Designers @ CafePress: The REAL power behind the POD giant’s throne

Selection of designs sold through CafePress by independent designers
Selection of designs sold through CafePress by independent designers

In a day and age where globalization is becoming the rule rather than the exception and forming strong and reliable partnerships for your business is everything, one of the paramount ingredients for growing your business and increasing your sales is trust.  Trust in your partners, trust from your customers, trust from the public in general.

Which is why POD (Print On Demand) giant, CafePress’s, latest policy changes in regards to how they divide profits with their design partners is generally considered to be a very odd business move and, in light of the company’s reliance on designers, potentially damaging to their overall brand.

CafePress provides a platform of blank products for designers to affix their designs, choose the commission they wish to make on each item, then sell them to the general public.  The strength of the company therefore is their design partners – those millions of independent designers who are out there creating unique, original t-shirt and giftware designs, uploading them onto products and then making them available for you, the public, to purchase via individual CafePress “shop” interfaces and the main CafePress Marketplace.  As many have pointed out – without the designers, CafePress (and every other POD company) would just be selling blank t-shirts.

For their part, CafePress provide all shipping, merchant services, shop hosting, e-commerce services and customer service support – for which they charge a base price per item (and in the case of “premium” shops, an additional monthly shop fee) to cover all the support duties they undertake – as well as promoting all the designs available on the CafePress platform from the designers who work with them via the CafePress Marketplace with TV, print and Internet ad campaigns – freeing up the designers to do what they are passionate about – design.

Sounds like a match made in heaven – and for a time it was.

Sure, there are other POD companies out there – Zazzle, Printfection, Spreadshirt, Skreened, RedBubble – just to name a few – all of whom are providing a very similar service, albeit with not as large a product selection as CafePress, but in theory, very similar business models.  But CafePress was universally seen as the premier POD service – not only because of the quality products they provided for sale, but also because of the care and support, mutual promotion and marketing efforts and strong relationships they had with their designers.

I have been working in partnership as a designer with CafePress since 2005.  And it has been a very successful partnership.  Even though I am based in Melbourne and they are based in Los Angeles (on the other side of the world), there was always good communication between us, my business has steadily grown and thrived and I knew I was bringing in a fair chunk of cash to the CafePress bank accounts each year and felt appreciated and supported by them for my efforts.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement that was working for both of us.  I even began talking to them about working exclusively with CafePress for my feature film and theatre merchandise, I was that happy with their service and ethics.  That’s how much I trusted and enjoyed working with them.

And this was the way of it until June 1st this year.  Sure, there had been indicators that all was not rosy in the CafePress camp in regards to designers – first they cut our volume bonus (a system that rewarded designers for selling a certain volume of products each month) late last year.  Then one of the CafePress founders left the company – never a good sign.  And then, in April this year, the news came through that CafePress had finally crossed the line of goodwill with the POD design community and would, as of June 1st, control how much each product would be sold for and how much money designers could make from their work (a questionable 10%) when selling via the CafePress Marketplace.

Essentially, we went from being akin to partners with CafePress, with the freedom to set our own prices and manage our own business in conjunction with the CafePress business model, to being employees who are expected to accept a flat fee for our unique and original work.  I know that is not what I signed up for – especially when all the other POD companies continue to allow designers to name our commission for our creative efforts without interference.

It is unclear why this change in policy at CafePress has happened.  Rumours abound, as they will.  As CafePress has never fully or satisfactorily explained why they have done this – it is all speculation at this stage.  The only truth we have to grasp is that designers working with CafePress will now earn less money per product – 10% of the overall price, rather than the average commission of between 20-70%, when people purchase products via the CafePress Market Place (on the main CafePress site).  This means that designers on average are now losing between 40-90% of their income from the CafePress platform.

The one ray of light in this scenario is that CafePress have made the following concession – if designers sell items directly through their CafePress Shops (which carry urls like this: http://www.cafepress.com/designername), then the designers will still receive their preferred commission on the products they sell featuring their designs.

