This morning I've received an email from Envato. It's an announcement that starting next week Envato will include WordPress products in their annual subscription plan at Envato Elements. This certainly is great news for Envato and a huge upgrade to Elements. However, it also may be seen as a new highlight in the race to the bottom within the WordPress economy. It will be interesting to see how this will affect sales on ThemeForest on the long run.
What is Envato Elements?
In 2016 Envato, the company behind ThemeForest, CodeCanyon and other popular marketplaces for digital products, introduced Envato Elements. It's a subscription service where customers can download unlimited digital products like stock photos, fonts and other assets for a single monthly fee. Customers pay as little as $29 / month to have instant access to thousands of digital products. They also can cancel their subscription at any time.
While this business model seems fine for non-support intensive products like stock photos, Envato now starts to add software products like WordPress themes and plugins. It's not clear yet how support will be handled for these products. But in their announcement in June 2017 Envato said that support won't be available for products delivered through Envato Elements. It's questionable if customers will understand why they don't have support included for their purchased product. This may even lead to frustration and negative PR for the affected theme or plugin authors.
How will this change affect authors on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon?
It's probably too early to tell how this will affect the sales on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon. However, when checking the feedback on the announcement in June, many theme and plugin authors seem to be deeply concerned. In my interview at Indie Hackers a while ago, I already stated that it may not be a reliable business strategy to make your business dependent on 3rd party marketplaces. This now seems to be more true than ever before.
We're neither selling our WordPress themes on ThemeForest nor on Envato Elements. Therefore, I can't tell if it's still worth it. However, I've spoken with quite a lot of ThemeForest authors recently and most of them are suffering from declining sales. This is not only because of the saturated market environment, but also because of the fact that Envato keeps introducing changes which not always seem to be in the best interest of their authors and contributors.
Some authors at Envato are also complaining about the fact that since Envato Elements has been introduced, Envato is heavily promoting it with banners on top of their popular marketplaces like ThemeForest. This actively drives customers away from ThemeForest or else, in favor of Envato Elements. Even the affiliate program for Envato Elements is separate. That means the millions of online marketers who are driving traffic to Envato for years, won't get commission if customers go for Elements, unless they sign up for Elements and change their affiliate links.
Question: Is Envato actively killing their marketplaces in favor of Envato Elements?
How will this affect the WordPress economy?
We've been around for quite some years now and the market environment definitely has changed a lot. Scott Bolinger recently published a great post on Post Status about why the WordPress product market is completely different now. At least when it comes to WordPress themes, the market is heavily crowded and saturated. It has become extremely time consuming and expensive to market a WordPress theme in order to attract a decent number of users.
On the other hand large corporations like Automattic, Envato or else are treating WordPress themes like a commodity which are available at very low cost. At the same time they're making millions with their own products and subscription services. I'm not sure if this is adequate if you consider the huge amount of time and efforts it takes to develop, maintain and support a reliable WordPress theme on the long run. Some would argue that rather than having a race to the bottom, prices need to increase to make it a fair market environment for everyone.
Sell off of WordPress theme and plugin authors
There seems to be a trend to sell off WordPress theme and plugin authors in favor of 3rd party monthly subscription services offered by large corporations. A recent example was Automattic offering unlimited themes as monthly subscription in Jetpack and now Envato offering basically everything as unlimited download at low cost.
While many independent developers are having a hard time to convince customers that developers need to be paid adequately and that product development, support and maintenance is highly time consuming, others are doing all they can to educate customers that WordPress products are cheap and not worth paying a decent amount.
It seems many small and independent WordPress businesses will probably soon have a hard time to succeed. “Winter is coming”, not only because it's actually the time of the year. It's also due to the fact that the market environment is fundamentally changing. There is a saturated market environment, large corporations have started doing aggressive marketing at the expense of those who made them large and then there is the controversial Gutenberg project, which made quite a lot of developers question the future of WordPress as a professional CMS.
Where do you see the WordPress economy in 3-5 years?
How do you feel about these changes? It would be interesting to read how you're doing, especially if you're a WordPress theme or plugin author who's been around for a couple of years. Do you feel that the market environment has changed? What do you think of Envato Elements including WordPress products? How do you see the WordPress economy affected by large corporations or Gutenberg? I would love to discuss this with you in the comments.