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Theme Forest Analysis: Fall, 2014

There have been a lot of concerns about the quality of premium website themes, ranging from quality to support to long-term maintenance by designers. Running our website theme search engine, we have seen major patterns in the industry. Through this theme research, we have noticed major changes in the market for premium website themes.

At least for themes published on Theme Forest we are hopeful that the average quality will improve. We even have some statistical evidence to suggest that it might!

Content management systems, like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are immensely popular for building and maintaining websites. While their primary function is to provide an easy way to manage content, these CMSs also provide a defined structure for website design. This standardization makes sharing website designs both possible and much easier to implement.

While many designers for large businesses and those building highly-customized websites prefer to start from scratch, or use a simple base template, many designers building for smaller businesses or websites on lower budgets prefer to use a pre-built theme. These website themes, when well produced and supported, can make building a website for a client quicker and easier. A number of marketplaces sell or share these themes, the largest of which is Theme Forest.

On Theme Forest, theme designers are responsible for maintaining and supporting their themes. While Envato, owners of Theme Forest, verify the integrity of themes initially, the long-term quality of themes is primarily dependent upon the theme’s author, especially after purchase. Although many themes have wonderful support and have been updated for over a year, others, especially those that are less profitable, tend to be foregone and support lapses.

If support disappears when a theme’s users still need it, or if the support isn’t helpful enough in the first place, the perceived reliability and overall quality of the entire marketplace diminishes, not just for the theme but for premium website themes in general. This affects both for the theme’s user and through word-of-mouth to whomever they tell about their negative experience.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance that a marketplace, especially one so dependent upon user opinion and reviews, maintains the quality of themes, not just before and during purchase, but afterward too. The culmination of our evidence suggests that Theme Forest may (hopefully) be working to improve the overall quality of website themes.

Number of website themes

The number of themes is a base indicator of the amount usage and interest in the marketplace. When themes are published on Theme Forest, this generally indicates that theme producers expect profitability for their themes, and they are choosing to use Theme Forest for their publications.

The number of new website themes published on each month through Theme Forest
Figure 1: A graph of the number of new, active themes published each month on the Theme Forest marketplace. Between July 2012 and April 2014, the number of themes increased by 21 themes per month, indicated by the green, dashed line. However, from May to August 2014, the number of themes decreased by 8.7 themes per month, indicated by the red, dashed line.

The number of themes published per month on Theme Forest has changed dramatically around May 2014. Before May, the number of themes grew by an average of approximately 21 themes per month. Afterward, the number of themes dropped by 25%, from 724 themes in April to 525 themes in May. The number of themes has been dropping by an average of 8.7 themes per month every month since May. This indicates that the number of themes published monthly, although initially increasing at a substantial rate, is now decreasing.

Average Price per Theme:

Theme price is another bas indication of the marketplace. It is usually correlated with the amount of work that goes into a theme, as well as the expected demand for a theme type and how much theme producers expect that respective purchasers will be willing to pay.

The average price of new website themes available through Theme Forest per month
Figure 2: During the entire time period examined, from July 2012 to August 2014, the average price of active themes published on Theme Forest (green line) increased linearly by approximately 12.3% per year (green, dashed line).

While the number of themes experienced a change around May 2014, the average price per theme did not. The average price has increased linearly by about $2.52 annually, or about 12.3% per year. This suggests that though the rate of theme publication has changed significantly, the change in price has not been affected by this shift.

Table 1: A summary of the major price points, and their replacements or status, whether they have remained constant over the time period or are emerging.
Initial Price Point Replacement Price Point / Status
$10 $14
$16 $18 & $19
$43 Constant
$48 Constant
$58 Emerging
$69 Emerging
$84 Emerging

Theme prices tend to congregate around a small number of values. The themes sold tend to gravitate toward either lower priced themes below $20 and higher priced themes above $40. At the lower end, prices were sold for around $10 and $16. These have been largely replaced with the $14 and $18/$19 price points respectively. The percentage of themes sold at $43 and $48 has remained relatively constant. Most noticeably though, at the higher end, there are a larger percentage of themes sold at $58, $69, and $84. These are the primary emerging price points, with newer higher-end themes sold around this range. These price points have largely accounted for the consistent increase in theme prices.

Number of Authors:

Another measure of the activity of the marketplace is the number of authors that publish at least one theme during a month. Most authors will not produce a theme every month. However, when taken in aggregate, the number of active authors on a monthly basis can give an indication of how many publishers are accepted into, or choose to use, the marketplace.

The number of authors who publish at least one theme per month on Theme Forest
Figure 3: A graph of the number of authors who publish at least one new website theme on Theme Forest, separated monthly (blue line).

The number of active authors per month has followed a similar trend to the number of themes published, although not as dramatically. Around May 2014, the number of active authors dropped by 13%. Prior to May 2014, the number of authors increased linearly at a rate of about 26 authors to a peak of 993 authors in May 2014. After May, the number of active authors dropped to an estimated average of 864.4 authors and remained relatively constant, decreasing at a rate of 0.3 authors/month.

