What Are Print-On-Demand Websites?
Print-on-demand websites are really popular for their ability to put an artist into the manufacturing market so easily. All you have to do is upload a high-quality image of your work and, in some cases, set prices. Everything else is done for you – printing your art on anything from fine canvases to mugs.
Sites like this include Society6, Red Bubble, Threadless, CafePress (or its higher-quality competitor Zazzle), ImageKind and even as a function of Fine Art America.
And it’s great that these exist because they allow you to tiptoe into the world of retail without investing thousands of dollars and spending a lot of time in research mode (a mode I find most artists abhor).
It’s Not All Sunshine
But there’s a seedier side to these wonderful little sites. One of the biggest problems I see with them is that people declare, “I’m going to sell my art on Society6.” They do it with fervor and real intention. But when they get in there, things don’t happen overnight. They might not have a single buyer for months on end. And even when an artist knows how to get buyers to their site, well, it’s just not enough.
See as cool as these sites seem, they don’t actually entice a lot of customers. And the few customers they do attract have an incredible number of artists to choose from. The likelihood they find your design, and then fall in love with your design more than anyone else’s, is slim enough that you won’t likely be making a fulltime living from a print-on-demand site. Or even a nice side income.
Did you know that these print-on-demand sites don’t tell anyone their traffic numbers?
It’s probably because the numbers are so low, you can only expect a handful of people to even look at your products each month. And that’s not going to make you enough money.
What Does That Mean for Me?
So my point in all this is to tell you that a print-on-demand site can’t be your only strategy. This can’t be your only revenue stream. As annoying as it is, you have to run the numbers when you’re deciding on your business model (don’t run from that phrase – it just means how you’re gonna make money). And when you do, you’ll catch things like this. Oops – Society6, as cool as it looks, isn’t going to market itself and if I have to market it on top of my regular website, then I won’t have time to paint hardly ever (or whatever your situation might be).
So you’ll realize that diversifying your income is really helpful in order to actually make enough income. You might put your work on Society6, but with the knowledge that you’ll only get a few customers from there and that it’s a good place to send customers you’ve found on your own who might want something other than an original piece.
This is a good moment to remind you how important it is to price your art well – both originals and prints – so that your diverse sources of income are all pulling their weight appropriately. Take some time to watch my free video on The Art of Pricing Art so you can upgrade to perfect prices.
Putting Your Eggs in One Basket
Another side note here, though it could probably be its own article, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Say you sign up for RedBubble and you put all your effort into it and get it to a point where it’s making you lots of money (congrats!) – and then RedBubble gets bought out by Google (just an example) and Google mismanages because they never really cared about the project and then they cut their losses and RedBubble closes down.
Now you’ve got no business.
And that happens sometimes. I’ve heard stories. Make sure you know how to get in touch with your customers and potential customers so that you’re not tied to any one strategy or site. Even download CSV files of your email subscriber list from time to time, just in case your email provider loses the information or -gasp!- goes under completely.
So What Should You Do Next?
It’s time to rethink your business model. Take a few minutes to write down the different ways you can sell your art (originals and prints on your website, originals in galleries, prints wholesale to local stores, etc.) and then spend an afternoon nailing your pricing. It’s key to making your business model work. If pricing scares you, watch my free video that gives you the step by step for perfect pricing.