Thinking of Selling Premium Themes? Group Interview with Four Leaders in the Premium Theme Industry

You’ve probably seen a lot of information about premium themes, and maybe you are considering creating some of your own to sell. If so, I think you’ll be able to learn a lot from this brief interview with four leaders in the premium theme/template industry.When selling premium themes, you have a few different options. You can sell them at your existing blog or portfolio site, sell them through a larger marketplace, or create a new business around the theme sales. In this post you’ll hear from designers and business owners that have a variety of different approaches to the end result of selling themes.

The four participants are Cory Miller of iThemes, Collis Ta’eed of ThemeForest, Ben Harper of Templamatic, and Adriaan Pienaar of WooThemes.

Cory Miller of iThemes

You’ve done some work with specialty premium themes like the real estate themes. My opinion is that specialty premium themes are going to be more influential in the near future as WordPress continues to develop. What are your thoughts on the subject?

As more and more industries and businesses see the value of using WordPress with great search engine optimized themes, specialty markets will grow as they seek out great design options. The ones I’ve seen who usually lead in technology adoption like WordPress are real estate agents. They are eager to seek out new ways to reach prospective customers.

With more and more premium themes becoming available, how can potential customers and designers evaluate the quality of one theme compared to another?

I would ask yourself these questions …

Does the design meet your needs?
Are their actual people who I can contact with questions or potentially problems?
How long have they been developing themes?
Do they have an active support forum?
How good are their tutorials and documentation?

How do you plan to keep iThemes at the forefront of the premium theme industry?

We have assembled a great 5-person development team at iThemes now that we feel will help us be on the cutting-edge of WordPress development. (You can learn more about our team at: http://ithemes.com/about/) Having just returned from our first company retreat, I’m extremely excited about the projects we’re going to be unveiling in the coming weeks and months.

We also continually seek input and suggestions from our customers, who give us the best, direct input from those using our themes for how we can improve. And because we all personally use and love WP, we feel like we have a pulse on what customers want and need from WP themes.

Collis Ta’eed of ThemeForest

What can ThemeForest offer to designers as opposed to selling themes on their own?

ThemeForest offers a service to make selling extremely simple by handling everything from payments, to marketing, to customer service (though not item support). Authors looking to sell themes on the site don’t need to do anything at all except make a product to sell.

Comparatively selling on your own can make you more money, but requires a lot more work and knowledge. We advise every author to seek out the best scenario for themselves, and we do our best to make sure that if they choose to list their products on ThemeForest that we do a damn good job of helping them make money.

What procedures are in place to evaluate themes for quality, and what percentage of submissions are approved?

Every theme is reviewed by a ThemeForest reviewer, the percentage of approvals varying significantly. We have certain basic standards (files must have documentation, they must comply with the browser compatibility settings chosen and so on) and additionally the reviewer will consider whether the item fits the ThemeForest library in terms of quality and standard.

With so many designers and themes that will be available at Theme Forest in the near future, what do you recommend for designers in order to stand out and maximize their sales?

I recommend taking a leaf from our top selling FlashDen author Triworks. Triworks operates on FlashDen as a business and has pulled in a six figure amount, so you know they are doing something right.

If you take a look Triworks does things like: (a) branding thumbnails, (b) providing an FAQ, (c) cross linking files, (d) upgrading and refining existing files, (e) using search engine friendly item names, (f) providing updates on the item descriptions, and much more.

Ben Harper of Templamatic

Right now you sell both WordPress themes and HTML/CSS templates, are there plans to expand to include other types of templates?

The original idea was to sell any type of html based template, for any platform and be JUST a template marketplace. But, our roots are more in building website solutions, and less in digital marketplaces. What this means is that we like to support the templates we sell as much as possible, and offer installation and customization services on top. So, we have focused more on the types of templates that we can support. Moving forward, we will have a strong focus in plain html templates that can be used on various platforms.

With your experience as a designer, what made you want to build and sell themes/templates?

After building websites professionally for many years, I felt like there was a lot of common elements that could be and should be reused between websites. I wanted to automate everything except for the spark of creativity that the designer has. Everything that can be simplified and automated, should be. And then, the design should be as creative as possible and just snap in. I used to believe that automation was the antithesis of good design. Now I am focusing on raising the quality of templates design as much as possible.

Who is the target customer of themes being sold at Templamatic?

In today’s template market, you still need to have a lot of web experience to make a website from a template. So, I think a lot of templates are purchased by web designers or people with the capability to build websites from them. But, I think there is room for growth in this area. As it gets easier and easier to make a full website out of a template, I hope more and more businesses will be able to choose their entire website from a template marketplace directly.

