Chris Warton makes WordPress themes. He doesn't try to persuade you one way or the other on his themes; he thinks they are of good quality, he tries hard, and he avoids one-stop do-it-all type themes. And his work selling themes is a grind.
In a two part series, he outlines what it's like selling themes, “in the real world.” His take is open and refreshing. It's not easy to sell themes if you're “just another seller” and didn't ride in on an early wave or somehow land on the top sellers list somewhere.
Chris sells themes on ThemeForest primarily, but he's tried Creative Market, Etsy, and MOJO Marketplace.
In his first post, he talks about his income stream from ThemeForest, and discusses the variety of considerations he has to make. My favorite tidbit was his note on general sustainability and setting expectations:
This is something we’re still struggling with. In 2012 I wish I’d spent more time on themes, it was easier to make money back then. I’d release a blog theme and sell 100 in a month. Now, I release some of what I consider to be my best theme work and I’m struggling to hit 40 or 50 sales a month. This is all down to saturation of the marketplace. Everyone is seeing the gold rush, as did I, and they are looking at the top sellers on ThemeForest and thinking “Yeah I’d love an income of $60,000 a week from a single theme”.
Sorry everyone, this isn’t going to happen for most of you. I’ve been plugging away for the last 2.5-3 years and not one of my themes has hit the big time or even the popular page. Why? Well I’m not sure why… I refuse to make an overly complex theme (mainly for time and money being put in with the risk of rejection) and I do a lot of blog themes, but I actually don’t know the magic formula.
At the time of writing, he'd made 4,993 lifetime sales for $126,991 in revenue on ThemeForest. 2014 and the first half of 2015 are his best performances, with around $50,000 annualized each. But he says he has to release a new theme just about every month to sustain the income, because after a short period of time, sales tend to die down.
This should go to note that selling themes is not going to solve all your problems in life. It's work like any other. Of course, there are other routes you can take selling themes — and plenty of folks are super successful — but for most, even modest success takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.
Chris's second post goes into revenue he saw at a variety of marketplaces, from Creative Market, to Etsy (it'll surprise a lot of readers that Etsy has themes at all!), to MOJO Marketplace. He sees some potential from MOJO, but for the most part nothing comes close to ThemeForest.