Top 10 ThemeForest Nuisances

ThemeForest is probably the Internet’s most popular place to turn to if you need a theme, plugin or multimedia content for your website or nifty templates and whatnot for your print publications. It’s the place to get value for money out of your budget.

Although, from my point of view, quality standards have taken a hit these recent months despite Envato’s improved submission requirements , if you know your way around the site, there is a load of excellent quality items to be found that are, even if prices have also increased a bit recently, sold way below the premium prices you would have to pay to, say, an experienced freelancer or professional with a solid portfolio. I’m writing this as a simple customer, someone who spends a bit of time on the site here and there to have a look around and to see how themes are developing and improving from year to year. I have even bought some for some projects or to help other people out with theirs, but I would, for all intents and purposes, call myself an observer rather than a participant.

As is always the case, once you get to know a site better, the annoying aspects rear their ugly heads relatively fast, especially if you consider that ThemeForest has nearly 2 million registered marketplace members. Here they are then, my top 10 ThemeForest nuisances.

01) The Impatient Customer

If the 2 million registered marketplace members are a representative cross section of society, then a minimum of 50% of that society is simply too impatient to get anything right. You know, the people who never read the manual but complain right away that things aren’t working. The ones who always find fault with everything and everyone else but never with themselves. The ones who yell first and think later. The idiots, to put it bluntly. This is not a Darwinian angle I’m approaching this from, it’s simple observation.

See, if you buy a WordPress theme from ThemeForest, it always comes packaged in a zip-file. That file needs to be unzipped and inside you will find the actual theme in another separate zip file, plus a bunch of other files like the documentation, Photoshop files, etc. Most theme authors – and Envato, the company running the shop(s) – time and again remind people of this fact and that they should unpack the zip file and only upload the theme file inside, but there isn’t an hour that goes by without customers inquiring (yelling and screaming, sometimes with spittle flying from their foaming mouths) as to why their theme doesn’t work. Although the only apt reply is “because your brain doesn’t“, theme authors have to use precious support time (support, by the way, is entirely voluntary) to calmly explain the procedure again and again. Still, the forums and the theme comment sections are regularly spammed with the same annoying help request and many customers simply don’t bother reading them anymore. I sure as hell don’t.

The same goes for just about everything else. The theme documentation says you need to upload images with a width of 500px and you upload pictures with one of 300px. They don’t show up and you run and complain. The author has spent days outlining how to set up the homepage in his or her precisely worded theme documentation and you wonder why uploading the file wasn’t enough. Nothing shows, you run over to the forum and complain!

Repeat, rinse, repeat.

The swear words that should be thrown at these people simply haven’t been invented yet.

02) The Garbled Support Request

The language of the Internet is English. I know that even native speakers have their problems getting it right more often than not, but the audacity with which some users from around the planet phrase the most garbled support requests is simply mind-baffling.

I’m sure that “My theme not grazy help?” will put a serious frown on any theme author’s forehead and “I not work my theme contact!” leaves plenty of room for interpretation. “Why is theme template not nice?” is then only a more esoteric variation of language incompetence (apparently, the user meant that in his out-dated Internet Explorer 6, the template didn’t really work, a fact that the theme author had to practically beat out of him via 6 or 7 questions).

All you politically-correct folks out there might call me arrogant, but besides the fact that these “support requests” (verbatim, and quoted in full; yes those sentences were …it) are from around the marketplace, what baffles me most is that the people posting them obviously didn’t spend more than a second (if at all) thinking about what they were about to publish for 2 million potential readers. Unintelligible barks from the hip, sans capitalization or, even better, all in CAPS. Take your pick.

It’s a 21st century thing that you can see wherever people are allowed to post anything.
The Envato marketplaces are then also a great place to observe humanity devolving into primal ooze.

03) The Annoying Novice

Have you ever walked into some nuclear power station and were surprised that when you started fiddling with the knobs, people were somewhat annoyed?

Have you ever tried to get a car salesman to let you take that nifty new Ferrari for a test drive and felt unfairly attacked when said sales person told you that it might be a good idea to get a driver’s license first?

Well, if you have absolutely no idea what WordPress is, you’re in luck. Head over to the ThemeForest marketplace, buy anything and try to do exactly that with it. Then start yelling and screaming or, best of all, attack everyone else because the HTML template did not make WordPress happy, no matter how hard you tried to press all the shiny WordPress interface buttons. Demand your money back because you bought a Photoshop file that, surprisingly enough, did not make your WordPress website shine when you uploaded it and waited for the magic to happen. Rate a WordPress plugin with one single star because it broke your ExpressionEngine setup. In short, publicize your stupendous ignorance for the whole world to see.

Yes, of course, beginners need to be helped (I know, because I took the hard road as well and actually read all those black things letters people assembled on those white things pages into nice pictures meaningful tutorials), but idiots don’t.

I’m awestruck time and again when I see the patience with which many authors and members react to these individuals.

I would probably turn into an alcoholic within a week.

04) The Hidden Support Forum

Sometimes, theme authors are not very forthcoming and, because it is easier for them, they also move all of their support-related discussions to a forum they set up somewhere. That’s cool. It saves time, money and energy and keeps answers in one place as the ThemeForest comments are practically useless. As a potential customer though, if you want to judge a theme author’s work and support, it is a real nuisance to see that most of those off-site forums are locked down securely. I can understand that Internet piracy is a problem for authors selling a theme worth thousands for around $45 a piece, but if you want a sale from me, you need to be more open.

To give you an example: There’s this one theme author whose work I really, really like. In regard to two of his themes I asked pre-sale questions in the respective comment section that weren’t answered (this author follows a totally random method of simply ignoring some questions). I then tried to look at his support forum to see if I might deduce the answers I was looking for from what was posted there … and hit a brick wall.