Average Author Experience:

While certainly not always the case, more of the themes that are highly profitable tend to have long-term support, funded by the theme sales. These designers then often produce additional themes, adding to their experience. As the amount of experience decreases, the average reliability that the themes will be supported diminishes. Because of this author experience can be a loosely correlated with theme quality.

Proportions of author experience, evaluated monthly and separated
Figure 4: The proportions of the experience level of authors who publish at least one website theme per month. The percentage of first theme is shown in red, the percentage of those who have published between 2-10 themes are shown in green, and the proportion of authors who have published more than 10 themes are shown in blue.
Table 2: the proportion of author experience has been increasing, with the percentage of first-time authors and authors who have previously published between 2-10 themes decreasing, while the percentage of authors publishing more than 10 themes has been increasing.
Author Experience Monthly Estimated Change in Percentage of Total
First Theme -0.40%/month
2-10 Themes -0.61%/month
>10 Themes +1.01%/month

As of August, 2014, a majority of theme publishers on Theme Forest have published at least 10 themes. Both the proportion of the number of new authors publishing their first theme and the proportion of authors publishing between their 2nd and 10th themes have been decreasing at a linear rate. The proportion of authors who have published at more than 10 themes first exceeded 50% of the total active authors in July 2014, and continues increasing by about 1% per month.

Market Consolidation:

Taken together, these factors indicate market consolidation. Market consolidation is where the number of actors in a market decreases and the average price increases. This tends to leave the larger, more experienced, and more profitable members still in the market. It also decreases the proportion of newer entrants into the marketplace. Often, this will also decrease the number of new products available in a market, leaving the most profitable items as produced by the larger market players.

This phenomenon largely parallels the recent activity in Theme Forest. The number of active members in the marketplace has decreased while the average experience has increased. At the same time, the number of themes has decreased while the average price continues to rise.

Possible Causes:

There are multiple possible causes for this trend:

Market-induced Consolidation:

A potential cause of this market consolidation are market forces outside the direct influence of Theme Forest. Prospective purchasers of website themes could be looking for higher quality themes, especially from publishers who have a record of good support, and for themes that are popular with higher ratings. This would increase the average quality expected by customers for themes on the marketplace. As a direct result, the quality requirements for profitable themes would gradually increase.

As the necessary quality increases, the amount of resources, work, and effort would likely increase too. These would raise the cost per theme, which would in turn raise the price for themes, and the major price points would increase to match.

Additionally, as quality expectations increase for themes, the amount of skill required to produce the themes would increase. This could decrease the number of new authors with the skill required to produce themes. The average experience of theme authors would then increase.

Artificially-induced Consolidation Intended to Improve Theme Quality:

The profitability, longevity, and long-term stability of Theme Forest depends upon the quality of the themes available through the marketplace, and upon customers’ perceptions of the themes. Because of this, Envato could be choosing to artificially improve the quality of new themes, resulting in market consolidation.

An increase in theme quality requirements could very easily decrease the number of new themes published each month. Themes could take longer to produce, more work to verify, and fewer themes might not meet the new requirements. An increase in the quality of website themes, as well as a rise in their expected quality, could also lead to a gradual rise in the price of themes.

As fewer themes are produced, fewer authors might successfully publish their themes for sale, on average decreasing the number of active authors per month. Also, the authors that can afford to add extra to their themes, and those that are already prepared for the quality requirements, would likely publish more themes. These are usually the more experienced authors.

Authors Spending More Time on Older Themes

Another possibility is that existing authors could be spending more time maintaining and improving their existing themes, instead of just improving their older ones. This would be connected to market-induced industry consolidation, and a result of it, but distinctly separate.

Under this scenario: the number of themes would decrease, the number of active authors publishing a new theme on a monthly basis would decrease, and the price for themes would increase too. However, it would not directly cause the increase in average author experience. It could help accelerate it though as theme quality would increase, increasing quality expectations and raising overall standards.

This could potentially indicate that the quality of website themes is increasing, but more importantly that more theme authors are working improve the quality of their long-term support. Unfortunately, we don’t have direct evidence for this, only indirect indications.

What This Means

Hopefully, this empirical evidence suggests that Theme Forest may be working to improve the overall average quality of premium website themes on their site.

If expectations and perceptions of premium theme quality do increase, it would likely be beneficial to the largest theme companies. However, it would likely be most beneficial to smaller and starting theme designers. Customers naturally gravitate toward popular, tested, and proven products, like the most popular themes on the marketplace. However, with increased trust in the market as a whole, customers may be more willing to try less prolific theme producers, or themes that aren’t as popular.

For additional information about the research, please visit our Fall 2014 Theme Forest Analysis Report.

The Future

We will continue to monitor the website theme industry for trends, including consolidation within Theme Forest and the rest of the website industry. To get our new research when it comes out, and to keep up with the latest trends in the website design industry, please sign up using the box below, or follow us via RSS or social media. We will send you an email, or publish a link to our research to let you know!

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