ThemeForest vs independent theme shops? Well, let’s face it – the myriad of options available to any prospective WordPress theme purchaser is utterly overwhelming. As such, reducing the pool of contenders to one or two trusted sellers seems like a good idea, but it raises the question: where should you actually buy WordPress themes from?

For many, ThemeForest is the go-to resource. It has a vast library of themes, and you’ll find no small number of WordPress users raving about its bestsellers. However, there’s debate to be had over whether ThemeForest is an ideal marketplace. In fact, purchasing from ThemeForest may even raise some ethical questions you haven’t yet considered.

Popular publications such as WordPress Tavern have raised doubts about ThemeForest in the past, and with that in mind, we want to delve deeper into the issue of ThemeForest versus independent theme retailers. In this post, we’re going to briefly discuss what ThemeForest is exactly, go deep on the pros and cons of buying from them, and look at independent theme shops as an alternative. By the end, you’ll know exactly where to buy WordPress themes.

ThemeForest vs independent theme shops

What is ThemeForest?

The ThemeForest homepage.

ThemeForest, one of Envato’s many software-pushing businesses, is a marketplace for website themes. At the time of writing, it is the 370th-ish most visited website in the world, according to Alexa.

It offers thousands of themes for all manner of platforms, with WordPress featuring heavily. This popularity within the WordPress community has resulted in ThemeForest’s rampant financial success, with 50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest raking in at least $1,000 per month.

ThemeForest theme profits

There’s no doubting that ThemeForest offers a broad variety of themes (albeit of varying quality), nor can one question their dominance in the WordPress theme market. So, what exactly is the issue here?

Should you buy from ThemeForest?

ThemeForest is the digital grand bazaar for WordPress themes. If you’re looking for a specific type of theme, it’s likely to be found somewhere within their extensive library.

On top of quantity, you will also find quality. ThemeForest serves up a huge selection of well-built themes, many of which are user-friendly, and enable you to get up and running quickly. ThemeForest’s best selling theme of all time, Avada, is an excellent example of all the above in action:

The Avada homepage.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows over at ThemeForest.

Theme bloat is the first issue worth pondering upon when discussing ThemeForest vs anything else. ThemeForest is a marketplace full of vendors vying with each other to produce bigger, better, and more feature-rich themes – which sounds awesome, at first glance.

In reality, however, this fierce competition means that certain themes are overloaded with functionality that most WordPress webmasters would never use. Bulkier themes can contribute to increased load times, which in turn can negatively affect SEO. This isn’t just theory either – it’s been noticed by end users.

As for licensing, ThemeForest is inconsistent with what’s on offer – something discussed by the guys at EngageWP. Rather than every product being offered under a General Public License (GPL) – as most free WordPress themes and plugins are, for example – ThemeForest serves up products that vary in terms of licensing, causing uncertainty.

For example, some themes are only partially GPL – meaning that certain elements within the theme are protected by commercial licenses, which goes against the spirit of WordPress’ open-source nature. Talk about confusing.

The ethical issues of buying from ThemeForest

It can be argued that buying from ThemeForest vs from somewhere else raises some ethical issues. Let’s take a look at the argument from either side:

From a moral perspective, it’s worth considering the importance of helping small businesses – particularly in today’s stormy financial climate. After all, it’s the spark of those smaller businesses that truly drive the WordPress community forward, whereas one could argue that Envato largely funnels that community spirit into an opportunity for monetization.

On the other hand, many see ThemeForest as a positive force in the WordPress community. They give small (as well as large) vendors a prominent platform to market their digital wares in front of a massive audience. For many small-time WordPress theme builders, ThemeForest is nothing but a blessing in this regard.

That said, although you may still be helping the “little guy” when purchasing from ThemeForest, you will also be contributing to Envato’s continuing growth. This is a corporation that, for example, does not deal with developers who have no tax treaty with the USA. In other words, it doesn’t represent a level playing field for the global development community.

Finally, there is the simple issue that enabling one entity to control a huge proportion of the market is rarely a good thing in the long term. While things seem relatively cosy with ThemeForest right now, who’s to say where we’ll be down the line.

What about independent theme shops?

Independent WordPress theme shops are dotted all around the internet (see our roundup of top 110+ companies), and many of them command respect within the WordPress community. By purchasing themes from independent retailers such as Elegant ThemesWPMU, StudioPress, and – obviously – ThemeIsle, you’ll likely avoid the drawbacks inherent with ThemeForest.

ThemeForest vs other theme shops

You may also find that by purchasing from an independent source, you’re joining a true WordPress community – complete with a blog, support forums, invested support staff, Facebook groups, and so on.

In short, if you’re asking whether you should buy your next WordPress theme from ThemeForest or an independent theme shop, there is no right or wrong answer. However, your average theme shop is certainly a very different beast to ThemeForest, and it may well suit your needs more appropriately.

Conclusion – ThemeForest vs theme shops

There are plenty of good reasons to buy from ThemeForest, and despite our reservations, we’re certainly not advocating for anybody to boycott them.

However, the issues raised throughout the post are important ones, and they should be taken into account before your next purchase. As a result, you may consider an independent vendor the next time you decide to purchase a WordPress theme – for the good of yourself and the community!

To recap, here’s  what you should consider  before deciding where to buy your next theme from:

  •  Are you concerned about the ethics behind your purchase? 
  •  Would you like a lightweight, purpose-built theme, or a multipurpose beast? 
  •  Would you like your theme to be available under a General Public License? 
  •  Is joining a community that you can rely upon important to you? 