Then read.

To put a price on it, that guy lost about $150 in sales. Not much you might say, but multiply that by a larger number of customers who reacted the same way I did by simply moving on (I know of three who did, and I don’t really participate at all over there), you lost out on a holiday on the Bahamas. Simple maths, really. Even once you subtract the Envato commission.

05) The Amazing Front Page Race

What once was a cushy place, the WordPress themes front page, has turned into one of the world’s faster race courses. There was a time when you needed to pop by once a week to see what’s new, today you have to drop by seemingly four to five times per day just to catch a glimpse of new themes published. They move off that front page faster than that “Woola” dog could in “John Carter from Mars”.

The problem is though that whereas in Formula 1 racing technology has improved to a point where cars might simply take to the air soon, ThemeForest WordPress themes have not fared so well. There’s simply too much generic slush appearing day in and day out and I wonder if the Envato quality control family actually reads the comment sections of items they have approved (after a supposedly rigid Woola quality control run). In those comment sections you can regularly read about the most basic functionality being absent from a theme, glaring errors which need to be patched and, if you care to look, you can see ever-growing changelogs that used to show improvements and today often show several versions of essential bug fixes.

Once customers become human guinea pigs to test unfinished themes on, there is a danger they might lose interest.

Expansion is one thing, guarded expansion another.
Just sayin’

06) The Sales Hype

Drag & drop, intuitive, easy even for novice users! Cross-browser compatible! Unique!

Really? Are you sure? In regard to 1) to 3) above?

I think not. Especially if you then offer up a theme which is actually not at all as advertised and only has those great possibilities because you tweaked a million things and twiddled a trillion knobs to get that nifty homepage nailed together whose setup deviates so massively from what people are used to that (even experienced) customers have to take a university course to follow your “intuitive” way of thinking.

Actually, I should be thankful for those kinds of themes because the corresponding comment sections are usually the most entertaining ones on ThemeForest … and a real hoot.

07) The Whiner

Money attracts all kinds of folks; always has and always will. You can make lots of money on ThemeForest if you’re good and there are authors on there who have broken through the $1 million barrier. So, you think to yourself, 9th grade isn’t really for you anyway and you are now going to be the next web design hotshot. Never mind the old 486 PC with 2MB memory, the illgegal Photoshop 3 stuttering about on it. You whip out your old trusted Microsoft FrontPage and go about copying the top-selling generic themes (slider, 3 boxes, portfolio, footer) multiplying around the marketplace. You then proudly submit your stunning (in every sense of the word) template and are flabbergasted. “Refused? Me? The design is not up to standards and the *cough* programming isn’t either?”

Instead of taking a step back and perhaps giving 9th grade another chance, you RUN (don’t walk) over to the ThemeForest forums and start whining. Nice people will then try to politely tell you to sit down and learn a bit about layout, typography, white space and other things western civilization needed several hundred years to come up with and you … continue to whine about the injustice of the world in general and ThemeForest’s unfair quality control.

Most entertaining.
No, really.

08) The Copy Cats

I’m not going to complain about more and more themes beginning to look like they were designed by the same author, the responsive bootstrap themes that have been flooding the marketplace recently. Apparently there’s a market for them and that’s why people are throwing them out there. No, it’s the people who copy other authors’ branding that annoy the hell out of me. One would think that a designer who wants to be recognized might actually consider coming up with a unique brand design of his own but, alas, there are quite a few who closely study other successful authors and designers and then proceed to mimic their approach for all it’s worth, down to copying as closely as possible the other author’s small avatar logo to deceive potential customers into thinking they are looking at another author’s theme or template. If you then study the designs they come up with, you usually notice right away that you’ve also seen those elsewhere. And the item details page. And the phrasing. And the support forum. And …

09) The Lazy Programmer

There are two groups of designers and programmers on ThemeForest. Those who work and those who let others do the work for them.

There is nothing wrong with using a framework that someone else has cooked up, or libraries and code snippets, but when your theme is nothing but, you’re doing something wrong. If you at least have an original design idea to blanket your Lego bricks with, you might even get some sales (even from me if the design is good), but in the long run people will simply start to ignore your work.

The worst of these toy creations are the ones that come with a totally generic design because the theme author apparently didn’t know how to turn a horizontal menu into a vertical drop-down. So, horizontal it is and will be, come hell or high water. That’s like painting an AMC Pacer, that “glassine bolus of dorkiness,” puke green and calling it CMA Pacer. Won’t fly, dude.

10) The Uncommunicative

Imagine sitting in some Envato office with one of their employees and suddenly, BOOM, the boss who sneaked into the office through the backdoor sets off a firecracker large enough to make any party crasher proud. The Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” is probably not the first thing you would think of in a situation like that.

Nevertheless, that’s exactly how Envato likes to announce most of the changes around their site, from small design tweaks to hefty price changes. “Whoomp! (There It Is)”!

I am the last person to complain, for example, about price hikes, simply because most of the work offered over there (even the Lego brick themes) are worth a lot more than the former standard $35 price tag, but the way Envato sprung major ones on its customers was akin to shoving the above-mentioned firecracker right up their rear ends. To a simple customer like me, one that spends a bit of time around the marketplace and its forums more or less regularly, it is surprising to see that Envato’s rapid growth has not really lead to a more communicative approach. It really helps to inform people before you implement large-scale changes and, as is often the case with other companies I know, to keep your mouth shut about improvements until you are actually ready to implement them. Promising them to authors for more than a year (and beyond) without having anything to show for yourself is not exactly cool.

Not that I really care.

I just look at the pretty themes.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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