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Monday, March 30, 2009

Oh the Two Manatee: CafePress Content Police Strike Again

I wasn't planning on doing another CafePress follow-up post so quickly, it's just that they continue to try my patience. In my last post I shared, what I thought, was a clever shirt design called "Habitat For Two Manatees." Well, it got pulled into pending status by the Content Police over the weekend. It had been up for two days before it was nicked and I was a little bit upset. Mainly, because it would be two to three days before anyone on their side could get back to me explaining the problem. I mean, I know what the problem is, I used the logo for Habitat For Humanity as the basis for my design which is usually a no-no. Even in the case of fair use policy concerning parodies, it's still a gray area and if it were my company, I'd probably err on the side of caution and pull it, too.

That notwithstanding, I did decide to not wait and did a redesign on the image to get it back up and running. I changed the design on the "habitat" and branded all my previous HF2M shirts with the new image. Fifteen minutes later, it got yanked. Now this is where I have a problem. Clearly, I changed the logo and there should have been no reason for objection. Apparently, the tagging system is partially the key to this process as I kept the same tags on my image as before. While it took nearly two days to pull the first, it only took fifteen minutes to pull the second. Either they have an automated system for checking against previously corralled designs or someone was manning the button on a Saturday afternoon. I can't understand why it takes less time for them to yank an image after it's uploaded than it does to email me back concerning my claim.

This is becoming a habit. The last five out of eight designs I uploaded have been pulled into pending status. Now, we could either classify in one of two ways. I have no creative spark and am just copying other people’s work which is violating some sort of copyright infringement, or I am just following the pack mentality over at CafePress and I’m the only one getting nailed while others go free. It almost seems that I am more upset with the fact that other people are utilizing designs of questionable legality and I cannot versus being upset that I am not allowed to use my images in general. If that’s the case then I need to realize that they are not MY images I guess and that other people are just better at sneaking past the censors.

While writing this, I did get a response from CafePress. They wish me to call them and discuss it. I don’t know how to take that. It’s either too complex to discuss over email or I just got called to the Principal’s office.

In terms of my objection to their objections I did have another design that could be easily identifiable as a cartoon character. However, I did a search on CafePress’ website to see if said character had been already out there. It had and it was more blatant of a copying of the character then I intended. I intended to have a silhouette of the character with one word underneath the image. Of course, in tagging my design, I used specific keywords that pointed to the cartoon from hence it came. While the other designer used the full image the character, there was no text or name signifying the character, but using two words in the search field brought back their image. Those two words are also the name of the character. Again, I got nailed, they didn’t. I am perfectly able to accept that I was in the wrong. I did read (image of a cartoon character) in the body of the usage policy, but why am I the only one who is held to this standard. It makes me wonder if the objections are in the tagging and that leads to further dissection of the design. I am currently conducting an experiment. I uploaded all offending images again with certain tags removed. If they get pulled then it is not the tagging perhaps. And they did….so someone is manually looking for these things or have coding/logic built in to red flag certain items.

This covers one part of my issues and I love how all these issues come up after my free trial is over. Ironically, this second issue is concerning my free trial that ended earlier this month. During that time I managed to sell as many items as I had with free, basic shops. That was one of the main reasons I decided to continue on and pay for a premium store after the free trial ended. Since the free trial has ended, so have my sales. I have not sold one item since. It makes me wonder if there is some sort of mechanism in CafePress’ site that recognizes which designs belong to a premium site since one of their marketing tips is that Premium Shops get better promotion in the shopping area. If that’s the case, they could also build logic to include a timer on sites that are in a free trial, pushing them to the top of the rankings, giving shopkeepers confidence in making money on their designs. They decide to stay around after the trial ends and whatever coding is in place expires and their designs go back into a rotating pool. This is definitely a rotating ranking. My designs have changed position in rankings while the total number of designs with the search terms I used stayed the same. That could be driven by sales. I’m still researching that idea.

Like I said, it’s not illegal but it is a little shady. It definitely would have made me think more about keeping a premium site after the trial if I knew ahead of time that my sales would drop. If it’s true, then we all get duped as the entire cost for a year’s membership gets billed automatically at the end of the trial, not on a monthly basis unless you pick that form of payment. It’s cheaper to do it in bulk, which is a marketing trick. We all do it. Buy in bulk and pay a cheaper price per item/month.

I think my biggest problem is really a lack of organization. As much as I’ve tried to organize my designs I keep coming up with more that expands the category. Some products even exhibit elements of more than one category and it makes it harder to group items. The best thing I did do was have a listing of all my categories and designs within run down the side of my shop page. However, all of my sales are from searching, not from my shop portal. That also plays into my heavy handed tagging of designs to drive search results to my designs. Ok, so I am trying to capitalize on selling opportunities. Who wouldn’t? It would be different if I wasn’t paying for the service but now I am so it behooves me to experiment and try different techniques to increase sales.

