Thoughts, Policies, and Tips for WordPress Authors

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As many of you will probably know there’s been a few active threads lately around the marketing and promotion of multi-purpose themes and the use of multiple demos on ThemeForest. As this practice has caught on and the amount of demos authors are providing has increased, we understand this has raised some direct as well as underlying concerns around the state of multi-purpose themes on the market.

We appreciate your patience while we’ve evaluated existing and recent items and taken time to fully assess the overall situation. This topic and related threads that have come up touch on a lot of different issues, so I’m going to do my best to go through and address them one by one.

Theme “Bundles”

As you all know we do not currently allow “bundling” and selling of multiple different WordPress themes as one item. We do however allow variations that provide flexibility and versatility, including alternate layouts, alternate skins, and alternate demos that showcase theme features and functionality.

I think we can all agree that the power and capability of WordPress websites has evolved greatly since the beginning, with tons of experimentation and innovation by creative authors like yourselves that in many ways has redefined what a WordPress theme is and can be. And between shortcodes, theme options, page builders, use of the customizer, etc., WordPress theme items these days can have more flexibility than ever.

In a general sense, we feel the idea of providing multiple demos to showcase this flexibility is quite simply good marketing practice. For a multi-purpose theme with configurable options, mocking up different concepts using these available options saves buyers valuable setup time and helps them envision how the theme will fit their individual needs.

And while certain authors have focused at marketing this “multi-concept” functionality as something new and special, under the hood there’s really not much more going on. From a technical point of view, the item itself (the functionality, code, and structure that make it so flexible in the first place) is fundamentally the same, while the demo data in all it’s variations provides more of a skin on top.

For instance, it’s quite easy to change a corporate “Meet the Team” page/section, to “Meet the Chefs” for a food site, to “Meet the Couple” for a wedding site, to “Meet the Pastors” for a religious themed site. Swap out the photos and background images, switch fonts and color schemes, and it’s not much additional effort to mock up many different concepts in this way that feel like different sites but are built from the same flexible theme.

That being said, if your theme requires 100+ demos to showcase it effectively, you may want to reconsider its focus. Live previews should provide an engaging and informative user experience for buyers, not overwhelm them. This is not to say it can’t be done or suggest a specific maximum amount here, only to advocate thoughtfulness and purpose when going down this road. Of course, as an author the #1 goal should always be on the highest overall quality, not simply the most quantity.

Ultimately, we don’t believe it will benefit the community to restrict or dictate how authors are able to showcase their theme features in this way. All we can really do is work to encourage and ensure quality, best practices, promote new technologies and trends, and foster a market that grows stronger and better through these competitive forces.

Niche & Multi-purpose

We understand there is constant pressure to follow trends, and how it can often feel intimidating or potentially discouraging in this extremely competitive and multi-purpose dominated industry.

However we believe there is lots of opportunity and activity in the niche theme area and are fully committed to its success as well. Everything from real estate, to education, to church themes, to the open-ended Microniche “Most Wanted” contest we just wrapped up at the end of the year, where the top 10 themes from the event have already shared in over $350K in total prizes and earnings so far.

There are many successful and innovative niche themes on the market, with more appearing every day, and essentially infinite future potential in this area to build themes that serve one special purpose and and serve it really well. While some of the top multi-purpose themes have redefined success on a whole new level, opportunity for niche themes is certainly alive and well on the market.

What Buyers Really Want

Well, as we’ve seen from discussions over on the forums, there are lots of different buyers who want lots of different things. Some buyers want flexibility or future proofing for themselves or clients. Some buyers will have the need to change many settings and options, and some won’t. Some buyers want super flexible code they can easily modify and extend themselves, and others don’t ever want to see or touch a line of HTML or CSS (much less PHP).

Ultimately what most buyers really want is to be able to get to a finished end product as quickly and effectively as possible. Niche themes with a focused purpose are of course inherently great at doing this, and ready-to-go demo setups serve to help multi-purpose buyers in this way as well. The more one can do to help buyers in this way the better, be it a well thought out live demo experience, detailed help files and video tutorials, well organized and commented code, and more.

Overall, we believe in creating a marketplace where buyers can find and choose whatever they may need, and where authors have the freedom to innovate and find creative ways to effectively meet those needs.

You all are the driving creative force here, and while we strive to maintain a level playing field and uphold and improve quality, we don’t ever want to place arbitrary limitations to stand in your way as a designer, developer or business, or dictate what buyers should or shouldn’t want. That’s for free market factors as well as you yourselves as authors to decide.

