On Selling Premium Themes, Plus an Interview with Ben Harper of Templamatic

One of the current trends in web design over the past year or two has been an increase in sales of premium web templates and themes. As WordPress has exponentially grown as a popular CMS and blogging platform, premium themes have opened up new opportunities for both customers and developers. Earlier this year Smashing Magazine asked if premium WordPress themes are here to stay, and I believe the answer is “yes.”

For designers and developers selling premium themes can open up a whole new source of income and a different approach to earning a living in web design. If you’re currently designing sites for clients, you may want to look at the possibility of adding theme sales to your routine, as it brings a number of benefits.

The Basics of Theme Sales

Premium themes give customers the option to buy a high quality theme for a much lower price than they would have to pay for a custom design. Obviously, there are thousands of free themes (particularly for WordPress) available, but with so many blogs and websites using those themes, standing out requires something more unique. A custom design is ideal, but many website owners are hesitant to invest that kind of money into a site that may not be producing any income yet. Premium themes provide an extremely affordable option that gives them a look that they probably can’t achieve with a free theme.

Designers are able to sell premium themes for much less than they would charge for a custom design because they can sell it many times, so they’re not making all of the money from one customer, but rather from hundreds of customers. The designers and developers of premium themes typically will then offer support to customers who have purchased the theme and are having some problems.

Many times the site owner will make some minor customizations (such as a header image, logo, color scheme, etc.) to give the premium theme their own look, or they can pay a professional to customize it further, which will still usually wind up being cheaper than a full custom design.

Why Sell Premium Themes?

Income Potential

Those who sell popular themes (take for example Brian Gardner) make a good bit of money doing so. If a theme sells for $100 and you sell only 10 per month, that would equal $1,000 per month or $12,000 per year. Although there will be ongoing work providing support and marketing your theme, the potential income for a premium theme is much higher than you are likely to ever charge for a custom design.


Leverage Your Work

Creating a theme one time and selling it over and over again is a great way to leverage your work. You can continue to make money on your original efforts long after the design is completed.

Income Diversity

If you currently work as a freelancer or for a design firm, working for clients is your primary source of income. By selling themes you can add some diversity and make money in multiple ways.

Opportunity for More Work Customizing the Theme

Some theme designers/developers offer the option for customers to pay for their services to customize the theme specifically to them. These changes may be relatively minor, but it can provide some added work and income for you.

Less Design, More Business and Marketing

If you’re interested in spending less of your time actually designing, selling premium themes could be one option. By doing so you would be able to spend more of your time on the business aspects or marketing and selling your theme, which may or may not interest you.

Ben Harper and Templamatic:

Templamatic is a premium theme marketplace (WordPress themes, other CMS themes, and HTML/CSS templates) that was launched earlier this year by designer Ben Harper. Any theme developer can register for an account and start selling their themes through Templamatic. In recent months I’ve written a few blogs posts for Templamatic and I thought Ben would be able to provide some valuable information that would add to the subject of theme sales. Ben agreed to answer some questions for me, so I hope you’ll find the following interview to be helpful if you are considering selling some of your own themes.

What’s your background as a designer?

My initial interest in design started from my childhood dream of becoming an artist. In my early 20’s I was all about abstract painting. I had a job as a systems administrator, and was painting in my spare time. After rebuilding the company’s web server, I stumbled upon their website files and was immediately fascinated by the merger of information and design. I asked the CEO if I could redesign the website, and that was my first professional project. That was about 8 years ago, and I’ve been designing and building websites ever since. In the beginning, I was really trying to learn everything I could. I was sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. I dabbled in everything I could, including html, css, programming and database interaction. I worked for a web design agency in Boston for 4 years where I was exposed to a lot of new stuff. This is where I transitioned from a web producer into more of a web designer. At this point in my career, I find the most pleasure from working in Photoshop on a design, and then helping see it through to a finished product.

What was your motivation for starting Templamatic?

After working extremely hard for some one else for 4 years, I became infected with this notion that I could do it all on my own. I left the company and started freelancing. As my freelance business picked up speed, I knew that I wanted to build something different from a traditional web development company. I wanted to put everything I had learned into action. But, it’s not just about what I want. Templamatic was built to solve a lot of the common problems that all freelancers face. Templamatic takes a service business and makes it more of a product business. It gives you control over your time and effort by allowing you to build once, and sell repeatedly. When you can set your own price, and get paid before goods are delivered, you are in control. This is a great structure to have as an independent designer. As Templamatic grows, I really hope it can become an invaluable resource for up and coming designers and freelancers whose struggles I understand so well.

How can designers get their themes listed and sold through Templamatic?

It’s really quite easy. You just sign up for a free account on Templamatic and use our simple upload form to submit your design. The only requirements are that you provide valid html markup and original artwork so your design may be modified by the customers. We will review your work and add it to the site to sell.

What does Templamatic have to offer for theme designers?

First and for most, we offer you a chance to sell and profit from your work. We know how long it takes to make a great design, and we think designers should get paid for their time. When we setup the site, we looked across the industry at similar sites and were shocked to learn that most stock sites offer very small percentages to designers. To me, this seems like exploitation. As a designer, I wouldn’t be interested in selling my work on another site if I wasn’t getting a big cut of the action. So with that in mind, we are offering designers 65% royalties on every sale of their templates. In addition we are offering an extra 10% bonus royalties during our beta period as an incentive to early contributors. We also offer theme designers greater reach and exposure by placing their work in the Templamatic marketplace. We also offer full support to the end customers so that designers don’t have to worry about it. As the site and the community grows, we will continue to offer tools and information that will support both template designers and customers alike.

Where do you see the future of theme selling going?

