August 27, 2014

About Envato’s items support proposal

by The Evolve team in Thoughts

Yesterday Envato revealed their intentions regarding items support on the ThemeForest and CodeCanyon marketplaces.

The article itself, and recap posts around the net, combined with the thread over at ThemeForest forums are all well worth a read.

Could we abstain ourselves from chiming in? Of course not!

Support is a core activity of our daily routine, and occupies a central part of our business. It drives development, helps us gather feedback, and in the end helps products to become even better. We care about support so much that we’ve implemented a support platform ourselves, investing a remarkable amount of time.

Many ThemeForest authors, while not being obligated by anyone, provide free of charge support. We know that many of them do that because they care about it just as much as we do, but it’s a fact nonetheless that the vast majority of authors were kind of forced to do so, in order to avoid losing competitive advantage.

Support is a very time consuming activity and its nature is heterogeneous and humbling: replying to issues of widely different kinds, daily puts authors in the position to deal with either legitimate support requests, or questions that hardly fit common sense, not to mention authors’ support policies.

We don’t have specific issues with folks at Envato willing to give order to support, what’s allowed and what should not: that has been long due, and it’s nice to know that topic is finally being tackled.

We’d like to express our uncertainties concerning a couple of key facts:

  • Arbitrarily establishing a 6-months after the purchase period under which support is guaranteed, as part of the item’s price, seems like an open invitation to non relevant support requests on already “stable” products. In the end, even simple answers take a lot of time, if multiplied by the hundreds.
  • We’re not discussing the 70/30% shares of Support Packs, but we might argue that their price, among other things, should somehow be agreed upon between the Envato team and theme authors directly. If Envato arbitrarily set a price for Support Packs it’s almost as if they sold something that not only they do not own, but also something that they don’t even distribute, which is authors’ time. And time is a very precious asset to all of us.
  • We’re kind of scared of Support Packs, for that matter. We understand why they should exist, we understand they can be a valuable stream of revenue, but after over three years in the business, our guts tell us that the end result would probably be nothing more than users still asking more and more out of place support questions: “Hey, why are you denying support to me? Heck, I’ve paid for it!”.
  • Establishing hourly limits for support is profoundly wrong, for a simple reason: it will likely require most authors to rethink their support to make it happen, restructuring their platform, or outsourcing support altogether. This, in particular, is a not-so-irrelevant investment that simply cannot be forced, but should rather be an author’s own decision, imposed by various factors, being business volume is one of them.

If these points aren’t enough, the ever-open issue that involves support requests made on authors’ comment section, or even privately via email, remains, well… still open.

Regardless of whom writes down support policies, nothing prohibits users from writing silly support requests, and leaving bad ratings if they judge the answer they receive unsatisfactory.

The common idea here is that bad ratings will eventually be a minority, if the product rates high in quality and reflects the expectations, but that simply doesn’t make receiving a one-star rating for futile reasons less painful.

Bottom line, we know the support topic should be tackled somehow, but we’re not naive enough to believe it can be solved once and for all, not with impositions from above, nor without consulting the ones responsible for support in the first place.

A glance at Envato’s choices might lead people to think they were taking into account both authors and customers, while a deeper look reveals that it’s yet another “business” decision. Theirs, not ours.

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