What’s your opinion on this “ThemeForest vs” issue – are you a ThemeForest fan, or an advocate of independent theme shops? Share your views with us in the comments section below:

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is a freelance blogger, longtime WordPress enthusiast and the founder of WordCandy. Find him at
  • luizlopes85

    Very interesting position. And I consider the costs too. The license, in ThemeForest, is for one single installation and many other theme shops offers unlimited installations.
    The best option is what fits you. So search a lot and find the theme/plugin thats fits most your business.

  • Lisa Murray

    I NEVER buy from Themeforest. As a front-end developer I have worked with several clients who have themes from Themeforest, some good – some bad – but mostly bad. Theme bloat and non-traditional ways of incorporating “features” make many Themeforest themes cumbersome and frustrating. Most clients I have come across don’t actually “own” their themes so getting support is next to impossible unless you buy another license or extended support and even then it is dependent on the integrity and support level of the individual theme developer. I’m not a fan.

    • Hey Lisa,

      Thanks for dropping by! I won’t be so harsh, I mean I know shops on ThemeForest who are building themes that you will enjoy using like PixelGrade or ArrayThemes, others are indeed bloated, however they also work for people who are more into marketing, they get those divi-like themes, learn for a while how to use it and then create 100s of sites for clients.

  • Sjoerd

    The risk of an abandoned theme/plugin is far bigger with the Themeforest shopkeepers as well.

    • Good point! People tend to better take care of their own shop, even if is a small or not so profitable one, just because is a more personal thing, on TF I saw some really old/broken or unsupported things.

      However the good part on TF is that you have filters and you can easily check if a theme was updated/ supported.

  • iazresources

    We are all for elegantthemes as our choice. Themeforest license terms are not economical for agency

    • ElegantThemes is indeed very affordable, for agencies is a steal! However I do believe that in the long term they would need to change this a bit, when there won’t be as many new users coming to WordPress things might not go well enough for them.

  • Autumn Jupiter

    I prefer independent developers rather than themeforest for themes. Themeforest has high prices and the theme developers are a risk, no way to guarantee clean code & that I get good support from the creators. If I am not satisfied then I have to wait for a refund that I might not get or will take weeks to show back into my account.

    • Karol K.

      I agree. The good thing with independent theme shops is that once you find a quality one, you can continue working with them for years. You know the kind of quality they bring. You know what to expect. And you also know how the backend works in the themes – so modifying anything is easier too.

  • Ann Taylor

    i’m not a fan of market giants like TF as well. But i kinda doff my head to their strategy that helped to build the brand: a theme won’t go through if it’s not quality enough and not unique; commonsense of the prices; one of the best affiliate programs, support from vendors was also fine. Btw, if any non-tech users google for a theme, there are not a lot of chances they’ll manage to find a website of that ‘small independent theme provider’ (yes, “small” as i’m not talking about other popular competitors like Elegant Themes or StuidoPress). But such a big community as TF is able to provide this needed level of promotion not only for a particular theme, but for the entire vendor brand as well (but this is what you actually covered in the post). Still most users would be happy to buy from small independent websites. The problem is how to make them more popular and prove reliability.
    p.s. and you are right about those tons of unneeded features in some themes!

  • jameskatt

    ThemeForest is disqualified from my point of view as a source for themes because if you want to make money from your website by protecting content, the price of their themes is about $3000 PER WEBSITE. This is such a huge price that it knocks it out of contention for educational and membership websites and other sites where you protect your content.

    For example: DIVI from ElegantThemes would cost you $69 FOR UNLIMITED WEBSITES. But AVADA from ThemeForest would cost you $3000 PER WEBSITE. They both do the same thing.

  • Mitch Cohen

    One thing the article doesn’t mention was there pay for support. after a set amount of time if you want more support you have to pay for it. Most independent authors do not charge for support. and if they do there is a user forum you can post and get help from the community.
    My real problem with theme forest is the customers that bought themes when support was free all the time, TF did not grandfather us in to keep lifetime support they gave us 6 months “free” Big deal. and said now you have to pay. I will never buy another theme or tell a friend that asks me where should I buy a theme from. Stay independent support WordPress development, don’t feed the TF Monster.

  • Laura P.

    I recently purchased a theme from ThemeForest and it did not perform as shown in the display image. I requested a refund and was denied by the theme author. I left a factual review and was contacted by the theme author and accused of liebel and they guy also said that if I did not change my review my ThemeForest account would be terminated. I was so shocked. It all seemed SO UNPROFESSIONAL. I asked the author not to contact me again and within minutes I was locked out of my account. I really never expected to be harassed and threatened over a theme! I’m SERIOUSLY confused. So, I gladly clicked on the list provided in this post to look for other NON-ThemeForest themes, but a few at the top first take you to an independent site, and after you click to find out more about a theme it takes you.. guess where? Themeforest. Just wanted to let you know.

    Thanks for listening and producing the list – time to update it for 2017!!!



    • Sabina Ionescu

      Hey Laura, thanks for sharing your story, I’m surprised to hear these things happen. I hope that this type of behavior is an exception and that you simply bumped into the wrong author. I would suggest to report them on ThemeForest, not let these things happen to others.
      As for independent authors, many are non-exclusive and upload their themes on TF as well as their separate sites. For example, our theme Hestia is listed in both places