Yesterday Chris Lema published a blog post asking the same question: is the WordPress economy shrinking?

He tried to answer the question, especially from the point of view of agencies and freelancers, who build websites with WordPress.

You can see his video right here:

To summarize the video, Chris divides the WordPress market in three areas: bottom, middle and top.

The Bottom end is shifting to DIY solutions such as Squarespace and Wix. I’d also add GPL WordPress themes with page builders that you buy once and allow you to create countless unique design. Because of them there are less and less requests for inexpensive websites.

The Middle end is growing. There is a higher requests for all in one platforms, integrated system, customization and for services. Especially services that bring traffic to websites like SEO, SEM, Social Media Marketing and so on.

The Top end is moving in house by many big corporation who created their own internal WP teams. As a consequence less and less big job are commissioned to outside agencies.

He also invite his readers/viewers to find partnerships.

All this make sense, but what about those of us, who sell WordPress products to agencies, freelancers, companies and final consumers too?

Is the WordPress Economy shrinking for everyone?

Comments to his video, blog posts and in Facebook groups are divided.

Some say Yes without a doubt, like Adam Pickering of Astoundify.

adam pickering comment on chris lema youtube video about wordpress economy shrinking

Astoundify is a Theme Developing agency that sells exclusively on Theme Forest and their sales appear to have taken a drop.

If we check the weekly top selling products on themeforest.net of 2 years ago, Astoundify had 2 Themes listed for a total of 173 sales. Listify, their top selling theme had 117 sales.

Now they have 1 theme listed between the weekly top sellers. That is still Listify with 62 sales. Their flagship theme lost 48% of its sales. These sales didn’t disappear, there are other themes in the same niche stealing their market shares.

On the other hand, the founder of one of the most popular products in the WordPress industry, left a comment in a Facebook group saying that their sales doubled in May 2017 compared to the same period of last year. He deleted his comment before I could take a screenshot, so I won’t reveal his identity.

My personal opinion is that the WordPress Economy in general is not shrinking, however new operators are popping up daily and it is more and more difficult to gain market shares.

Those that are successful, like the plugin developer who I previously mentioned, are even doubling their revenues.

Those who are not, are seeing their figures going down. There are many more individuals in this second category.

The main differences appear to be made by innovation and price.

ThemeForest Drop in Sales, is it real?

One thing that appears to be clear, is that sales on themeforest.net are declining for many of the players involved.

The Envato Community Manager stated : “that Market continues to experience year on year growth and authors at all levels and across all marketplaces continue to see increases in earnings”.

What we see in the 2017’s Best Selling products page seems to be a bit different.

Avada sold a hefty 60k dollar less compared to May 2016. The 20 top sellers combined sold exactly 1000 themes less compared to the same period last year.

All this are signals of a saturated marketplace. Too many authors and products for so many buyers. Not really the sign of a shrinking economy.

Even if a lot of authors are declaring to have lost sales, there are other who eventually are growing and also a lot of new authors and new products added every day.

In any case, those that we see growing the most, are those that are either innovating in their niche, or those who dropped their prices considerably.

Are independent theme shops having the same problems?

not many of them publish transparency reports, but those that do, leave me no doubts. Developing themes to sell them, will soon be a thing of the past.

The last transparency report of the CodeinWP blog for example is titled: Stop Building New WordPress Themes?

What they say in the report is simple. They saw a huge decline in sales when Zerif lite, their flagship theme, was removed from WordPress.org. Even after the theme has been added back, revenue never came back.

They believe page builders and Squarespace are responsible for this and in the future there will be less themes, all compatible with these page builders. Rather than developing new themes, they will improve what they currently have to work perfectly with the best page builders.

What about plugins?

Apparently most plugins sold independently are growing. Chris Lema mentions Beaver Builder in his video. We know about the big player we talked about earlier.

Another plugin that we know for sure is growing is the Ultimate Member plugin. They share their revenues and because we keep an eye on them, we know they are growing compared to last year.

WP Rocket last year grew by over 300%.

We for example are growing on average 30% compared to last year. So it doesn’t look at all like the WordPress Economy is shrinking for WordPress Plugins.

What about your WordPress business?

Are your revenues growing, stagnant or shrinking? We’d love to know and you can share how things are going for you, in the comments down below.

8 thoughts on “Is the WordPress economy shrinking?