Looks good in theory, except that, as designers who have populated the CafePress Marketplace with our designs and given CafePress something to actually sell, we are now in direct competition with that Marketplace as far as marketing and advertising goes.  As a result, many shopkeepers (as designers working with CafePress are known) have withdrawn (or are in the process of withdrawing) their products from the CafePress Marketplace and are now striking out on their own with promotion and advertising to try and protect the commission they feel their unique and original work is worth.  In some cases, this actually means that when you buy direct from a CafePress designer, you, the customer, will also be charged less for the same product available in the CafePress Marketplace.  Are you confused yet?  Tell me about it!

In light of this difficult situation, and in the spirit of helping promote what I have found to be a collaborative and supportive designer community at CafePress, the following individual designers’ CafePress stores are all excellent examples of the work available at CafePress – and will save you, the customer, the need to trawl through the overpopulated CafePress Marketplace and instead go straight to a shop that fits your interests immediately.  The added bonus from purchasing from this list is that if you purchase from these stores direct, you will also be ensuring that these members of the CafePress design community will be getting the commission they have set for themselves –so supporting individual designers AND getting unique gear and gifts in the process.

Because, ultimately, the design community is the REAL power behind the CafePress throne – no matter how much CafePress might appear to now think otherwise.

List of designers (in categories):


ANIMALS & PETS

All Animal Tees
http://www.cafepress.com/allanimaltees
Funny animal t-shirts & gifts

Corgi Chaos
http://www.cafepress.com/CorgiChaos
For Pembroke Welsh Corgi lovers only! Extraordinarily unique corgi t-shirts & gifts, including completely original cartoons. Agility, flyball, humor, holidays, and other assorted designs.

Digital Gryphon
http://www.cafepress.com/digitalgryphon
dragons, gryphons and other beasts

Menagerie Mayhem
http://www.cafepress.com/MenagerieMayhem
Dog lover t-shirts, parrot apparel, and other gifts for pet lovers! Dog agility and other canine sports, parrots gone wild, reptile silhouettes, and more designs. Cute cartoons, gorgeous photography, and plenty of humor for anyone that adores animals.

My Tiny Pet
http://www.cafepress.com/lovebeat
Digital, pop art style paintings of pets and animals

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ART & PHOTOGRAPHY

Beltain Celtic Arts Gifts
http://www.cafepress.com/beltain
Beautiful original Celtic art designs with an explanation of the knotwork’s meaning and relation to Celtic culture.  There’s also an artist’s statement in the sidebar

Fyfe Photography
http://www.cafepress.com/fyfephotography
Gifts featuring nature photography, emotive photography, souvenirs for Scotland, London, Monterey (California) and San Francisco, fairies, unicorns, dragons, princesses and princes, baby designs, personalization, USA souvenirs, cats and kittens, gerbils, horses, homeschooling, Irish and St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween, New Years, angels, inspiration for writers, diet and fitness designs, large family designs and lots more!

Plasmic Studio
http://www.cafepress.com/plasmicstudio
An array of products featuring designs and illustrations created by Plasmic Studio, a design firm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Roses That Last
http://www.cafepress.com/rosesthatlast
gifts and apparel featuring roses & other florals

Silajai
http://www.cafepress.com/silajai
Reproductions of the artist’s original oil pastel, acrylic, watercolor and color pencil works of art – mostly animals and pets

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COUNTRIES/REGIONAL

Leprechaun Gifts
http://www.cafepress.com/leprechaungifts
Your one-stop-shop for all things Irish – including a wide range of St Patrick’s Day t-shirts & gifts.

Polish Heritage Gift Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/polishheritage
A wide variety of t-shirts, clothing, merchandise and gift products designed around a combination of the Polish Eagle, map and flag. The red and white colors of the Poland flag are heavily used in these colorful Polish heritage designs.

Polish Texan Gift Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/polishtexans
Polish Texan Gift Shop offers t-shirts, clothing, merchandise and gift products designed around a combination of the Polish Eagle, Polish and Texas Flags and Polish and Texas Maps. The colors of Poland and Texas are heavily used in these colorful designs.

