A theme shop year in review

Mike McAlister has shared an in-depth post recapping his first year as an independent theme shop, Array.

Array sells themes on their website, but has also been on WordPress.com for a while. However, they also experimented with Creative Market. What they learned on each marketplace is valuable.

Regarding Creative Market:

Sales on Creative Market have been much lower than we anticipated. The first few months of our time on there, we’ve only seen ~20 sales per month. Although there is a ton of activity for other kinds of digital goods, the WordPress category simply doesn’t seem to be thriving.

And WordPress.com:

One other contributing factor that we think has caused a decrease in sales on WP.com is the focus of free themes in the past several months. Around the same time WP.com stopped promoting commercial themes, they started focusing on releasing more free themes, or so it seems. With the many paid account upgrades available, this may be their way to onboard more users into the WP.com platform.

I guess it's not surprising that sales have decreased on that platform, but it is a bummer. I also doubt it's just Array, as Automattic also stopped blogging about new commercial themes, and otherwise giving them the same focus.

While Array will always self-distribute themes, they've decided to give ThemeForest another shot:

The thing is, ThemeForest dominates when it comes to market share. With all of the various avenues we tried, none came close to the reach or revenue that ThemeForest has provided in years past. This should be no surprise if you’ve read some of the recent publicity around ThemeForest’s traffic. It’s simply the go-to place for WordPress themes these days, and there’s just no denying it.

As a club member said, but I can't find the quote, distribution is king for themes. ThemeForest has massive exposure. While Mike's been successful at Array, it's hard to say no to ThemeForest when it offers a significant place to be found. And also as he notes, being on ThemeForest won't make his themes lower quality; instead he'll be able to make change from the inside, not unlike what he did when he was on the marketplace in years prior.

I completely understand the business implications of Mike's move. At the same time, it does depress me that a theme shop without third party distribution has a hard time selling. He says the following in regard to starting a theme shop without a following:

WordPress.com isn’t accepting new partners, Creative Market doesn’t have a sustainable market for themes, and starting a new theme shop without an established following would be nothing more than an exercise in futility.

I certainly look forward to Mike's next year in review. It's possible he has “grass is greener” syndrome, but I doubt he'd be making this change if some financial implications — or at least obvious missed opportunities — weren't involved. I'm also interested to see how much he thinks the market has changed in his time away from it. To me, it seems even more crowded, though that would've seemed hard to believe.

One model Mike didn't approach, that I wonder if he'd have success with, is the freemium model. He did not the success of his Editor theme on WordPress.org, but he hasn't done a free/pro model for any of his themes, like the folks at CodeinWP did with great success. Perhaps Mike's themes aren't the right style for such a model — though his latest eCommerce theme, I think, could be a fit with enough potential “pro” features.

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One Comment

  1. We’ve seen success with the freemium model approach of our themes through the .org channel and our direct channel. Not to the scale of CodeinWP, but we also don’t have the size library they do or similair business models.

    I can tell you that the .org review process is becoming very painful, not just because of the backlog, but because a lot is left up to inconsistent reviewers — especially new reviewers. There’s a lot more policing than say, plugins, with the slightest hiccup setting you back a month.

    It does make other distribution channels like Envato more attractive.

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