An Open Letter to Envato

An author’s views on current and forthcoming marketplace issues.

This will be a long read, so bare with me.

I’ll start by saying that I am one of the authors on Envato’s ThemeForest marketplace and while I’ve been around the marketplace for 5 years now, I’ve never decided to make a full switch to a full time income from Envato’s marketplace. One of the reasons for not doing so is the fact that while the promise of good earning exists, the marketplace is too volatile and its rules change with an astounding ease without actually taking into account the community’s needs or feedback. Thus, I can’t allow my full income to depend on a sort of unstable third-party.

During these past 5 years I’ve experienced first hand the changes, both technical and in attitude that Envato has implemented on its markets and lately, these changes are making a huge impact on authors and I’m afraid that only for the worse. This is the reason why I’m writing this Open Letter to Envato, Envato’s community staff and Envato’s CEO & Cofounder, Collis Ta’eed. Let’s dig in!

Issue 1: How Envato Treats its Community

Collis Ta’eed, Envato CEO on Brand Positioning & Promise

“We always have the interest of the community in mind.” sounds like a nice creed and self imposed guideline to follow, but where does it actually stand when out in the marketplace wilderness? When confronted against the actual community, the forums, the authors and even the buyers at times, this creed leaves a bad taste in authors’ mouths as they feel they are in no way engaged into the decisions and changes of the marketplace they have to trust with their income, income that a lot of times means their only way of making a living.

Throughout the announcement topics on the Envato forums authors are dismissed with topic locks (for fast burying like the topic presenting this exact letter) and/or staff replies like:

“We’re reading your comments. We care about you. We are listening.” and yet, the continuation of these staff replies barely suggests that they are only doing crowd-control, at times even ignorant, in order to come up with ways to justify and still implement changes that are bashed and receive negative feedback from the majority of the involved community.

Trouble is every time Envato listens, nothing happens. Every time Envato has been confronted with a mini-revolution in the community, they’ve kept quiet and moved forward with their original decision and only later came back to “adjust” some of the tiny and utterly irrelevant issues with their concept, like fixing line-height and font-sizes. Wrong approach.

What you don’t realize Envato is that your authors are becoming more and more vocal. They are becoming more and more dissatisfied with your corporative approach to a product that is nothing more than A MARKETPLACE. We are not YOUR authors. We are not YOUR employees. And authors have embraced and raised Envato beyond your wildest dreams because they felt like they were part of a community of kindred spirits, helping each other and making at least some extra cash if not a living by putting their creativity at work — this being something that allowed many to step out of the daily job routine. I myself used my Envato projects to evade the “creative routine” a daily job comes with.

It’s time you actually LISTEN to your community Envato, stop the announcements and start the dialogue!

Issue 2: Mandatory Support

On August 25th, Envato’s CEO Collis Ta’eed published this post highlighting essential changes in the authors’ support system and requirements. The post, or better, yet another announcement of unstoppable future changes, sparked about 60 pages of community debate in 2 days time, with most replies being from moderately against to highly against the proposed model.

The reality is that the majority of authors do offer support and do so on their own terms, on their own time and on their own money and in a dirt-cheap products marketplace, support cannot be done or included in any other way. There is absolutely no way that this change coming from Envato is decent or considering. Masked under the interest for the buyers’ needs for a more stable and predictable marketplace with a hint of “there’s more money in it for the authors”, Envato looks like they are only finding a new way to make money for themselves. I’ll explain.

Envato is a marketplace that sells micro-stock items. Unlike their child, Envato Studio, it sells products, not services. My ability to offer support is actually a service that takes time and skill. Extra time and extra skill. With the current announcement highlights, each author will be forced to pack 6 months of free support into the same dirt-cheap price of templates that are only sustainable through high-volume sales. Yet, a high number of support hours aren’t justifiable through potential high-volume sales.

No. You cannot pack my time, mandatory, in that low price you’re selling my items on. It’s against the CORE MODEL of the Envato marketplace, against of what drove people to your website and made them create so many beautiful products that bring you $200,000-$300,000 pre-tax sales value daily to your bank account. And don’t tell me this can help me by encouraging me to support/update/maintain my items on longer spans of time. It doesn’t. If you pack 6 months of free support within the template price, those 6 months are more than enough to offer all the support a customer needs, and thus, after the 6 months have passed no one will buy support packs, except maybe some random person that never actually got to use the template in the first 6 months and now he lost the support time.