Polish American Gift Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/polishamerican
A wide variety of t-shirts, clothing, merchandise and gift products designed around a combination of the US map and flag and the Polish Eagle, map and flag. The red, white and blue colors of the Poland and American flag are heavily used in these colorful Polish American heritage designs.

Polish Canadian Gift Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/polishcanadian
Polish Canadian Gift Shop offers t-shirts, clothing, merchandise and gift products designed around a combination of the Polish Eagle, Polish and Canadian Flags, Polish and Canadian Maps and the Canadian maple leaf. The colors of Poland and Canada are heavily used in these colorful designs.

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FAMILY & KIDS

Art Lady Manor
http://www.cafepress.com/artladymanor
Kid’s t-shirt designs and other family friendly apparel. Birthdays and sibling shirts

Lil’ Squirt Tees – Funny & Cute Designs Galore For Babies Kids Moms & More!
http://www.cafepress.com/lilsquirttees
Welcome to Lil’ Squirt Tees where you’ll find original and cute t-shirts for kids, babies, toddlers, newborns, parents, brothers, sisters, grandmas, grandpas and more! Lil’ Squirt Tees carries Funny & Cute designs, Events & Holidays apparel, Political gear, Stuff for Mom and Designs & Graphics that’ll look great in your child’s room. LilSquirtTees.com – Funny & Cute Designs Galore For Babies, Kids, Moms and More!

Pride Gift Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/pridegiftshop
Crest and heraldic themed designs for the whole family available on a wide range of t-shirts & gifts. Sections include World Flags, World’s Best Professions, Mothers & Fathers Day gifts and military-themed – all featuring crests and laurel wreaths in a variety of colours and styles. Summer special: prices lower than in the CafePress market place.

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FUNNY & HUMOROUS

Barry’s World
http://www.cafepress.com/barrysworld
Wacky, surreal & wholly unique gift ideas from the admittedly warped mind of Barry Goldberg. Suicidal snakes? Killer penguins? Musical meerkats? They’re all here, plus more weirdness than you can shake a stick at!

BurnTees – Funny & Witty Tees outta Dirty New Jersey
http://www.cafepress.com/burntees
Looking for a funny t shirt? New Jersey t-shirts or Dirty Jersey tees? Vintage tee shirts? A novelty t shirt? A retro t-shirt? An anti-Bush tee shirt? Maybe an offensive t shirt? St. Patrick’s Day tee shirts? How about a pop culture tee? Well you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to BurnTees…the most original t shirt ideas on the web and the only place with the I Put the Stud in Study T Shirt and our almost famous Jesus Saves passes to Moses T Shirt.

Dustbuster Tees
http://www.cafepress.com/dustbuster
funny tees to make you laugh out loud

JMGNole Smart Tees
http://www.cafepress.com/jmgnole
If you laugh at sexy, ribald, adult, goofy, humor, you might find something here that makes you chuckle. If you like beer and boobs and smartass humor, then you’re right at home. If fart jokes make you laugh, welcome to the party. If you like Hooters, well, who doesn’t?

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GAY & GAY PRIDE

Flights Of Dragons
http://www.cafepress.com/flightofdragons
gay pride gifts, fetish symbols and celebrating the lyrics of R&P

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GENERAL & CUSTOM DESIGNS

MM Custom Creations
http://www.cafepress.com/mm_creations
Custom designs for t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and more.  Holidays, occupations, scrapbooking, pop culture… whatever you’re in to, we probably have a t-shirt for that. Be sure to check out our wedding designs and bachelorette party invitations (with matching thank you notes!). Don’t see what you’re looking for? We’re happy to make a custom design just for you!

The Full Moon Emporium
http://www.cafepress.com/fullmoonemp
A large emporium style shop with a heavy dose of humor.  Featuring hobbies, pets, sports, international countries as well as cities in every state of the USA.  Also includes fine art works as well as a whole line of lovely fractal works.

