Theme Shop or Theme Marketplace?

Let us say, you have started creating themes for WordPress users. All your designs and files are in order, you have spent hours coding and working with CSS, your PHP skills are exemplary. You are all set to offer premium themes to the world and watch your bank account grow overnight.

Question is, how do you go about selling your WordPress themes? Should you go solo, start your own theme shop or club, or should you rely on marketplaces such as Envato’s ThemeForest? At the end of the day, if you fail to market and sell your themes properly, all your hard-work will just go down the drain. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?

In this article, we shall assess the merits and demerits of having your own theme club or shop, as opposed to selling via theme marketplaces.

Starting A Theme Shop

This is one of the most obvious, and probably the more complicated method of selling your WordPress themes. You can either start a mini shop and offer themes from your personal website, or you can go full-fledged mano-a-mano mode, and opt for a theme club membership model.

Examples: WooThemes, Elegant Themes, Graph Paper Press, and several others.

woothemes screeshot of homepage

The Merits
  1. There are no intermediaries involved. Each time you make a sale, the entire profit is yours to keep.
  2. You can take good steps towards marketing and branding, thereby giving your business a more professional look.
  3. You are the master in this case; you decide the pricing, you decide when to sell, what to sell, and so on. There are no marketplace guidelines hanging like a sword right above your head.
  4. Naturally, in your shop, you have absolute control over issues such as licenses. There are no split licenses involved — you can decide your own refund policy, your support mechanism, etc.
The Demerits
  1. Starting a theme shop involves its own share of hassles. Not only do you have to take care of issues such as a reliable web hosting package and website management, you also have to deal with sales and eCommerce functionality, etc. All of this means that time which you would otherwise spend on creating themes is devoted here.
  2. You need to have strong marketing skills and technical abilities if you want your WordPress theme shop to do well and be a success. There is hardly any shortcut to it: if you want people to notice your theme shop and take it seriously, you will have to take appropriate steps for the same.
  3. The WordPress theme business is extraordinarily crowded nowadays. You have several big and small names out there who offer amazing premium WordPress themes. Making yourself known and ensuring proper visibility for your relatively new theme shop can be a big challenge.

Opting For A Marketplace

There are several theme marketplaces out there which let you sell your WordPress themes to clients and customers all around the world. In fact, there have been numerous success stories of theme authors who earn millions simply by selling WordPress themes via such marketplaces.

Examples: ThemeForest, Creative Market, Mojo Marketplace, among others.

themeforest screenshot of homepage

The Merits
  1. A marketplace takes care of issues such as publicity and marketing, so if such concepts are not your strong areas, you can perform well at a marketplace as opposed to starting your own theme shop.
  2. Similarly, a theme marketplace will manage eCommerce setup, web hosting and other related menaces, thereby enabling you to focus entirely on theme development.
  3. Every major theme marketplace has a good number of audience — there are always buyers waiting over there, so all you need to do is offer them a good theme, and you will be profitable. You will not need to worry about making yourself known, getting publicity for your theme shop and other issues, because rest assured, in a marketplace, if your work is good, you will have an audience.
The Demerits
  1. You will have to share a portion of your profits with the marketplace. At some marketplaces, it might be as high as 70%, whereas on others, it might be simply 5% or 10%. In any case, you will not get the entire 100% of your sale proceeds.
  2. All marketplaces offer limited control options, as opposed to having your own theme shop. Such control issues can arise in the form of licensing terms, selling price, refund policy, and so on.

What About A Hybrid Solution?

There is a middle path too — you can opt for a marketplace, and also choose to sell your themes via your own theme shop. Most of the marketplaces offer a non-exclusivity model nowadays which allows you to sell your themes elsewhere as well. Of course, the profit margin of sales made via the marketplace in such non-exclusive cases goes down, but you can make up for such loss in profit by selling the theme on your own website and retaining 100% of the sales.

There is another option as well, which basically means you can sell one theme on a marketplace, and another using your own theme shop. This way, your profit margin is unaffected, and you also have control over the other themes in your theme shop.

Some Suggestive Examples

The representative examples of theme shops or theme clubs are plenty. However, when it comes to selling via marketplaces, perhaps a big success story is that of A J Clark, who has been offering his themes via marketplaces such as ThemeForest and Creative Market for quite some time now. There are a good number of free themes on his own website, and the premium ones, even though they are mentioned on the website along with a description of features and a screenshot, can be bought via ThemeForest. Clark’s method of implementing marketplace sales on one’s own website is par excellence, and if you are just starting out with your theme business, you should definitely consider taking a look at his model.

When it comes to hybrid solutions, that is selling both on your own website and via marketplaces, we can take up the case ofObox Design, who have publicly accepted that selling via marketplaces is a good choice. Apart from offering themes on their own website, Obox also sell at marketplaces such as ThemeForest.

screenshot of mojo themes and elegant homepage wordpress theme

Along similar lines, several other providers too follow the hybrid model. For instance, we have Elegant Themes, offering WordPress themes to their own club members and also selling such themes over at Mojo Marketplace. Customers, be they club members or marketplace buyers, get the same privileges in terms of support and upgrades.

Conclusion

Until few months ago, marketplaces such as ThemeForest and Mojo Marketplace (then Mojo Themes) did not offer GPL as a licensing option, and their split license came under its good share of criticism from the WordPress community, to the extent that many marketplace sellers were barred from attending WordCamps. However, all of that has changed now, and irrespective of where you sell, you can opt for GPL as a licensing model.

Having your own theme shop or opting for a marketplace — both these options have their own share of pros and cons. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how much control you want over your themes, where your stronger areas lie, and how much time you will be able to invest in your business. If you are doubtful about your own marketing skills, do not wish to deal with headaches such as web hosting issues and eCommerce solutions, and are unsure whether your theme shop will be able to catch the eye of potential buyers, you should by all means opt for a theme marketplace. If, however, you seek absolute control over your themes and do not wish to share your profits with an intermediary, having your own theme shop will probably be a better idea. Of course, you can always try the hybrid model to see which of the two options converts well for you in terms of sales!

What are your thoughts? Are you running a theme shop of your own? Or are you selling your WordPress themes via marketplaces? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!

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