  1. Hey Stiofan, Paolo

    Well I think there is simply a lot more competition, thats it. I think the US and Europe are saturated for sure. For instance just by seeing our fb group I see that there are over 10 members based in the UK (thats just the ones I have noticed and excluding the ones that didnt join the group) and some of them have said they face a lot of competition in their niches. But again in the same group I see very few asian and south american members. I for instance face no competition in my niche, and the platforms that are trying to do directories are propietary so they have invested a lot more and are risking their companies future. I am risking less than 1k so far and I have some pretty good traction. I would dare to say I am the only wpgeodirectory member/buyer from my country (Ecuador). I think wordpress is still overlooked by devs in developing countries as being “too weak” and the small businesses that may need it are just discovering it. So in conclusion what I am saying is that if wordpress theme and plugin developers want to expand they should probably look down south. Maybe support in Spanish would attract a whole new universe of clients and I dont think hiring a couple support guys for the Spanish speaking countries would be so expensive either. After all Latin America is composed by 20 countries all with similar culture and 90% of the language is the same around the continent. Thats my take on it, expand into other markets, theme and plugin devs should be fine for many years to come.

    • I think you are spot on. Offering the service only in English could be limiting the market big time.

  2. I somewhat agree with this article and we are from the perspective in the middle tier as an agency. We develop all of our WordPress themes for clients completely from scratch – i.e, no child themes, no premium themes and we build with what we need – nothing more, nothing less. We actually find that many of our clients come from the DIY sites such as SquareSpace and Wix, where they server a purpose to trial and test, but end up not being good enough to run an SME business, which is why we get many of our clients from this area.

    For me, WordPress is the best platform for OpenSource bespoke development. We use WordPress and Magento primarily and would recommend WordPress 90% of the time due to it’s reliability, affordability and customisation. Personally I believe that the WordPress marketplace in terms of premium themes is under threat from the DIY websites but not the WordPress platform itself (primarily due to saturation plus lack of tailored functionality which is the prime benefit of OpenSource).

  3. I think for people building a business using WordPress, the selection is almost overwhelming. I mean how many theme builders does one need and how do you differentiate between them all? And security and SEO plugins? There are almost too many.
    I tend to go with recommendations from other users I trust but I really think that for a business, the best bet is to eventually have a theme custom tailored to you using Plugins that work well and are supported which means they cost money. But if you are serious about your business thats how you should go.

  4. I doubt the WordPress economy or ecosystem is shrinking.

    The number of sites using WP is steadily increasing, while prices for themes and plugins have slowly increased.

    It’s more probable that as more people enter the market, some peoples share of that market has decreased, but it doesn’t mean that the economy as a whole is shrinking.

  5. Data about TF is significant. Other data is sketchy. One thing for sure, we don’t see a lot of agencies or plugin companies with 50 employees. We have seen a lot of theme shops closing. These are just facts. But people are still building WordPress websites. I would guess that this is an ever fragmented market. TF , my guess, is losing sales because it can’t respond to a fragmented market. It can shine in reducing prices by offering lots of themes that are copies of each other for cheap prices. People have learned to download a theme from WordPress.org and pay to have it customized. Something they were doing with TF anyway.

    At corporate level for better or worse, GPL is still a problem sometimes. They don’t want it to touch their core assets. That makes it difficult to approach the higher ticket items. This probably will change with time and it has to some degree and it is not as big a problem it used to be. Also, at corporate level, developers want to be associated with languages and frameworks that pay more. They resist anything that they don’t want on their resume or think would reduce their pay. WordPress again, for better or worse, is associated with free, cheap and easy. Consequently, there is sales resistance from internal devs to go with higher status platforms( building their resume).
    Do you want your boss compare your 6 figure salary with ads on google that says “hire a WordPress developer for $5 / hour”. We can argue the merits of the case but perception is often reality.

    For WordPress insiders and agencies who have been around a while, there is still a lot of opportunities. They are established and have niches and connections. For newcomers it is an increasingly uphill battle.
    But now you have to be really good at what you do while keeping your rates competitive.

    But is WordPress economy shrinking when it comes to hosting & non-technical sources of revenue?
    Hosting companies are at top of the food chain in WordPress economy. There will also always be work to do custom work if your rates are low or you have a great reputation and a client base. I really don’t think that is shrinking as much as there are more competitors at the lower end and the market is fragmenting. You have to specialize as a freelancer.

    But the real pressure in the WordPress economy is on the distributed, off the shelve themes & plugins. Yes plugins are going strong now but remember that just a few years ago, themes were the hot market.

    Perhaps REST api and SaaS is the silver bullet for the WordPress product space.

    • SaaS is an opportunity that we are exploring. Offering a premium hosted version of GeoDirectory with a choice of few themes, it is something that I’m sure it would be well received by the market.

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