Is it worth getting into the premium theme business?

chris lema syed cabopress lunchIs everyone getting out of the theme business?

In November, 2013 we heard that the theme business at WooThemes was only generating 20% of their revenue. Then, in February, they announced they were stopping the theme subscription club.

Early this month, we heard that DevPress had sold for $14,000 – which isn't much for a theme provider with that history.

And just recently, we heard another old name in themes – Press75 – is also for sale. What you can't help but notice is the revenue trend that's sharply negative.

Just last week, in conversations with Cory Miller (CEO of iThemes), he shared that, like WooThemes, themes don't make up a large portion of their revenue.

  • WooThemes
  • DevPress
  • Press75
  • iThemes

If you've been in the WordPress world for years, those are names you know. Today two of them are still doing amazing things – but their focus is more on premium plugins, rather than on themes.

The Challenge of Premium Plugins

Now, as a guy that loves products and product development, I'm thrilled that iThemes and WooThemes have continued to develop products and find success – with eCommerce solutions like WooCommerce and Exchange. They're both great products.

But more than that, they're also not likely to be merged into the WordPress core codebase.

And that's something more people in the premium plugin world should consider a possibility.

Additionally, Matt – the CEO of Automattic, the founder of the WordPress foundation, and the principal of Audrey Capital – shared his take with those of us at Pressnomics 1. He distinguished between premium and commercial plugins and suggested many folks were already successfully making money off plugins (fleshed out here).

But he also suggested that some great functionality, initially developed as a plugin, may make sense to bring into the core.

Brian Krogsgard says it best.

In light of these things, I encourage people that have built businesses on freemium models and rely on WordPress for exposure, keep in mind that WordPress people work very hard to make the website and distribution platform fair and high quality. But things may change over time and impact your business. It’s part of the deal.

So is it worth getting into the premium theme business?

Well, one of the most recent entries into the premium theme business is Yoast, of WordPress SEO fame. After a couple years of doing theme reviews, it's not surprising that they decided to step in and help in a different way.

And recently, I highlighted that Mike McAalister had leveraged ThemeForest to help him build his new company, Array.

I've also told you about Carrie Dils, who recently released her second Genesis child theme (and shared her lessons learned).

And I've told you about Web Savvy Marketing, who's been running their theme store for a year, and have seen good growth.

So not everyone is walking away…

chris lema and syed at cabopressHave I told you about my friend Syed?

I met Syed as Blog World was getting renamed to something silly. But he walked up to Dre (of Sucuri fame) and Dre introduced us. I, of course, knew of WP Beginner, so I knew Syed was the guy behind that site. What surprised me was that he recognized my name, and knew I blogged about WordPress.

What I didn't know, but have now learned, was that the reason he knew my name was because he's a networker on a different level than anyone else in the WordPress community.

He scans attendee lists of the conferences he goes to before he arrives. He goes to conferences just to meet the people he wants to. And he builds valuable and useful relationships with people by offering help before ever asking for help.

In short, he does his research.

But there's more to know about Syed (and I'm not going to out all his ‘game'), but to say he's also the best internet marketer I know of in the WordPress community is saying something. He knows affiliate programs like I know the Hilton Vacation Club and timeshares (ask me about it later). Most importantly, while he knows all those systems, and can use them to his advantage, he's not cheesy or a thief.

In short, he uses his powers for good.

Now when you hear that someone is good at networking and internet marketing, you get an image in your head. I know you do. I do too. But that's why this third part is so important to know about Syed.

He's a businessman before anything else. He invests his money. He has it make returns. His world is completely sustainable. And he takes risks that are evaluated and managed – not just jumping in and trying something to see how it works. He has a set of advisors that coach and challenge him and provide insight.

In short, he's wise beyond his years.

ThemeLab: Syed is getting into the premium theme business

Earlier I mentioned Matt – you know, the guy behind WordPress. And I shared with you his roles – because it suggests he has authority and resources to have an impact with the decisions he makes.

In a different way, Syed is just like that – with the authority, resources and influence to have an impact in what he puts his mind to:

Even if I thought premium themes were a bad business, which I don't, I'd change my mind if I saw Syed get into it. Because:

  • he does his research
  • he uses his power for good
  • he's wise beyond his years

So let's just say that the reports of the death of premium theme businesses were greatly exaggerated.