Anytime I have multiple people in my network asking me the same (or similar) questions, that’s a good indicator that it’d make a good topic for a blog post.
So, what are people asking? Well, it seems that folks in the Genesis community are wondering whether there’s a market for selling Genesis themes. I’m no expert and my experience is limited to the handful of themes I’ve created/sold (the only one still living is Utility Pro), but here goes my answers to these questions:
- Is Genesis right for commercial themes?
- Is Genesis such a niche market that I won’t get many sales?
- Can I make money selling Genesis themes?
Spoiler Alert (a.k.a. tl;dr)
- Is Genesis right for commercial themes? IT DEPENDS
- Is Genesis such a niche market that I won’t get many sales? IT DEPENDS
- Can I make money selling Genesis themes? IT DEPENDS
Before we dive into these questions, allow me to offer a little context:
Commercial Theme = a WordPress theme for sale. Also called Premium Theme.
Theme Framework = one of the following (per the WordPress Codex definition):
- A “drop-in” code library used to facilitate development of a Theme
- A stand-alone base/starter Theme that is intended either to be forked into another Theme
- A Parent Theme template
Genesis Framework = A product sold by StudioPress that matches the 3rd definition above of a Theme Framework.
Parent Theme = Just like humans, a theme isn’t a Parent Theme until some Child Theme is referring to it as such.
Child Theme = A theme that inherits the functionality and style of another theme (the Parent Theme).
Grandchild Theme = A mythological creature.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know…
Is Genesis right for commercial themes?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the existing market for commercial Genesis themes.
First, there’s StudioPress, creators of the Genesis Framework. With 50+ themes in their marketplace and over 213K customers, they’ve managed to not only create a popular core product but an entire market around it for child themes.
We could stop here and say pretty definitively that Genesis is a good choice* for commercial themes.
Now, if you want to play devil’s advocate, you might say, “Carrie, they created Genesis so OF COURSE it’s successful for the StudioPress marketplace. What about the wider premium theme market?”
I like the way you think.
Face value is often deceiving, so let’s look beyond what StudioPress is doing.
Off the top of my head I can think of at least 15 multi-theme marketplaces catering specifically to the Genesis crowd. Andrea Whitmer manages to name 22 (that’s because she’s smarter than me).
That’s a fair number of very smart people in the WordPress community who have chosen to wrap (at least a part of) their business around creating and selling premium Genesis child themes.
*Note that I say Genesis is a good choice for commercial themes instead of right for commercial themes. “Right” implies that it’s the only and/or best way. In a market full of options, I can’t say Genesis is right, but I can certainly say it’s good – I think that’s an entirely personal choice that depends on your preferences and the customer you’re trying to serve.
Is Genesis such a niche market that I won’t get many sales?
If the previous question was “is there enough interest in Genesis child themes to legitimize it as a business opportunity,” this one is more like “is a small pond already overcrowded?”
I’m a firm believer in marketing to a niche over marketing to the masses.Market to a niche, not to the masses. Click To Tweet
Case in point: If you’re in the market for a brain surgeon, are you gonna go to a general practitioner?
Anytime you’re considering a business opportunity, it’s your responsibility to go do market research, understand the audience you want to serve, and decide whether there’s enough demand to make an investment of your resources.
My opinion? If you’re gonna crank out “just another theme,” odds are it’ll get lost in the crowd. Take the niche of Genesis child themes and figure out how you can niche it down further. FURTHER, CARRIE? Further.
Take the time to do that research step – understand where the market is underserved and create a theme that fills that gap. That’s what I did with Utility Pro – it’s mobile-first, meets accessibility standards, and is translation ready. There was a gap in the market (and still is – hint, hint) for accessible themes and I went for it.
There’s a wide-open market for people who’re willing to look hard, find problems, and create products that solve them.There’s a wide-open market for people who're willing to look hard, find problems, and create products that solve them. Click To Tweet
So, that’s what I think about Genesis as a niche market, but what about the sales part? Let’s be honest, the real question here is can you make money.
Can I make money selling Genesis child themes?
Well, we could work some janky math as an experiment. Personally, I never pass up an opportunity at janky math.
Numbers I’ve made up for illustrative purposes
StudioPress boasts 213,675 owners of the Genesis Framework.
Let’s say, on average, a customer buys 2 themes a year.
213,675 x 2 = 427,350
Let’s say StudioPress takes the lion’s share of these sales.
427,350 – 350,350 (lion’s share) = 77,000 (remaining number of theme purchases)
Now let’s make up a number of non-StudioPress Genesis child themes out there. And when I say making up a number, I’m not kidding. Let’s say there’s 400 Genesis child themes “out there” for sale.
77,000 / 500 = 154 sales per theme
Let’s say these themes sell for an average $55.
$65 x 154 = $10,010 (average annual income per theme)
Let’s say a theme (assuming it’s never updated) has a lifespan of 2 years and then it’s dead and gone.
2 x $10,010 = 20,020 (lifetime value of theme)
Take* a look at that number: $20,020. That’s your revenue potential for a single theme.
* and take it with a huge grain of salt, because it’s probably wildly inaccurate. This numbers are not based on facts and are meant to be illustrative.
Now, I haven’t mentioned costs. $20,020 looks glamorous, but before you go out and put that down on a Ferrari, consider the costs of developing a theme.
Roughly 500 development hours went into the Utility Pro theme. I won’t even mention the time spent researching beforehand, marketing after the fact, creating a storefront, ongoing support, etc. Let’s just stick with 500.
I’ve stopped doing hourly work (that’s a topic for another post), but my last hourly rate was $100/hr, so we’ll use that.
500 hours x $100/hr = $50,000
Even my six-year old nephew could tell you that $20,020 – $50,000 leaves you with a massive deficit.
Mentally, I have to toss out those hours and chalk it up to sweat equity (for the greater business goal of creating a recurring revenue stream), otherwise, I’d sit and cry.
I don’t know the fate of those 30 theme sellers Andrea mentions, but I’d bet some are tanking, others make just enough extra to help put the kids through school, and others are funding a healthy retirement.
What makes the difference between a wildly successful theme and a marginal one? Well, a ton of factors beyond the code – here are a handful I’ve learned, but then, I’m not in the bank roll crowd (yet), so pay attention to people who’ve had great success in this space, like Rebecca Gill and Shay Bocks.
Are you utterly depressed at this point? I hope not.
Of all the “it depends” to the questions we started this article out with, I’ve obviously made a decision to take part in the premium Genesis theme space.
My goal with this post is that, if you’re considering selling themes, you go into it with as much information you can. The best way to that (after reading this post?) Do your homework. Do the research.
If you think you’ve got a great idea for a niche of a niche and can kill it, then go out there and do it.
If you think your odds of success are low, then drop the idea like a hot potato, and figure out what your best opportunities are for making money. Selling themes is just one of a million ideas of how you can grow a WordPress business. Find the idea that fits you best and then crush it.