There have been some developments within the inner workings of CafePress that have a lot of us shopkeepers pretty CafePissed. Recently, TPTB @ CP decided to change the model of how sales are calculated for designers and shopkeepers.
Until May of 2009, any design you placed on a product resided in your store and was also available from the search engine on CafePress site proper, also called The Marketplace, or by browsing through products or themes. The price you set for the products in your store was reflected in the Marketplace. Each product has a base price and you decide what the markup should be for each.
Now, the model is that your own shopkeeper store will continue to operate in the same manner, but the Marketplace will change. CP will set flat retail prices on all the products regardless of design. Then, for each sale, the shopkeeper who designed the item will receive a 10% commission. Your store will continue to operate like it did, outside of these changes?
Well, what does all this mean to you? Nothing, really. However, to a shopkeeper this means a lot. If a shopkeeper does $500 in sales for a month and normally makes $125 in profit for his/her work, they are now going to make only $50 for the month, IF the price on the item in the Marketplace is the same as their store.
Let’s break this down further. In this example we’ll use a shirt that has a base price of $9.99 for Shopkeeper stores and $13.99 retail price in the Marketplace.
In the old model, for the Marketplace, the base price for a shirt with an added markup of $5.00 netted the shopkeeper $5.00 in profit, plain and simple. In the new model, for the Marketplace, the same item now retails at $13.99 and the profit to the shopkeeper is $1.39.
Does this mean shopkeepers are inherently greedy? No. For the most part, shopkeepers are talented individuals that want to show off their designs and eventually be paid for their work and creativity. Is CafePress being greedy? I can’t say. The official word to shopkeepers was that with the current model, they had hit a ceiling with raking in new customers. Ok, in essence they dropped their prices... so, why not drop their base prices as well for Shopkeepers? That cuts into profits. They haven’t even settled on prices yet. They are still testing the waters and adjusting prices accordingly. If you buy a shirt today for $13.00, tomorrow it could be $12.00.
While they say they sympathize with Shopkeepers that rely on the profits from the marketplace to sustain their business and even perhaps their livelihood, the company line is that a retailer like Wal-Mart only gives 3% to a designer for a piece of work. If that’s the case, so be it. But look at the volume. If one design sold on CafePress like it did in Wal-Mart I don’t think they would be taking these measures to boost sales.
Another issue is that most shopkeepers are not in this business as a main source of income. They don’t have the time or the ability to build brand awareness and shop loyalty so they rely on the Marketplace for their sales. Not CP’s problem. They do all the work and all you do is design and tag images for products. I can’t complain from a time standpoint. I like being able to develop a design and just add it to products. I don’t have to print or ship anything, and I don’t have to handle the billing. They do all that for me and for that, I should at least be thankful. However, there are other changes that are troubling, from that perspective.
They have also decided to retool the search engine running in the marketplace to give higher search visibility to higher quality products while removing redundancies and lower quality designs. This means if you and another shopkeeper have the same idea at the same time and decide to put it on a shirt, you better have a better looking design or twist the concept into something else. Nine times out of ten, when I come up with something on my own or I get inspired by a pop culture event, I do a quick check on CP to see if it’s already been done. I don’t want to waste my time competing with other designers who may have more time to devote to their work. I design in my spare time using a combination of Microsoft Word and Paint.Net to do the work. I don’t own a copy of Photoshop or any other high quality graphics program. I rely on tricks and masking to do what others do and sometimes it takes me longer to get up and running before someone else may. So, if someone already gets to a concept before I do, I weigh the options and go from there.
My biggest problem with this change to the Marketplace is the method by which they are eliminating or reorganizing designs. In the past, I have talked about my brushes with the long arm of the CafePress law, the Content Usage Police…er Associates. From time to time I understand that there are some designs that resemble a copyrighted image or idea. It might be accidental or it might be done in parody. The rules governing parody are gray scale at best. However, there has been a huge inconsistency in how members of the C.U.P. decide what designs are allowed and what aren’t.
I have put images into my media basket that are of my own work only to have them pulled because of some vague reference to being copyrighted. They yank the design and give you a blanket statement as to why. Sometimes, you can push for more information and other times they ignore your requests or tell you to call….ending the paper trial as it were. Anytime I get a “Pending Image” message I immediately go into the Marketplace and search for anything similar or worse in terms of copyright infringement. If I cry foul, I get some kind of runaround about how they determine these removals. To date, I have only had one image returned to circulation…only to have it pulled later. Also, I have only had one success in having another violating design pulled because it was similar to mine which was deemed questionable, and I had to do that through a third party not affiliated with CP in order to test their response.
It’s this inconsistency in quality control that bothers me most. If they can’t police the designers consistently, what kind of methods are they using to pick and choose which designs get the thumbs and thumbs down for the Marketplace? Are they consistently choosing the best designs? Is the process consistent between members of that group if there are more than one? What standards are they comparing against? These are questions that have yet to be answered.
One of my most popular designs has sold more than any others I have. In fact, I only have like three designs that have sold more than once. I mainly get a one timer on any given design. So, this cash cow, as it were for me, is keeping me in business and if by some fluke of nature they foul up and scuttle it by accident in favor of a poorer quality design, I lose out big time. I don’t know what recourse I have in that instance. How do you argue with them that your design is better than another? I don’t want to have to defend my work to someone just because I like it.
So, what are my next steps? Once the prices are finalized in the Marketplace, I intend to get a list of all final retail prices and adjust my shop prices accordingly. To date, I’ve only had one item sell through my shop. All other sales have been driven through the Marketplace. That way I can compete with the Marketplace and recoup some of the profit margin I’ve lost. Then, I’ll make a more concerted effort to market my store. This brings me to the only change I like in this whole mess. CafePress has made it so that every item sold comes with the name and URL of the shop listed on the sales receipt above the main CP one. That helps for repeat customers but does little for those of us who throw away the receipt after the package is opened. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
For now, I will continue to pepper my blog posts with relevant designs and links to them in the store. On occasion I will do a shop specific update. I've just opened a Facebook page which you can become a fan of by clicking up at the top of the blog where it says Facebook. I'v also sunk a little money into a Facebook ad just to test the waters. In any event, every link on every design there and in this blog will be tied directly to my store and not CP proper. I am also on the lookout for any petitions or groups banding together to fight this. In all seriousness, I make less from CP per month than most people make in a 40 hour week of regular work.
While a lot of the rhetoric thrown about talks of shopkeepers jumping ship to Zazzle, I don’t find myself following, anytime soon. It took me three months to hone the turnaround process on design and implementation into my store and I’d rather let my competition go to another site and hope I can survive the storm. Although, this is a trend that could continue to strip away what little profit shopkeeper’s make on CP and I can only stay around as long as that is what I am making, a profit. Remember, for a premium shop, designers pay to play. If I had a basic shop model, I would have to maintain nearly 150 different shops, one for each design. I have no idea what this change is doing to them nor do I want to think about it.