Adriaan Pienaar (Adii) of WooThemes

You’ve designed plenty of custom themes directly for clients and now you’re selling premium themes through WooThemes. How would you compare the pros and cons of each from a designer’s perspective?

From a purely business perspective, doing commercial themes allows you to earn an income that is not directly related to your time as designer / developer. Beyond that, I find that client work can be so limiting at the best of times, since the client obviously wants something specific. In contrast commercial themes, allows us to basically do what we want, which means you get to explore & experiment with the design concepts & functionality of the themes.

That said however, it is much more difficult to develop a theme that is going to be used by 50 different people on 50 different WordPress installations, on 50 different hosting environments (get the idea?), as one needs to consider so much more. Ultimately I think that it is the balance between doing both kinds of design / development work that is intriguing and it is thus not really about the pros and cons of both.

Why did you choose to collaborate with other designers at WooThemes as opposed to just selling your own themes?

Simply put: I’m not really a developer or designer! :) I’m more of an entrepreneur with a passion for everything intertubes-related and a keen eye for stuff visually appealing. So I really stumbled into this role of designing & developing for WordPress.

The collaborations are thus as a result of my passion for what I do, since I know that these collaborative partners will bring a whole lot of value to the table, which results in a much better end product for all WooThemes users. And then secondly these collaborative partners also bring with them, additional time which adds to the available time that Magnus, Mark & myself can spend running & maintaining WooThemes.

In the end, 99% of collaborations will result in a much bigger, better end-product, but I find that most people are so egotistical about this, which prevents them from engaging other designers / developers on colabs. I think our users’ satisfaction is proof of the fact that our collaborations has taken our offerings to the next level.

In the first few months of WooThemes’ existence, how much demand has been shown for the club membership in comparison to the demand for individual licenses?

WooThemes is about 2 months old now and we’ve seen a healthy adoption rate of club subscriptions over individual / single theme purchases. Since this was a very new concept within the WordPress community, we didn’t expect a massive adoption rate from the get-go, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised, as about 25% / 30% of our users are on subscriptions.

We see this in a very positive light, as it shows that WP users aren’t just buying a theme, but they’re buying into a niche-community, with niche value-adding products / services (tutorials, help resources, support forums, exclusive freebies etc.), which helps them to produce insane, modified versions of our themes (see: http://showcase.woothemes.com). If we had a competitive advantage over other commercial WP theme developers, then these value-additions would probably be it.

What is Your Experience?

If you have any experience with theme or template sales I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.

If you like getting design inspiration by looking at excellent blog designs, you’ll love our new gallery site Blog Design Heroes.

Published September 29th, 2008 by

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36 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Jeremy Newton, September 29, 2008

    Awesome job with the interviews and there is a lot of useful and great information in this review. Keep up the good work and thanks for posting.

    ~ Jeremy Newton

  • Simon, September 30, 2008

    Thanks for these interviews! I definitely agree with Jeremy that there is useful information. Especially Cory Miller and Collis Ta’eed break down well what it means to sell premium themes (support, documentation, updates, marketing etc.).

  • Vinh Le, September 30, 2008

    I seriously wonder how viable this is, selling premium themes through ThemeForest. It looks like you have to sell quite a bit to make a decent return on investment over time. I definitely like the idea though and am considering on spending a good 40-50 hours on a theme to submit to it, but still on the fence a bit.

    In other news, nice article Steven.

  • Michael Martin, September 30, 2008

    Great interview Steven. Those are definitely 4 of the best in the premium themes industry, and I love that you tailored your questions for each so that we could see a little more about the way each approaches things differently. Great read! :D

  • Mal, September 30, 2008

    How did you miss the Revolution? I customize WP themes left and right these days and there is a huge group of customizers that prefer Revolution Themes now.

  • Doug - Mr Promotions, September 30, 2008

    The world is now using WP and we do pay for people who build special themese as sick of those dodgy free ones.

    Doug

  • Vandelay Design, September 30, 2008

    Vinh,
    I think there is a big range here. The top sellers do well, but I don’t think most theme sellers are getting rich that way. To me it seems appropriate as a secondary income, although Collis makes some good points about the leader from FlashDen.

    Mal,
    I’m not sure what you mean by “how did you miss revolution.” I didn’t highlight specific themes here. If you’re asking why Brian Gardner was not interviewed, I simply contacted people in the industry that I already know.

