Item Support: Sustainability for Authors and Clarity for Buyers

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Note: This post hasn't been updated in over 2 years.

itemsupport

In 2008 we launched ThemeForest to the world. Our pitch was low price themes with no support, targeting professionals. In the six years since, ThemeForest has grown to be the world’s largest and busiest theme market. As part of Envato Market, it has helped launch a sister marketplace, CodeCanyon, which is the largest and busiest plugin market online. Along the way our prices and quality went up, buyers started expecting more and more support, and authors started providing it.

Organic growth is awesome and it’s been exciting watching the marketplace evolve. But one of the outcomes has been the creation of a somewhat unsustainable position for theme and plugin authors — there’s an expectation that they can provide perpetual support with only a single fixed parcel of income upfront. This doesn’t work for anyone. Authors eventually get swamped, buyers can’t be sure what they’re getting and don’t have recourse when support’s not provided, there’s no economics to make it truly sustainable, and ultimately it’s not good for the market.

We want to make sure Authors still have time and energy to do what they do best — create great work for sale.

Earlier in the year we announced in our 2014 Roadmap that we would be aiming to address these issues. We began with a lightweight Author Teams feature. Today we’re announcing a much bigger change aimed at addressing buyer expectations, providing a better economical model for both buyers and authors, and making things clearer for everyone involved.

Time-limited Support

We want to give buyers a consistent experience, and make support a core part of Themeforest and Codecanyon. Our most successful Authors talk about the support they provide being a key part of their success, and most of our authors advertise that they provide support and have done so for some time. However support has not been an intrinsic part of the system and site mechanics.

As of 1st December 2014:

  • Theme and plugin support will be required for all authors on ThemeForest & CodeCanyon (except on PSD Templates)
  • Support will be limited to 6 months, with prices remaining the same
  • Buyers will continue to receive all item updates made available by the Author (even after 6 months)
  • Items sold before 1st December 2014 are treated as follows:
    • If the item didn’t advertise support, nothing changes for prior purchases.
    • If the item offered < 6 months support, then that period is honoured.
    • If the item offered > 6 months support, then those items will be supported until 31 May 2015 (6 months from the new rules taking effect)
  • Buyers needing clarification about their purchase should contact Envato Support.

Either on or shortly after 1 December 2014:

  • Extended support will be available for purchase as “support packs”, introducing a new source of revenue for Authors
  • Authors will receive 70% of the total price of a support pack regardless of their exclusivity or all-time sales

Why We’re Doing It This Way

Themes, Templates and Code are complex items. As Envato Market has grown, the expectation has grown that they will require support. This has made support a key part of our value proposition and one we want to offer to all of our buyers in a consistent way.

As the majority of authors provide support with indefinite duration, we believe this should result in a shorter, more defined support period. For authors not providing support for their work, more preparation will be needed. We’re announcing the shift ahead of the transition date to give everyone time to prepare, ask questions and where necessary make changes to their theme or plugin portfolios.

We’re capping support at 6 months because the ‘lifetime’ support that authors sometime promise is often not economically sustainable and ultimately leads to more bad buyer experiences than good. For most buyers, the first few months represents the time when most help is needed. After six months,that ongoing support really is a premium request to the author and should be treated as such. There’s already plenty of signs that this is where the industry is headed.

We’re making the changes universal and required because we believe it will create the fairest, clearest marketplace for buyers and authors. Lack of clarity around support is a well-known issue. From 1 Dec, everyone will know what they are signing up to sell, and to buy when they come to ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.

Buyers paying for extra support will have the assurance that they are entitled to and can receive more help long after their initial purchase, and that the author is being compensated for their time.

Last but not least, top authors indicate providing support is one of the main drivers of their success on ThemeForest. We want all of our authors to be successful and we feel this is an important step towards achieving that.

Things We’re Still Figuring Out

There’s lots of moving parts to a change this big. Here’s what we’re working on answering:

  • Pricing and period for support packs
  • Upgrades to the item purchase to include more support (e.g. 12 months bought upfront)
  • Governance, dispute resolution, refund policies and processes to help operate the marketplace in a fair and friendly way

What Do We Mean by ‘Support’?

We’re working on a clear way to define support work. Our current working definition is that support includes:

  • Responding to questions or problems regarding the item and its features
  • Fixing bugs and reported issues
  • Where relevant, providing updates to ensure compatibility with major new software versions (e.g. of WordPress)

But does NOT include:

  • Customization, configuration or installation
  • Support for 3rd party software and plugins, except as advertised by the author

To put it in plain English, support is making sure the item works for the buyer in the way that it was advertised and answering questions around that, but it doesn’t include actually configuring the item. Our research indicates this is a fairly consistent view from authors too.

What about response times and vacations?

We’re still working on this, but we’d like to set clear expectations with buyers that don’t place unreasonable pressure on authors. A maximum of 72 hours would allow for weekends and differences in time zone, whilst leaving plenty of room for authors to delight their buyers with faster responses when possible. Buyers will also have the chance to rate their support experience.

We’re also working on features for authors to let their buyers know when they’re away on leave or taking a vacation.

What Do Authors Need to Do Before 1 December?

Broadly as an author, you should:

  • Check your item pages and marketing collateral (such as external sites, previews and support systems) for references to any ‘unlimited’ or ‘lifetime’ promises to bring them into line with the new policy by December 1.
  • Make sure you are prepared to provide support as of 1st of December by adjusting your theme and plugin portfolio to what you feel is sustainable
  • Ask any questions you have on our forum thread dedicated to this announcement
  • Look out for more information about the upcoming changes here on the Market Blog

You can expect more communications from the team once we’ve gotten in our first wave of questions from the community, and made more progress on decisions around pricing, policies and processes.

A Clearer Future for Themes, Templates and Code

We’re very excited about bringing this change to Envato Market, and we’re confident that it’s going to lead to a better outcome for both sides of the marketplace.

We’ve got lots of work to do under the hood as we adjust the T&Cs, item management processes, author settings, item pages, ratings, download pages, purchase confirmation API and much more.

There’s going to be lots of discussion leading up to the 1st of December, and we’re going to be fielding questions on the forums.