Why WordPress.com is losing millions of dollars …

… in potential revenue to Envato Marketplace every month.

Automattic (WordPress.com)- creator of the worlds most used open source CMS Wordpress.org — is miserably failing at monetizing the two things it is best known for: plugins and themes.

Over 60 million website use WordPress. The CMS has created an entire job industry and thousands of agencies, programmers, designers and digital specialists have built a business around the CMS. Automattic — the company behind WordPress.com - is funded with 317.3 million dollars and has just recently bought the most installed eCommerce solution (WooCommerce) for an undisclosed sum (30 million $).

Yet. Automattic is not making nearly the revenue it could. Why? It has failed to offer theme and plugin developers an easy way to monetize their work.

Let’s take a short d-tour: When I first started using WordPress in 2006 the only way to come around a theme was either sifting through the terribly confusing WordPress theme directory or spending hours and hours on Google, searching for theme developers that offered what you needed. In both cases, you most likely didn’t end up with what you where looking for.

In 2010 the Envato Marketplace started getting big and it offered a solution to several problems theme developers and website administrators had - and still have. Theme developers selling on Envato don’t have to worry about creating a shop, handle billing, loosing time on SEO and finding new customers. Website administrators could rely on user rating and had a way to reach the developer through the support forum. It’s easy to sell and buy on Envato. Win-win-win for everybody (especially Envato, who takes between 50–20 percent commission on every sale). Envato is offering — what WordPress.com should have done since its beginning — an easy way for developers to sell themes and administrators to purchase themes and plugins. And Envato is making a fortune.

And still. There seems to be no effort on the side of Automattic to disclose this problem. Theme/plugin developers currently offer free solutions within the plugin/theme directory. If administrators want to buy a premium version of — let’s say a plugin — with more functionality, they will either need to buy it on the developers site, or they will get redirected to the Envato Marketplace where they can purchase it.

The only problem currently is: The Envato Marketplace is full of crap.

I’ve spent around 850$ on WordPress themes (not counting the plugins I’ve bought) for my own websites and client websites. Currently only two themes are in use . Mainly because of the measly code quality (CSS and Php). We usually need to pore more time into cleaning up CSS on themes, than it would have taken us to create a template from scratch.

I’m not saying all themes are bad. Nor am I saying that Envato isn’t doing it’s best to prevent this (I honestly don’t know what they do), all I am saying is, that I payed 850$ plus development hours, for two themes currently in use … and that’s a lot of money. Most people — and I do this as well — select potential themes according to the amount of sales, star rating, and comments.

This is problematic on several levels:

  • Popular themes are old and have mostly outdated code (especially in terms of CSS these days)
  • Five star rating doesn’t guarantee good code, as most people never dig that deep. And we’ve come across several top rated themes with miserable code.
  • I can’t test a theme. I always need to buy it first and figure out for myself if it’s a quality theme or not.
  • Updating a theme is a massive pain in the ***, as it currently needs to be done manually every time a new update comes out. And if you picked the wrong theme/plugin, you’ll be updating your clients website every week. Manually. And that suuuuucks!
Updating a themes manually can be a drag
  • Most of the well performing themes are multipurpose themes, with millions and millions of functions. It takes ages to get to know the back-end and they are usually so bloated with unnecessary code and gimmicks that you’ll find yourself cleaning up and configuring site performance issues for most of the time. When you actually could be doing fun stuff. Like gardening.
Remember this? The time Revolution Slider got hacked
  • Security is a large problem as well. Hundreds of themes come with plugins that need to be installed, like for example the Revolution Slider. You get the version the theme developer bought and if you don’t buy the plug-in license, you won’t know when a new version has arrived (except if it gets hacked — and is usually already too late). Voilà — your site is now an open banquette for hackers. And I know what I’m talking about in terms of being hacked … (I’m looking at you revolution slider!)

So, why am I writing this? I think— and I know from several developers and administrators that are on the same page here — that this current situation is crap. Envato pretty much holds a monopoly on the WP theme and plugin marketplace and can decide who makes money and who not. They can dictate the price and if you end up buying a crappy theme, they won’t really care to refund the money.

On the oder side WordPress has this huge opportunity with millions and millions of people already using the free plugin and theme directory, which already offers easy rating mechanism, support and update options (where you can do the update directly in the dashboard instead of manually updating every time). Security issues can be pushed directly to running WordPress sites if a vulnerability leak finds its way into a theme ,(Like that 4.2.4 WP udpate) and it would definitely be a more secure world for all of us if the update process would be managed directly from the dashboard!

From a business point of view, WordPress has already introduced subscription models (e.g ValutPress or Akismet), where you pay per installation on a monthly basis.

I think the subscription based model is the only way marketplaces should do business, because:

  • You only pay what you use and not 58$ for a theme you buy but will not use because it’s crap.
  • You can test several premium themes for one installation and use the theme that suits you best.
  • It rewards good themes and punishes bad ones and pushes developers to create the best they can and always stay up-to date with their code
  • Customers will spend more money on themes, because they won’t have the bad experience of 58$ lost on a crappy theme
  • Less security issues
  • And for me with several clients, it’s way better to predict cost, time spent and in the end: scale

So, Automattic, please, please get your finger out of your but (as we would say in Switzerland) and develop a marketplace where we can buy themes and plugins directly from the WordPress dashboard, as we already know it with your free products! Make it a subscription based model, so we only pay for what we use! Offer a fair cut of the sales (50/50 is not fair) and start disrupting the market that is rightfully yours! Now!