Sell WordPress Themes on a Marketplace or Go it Alone?


So now you’re ready to start making money selling WordPress themes. You have your template files in order, your CSS is impeccable, and you have a beautiful theme that anyone would be proud to use on their website. But how do you get people to start buying?

After all, what’s a theme is there’s no one to install it? Your beautiful theme becomes a bunch of unloved CSS and PHP. No one wants that.

The options

There are currently a few options when it comes to selling your theme:

  • Set up a WordPress theme shop or sell through your own website
  • Sell your themes on a marketplace like Theme Forest or Mojo Themes

Each approach to selling your themes comes with its own benefits and its own drawbacks. Let’s take a look at each.

Go it alone

If you decide to go it alone then you’ll either be selling themes through your personal website, or maybe you’ll set up a theme shop, with staff and designers and all that good stuff.


  • Profit – when you sell your themes yourself all of the profit is yours do to with as you will. When you start bringing in the sales you’re getting all the cash.
  • Control – by selling through a theme marketplace you’re giving up a certain amount of control, particularly in terms of licensing. For example, both Mojo Themes and Theme Forest have a split licence; while the PHP code is GPL, the CSS and design elements are not. This is out of step with how the WordPress Foundation would like businesses to sell themes. You also maintain control of your own platform and pricing.
  • Sales Approach – when you sell on a theme marketplace you’re tied into their approach to sales, which is usually selling one item. If you have a theme shop you can create club memberships or sell bundles.
  • Brand – you can create your own brand which you can build upon. Theme shops like WooThemes and StudioPress have particularly strong brands.


  • Visibility – while a theme marketplace may be crowded with themes, the internet is crowded with WordPress themes shops. If you’re just starting out it can be hard to gain traction. You need to be excellent at SEO to start ranking on Google.
  • Marketing – running your own theme shop means marketing it. If you sell through a marketplace then this is all taken care of for you. A theme marketplace has an interest in ensuring people know about your theme, taking some of the burden off you.
  • Workload – when you sell themes yourself you need to create a website to do so, set up ecommerce functionality, deal with sales, and basically do all of the things running an online business involves. With a marketplace you can worry about creating and selling your themes.

Sell through a marketplace

Selling through a marketplace might seen like an excellent option. After all, there are a number of authors on Theme Forest who have made more than a million dollars in sales. That’s a pretty attractive proposition.


  • Marketing – marketing your product can be hard work, and if you’re not inclined towards marketing it can be hard to know where to start. A marketplace will take care of that for you, leaving you to stick to the business of creating themes.
  • Functionality – a marketplace takes care of all of the ecommerce functionality for you. If you’re only interested in building themes, and don’t want to worry about how to sell themes, a theme marketplace could be a good choice.
  • Search – a theme marketplace provides a one-stop place for themes. Users can search for the different types of functionality and designs they want, without having to spend time on Google.


  • Perceptionthe GPL has been an ongoing issue in the commercial theme market. Theme markets tend to license their themes with split licenses – the PHP is GPL but the CSS and design elements are not. There is a vocal minority in the WordPress community that oppose this.
  • Exclusion – if you want to take part in WordPress community events, such as sponsoring or speaking at WordCamps, you could find yourself excluded. Businesses that use split licenses are not permitted to sponsor or speak at WordCamps.
  • Reputation – if there is an issue with another theme or author, this can have a negative affect upon the whole marketplace. People may assume that bad practices are the norm.
  • Profit – anything up to 70% of your profits will be going to the marketplace. Even if you see this in terms of paying for the service they offer, it can sting.

Using both

You don’t have to go exclusively one way or another. Both Mojo Themes and Theme Forest offer a non-exclusivity model. This means that you can sell your theme on both a theme marketplace and yourself. You’ll get a lower rate on the marketplace, but you’ll also take 100% of the sales if you sell the theme yourself.

Another option is to sell some themes exclusively on a marketplace, while selling others on your own website. This means that you can have all of the benefits of being part of the marketplace – visibility, branding, etc – while still having your own business. The marketplace could act as one of your store fronts. If you’re a high-selling author, users will want to check out your other themes on your website.

Obox is a theme shop that started out on its own, but in November last year it started selling on Theme Forest. In the first six months their sales increased by $50,000 and they increased their user base by 1,500. The owner of Obox sees Theme Forest as a very good affiliate that sells more than the average. This is offset by the fact that the seller has to spend more time updating their theme using the Theme Forest submission, but in terms of the increase in revenue it’s been worth it.

Different business models

Because of licensing, there is a subtle difference between selling themes on a theme marketplace and selling themes yourself. If you decide to license your themes under the GPL, your users are free to distribute that theme however they wish, but if there is a split license and the CSS or design elements aren’t GPL, users are not able to. Of course, this doesn’t eliminate piracy, but it doesn’t officially sanction distribution either.

That means if you are selling through a theme marketplace you are selling a product, whereas if you are selling through a GPL theme shop, you are selling a service that supports a product – support, documentation, and even community. Support isn’t a requirement on a theme marketplace, so when authors do offer support this is more of a marketing exercise – it tells people that you are a trusted seller. If you run your own theme shop, good support is essential to keeping your customers around. After all, there is nothing illegal about them getting your theme elsewhere and using it for their website.

Theme marketplace or theme shop?

It can be a difficult decision; both options have their benefits, both have their drawbacks. Think about the type of business you want to run, how you want to appear in the WordPress community, how much control you’re willing to give up. These will all be factors in making your choice. And don’t forget, nothing is set in stone. If the choice you make isn’t working out you can always make the switch to the other.

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Author: Holly Bentley


  • Nice article… !!
    I think you have by mistakenly written $1500 in “Using both” section in the line “n the first six months their sales increased by $50,000 and they increased their user base by $1,500.”

    • Hey Vinod,

      Very happy to hear you enjoyed it, and thanks for that pickup too 🙂

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