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As WordPress approaches version 3.8 it is more popular than ever, with 3.7 reaching 4.8 million downloads in just a few weeks and WordPress.com is currently the 8th most visited website on the planet, it is seemingly unstoppable. I believe WordPress is now the most popular CMS ever with more and more people choosing it to run their personal and business sites, there is not many sites you couldn’t build with it.

Whole swathes of designers, writers, photographers, coders, restauranteurs and more professions now rely on it to power their websites. Along side that are all the people who are creating products to be used with WordPress; the theme designers, plugin creators, SAAS operators, the support staff, the teachers, bloggers, marketers and so on. I began to think, are we in the middle of a WordPress-based Gold Rush ? If so, who is powering this and how much longer will it go on for ?

So what is a Gold Rush ?

A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold deposits. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.

The term “Gold Rush” is generally used to indicate an area of commerce that is seeing huge growth with lots of people making money. Some recent examples are the when Apple introduced the App Store model and a lot of early programmers saw huge success and made a lot of money from their apps, helped by being there at the start. Even the internet itself was seen as a Gold Rush when people saw the amounts of money being generated online.

1

Life cycle of a gold rush

The rush is started by a discovery of placer gold made by an individual. At first the gold may be washed from the sand and gravel by individual miners with little training, using a gold pan or similar simple instrument. Once it is clear that the volume of gold-bearing sediment is larger than a few cubic metres, the placer miners will build rockers or sluice boxes, with which a small group can wash gold from the sediment many times faster than using gold pans.

So a Gold Rush is started when someone finds some initial gold and begins to mine it and make money from it. Then seeing this initial success, others join in who improve the methods of extracting the gold and begin to cash in. Sounds a little like the “premium” or commercial WordPress market which was started off by a few individuals who began to charge for WordPress themes.

Companies like WooThemes, StudioPress, Elegant Themes, Gravity Forms, iThemes, Press75 all started back around 2008 /2009 and were the pioneers of the commercial market when all most all themes and plugins were free to download. Seeing great success all of these companies have gone on to build large sustainable businesses in the WordPress eco-system. Many more theme and plugins companies have since been created ( including my own ThemeFurnace ). Companies like ThemeForest, Mojo Themes, Mint Themes, Tokokoo etc came along after the initial companies when it was proven that the market was there for premium products.

What to do to take advantage of it ?

Traditionally in a Gold Rush, a few larger companies do very well out of it, a lot of people fail and make nothing at all and then there are the people selling the tools which enable people to mine for gold, who do very well indeed. If you would like to take advantage of this current high in popularity of WordPress you could do very well by selling the tools to people wishing to use it. That is supplying themes, plugins and other products which are used by end-users, developers and designers.

Please bare in mind, just because I am labeling this a “Gold Rush” it doesn’t give you license to churn out crappy products in the hope of making a fast buck by surfing the wave of popularity. Having some integrity and building the very best products you can will serve you better in the long term as you build a reputation for good products and support.

I have talked a bit in the past about the various ways you can make money with WordPress if that is your chosen path, check out my posts on ways to make money with WordPress and running a WordPress SAAS.

How Long will It Last ?

That’s an interesting question, I do not see anything being able to challenge WordPress currently. There is the newly released Ghost which while looking like a nice blogging tool, the installation requirements, fact it is built in Javascript and the templating language will, I think, prevent it from real main-stream success. Tumblr has seen huge success and has no doubt taken a lot of bloggers away from WordPress because of it’s ease of use but it will never be used for business sites and is not really a proper CMS. Then we have older dinosaurs like Drupal and Joomla – unless they do something radical I cant see them ever challenging again. What do you think ? Do you see any “up and comers” challenging for WordPress’ crown in the future?

So the future, to me, looks very rosy indeed for WordPress and the path is clear if you want to earn a good living with it. I have been doing so for a few years now, I saw the potential with WordPress and having been making products for it since around 2010. I don’t think the market is near saturated yet either – new plugin and theme shops pop up all the time and seem to be doing very well. I do think it will be very hard for someone to build the next WooThemes or ElegantThemes as they are so entrenched but there is room for smaller and niche companies like EngineThemes and WPCasa who corner a vertical market.

I would say that WordPress will continue to see good growth for at least another 5 years which is a long time really in internet years, I wonder what it will look like then ? I wonder who the big players will be then ?

Let us know if you have any thoughts to share on this subject  …

 


Author:

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, a small internet company based in the UK. Kooc Media runs several high-profile websites including WPLift, ThemeFurnace and DesignersTalk.

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15 Comments

  1. I think what is difficult to know, maybe even impossible, is when the peak has been reached. Is WordPress going to continue to rise in popularity? The figures seem to suggest so. But it can’t sustain growth for ever.

    Let’s say you’re a company thinking of entering the theme space. You probably don’t want to invest significant capital into a project with a shelf-life of potentially just a few more years.

    What I’m trying to say is: everything looks rosy for WordPress now, but there is no way of knowing whether it will still be nearly as popular 5 years from now, so anyone investing in it is taking a risk. Maybe though I’m overestimating the size of it. Any decline may be steady and slow.

    • Oli

      Agreed, any decline will definately be slow giving any theme companies to pivot to a new platform so risk is very minimal I think.

  2. From my freelance web design-development viewpoint I’ve certainly noted a huge increase in work this year, unable to cope with demand. And others I sub contract to are also very busy, all trying to find more staff to cope with new site builds.

    I personally can’t see any risk factors on the horizon. Overall, the community is now well established and the platform quite robust. Everything a good developer needs. In the short term, growing pains will be an issue, but this is normal in business.

    I think most growth is not new websites, but upgrading the numerous, ineffective brochure-ware sites that get little or no traffic. WordPress technology gives small businesses more control of their online presence, more exposure, at a more affordable cost. Because of this, new work (and growth) most often comes via referrals, which are always the easiest sales with the biggest margins.

    It certainly is a gold rush form my perspective. Managing it is the key.

  3. This article reminded me of characters from one of my favorite television series, Deadwood. There were miners and then there was Seth Bullock and his partner Sol Star. They opened a hardware store in that community and later built a hotel there. That hotel is still in business.

  4. Interesting POV. Re: “just because I am labeling this a “Gold Rush” it doesn’t give you license to churn out crappy products in the hope of making a fast buck by surfing the wave of popularity.”

    …but you know this is going to happen…

    Or worse yet, you’re just going to get a bunch of people forking hard work and time invested to sell plugins and themes for less than the people that actually created them. We’re already seeing too much of this. It’s a challenge because it discourages deep investment that Charlie is talking about.

  5. That’s a great story, except it wasn’t ‘people’ who got rich selling tools, it was one man named Samuel Brannan. He also started the rush by printing up hand bills after promising to keep quiet when Sutter’s crew paid their church tithe to him and bought supplies, paying in gold.

    He also strongarmed other shop keepers he couldn’t buy outright, sent goon squads in long boats out to meet incoming ships before they could come to port and forced them to sell only to him.

    Ultimately his expansion into prostitution and drugs were even more lucrative, but he was such a lousy soul that despite becoming the first millionaire in California he ultimately died penniless, alone and broken.

    I agree that the future is bright, but I think we would do well to select our heroes a little more carefully.

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  11. I would say that WordPress will continue to see good growth for at least another 5 years which is a long time really in internet years, I wonder what it will look like then ? I wonder who the big players will be then ? I think. Good post

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