Opt-in, Time-limited Item Support

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In the 2014 Roadmap for Envato Market, we identified item support as a key area for work and improvement. The mismatch between author and buyer expectations on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon is a consistent area of pain and complaint.

Through the year we’ve released a number of tactical improvements including:

These changes to process and tooling are all important steps, and we have more of these to come. But our research and discussion with authors has indicated that the most important change we can make is to the core support model.

In August, we shared our plans for a new support model with the community. Our announcement raised many questions and concerns from authors – some we expected and some we didn’t. We realised we needed more data, so called a time-out on the plan, launched buyer and author surveys and went deep diving into more research and feedback.

Last week we shared with the community some of the insights from the buyer and author surveys. With that data, analysis and discussion, we are now ready to put forward a new proposal for changes to the support model.

Opt-in, Time-limited Item Support

In our last round of community discussion, we received many author concerns about making support a mandatory part of Envato Market. Although survey data shows 99% of ThemeForest and CodeCanyon authors do provide support, importantly about 5% of authors don’t provide support for all their items. With this in mind, we’ve revised our plans to an ‘opt-in’ system. This will not only give authors more flexibility in the long run, but also help with adoption in the early phases of the new system, allowing authors to gauge how everything is working before jumping in.

We believe our new proposal makes appropriate adjustments from last time while still maintaining the benefits of improved clarity for buyers and sustainability for authors.

Finally we’re pushing back the date from which this will all take effect. Along with the opt-in system, the extra time will give authors more room to adapt.

We’re still working on the exact date, but beginning in the first half of 2015:

  • Authors with items on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon will be able to choose whether or not they support each item (on an item-by-item basis).
  • If an author chooses to support an item, that support will be limited to 6 months from the purchase date. We will be prohibiting ‘unlimited’ and ‘lifetime’ support from being offered or advertised on Envato Market.
  • Item prices will be the same for items whether or not they include support.
  • If an item is supported we will clearly show this to buyers.
  • Buyers will have the option to purchase 12 months support at the time of purchasing the item license (i.e. an extra 6 months) and will be able to purchase extensions during the support period and after expiry of a support period. More details of pricing will be released soon.
  • All updates provided by the author will continue to be available to buyers with a license.
  • Authors will receive 70% of the total price of a support extension regardless of their exclusivity or all-time sales.
  • Items sold before the new start date will be treated as follows:
    • If the item did not advertise support, nothing changes
    • If the item advertised support for less than 6 months, that remains valid
    • If the item advertised support for more than 6 months, those items will be supported for 6 months after the new start date
    • Buyers who need clarification about their purchase should contact Envato Support.
  • As mentioned above, the precise date for the release of these changes, along with more pricing information, will be coming in the next set of announcements.

What Do We Mean by ‘Support’?

One of the most critical pieces of item support is defining and managing expectations around what’s included and what isn’t. It is clear that authors are very concerned about overuse and abuse of support from a small minority of buyers asking about things that are outside the definition, or requesting an excessive amount of support (even within the definition).

In addition to our initial research and questions specifically about this in the surveys, we enlisted the help of fifteen authors to develop the following high level definition of support.

What is included:

  • Answering questions about the item’s included features and functionality
  • Fixes for bugs and reported issues with the item
  • Updates to ensure ongoing compatibility and patch security vulnerabilities

and NOT included:

  • Customization services
  • Installation services or general software platform and CMS help (eg WordPress or Photoshop)
  • Resolving compatibility issues with 3rd party plugins, themes or items unless advertised
  • Help with included 3rd party items from the 3rd party author (eg plugins included with themes/templates)
  • Help with your particular web hosting/server environment

We’ve also worked with these authors on better descriptions of what these things actually mean as well as examples of questions that would and would not be included. We will start a forum thread specifically around this to take our work with the author sub-group even further. Look out for that in the next week.

Fair Use of Support

The buyer item support survey showed us that the majority of buyers believe that a limited number of queries/time spent by authors on their queries is fair. We believe this too. We want to have a way to set buyers’ expectations on a reasonable/fair amount of support even if queries are within the definition of support. This might be through “Fair-use” guidelines or something similar. We consulted the same fifteen authors on this and we’re interested to hear your views on that too as part of the forum discussion coming in the next week.

Turnaround Times

As we saw in the survey, author and buyer expectations on turnaround times to respond to a support query are fairly well aligned. There will be no prescribed turnaround times but we want to give authors the ability to set expectations clearly with buyers. We’re still working on exactly how to do this but it will likely be in the form of a setting that authors show to buyers.

Support Tooling

In the surveys, 61% of ThemeForest authors, 40% of CodeCanyon authors and 63% of authors on both said they use a support system outside of Envato. From discussions, we understand these authors are generally well established in the way they use such systems.

While we are working on general on-site tooling like the vacations, teams and UX improvements we’ve recently released, we continue to see the biggest impact coming from the core model and more buyer clarity. Releasing the changes to the model as early as we can means that authors will start to really receive the benefits of a reduced support load and additional revenue as soon as possible.

While we are committed to making improvements to support tooling on Envato Market, our initial focus and effort will be on the model. We’ll be doing lots of planning and thinking around tooling as we go, and will keep you updated on those plans.

Why We’re Doing it This Way

We’re announcing now to give authors time to prepare, ask more questions and make changes to their portfolio if they wish.

As we mentioned last time, we’re capping support at 6 months because the ‘lifetime’ support that authors sometimes promise is not economically sustainable, and ultimately causes a lot of frustration for buyers and authors.

For most buyers, the first six months represents the time when most help is needed with installations and setup. That said, data we have from authors’ support systems shows that a year after putting an item on the marketplaces over 20% of support queries come from those who purchase the item more than 6 months ago and this grows as the item gets older. After six months, ongoing support really is above and beyond the original theme purchase, and should be treated as such.

Buyers paying for support extensions 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.

Our Next Steps

There is a lot for us to do to get ready for this and here is the list of things mentioned above that we said we’ll come back to you with shortly and some expectations on when you will hear from us:

  • Timelines for the start date – within the next 2 weeks
  • Pricing of support extensions – within the next 2 weeks
  • Forum discussion on the definition of support and fair/reasonable use to extend the work of the author sub-group  – next week

What Authors Will Need to Prepare

There’s lots to do to prepare, and you can expect more communications from the team, and progressed decisions on the start date and support extension pricing.

Broadly, all authors should:

  • Check 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
  • Think about which items you may choose not to support as we’ll allow you to make this selection before the start date
  • If you feel it’s necessary, adjust your theme and plugin portfolio to what you feel is sustainable to support
  • Ask any questions you have on our forum thread dedicated to this
  • Look out for more information about the upcoming changes in the forums and here on the blog

Clarity for Buyers and Authors on Item Support

As we said above, we are confident that this change will lead to a better outcome for buyers and authors on both ThemeForest and CodeCanyon, and believe that this new proposal makes appropriate adjustments from last time while still maintaining the benefits.

We know there will still be lots of discussion about the model as well as the things we’ve said we’ll come back to you on. We’ll be taking questions over in the forums.