There has been much talk lately on the internet about this very question, and it’s something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. On the one hand you have the creator of WordPress saying all templates should be free and open source, but then on the other hand, you see the proliferation of theme sellers and marketplaces springing up. So it is an interesting market for sure. Without speculating on where the market is going, I can only say what we are going to do in the future. We are building tools that will make it much easier for non programmers to build themes that can be used on multiple platforms. We want people to spend more time creating unique and personal designs without worrying about the technology.

Did you personally design any of the themes being sold, or do you just focus on running the site?

I created some of them. But I mostly focus on running the site, and also running my service business to help fund Templamatic until it becomes self sufficient.

If designers have a theme listed for sale at Templamatic, can they also sell it somewhere else, or will it be exclusive to Templamatic?

We are not requiring content to be exclusive to Templamatic. You may sell your templates with us and else where as well. We do ask that you indicate whether your content is exclusive or not.

What is the payment structure for designers who sell themes?

For templates submitted during the beta period, designers will get 75% royalties on every sale, so submit your template today!

What’s Your Experience?

If you have any experience selling premium themes please share some of your thoughts in the comments. For everyone else, would you consider selling premium themes at any point in the future?

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13 Responses

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  • Adam, June 12, 2008

    When do you decide whether to give away a design for free or sell it as a premium theme?

    We recently launched our site with a fresh clean design and we’re wondering whether we should give it to the community for free or if its good enough to sell.

    BTW, Templamatic has a sweet design as well as a number of great designs listed.

    Great interview.

  • Glen Allsopp, June 13, 2008

    Great post Steven, even better that you went in-depth and got an interview

    Stumbled

  • Simon North, June 13, 2008

    I am a premium wordpress designer and coder and I have produced many themes in this field, one of which is on Templamatic, however I have received no sales of this template and since then I released another, this time I have received one sale but it still isn’t enough. When I sell a premium theme with exclusive rights I can get anywhere between $250 and $350 for it easily, however selling the same template over and over again is hard work, I advertised the templates on countless sites and my pricing is far lower than any others, yet I still don’t get sales.

    I think the problem is that too many people now think they are designers when they are 14 year old geeks who think that they know everything so they create so called “premium” templates and suddenly designers have to lower their pricing dramatically. I never sell on places like Digital Point anymore because whenever I put a template on there for more than say $50 I get people say I am charging way too much. I just hope templamatic becomes popular and I can start making proper money again, web designing is my job.

  • Adrian | Rubiqube, June 13, 2008

    Great article! I’m a WordPress designer myself and I will release a couple of cool themes very soon.

    Simon, I’m sure many WordPress designers experience the same problems as you. I imagine it’s not easy to get noticed, especially when there are people like Brian Gardner or Adii, that have been doing this for a while now. Their themes are already famous in the community.

    Still… positioning yourself much lower in terms of price won’t help too much. I think this will have the opposite effect: people will say “this is way too cheap to be premium” and move on. In my opinion, the way to go is match (better yet exceed) the level of quality of some of the popular themes and maybe offer a small discount.

    In fact, I’m preparing a small experiment (website) to test a theory of mine. I’ll post more on my blog.

  • Simon North, June 13, 2008

    Yeah, you make a good point, the big boys have been established, so its harder to get noticed. I have started with the affiliate sites to try and get some exposure, however when templates such as this: http://wordpressisland.com/2008/06/08/free-arthemia-premium-wordpress-template/ are released for free, many people are going to use the free ones over paying a lot of money for a unique one hence my cheap price. Besides a lot of people purchase templates for the support nowadays.

  • Simon North, June 13, 2008

    Oh and Adrian, nice blog you have there, content and design, ive subscribed.

  • Vandelay Design, June 13, 2008

    Adam,
    I have no experience selling commercial themes, but from my perspective, I would only put one up for sale if it was exceptional quality and if I was willing to market the theme and support it. Otherwise I would go the free rout. That’s an opinion though, not a fact.

    Thanks Glen.

    Simon,
    I wholeheartedly agree with Adrian that price is a relatively minor issue. Most people looking for a premium theme want something that’s going to give them a great look and performance. In most cases, I think they would be willing to pay an extra $50 or so up front to get a superior product. I also agree with Adrian that too low of a price could hurt the perception of potential customers. If I were to buy a premium theme I would want to buy one that I believed in and that the developer believed. To me it’s not the type of product that lends itself to price competition. In my opinion, even the higher priced premium themes are a pretty good buy for what you are getting. That being said, the product has to be comparable with others in it’s price range, or people will just buy from the competition. Good luck with your sales!

  • Darren Hoyt, June 14, 2008

    I would only put one up for sale if it was exceptional quality and if I was willing to market the theme and support it.

    That’s something I’ve been learning from selling Mimbo Pro. It’s worked out nicely to just have a single product that gets ongoing attention, enhancements, fine-tuning, and most important, ongoing help in the forums. I could never give that much attention to ten different themes in good faith. I would always worry about quantity over quality.

    Since WP is still in its infancy, I think there’s a ceiling on what can be done with it, which affects the innovation you can apply, which affects how much people will pay for it. In the end, it still needs to look and function like it was done with planning and professionalism, rather than tossed together to make a dollar.

  • Vandelay Design, June 15, 2008

    Hey Darren,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences from selling a theme. I agree that it would be difficult or impossible to provide good service on a large number of themes, especially if you’re also handling other things outside of that, such as other client work.

  • Ben Harper, July 1, 2008

    It’s not difficult to or impossible to keep up service on a large number of themes when you have a dedicated support staff working with you to support customers.

  • Hyderabad Web Development, January 21, 2009

    Ben Harper >> So do you have a dedicated support staff with you ?

    Then is no where difficulty to handle each and every customer you get.

  • 4design, April 23, 2009

    Very nice post Steven, thanks!

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