The other day, I received a comment on an old post about Society6 and other Print On Demand (POD) sites. It was a detailed and helpful perspective from an artist who has done a lot with POD, and other strategies for an art business in the past. I wanted to pull it out into special post so everyone can benefit from his experience.
He asked that I identify him as “someone who’s ‘been there’ many years, Mark Twain” and send you to his website, but the link is currently broken. I will update here when I have a working link.
On to his words, mostly unedited except for punctuation and legibility:
“Very nice article and I wish I’d seen it about 15 years ago when I started with PODs (Cafepress had just opened).
I have a very well-known cartoon with about 60,000 items on POD sites (and Amazon, sold through a private manufacturer).
I will probably not make a lot of friends here, but I’ll sleep better at night by revealing the following and you; and others interested in POD will save a lot of time, energy, money, and their sanity.
The POD model is not artist-friendly (at all). Not Society6, not Zazzle, not CafePress, not any of them.
Here’s why. Even if you made $500 on every item you sold, you still lose.
‘But,’ you ask me, ‘how could that be true?’
A real, branded entrepreneur has full control of his/her brand… such as the packing slip (should have his/her name on it), the outside label (his/her logo), the customer’s name and address (in your database, not the POD’s). Hell, the POD is nothing more than a glorified tee shop with an Internet connection. They print and drop-ship. They fulfill your orders. They have absolutely nothing to do with the creative part of it. They sure know how to print postage and tape on boxes well though.
But when a customer gets YOUR brand, they think they are getting a CafePress item or Zazzle item or Society6 item or you-name-it; anything but yours. Your name just happens to be in tiny letters somewhere on the graphic that can barely be seen.
The follow up mailouts and email solicitations are sent out by, guess who? Not you. The POD fulfillment center.
If you go to business school, you learn that your brand is as important (if not more so) than your income. Well, with a POD, you basically hand over your brand to the POD to do with it as they wish.
Most PODs have their own line too. They have links all over YOUR page on their site that take the visitor off your page and onto theirs. You best make a banner with your name boldly printed on it, and perhaps your URL to your site, or people truly think you are just someone who works there at the POD.
Think about it. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes.
On the bright side, PODs are necessary evils. They are good for beginning marketing; just don’t get too “tied into them” so that when a real licensing opportunity comes along, you don’t have the time, energy or money to carpe diem.
It’s expensive but LIMA (The International Licensing Industry Merchandiser’s Association) is a good bet to hook up with agents and real manufacturers. Still, there is no guarantee; but at least you can negotiate your own contract.
If a POD tries a “Your Brand” option that has your logo, your URL, your
packing slip, and you have all the names of clients, not the POD, then they are playing fair. Anything less, frankly, is highway robbery. Would you hand over your brand to a stranger you met on the highway? That’s exactly what you’re doing with a POD.
Maybe one day someone will open such a POD. I’d use it in a Dallas minute. Until then, I will use PODs for the little extra gas money that it offers, my private manufacturer for a bigger amount, and sales to academic books for the rest (since I am a cartoonist).
I hope this helps you and gives someone an idea to create a real co-branding POD. I know now, with the knowledge taught in cutting edge schools, all these guys will be dinosaurs within a decade (or less) due to the fact that artists simply won’t take it anymore. Today’s artist, real artist, is also a businessperson. And a businessperson does not give away his/her brand, nor lose control of it.
So there you have it, from someone who has tried these strategies themselves.
If you use a POD, be aware that you are losing out.
You won’t make a lot of money and every sale is a lost opportunity to create a relationship with someone who likes your art (and thus, might buy more in the future). It can be a good way to start offering products, especially if you can sell the products on your own site and then order it through the POD for your customer so you can keep more of the transaction in your hands (and under your brand), but ultimately you’ll want to connect with companies who will print your work and sell it to retailers.