Shame on you, CafePress!


I have been meaning to write a blog post about this for a week or so, but thinking about it bums me out.

In case you don’t know what CafePress is, it is a site that sells t-shirts and other items printed on demand.  Thousands of designers have bought into the concept, opening up shops and uploading their own original designs to sell to the public.  I was soooo happy when I discovered their service.  I have been a member since 6/25/2004, or so it says on my account.  I started out with the free option, opening up a separate shop for each design.  Then I decided to upgrade to a Premium Shop for about $60 a year, and have consolidated my designs into one shop (Maison Celeste).

Now, I will be the first to tell you that I am not making a living off of my earnings at CafePress.  I make from $30 to $120 per month.  But I have really appreciated having my shop up.  It’s great exposure, and I have sold my work not only in the United States, but also abroad.  Just recently, I have had triple the orders that I had last year, which was encouraging.  I plan on highlighting more of my products on my blog, explaining the creative process behind my digital work.  I have also planned some other promotional ideas…

But a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a problem with my commissions.  The way CafePress used to work, I would set the markup for my items in the shop.  I could either choose to set an exact markup price for all items, or choose an algorithm that produced a sliding (relative) profit scale.  There’s also a place where you can choose what they call tiered markup: low,  medium, high or premium.  I usually choose high, which gives me from $1.00 on small items to $6 or $7 on larger items.  Every time I sell something, the markup is shown on my report.  I got the same profit, no matter if the customer clicked straight on my shop or if the product was found through the CafePress Marketplace search engine.

When I last checked my sales report, I noticed two things. First of all,  the items purchased by customers through the CafePress Marketplace were more expensive to the buyer.  For example, my La Paloma Tote Bag is priced in my shop at $15.99.  The original cost is $12.99 without the design.  Therefore, I make $3.00 on that purchase.  On June 14th, however, someone purchased that same tote bag through the Marketplace.  The cost to the customer was $17.00 and my profit was $1.70 (a flat 10% of the newly elevated price).  I was aghast.

So, the other night, I started to do some internet research to see if anyone else had learned more about this strange change then I did.  I came across a very detailed report written by Jim at Irregular  He not only commented on the change in policy, but detailed what happened when he removed his products from the Marketplace (yes, one can opt out of the Marketplace).  Even though some of his products were purchased from his shop, he still received the Marketplace 10% markup.  The post is very enlightening, and more information has been added through reader comments.  The basic idea seems to be that CafePress is, in essence, competing with its own designers.

I have since been looking into alternatives to CafePress, although the thought of re-doing everything bums me out.  I found a very informative comparative article on called “CafePress Alternatives and Competitors” .  I have gone to Printfection, but they definitely don’t have the merchandise range offered by CafePress.  I don’t think that I will miss all of the items, like the coffee mugs and notebooks, but I definitely need someone that prints posters, cards, and magnets.  On the upside, Printfection has a massive range of t-shirt styles and colors.  I don’t get the appeal of the cutting boards, though…

I am already a little familiar with Zazzle – I just didn’t see any advantage to their program.  In fact, last time I checked, there seemed to be no option to have a shop.  Looking at the site now, it does look a bit different, and it has a really large merchandise selection.   The article in Squidoo basically says what I had heard about Zazzle, that the markups are limited and no stores.  But when I just clicked on “Sell” at Zazzle, it looked like they had made some policy changes, perhaps to lure people from CafePress.  I will look into it more later.

Finally, there is Spreadshirt, which is a German company.  At the moment I am unable to access their site, because of maintenance.  But the range of products is impressive – as are the prices.  I think I looked at one wacky halter-like t-shirt that was going to sell for 75 Euros – not Dollars, but Euros!!!!!  I will go back later.

In the meantime, please go to my CafePress Shop and check it out.  I am planning on removing myself from the Marketplace, which means that I will need to do more promotion myself!


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