Back in 2010, Cafepress decided that they were going to change how they compensated their designers.   Instead of receiving your predetermined royalty on any of your designs, any sales you made from your products found in the marketplace (i.e. general searching from Cafepress’ homepage) would default to an across the board 10% commission.   This basically destroyed the community of designers that depended on their regular markup as income and caused a massive jumping of ship from Cafepress.   Cafepress neither folded nor deviated from that decision in the last three years.

Principles would force me to show solidarity and flee Cafepress.  However, the fact that, out of all of my Print on Demand shops, Cafepress comprised 50% of my total revenue I just couldn’t.   Yes, it was a hassle.  It still is.  I cannot lower my standard markup to compete against the base prices in the marketplace which tells me that Cafepress charges the designers MORE for the base price of the items they sell in the marketplace.   If you need any further proof, look at this.

This is the general marketplace search of one of my ringer shirts, Amity Island Swim Club.
The marketplace price is $14.99.  Buying this shirt will generate a commission of $1.49 for me, the designer.

Now, here is the same shirt in my product designer.  This is where I decide what the name and description is, as well as the markup.  As you can see, I haven’t even added a markup yet and it’s already a dollar more than if you bought it in the marketplace.     

That $15.99 base price is what it would cost me to buy the shirt if I bought my own work and wanted to use my CafePress earnings to pay for it.   So, as an added bonus, designers might want to think about using other funds to buy their own works and you can even generate a 10% discount in royalties for the sale.

Like I said, 50% of my earnings from shirts come from CafePress, so I bite my tongue and stick with it.

Now, Zazzle is either feeling the pinch of the economy or they have decided to just cut overhead.   It was recently announced that, one, prices for products were going to increase due to inflation and, two, the structure for our volume bonuses were going to change drastically.

The way the volume bonus worked was that for every non-referred sale of your work, meaning someone found it on Zazzle and were not referred by a third party, you earned a bonus of 7% of the total base price sales over $100.    To clarify, in any given month, if you sold over $100 in designs, excluding your markup, for every dollar over $100, you got a bonus of $0.07 cents.   The tiers increased in percentage as you went up.   Let me tell you, at Christmas time, I earned an additional $150 in extra cash due to the increase in sales in the month of December.

As of July first, though, the structure has changed.  You only make extra money with referring people to Zazzle.  That means that other people make extra money off your sales, not you, anymore.  If you refer others to buy stuff on Zazzle, they calculate a bonus after $100 in base sales.  That first tier is 1% up to $999.  So, if you manage to refer enough sales to make $999, you get $9.99 in bonus payout.  5% for sales between $1000 and $4999.    So, if you are good at referring and social media you can make more money than a designer can.   

Now, I do not have a problem with others making referral money off my work.  I’m all for it.  But the old way was better for everybody.  Referral sales used to net folks 15% of the sale.  Now, it's the same tier as us designers on referrals.

Also, it used to be that when you set a markup on your products there was no service penalty for markups between 10% and 20%.   That, too has changed.  While they reduced the minimum markup to 5% they enacted a “transaction fee” of 5% for designers who marked up their work 15% and higher.    So, while Zazzlers get a better shake of the deal with take home royalties than CafePress users, we are now being punished for pricing our work at the lower end of what we really feel it should be worth. 

As of writing this, I see no new restrictions, changes, or screwing overs being perpetrated by Skreened and Redbubble, my two other stores.   I am confident in them and they have been a higher quality of companies to work with in the long run.  While I do not make as much through their sites, (volume not royalty amounts), I am happy to continue hosting my work with them.  Well, let’s face it, I am still going to sell my work on CafePress and Zazzle, but if you haven’t noticed lately, I have been pushing Skreened and Redbubble designs more and more due to the shenanigans at the Walmart and Target of Print on Demand sites.   Reason being is that they are higher in customer service and materials, and quite frankly I would rather people buy my stuff with them than with the other two.  They obviously do not need my help.
  • So, what are your horror stories or gripes with Print On Demand publishing?
  • Have you made the jump to being independent?
  • What are ways to help those of us still relying on other companies to do the heavy lifting?

  1. Some of the tips I get here I can’t find anywhere else. Thanks

    Posted on September 3, 2013 at 4:31 AM

  2. Anonymous Said,

    And now CafePress only offers 5% - how things have changed!

    Posted on March 1, 2014 at 7:36 PM


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