like phpmyadmin and MySQL table management to this and the time it takes to actually understand how wordpress works is not funny.

    I got to the point when my fully customized 2010 wp theme validated and was ready to upload and this is when I discovered themeforest.

    OMG OMG OMG!! Amazing, stunning design that makes my customized design look like a backward ugly cousin. I do not mean 2010 theme, just my design. All I could think of – how much time I wasted – when I could have just bought something that is beautiful and works out of the box at half the price of other premium themes that really just pale in comparison.

  29. I absolutely love ThemeForest. The main reason for this is it enables me to not have to turn away clients with very little budget – I can create them a website that far exceeds their expectations for very little outlay. I’m completely up front about the templated nature of the themes, but when they just want a decent web presence they are astounded at what I can produce with a decent TF theme.

  30. ThemeForest saves me a lot of time and energy. Why reinvent the wheel? Their site is well laid out, easy to navigate and prices are really good. I’m not a whiz at this stuff – just an oldie playing around with the internet – I can produce a little site for someone who doesn’t want all the bells and whistles. They’re happy, I’m happy. And as for them being Aussies – well – Oi! Oi! Oi! Go the Green & Gold!!!!

  31. Even though this post is getting up there in age, I am so glad it exists. I’ve come across this weird tention against themeforrest and could never really figure out what the deal was.

    Sure if it was GPL I would get it, but if it’s just a simple matter of poor code.. Welcome to reality. You can’t just go buy something and expect it to be awesome. If you don’t do your fracking homework on the theme and it’s author than you’re just apart of the general public and your going to learn the hard way.

    Thanks for the info!!

  32. Envato is a great community and as a buyer and a seller, mostly a buyer now, I love this service, why would anyone (I am a php developer) build a theme from scratch. If my clients would pay I would do it, but tbh the cost of web dev has gone down in my country in the past.

  33. Nice touch with the Aussie/Kiwi video!!

    It’s amazing how many people get it all crossed up. It’s like calling Canadians Americans.

  34. Nice post, interesting to say the least. Your point about creating an open framework is not a bad idea too. That could solve a lot of the issues you brought up. Anyway I love seeing how ThemeForest keeps evolving into a huge business. Right now its my understanding that there are at least two users who have reached the 1.000.000 mark

  35. I have got themes from all over the shop and Themeforest beats them all.
    As for the Red headed Step child call, wake up to your self you dickhead.

    Theme Forest Rocks. the design, formatting, features, options, skill over the coders beats them all hands down.

      • I think Mick is a ginger. Sorry Mick.

        Interesting post though Jason. As a newbie looking to get into building WP sites, its a minefield out there. Back to the research…

  36. ThemeForest literally changed my life. I can’t imagine feeling as secure in this line of work without the Envato team managing things on my behalf (figuratively speaking). They’re a business, yes, but they have heart. They deserve a lot more credit than they receive.

  37. Theme forest is ok if you have loads of time to waste figuring out why some of this stuff doesn’t work the way it should?

    The support is poor at best and some of the authors couldnt give a crap!

    Beware before you buy because you can get more money and buy something else but you wont be able to get the wasted weeks of time back when this stuff goes wrong.

  38. I think Themeforest have improved a lot over the last 2 years but you don’t get a great framework like Genesis, Woo or Thesis.

    The support generally isn’t at the level of Thesis and Kolakube either.

    I agree with this comment:

    But yes, the support forums suck, but……the themes are generally gorgeous.

    But not always the case.

    Support wise, generally most have a long way to go so its a one off deal as far as value goes.

    StudioPress does offer excellent value for money and get better every year so i recommend them for non designers and beginners

  39. Pingback: 3 Popular WordPress Themes from ThemeForest

Comments are closed.