Marketing Your Items

I think we can all agree here that effectively demonstrating and showcasing your item is key to its success. And while it’s easy to feel intimidated by popular trends and pressure to follow suit, we encourage everyone to take the approach that works best for them and their items. I think it’s fair to say that many of the top selling multi-purpose themes aren’t just doing well simply because they have X number of demos or Y available fonts or features — they also happen to be really, really good at marketing and presenting their items!

There have been lots of great points and compelling arguments made over in the forums on why niche themes can often be better than multi-purpose ones. So why not tell buyers about them on your item pages, and turn them into your own strengths and selling points? Really showcase how your items can save time, are easy to use, and lightning fast to load. Provide code samples, screenshots of your file organization, and make an engaging live preview with real information and contextual tips rather than simple placeholder copy. Where one item may boast “1000 included fonts”, perhaps simply highlight how you’ve hand-picked 10 of the best font combinations as a professional designer to go with the theme’s unique style and purpose. Not only can you help your theme stand out in this way, you can all collectively inspire and educate buyers and positively work to shift trends in the direction you as a community want them to go.

Including Plugins

This is a somewhat separate issue to the multi-purpose theme / multiple-demo focus of this post, but I’ll touch on it here as a number of authors have raised it recently as well.

Looking at the way things are done currently, in general we fundamentally agree that there is room for improvement, be it in mitigating security issues here, or the possibility of looking into an alternate revenue sharing model in the future. Safe to say these are complex to solve and will take some time to change in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, we want to make it clear that we do not simply allow including plugins with a theme simply for the sake of it. An author cannot simply include 20+ premium plugins solely to inflate perceived value. Any/all included functionality in an item (be it from a premium plugin or not) will be assessed and should serve a clear and useful purpose with respect to the overall item.

We also want to make it clear that as per the license terms, use of any included plugins are only allowed within the specific theme it came with. It is not permitted to use a plugin packaged within a specific theme item either in a standalone way or with any other theme. Clause 9 of our license clearly states:

Although you can modify the Item and therefore delete unwanted components before creating your single End Product, you can’t extract and use a single component of an Item on a stand-alone basis.For example: You license a website theme containing icons. You can delete unwanted icons from the theme. But you can’t extract an icon to use outside of the theme.

Along with further explanation here in our licensing FAQ as well. Should a buyer wish to use a plugin standalone or in another theme, or receive direct updates and developer support for it, they must license the plugin on its own.

At the moment, it is ultimately the responsibility of the theme author to maintain compatibility, updates, and working condition of all included components, regardless of whether they are licensed from a 3rd party or developed in-house. Should a major issue arise with any included component, the theme author risks item disablement, so it is in their best interest make sure everything is always up-to-date and in good working order (or alternatively find ways to provide out-of-the-box compatibility without actually including the plugin itself).

As mentioned, we are currently looking into ways to further reduce the impact of potential security issues that can arise here as well. We’ll also be exploring additional guidelines around incorporating plugins to provide additional clarity and expectations on this matter.

Next Steps

Categorization

We agree that creating a new subcategory specifically for multi-purpose WordPress themes seems like a positive step forward, and you can expect to see this go live early this year.

Pricing

For commercial reasons, while we are happy to receive general feedback on pricing, we are not able to discuss specific price points, and pricing as a whole remains entirely Envato’s responsibility. Safe to say, we are always monitoring and evaluating pricing and looking for opportunities to maximize earnings potential for the community.

While there is always the possibility for prices to change here for the right reasons (taking into account the numerous internal and external market factors), we’d never simply raise prices on items purely to make it easier for one group of authors to compete. That’s simply not a viable long-term pricing strategy.

Quality

We’ll continue promoting quality standards, and further exploring how they can specifically influence multi-purpose theme development in a positive way. The Phase 2 WordPress requirements will do a great deal to help both here and in general, which you can expect to see launch sometime this upcoming year.

Clarity

It’s apparent from the recent forum threads that there are some issues and policies that need additional clarification. We’re already working to address and clarify issues around general “item bundling” policy across ThemeForest, and establishing better guidelines for authors around plugin integration as well as related security and licensing concerns in the near future.

Opportunities for Exposure

We regularly feature innovative niche themes on the homepage, Market Blog, email newsletters, and social media channels, and there are a good number of non-multi-purpose themes currently on the Popular Files page as well. We plan to continue looking at how to create more opportunities like this for the entire community, such as the “Top New Files” menu link and homepage button we recently added, and more.

Gathering Information

In order to better understand how themes are using plugins for future planning around security, pricing, discovery, and other general policies, we also plan to start collecting specific information on included 3rd party plugins within the item metadata. We’re still finalizing how exactly this will work, but you can expect to see an update on this sometime soon.

TL;DR

Yeah, it’s a long post, but if you’re a ThemeForest author you should probably read it :). And feel free to join the conversation over on the forums.