With the new rules, support WILL be abused.

And Envato, please stop talking from books. Stop pushing numbers like 20% of customers actually resort to support. It’s irrelevant. The number is so small because they know that they can be rejected if asking out of scope questions or simply harass or blackmail authors. Once you release this into the wild, more and more people will have a go at it for even the stupidest reasons. Why? Because they can and they will feel entitled to.

Also Envato, seriously, how can you actually impose a rule like 72 hours reply time when your own forums are filled with topics like:

Or when the only way to get a quicker response from you is to tweet you, and thus taking a private situation to a public place to which you react probably because you don’t want dirty laundry in public. This kind of abuse of your authors’ lives and time while you don’t set any kind of good example yourself is mind boggling.

You definitely need to reconsider this highly sensitive topic and take it to your authors, unlike other times when you decided to ignore their requests (search engine, filters, better homepage, better review times) and twist the original requests to your own interpretation that turned out far from what users actually suggested or requested.

What you need to reconsider is:

  1. My time is my time and my time only. It’s my decision how I spend it and I am under no employment contract with Envato so that Envato can impose such terms on my time.
  2. You cannot set a price on my time, particularly a general price tag for every author. We live in different parts of the world, different cultures, live on different incomes and our countries have different living standards. If I am ok with selling products on generic prices, my time outside of that dedicated to building those products is mine and mine alone to quantify, manage and price. Period.
  3. Do not include any free support in the price of templates. If authors decide to offer it, it should be an extra pack right from the start.
  4. Make it optional. Have an OPT-IN for this “feature”. And if you will, don’t make it an OPT-OUT. By default authors should be left out of the program and enroll at their own discretion.
  5. Offer the support tools yourself. If you plan to take away 30% of something that you have no contribution to (my support time and skill) you’d be taking me for stupid to think it’s fine to rob me blind. Give me the means to offer support in a controlled and stable environment and I am willing to give you a cut of my “profit”. Otherwise, forget about it.

Issue 3: Start Rolling Out the Really Important Improvements

Envato, you’ve been asked for a long time now for countless utterly important features for both authors and buyers:

  • Better search engine;
  • Search engine filters;
  • Shopping cart;
  • Better review times;
  • Increased/equal/fair exposure;
  • Some focus on new/trending NEW files while the popular files keep on being pushed with every occasion;
  • Countless UX improvements;
  • and the list can go on.

At the end of the day authors are tired of having dust thrown in their faces with meaningless or simply cosmetic updates (colors, font-face, font-size, icons) that are likely meant to divert attention from serious issues with your marketplaces, which are getting older and rustier by the day if you don’t actually invest faster in serious technical improvements.

Envato, it’s time to wake up. Authors have loved you for the freedom you have offered them. Don’t treat them like dogs, don’t treat them like employees. We are not stupid, we know you are a business. We want/need money too. Help US make money and you’ll get your fair share and continue your growth in a stable way and with happier, more loyal author community.

It’s time to realize that you need to place your community’s needs above everything else at this point because if the community works well, works happy and earns better, you earn better, you are happier, you real employees are happier.

This letter doesn’t contain everything that’s wrong with the marketplace. Some authors might have their own issues, while others might have none at all. It’s the freedom of having opinions and it’s ok. It’s a freedom like the one you look to remove with issues like “mandatory 72 hours support”.

Right now it’s no secret that quite a few of the competitor marketplaces are doing this better than you and have a healthier attitude towards community and marketplace guidelines than you. The only thing still keeping you ahead of the competition is your age. You’ve been around for a long time and most authors find it hard to cut ties with such a huge community of colleagues and buyers alike. But don’t sleep on these laurels, don’t you dare Envato. You’re losing your competitive edge and alienating entire packs of Regular to Elite and Power Elite authors. Hell, even buyers are speaking in favour of your authors. Time to wake up and find your competitive edge once again.

Your still loyal author and partner,

Alex of QBKL.