WordPress is continually evolving. As the Content Management System changes, so do all the businesses built around it—premium theme developers, paid plugin coders, and everyone else who has centered their business around WordPress.
Particularly in the premium theme industry, we’re seeing tremendous change as more and more developers rush into the growing market to get their piece of the pie. With the advent of minimalism, single page, and other trends, the face of the premium theme market is continually changing.
But there are a few stalwarts in the field—premium theme developers that have endured the change and come out on top as the biggest developers in the niche. In this post, I’d like to take a look at 5 such companies, all of which are characterized by giant customer bases, multiple themes produced, and quality coding.
StudioPress is renown across the WordPress hemisphere for its foundational framework, Genesis. Noted for the sheer quality of its themes, StudioPress builds each and every release to be search engine optimized, capable of numerous functions, and (of course) aesthetically appealing.
StudioPress is a trademark of Copyblogger Media LLC, which also owns a hugely popular blog about blogging and content marketing, an SEO tool called Scribe, and the managed WordPress hosting provider Synthesis.
The premium theme seller operates in five categories: business, enterprise, magazine/news, photography, and real estate themes.
Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress himself, has recommended Genesis in the past, saying:
Child themes and a framework are the only way you should build your WordPress site and Genesis has great support for child themes and other WordPress functionality.
Reason for popularity: The reason why StudioPress has been so successful is probably because of its intense focus on quality, and its efficient marketing. Copyblogger intertwines all of its companies together, and it’s uncommon that you’ve heard of one and not the other. StudioPress makes good use of its wide reach.
Lesson for developers: Focus on quality. No theme release should ever be a subpar product, even at version 1.0.
It’s hard not to hear about this company. Elegant Themes has been in the premium theme game for quite some time now, and is famous for the inexpensive pricing of its theme.
You see, ET has a special set of pricing plans (that has proven to be tremendously successful). Instead of selling each theme with its own little price tag, the only way to get your hands on an Elegant Themes release is to sign up for one of its memberships.
You have three options: $69 per year (that’s year, not month) for access to all 87 themes, $89 per year for access to all themes and plugins and layered PSDs for each theme, or a $249 one-time fee with theme, plugin, and PSD access.
Their membership plans are a smash hits, with a 243,989 strong customer base, with more being added to the fold daily.
Reason for popularity: Nick Roach, ET founder, clearly knows his target market. He aimed his product at the low-budget WordPress users who aren’t willing to sacrifice quality for cost. Furthermore, Roach has also hired 20+ full-time customer support agents who actively monitor the members’ forum 24×7. Any problem you have with any of their themes is cleared up within hours.
Lesson for developers: You don’t have to charge $40+ per theme. Clumping your releases together in a membership can be highly lucrative. Also, customer support should be a huge priority, particularly in this niche where it’s easy for people who don’t know what they are doing to mess up their theme configurations.
AppThemes is another popular premium WordPress theme developer and seller. Although it isn’t as old as some of the other names on this list, and isn’t as prolific with its theme development (only 7 themes are currently being sold), AppThemes has already built up a reputation for its quality coding work.
Its themes are higher end, each with a $99 price tag. However, each theme is also built to specialize in a certain function/niche. Even with the high investment, AppThemes has built up a mid-five-figure customer base—with over 35,000 webmasters using AppThemes themes to power their WordPress website.
Reason for popularity: AppThemes superspecialize each of its themes to appeals to a very specific, very concentrated demographic. Furthermore, AppThemes also sells several WordPress plugins and even maintains a marketplace for third-party developers to sell their WordPress products.
Lesson for developers: Sometimes, high price tags are the way to go. But if you do charge a bit more than usual for your themes, make sure it is well worth it with specialized capabilities and functions.
Templatic is a company of very prolific WordPress developers. The company has developed 68 premium themes and 13 plugins in its short tenure—all of which are solidly coded. Like AppThemes, each Templatic release is made to cater to a specific niche.
Templatic themes are also higher priced, in the $99+ region (more if you want access to the theme’s PSDs and the license to use it on multiple domains). But it also has a cheaper option: $299 to join the club and gain access to all the premium plugins and themes.
Reason for popularity: Templatic managed to combine both prolific production and quality production in its releases. They do so well because they have so much to offer, and each theme developed is so well-built that they can charge around three figures for it.
Lesson for developers: Templatic employs a “decoy” pricing model strategy. The objective is to get you to purchase the club membership, and Templatic does just that by making the other choices seem undesirable because of the high expense. That’s a technique that many companies—within WordPress and non-WordPress markets—have seen success with.
ThemeFuse is a premium WordPress theme distributor with great-looking releases. Its own website, themefuse.com, is one of the most beautifully constructed sites I’ve personally seen in quite a while.
With just around 28 themes released, ThemeFuse doesn’t exactly have the largest archive. With all themes starting at a lower end of $45, they don’t rely on high price tags either.
Even so, ThemeFuse has grown in leaps and bounds since its conception, with three pricing plans—standard (one theme, one-time payment starting from $45, no PSDs), developer (one theme, one-time payment of $85, PSDs, plus a bonus theme of your choice), and club member (all themes, yearly payment of $195, PSDs).
What they do have, however, is a neat testing system, which allows every potential customer to take the theme of their choice for a test drive—both in the front and back ends.
Reason for popularity: The testing system and their budget-friendly prices are no doubt the main factors that lure customers to ThemFuse.
Lesson for developers: Everybody loves to be able to take a product for a test drive before committing to it with money. If you can set up a similar testing system on your company website, you might just be in for a dramatic increase in sales.
One of the best ways to achieve success in an industry is to emulate those who have already found it.
With huge players like StudioPress, Elegant Themes, AppThemes, Templatic, and ThemeFuse around, WordPress developers today have an easy way to learn a lot about the WordPress premium theme industry.
Jonathan John is a WordPress enthusiast and freelance blogger. He loves comparing WordPress plugins and themes, sharing the latest Automattic news, and helping non-techies get the most out of the world’s favorite CMS.