My T-shirt Store
http://www.cafepress.com/mytshirtstore
Original humor, fantasy art, Egyptian art, inspirational words, cute little designs, holiday themes, Anime fan stuff, Twilight designs, and the ever popular “Secret Order of Mad Scientists, Evil Geniuses and Supervillains!

Scarebaby Casual Apparel
http://www.cafepress.com/scarebaby
Holidays & Special Occasions, Literature & Fine Art, Wedding & Bridal, Political, Issues & Causes, Flags & National Pride, Kids’ Gear, Animal Stuff, TV & Movie Quotes, Twilight Gear, American Idol Gear, Hobbies and more!

Teesed.com
http://www.cafepress.com/teesed
An eclectic selection of designs covering Holidays & Special Occasions, Humor, College Wear, Adult Humor, Baby/Infant Gear, Pets & Pet Lovers, Su Doku, Political Gear, Activism & Awareness, Geek Gear … even Crop Circle T-shirts!

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LITERATURE & PERFORMING ARTS

Incognita Store
http://www.cafepress.com/incognitashop
High quality, original and unique designs on t shirts, gifts and apparel for actors, filmmakers, directors, producers, crew, musicians & writers and all those who just love the stage and screen. Famous sayings, quotes and thoughts from those who’ve been on the frontline of film and theatre and fun designs for those who are there now, feature on a huge range of t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, caps and home & office wares for the movie or theater buff in your life.

The Shakespeare Shoppe
http://www.cafepress.com/shakespeareink
T-shirts, apparel and a wide range of gifts for the discerning Shakespeare fan, as well as items featuring Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth the First and other famous Elizabethan folk. You’ll also find Elizabethan pirates, thieves and cutpurses, t-shirts & gifts featuring the Elizabethan theatres and other entertainments and much, much more!

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OFFICIAL MERCHANDISE

The Official Online Store of Jabloo
http://www.cafepress.com/jabloo
The Official merchandise for Jabloo – a children’s interactive animation project featuring Moco, Burr, Sham, Yubi and Galoo – five colorful friends who create their own adventures… with you!

The Official Romanovsky & Phillips Songbook
http://www.cafepress.com/r_and_p
All about Ron Romanovsky & Paul Phillips

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ORGANIZATIONS & COMMUNITY INITIATIVES

The Masonic Shop
http://www.cafepress.com/masons
How bout the largest Masonic Shop on the planet with more than 22,000 products for Masons, Shriners and the Order of the Eastern Star.

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RETRO/VINTAGE

Queen Vintage
http://www.cafepress.com/queenvintage
t-shirts with a retro feel

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RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL

Reflections
http://www.cafepress.com/reflections06
At Reflections you’ll find a wide variety of one of a kind Christian t-shirts as well as funny, family friendly T-shirts like our top selling 24 T-shirts, Mom Likes Me Best T-shirts, Scrabble T-shirts and so much more!

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3 thoughts on “Designers @ CafePress: The REAL power behind the POD giant’s throne

  1. Hello fellow Australian and CP shopkeeper 🙂

    This is a fantastic post. It can be hard to articulate what has happened over at Cafepress – and you did the best job I’ve seen!!

    I’m Amanda (aka Manz) from GritFX – we opted out of the marketplace as soon as the change occured. I felt it was a huge show of lack of respect for creativity and intellectual property… no way could we leave our designs in the MP.

    Also felt it was extremely rude that shops paid for in advance (we’re paid up until March next year) were not offered any kind of refund!

    I started a twitter account to help spread the word about shops – if I see a tweet about a design in the MP, I’ll locate the shop URL and reply with it. That’s one thing I’m doing. Would love you to drop by and take a look – @SupportSKs – and I set this page up today: http://www.gritfx.com/g_friends_sks.html

    Cheers,
    Manz

  2. Great post… am another aussie who has just started thinking about selling through CafePress or some such… are you going to keep your shop there or relocate to an alternative? Any recommendations would be appreciated.

  3. I’m so excited… Zazzle has now become our number one POD service provider! With skreened.com a great backup for those designs that need that extra deep print area 😉

    Goodbye Cafepress – I doubt we’ll miss you!

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