  • Vinh Le, October 1, 2008

    Steven,
    Yeah, it was my plan to use it as a source of secondary income and a passive one at that after everything gets going. Now to find some time and an idea. An article on what separates the top sellers from the others would be sweet, but don’t publish it and just email me it =P

  • Acai Berry, October 1, 2008

    lots of useful and great information in this review

  • Dainis Graveris, October 2, 2008

    Valuable interview!! Those guys really know what they are talking about.

  • Wessley Roche, October 7, 2008

    ThemeForest sounded interesting at first, but 25% of the profit is definitely not enough. I’d expect 50% at least…

  • Magnus, October 7, 2008

    I think ThemeForest take to much of the cake, but thats just my opinion as an established theme author at WooThemes.

    For people who don’t have a website setup with support / member system, I think ThemeForest is a great deal. You will be amazed of how much time goes into admin/support.

  • Armen, October 7, 2008

    Excellent questions buddy.

    It’s definitely interesting to hear how the guys themselves perceive the premium theme market, its management, and future.

  • Windows XP Secrets, October 7, 2008

    I don’t know why you have missed the Guys from http://gabfire.com ????

  • Vandelay Design, October 7, 2008

    Magnus,
    You’re not alone on that assessment. I think that’s the only complaint most people have about ThemeForest. I don’t sell premium themes so my opinion is limited, but I would say that their amount of traffic and the advertising money they spend justify lower commissions than other marketplaces. That said, my first reaction at the launch was that the commission is low.

    And actually the biggest reason I haven’t pursued theme sales to this point is the admin/support requirements like you mentioned.

  • Vandelay Design, October 8, 2008

    XP Secrets,
    As I mentioned in a comment earlier, this wasn’t an attempt to include every legitimate theme seller. I simply contacted some leaders in the industry that I have personal contact with.

  • Mal, October 8, 2008

    I might have not called this article “4 Leaders” then and used more of what you told me “4 guys you know”. I do like all of their work but if any of the other guys has a forum with 30 thousand posts in it that also fields every WordPress problem as well, please let us know. BTW, Brian Gardner is only 1 email away and he is a prolific and active emailer. Any article called “4 leaders”… should include him IMHO. Cheers Van – have a great week – you have a great site here !!

  • Patrick K. O'Brien, October 8, 2008

    Interesting interviews. I purchased the Thesis Theme by Chris Pearson, and have been quite happpy with it. Would like to have seen Chris included as one of the interviewees.

  • Vandelay Design, October 8, 2008

    Mal,
    I don’t disagree that Brian is a leader in the industry (and one of the pioneers). Whether I know these people or not doesn’t change the fact that they are leaders in the industry as well. Thanks for the compliments on the site and for reading and commenting. It’s appreciated.

  • Don Ray, October 8, 2008

    Any chance of sharing revenue numbers? Even ballpark figures?

    Everyone says it’s secondary income which makes it sound like there isn’t quite enough demand for premium themes for one to quit their day jobs.

  • Vandelay Design, October 8, 2008

    Hi Don,
    Unfortunately, I don’t have any revenue numbers to share. I think those that approach it as a full-time bueiness, like Brain Gardner or the iThemes team, can make a full-time income, but at this point there’s probably not a lot of room in the market for too many people.

  • Brandon Cox, October 10, 2008

    Well I considered selling at least one premium theme, but re-considered because of the ongoing debate concerning licensing issues. Not to stir the pot, but whoever is going to consider it should at least read up on the GPL and Matt Mullenweg’s opinions. Just a thought. I ended up releasing the theme, intended for ministry, as a free GPL theme instead.

  • Acai Berry, January 23, 2009

    Many choices here. Very cool, amazing to see how many big players have shown up in the WordPress premium theme field in the last 12 months.

  • Vouchers for discounts, April 13, 2009

    We love worpress, all of our sites now use it:)

    Jo

  • Developerholic, July 19, 2009

    i found this post while searching if there are money in selling Premium WordPress Themes. But as the article said, we designers should spend some time on money and supporting these themes :)

  • Danny, September 4, 2009

    I use wordpress a lot either for our whole site or at very least as a section on it.

  • Rugby Merchandise, October 19, 2009

    WordPress is a great tool, easy to use and quick to rank.

  • Juventus Football Shirts, October 22, 2009

    I use wordpress for all my sites I love the ease at which you can change the themes

  • UE46B8000, November 21, 2009

    Trying to find the right wordpress theme can be hard to do and sometimes the best thing to do is invest in a premium theme.

  • Stephen, January 7, 2010

    I must confess that we’ve used several free themes in the past and recently bought a premium theme and I have to say you really do get what you pay for. If you want a decent looking WP site up and running quickly, then you really have to go with a premium theme.