I have been writing on WPLift most days since 2010 publishing over 800 posts in that time, I also run my own premium theme company ThemeFurnace, so it has been my job pretty much for 5 years now to stay on top of the goings on in WordPress. I have noticed trends come and go - at the start, when premium WordPress themes were new, the trend was for magazine style themes as there wasn't hardly any available for free in the WordPress directory - they were mostly blogging themes.
Magazine themes allowed people to run more sophisticated blogs and news portals with more content than a traditional blog layout would allow. I would say we then moved on to business and portfolio style themes as WordPress developed into more of a CMS than just a blogging tool - people could now use it to power their corporate sites and agencies and freelancers used it for their portfolio websites.
In the past year we have moved into the realm of "Multi-Purpose" themes, which pack a lot of different options into one theme. Similar to frameworks these types of themes can be configured for many different purposes, you can use the same theme to create a portfolio, eCommerce site, business site or blog by playing with the theme options panel. At the start, these themes just packed all the functionality into the theme itself but then they started to bundle plugins to handle this functionality - favorite bundled plugins include the Visual Composer and Layer slider.
The proliferation of these types of themes is undoubtedly down to ThemeForest. The most popular marketplace for purchasing WordPress themes is a monster in the WordPress theme world, it is the 88th most trafficked website online and they have 31 authors who have sold a million dollars worth or products. At the time of writing they have just under 20,000 themes and templates for sale.
Some more stats about the site :
- 50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $1,000 in a month.
- 25% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $2,500 in a month.
- 15% of WordPress themes have made at least $5,000 in a month.
- 7% have made at least $7,500 in a month.
- 5% have made at least $10,000 in a month.
If you take a look at their most popular WordPress themes, you will see the list dominated by these large multi-purpose themes. Their number one seller is Avada, which has sold 151,830 copies, which for a $58 theme brings the revenue to $8,806,140 which is split between the author and Envato. $8 million dollars for a single theme is incredible really and goes to demonstrate just how popular these type of themes are.
There has been a lot of criticism in the past for ThemeForest over the code quality of their themes, Personally I have looked at a lot of themes from there and also purchased a fair few - some are terrible and some have been great, but that's what you get with a marketplace where anyone can submit a theme. They did take steps to improve the code a while ago with the introduction of stricter review guidelines and just this week it was announced that Emil Uzelac, a well respected theme reviewer from the WordPress directory and ThemeReview.co had joined the review team there which should really help improve standards from now on.
So Why Does the Market want these types of themes ?
In the past to have your own website you had two options - you learnt how to code HTML and CSS and built yourself a website, or you paid someone to do it for you. As WordPress has gained popularity which can be partly put down to how easy it is to install and use, this has given rise to a lot of people who are building their own websites with no coding knowledge - they can follow instructions to install WordPress and a theme, then use the theme options panel to customize it to their liking without having to touch any code. There is also another type of user, let's call them "Theme Configurers" and they offer website creation services where they will take a pre-made WordPress theme and develop a website for their customers using the built-in tools. Often this type of user will not have in-depth knowledge of CSS and HTML either but they are quite proficient with WordPress and can provide perfectly serviceable websites using the theme's tools.
These two types of theme buyers like the multi-purpose style themes as it gives them lots of customization options so they can build different types of websites and tailor them to the website's requirements. When done properly, you can get a very professional look if the theme is well designed - customizing the colors, uploading logos, building custom pages and so on.
Another reason why I think these themes are popular is because if you buy a simpler theme with a very specific look, there could be many other sites which look the same with little tweaks here and there - with the larger themes with more options, the amount of different looks you can achieve is greater so you are more likely to build a unique site.
The final thing which I think helps sell these themes is the sales pages themselves. The product listing pages for these themes are all really long and cram so many features and freebies into them that they make themselves seem like such a bargain - Long Sales pages are proven to work. Overwhelming the reader with details, social proof, numerous free bundled plugins, customer testimonials and more all create the desire for the product and combined with the low sales price on ThemeForest ( most large themes are $58 ) they can seem like an amazing deal compared to a smaller focused theme for the same price point. Check out the Avada Sales page, its 4MB in size and will take you a lunch break to read it all!
So what are my thoughts on them ?
So lets just say it, I am not a fan. I can appreciate quite the undertaking it must be to construct a theme like this - the coding that goes into them and the sheer amount of time and skill it must take to create them is incredible and the money that one such successful theme can generate can sustain a whole business or team of developers. I also appreciate that the market dictates what it wants and the vast number of customers that these themes have means that they are hugely in demand.
Personally I prefer the simple approach to theme building - I want my themes to be light, use built-in WordPress features with the odd extra plugin for functionality and I like to do any simple editing through the Customizer or by creating a child theme and tweaking the code. I have been building websites for years though, so delving into code comes naturally for me so I appreciate that these themes do fill a purpose for people not comfortable doing that.
This is the approach I have taken when building my themes for ThemeFurnace and there are many other examples of developers doing the same, one example is Mike McAlister who releases themes at Array, his themes are beautiful and so simple to use, these are the only types of themes that I would ever use.
Ultimately there is room for both types of WordPress theme and which you choose comes down to personal preference and ability level, I do tend to hope we will see something else emerge soon as the rush of adding more and more features into themes is not sustainable in the long term, nor do I believe it is helpful to the future long term growth of WordPress.
What do you think about Multi-Purpose themes? Where do you see the themes business headed next? Let us know in the comments.