Envato’s role in the “big theme” market

In a provocative article on WP Tavern titled “Envato Continues to Rake in the Cash from WordPress Themes Packaged as Complete Website Solutions”, Sarah Gooding slams Envato for their role in what I'll call the “big theme” market.

Envato theme authors are making large sums of cash by selling themes that are packaged as complete solutions for online businesses, because that’s what consumers have been trained to expect – the bigger the package, the more appealing the product. This can cause serious problems with data portability for customers down the road and remains a continual source of frustration for consultants who are hired to support poorly built Envato products.

If the marketplace were to change its standards and encourage theme authors to build themes that respect WordPress’ plugin system, it would most certainly result in a loss of profit. Envato currently has little incentive to move in this direction. As with the case of GPL licensing options, the company historically drags its feet until forced to comply with most basic requirements.

I think Sarah makes a lot of good points, and the comments also add a lot to the conversation. There are compelling arguments on both sides by commenters, but my former coworker Devin Vinson wins my clever comment prize:

One the one hand we have Jetpack being paraded as the only way for WordPress to continue to grow (because its a big all-in-one solution that is so easy to use) and on the other we have themes being ridiculed for trying to do the same.

Both are making huge sums of money by following what the community generally considers bad practice.

I don't know where exactly I land, personally. I don't like the everything in the theme solution, at all. I think Rarst's comment where he beats the dependency management drum is a pretty good drum.

But at the same time, I understand that Envato authors are reacting to market demands; and if they weren't, others would. I hate that excuse, “If I didn't, someone else would.” But it's a common one nonetheless.

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11 Comments

  1. I read that Jetpack comment on the original post and felt like I was more with Ryan Cowles’ response:

    An important difference here is that we’re talking about themes vs. plugins. Offering features isn’t a bad thing in itself. But it needs to be done in a way that best supports the user’s freedom to change themes or plugins.

  2. I think we need to relax a little with Themeforest. IMHO, it doesn’t make any sense to write this kind of articles. WPTavern, instead of just criticising Themeforest should interview a Themeforest author or two and find the real motivation behind their decisions to release multi-purpose themes or whatever they release. You’ll be surprised by the results. Most of them are struggling to survive and Themeforest is their only chance to make a living. Even some elite authors are in this position. I was in this position.

    A few years ago I had to deal with 3 serious issues.

    1 My father’s cardiac arrest – I had to collect a crazy amount for his surgery
    2 A House Foreclosure – Because of No1
    3 A legal case with the local tax office – Because of No1 and No2

    To cut a long story short, based in Greece – a slowly but steadily sinking economy – and given the circumstances, my best bet was Themeforest. In 9 months with just 2 niche themes – 100% GPL, no visual page builders, no bundled plugins – I became an elite author and with my earnings I managed to solve all of the above. I wasn’t really proud of my code back then, but then again, so what? I saved a human being, his house and raised my middle finger to the taxman. All these because of WordPress and Themeforest. From where I stand all these were far more important than any best practices or guidelines.

    Trust me when I say that if you dig deeper in Themeforest, you will find a thousand similar stories. It’s not like people wake up in the morning and say “Hey, let’s pollute the WordPress community with crappy products”. Most of them are doing their best. Yes, yes, there are also people who just want to milk the WordPress cow while it lasts, but we can find those in any industry and I don’t think there’s something to be done in this case.

    Pointing fingers won’t make WordPress better. Ironic tweets from core contributors too. Education is the key here.

    Besides, the truth lies in WordPress’s mission statement: Democratise Publishing and that’s the best thing about Democracy.

    1. Wow. This is such a good story. Going to make it a Note of its own. Thanks for sharing, and for joining 🙂

      1. Oh well, I spent a few hours and went through all your notes. I’m going to steal the title of one of your articles and say “I ripped off Poststatus”. Already feeling like I’m cheating here heh. Great work, keep it up 🙂

        By the way, will you attend WordCamp Europe this year?

        1. That’s why the archives are there 🙂

          Unfortunately I won’t be at WCEU, but it’s for a good reason. My first child is due that same week! I hope I get to catch you soon though. You have an inspiring story.

    2. Great story, many of us @Envato have similar ones.
      I don’t think it’s good or bad selling multi purpose themes or heavily armed plugin, if it satisfies a need then it will sell, if it solves problems then it will become a norm until something else come and take the lead.
      Kuhn would classify this as the revolution that keeps the paradigm(WP) going and maturing.(1.)

      1. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996.

    3. Nobody is blaming you. Nobody is blaming a seller that didn’t know better. Nobody is blaming a seller that just wanted to make a living online.

      You nailed it with this: Education is the key here.

      The responsibility for education falls on Envato. They are the one with the dominant position in the marketplace. A position which allows them to have a far reaching impact on the entire WordPress ecosystem. They are the one that is selling the products to the consumer.

      Education includes advocating, requiring and teaching best practices to the individuals and companies that they allow to sell WordPress products on their marketplaces.

      The fact that Envato has enabled a lot of people around the world to make a great living selling WordPress products online is fantastic. It truly is amazing.

      The fact that WordPress, with Envato’s help, has allowed you to do this is inspiring. But inspirational heartwarming stories and experiences should NOT give Envato a free pass when it comes to conducting business responsibly.

      Envato is in a tough position. I know they want to make things better. They do know the things they need to do and should be doing to make things better. I know because i’ve had conversations with them about it.

      But, in order to make things better they are going to need to make some decisions that many sellers will not like. Decisions that will not be popular within their seller community. Decisions that could change the types of products that are allowed to be sold on the marketplaces. Marketplaces that have been extremely successful from a monetary standpoint for Envato. That is fucking scary.

      I’ve been a critic of the problems caused by ThemeForest and Code Canyon about as long as anyone in the WordPress community. It has a direct impact on my business.

      Negative impact aside, I don’t hate Envato or the concept of marketplaces. I have no personal issues with the individuals at Envato or the sellers. I just don’t like that it is 2015 and once again we are still having this extremely repetitive online debate once again.

      Pointing fingers doesn’t make things better. Solutions to problems make things better. We know the solution.

      What will make things better is implementing and enforcing best practices and requiring sellers to adhere to them if they wish to benefit from the huge reach that their marketplaces provide to their sellers.

      The problem is the solution is going to be painful. For sellers and for Envato. But sooner or later it has to be done. Will it suck short term for those caught in the middle? Absolutely. But in the long run Envato, the sellers and the entire WordPress ecosystem will be far better off because of it.

      1. You are right Carl, that’s what I meant with education being the key. Envato should set stricter rules but I guess things like that take time.

        1. They do take time. But it’s 2015 and this is a conversation that has come up every year for at least the past 2 and really as long as ThemeForest and CodeCanyon have been selling WordPress products. Conversation doesn’t fix the problem. Action fixes the problem.

          1. It’s not going to happen any time soon (me thinks).

            They have a lot in their plate right now. Not sure if you are familiar with the new way Envato is handling taxes, fees etc. but with the new system, there are authors (especially elite authors with 6 & 7 figure sales) who are simply exposed to legal issues in many countries around the world.

            I guess this is on top of their list right now which means (speculating here) that we won’t be seeing any new rules anytime soon.

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