With all this being said, I did manage to sell another shirt in the time it took me to write this. I actually could not believe it when I saw it. It was such an obscure reference to a very cheesy 80’s movie. The kind of film that only Robot Chicken would dare have the pop cult junkie mentality to even make a reference to. Any kid that grew up during the 80’s probably saw this on HBO countless times and could quote half the movie. It’s from Midnight Madness, a scavenger hunt film from Disney which also served as Michael J. Fox’s first movie role. He was even billed as Michael Fox in the opening credits. Other notable cast members include Eddie Deezen, David Naughton, and Stephen Furst. At one point in the film, all the teams are scouring Los Angeles searching for clues that will lead them to a finish line. The obligatory antagonist group, led by Stephen Furst, has been cheating with the use of a computer to help solve the clues. Unfortunately, it suffers a marshmallow meltdown and the team is forced to actually play by the rules. Upon receiving a clue with a set of letters, the dumbest member of the group, Barf, attempts to rearrange the letters to spell out a possible destination. Little do they know that the letters are actually musical notes that play out the Pabst Blue Ribbon theme song. In his many attempts to decipher the clue, Barf spells out the words "Faga Beefe". While nonsensical in nature, it has provided one of the funniest lines ever in film history. So, I give you the latest item sold at M.A.M.S, the store. Faga Beefe!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Habitat For Two Manatees

A quick Friday post touting one of many designs you will find on M.A.M.S., the store!

I love me a pun or some wordplay and this one has an interwoven complexity to it. I did some reading up on the Manatee. This lovable marine creature isn’t so much threatened by predators but more by its curiosity and love of shallow waters off the coast. Unfortunately it’s not unheard of to see a manatee with some parts missing. They are hit by boats or caught by propellers on a usual basis tearing their fins and tails. Sometimes the poor things get sliced open causing their organs to spill out. Ok, I have to stop with the gruesome imagery here….that’s just sad.

Anyway, to switch gears, grinding all the way, here is the latest design to hit the Pop Cult Couture section of M.A.M.S. I’ve had a couple people really get a chuckle over this one and my wife, who is the biggest supporter of “My husband is a dork” movement, didn’t roll her eyes at this one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Got a Wii 4 Free

Several posts ago, I went on and on about wanting to get a Nintendo Wii. I already have a PS3 which is great for me, but my wife and soon to be gamer Daughter may have some problems getting with the control system and some of the games I own aren’t exactly for more than one player or family oriented, at that. So, I went on a quest to get a Wii for the family. Now, compared to the PS3, the Wii is priced pretty low. However, where you make up the difference is all the additions. There’s the extra controllers and nun chucks. Not to mention the charging station as I’ve been told the controllers will drain a set of double AA batteries in a week. On top of that some of the games require some fancy peripherals like the Wii Fit Balance Board or Zapper. Once you get to the register, you could be looking at $500 and that’s before you really get any games. Speaking of games, the catalog of Wii centered game titles is a bit on the weak side. Anything that I can get for the PS3 I will probably do so unless it’s a family oriented title.

So, after much consideration and a good long look at my bank account, I decided that I was going to get it for free, just like I did with my PS3. Ever the cheap ass gamer, I immediately went and signed up with my old friends at Trainn on Your Nintendo Wii 4 Free. However, I really didn’t have the time to devote to another IFW site, right now, so I'm keeping it to get the $250 cash for free, instead. Looking at other options, I figured I could just start putting money aside or use any holiday or birthday money but that is always a problem when I look at my outstanding credit card debts. Every time I get extra money I throw it at my savings or debt. Since the Wii is a luxury item for me, it ranks low among my priorities.

Then, on a whim, I checked out my Visa Rewards Points that I’ve been accumulating over the last four years. When I signed up, I originally intended to use them towards plane tickets so I could take my wife on a real honeymoon. But, it would be years before I would be able to redeem enough to make it worth the wait. I checked the catalog over in full and found that for 400,000 points I could get a Wii. I thought, “Wow!” There it is. Then I checked my balance. I had half that already accumulated. It would take another 4 years to produce the rest at my current rate. Not to mention, I’d pretty much have to spend nearly $200,000 just to get all 400,000 points. I checked the catalog again and saw that I could redeem my current balance for around $220 give or take if I opted for cash or gift cards. That’s when it hit me. The price of a Wii is $249. I have almost that amount. I did it.

That’s half the battle. All the peripherals would cost close to that same amount. I feverishly put into place another plan of attack. Using my Paypal account and my checking account, I cycled 20 transactions a month of $1 each. Starting off with a $20 withdrawal from PayPal to my Checking account, I then put $20 back into my PayPal account, $1 at a time. Each transaction was worth 25 points giving me a monthly maximum allowance of 500 points. For every 2000 points I can redeem them for $4. Granted, it takes me four months to build up 2000 points by that method, my usual spending habits will make up the difference quickly giving me a monthly accruement of close to 7000 points. Every two months, I can redeem that for $28. If I can be disciplined enough to do the redemption, I can pay myself back in a few months time. Additionally, my birthday just occurred and my family gave me cash. Totaling all of that up, I now had more than enough to buy the Wii and all the extras.

Somehow, life has its moments and all of this got put on hold when my Mother-In-Law was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her treatment and recovery have been nothing short of miraculous considering that she was diagnosed on March 12th, tested over that weekend, went in for surgery on March 18th and was home on March 20th. She’s due to get her stitches out March 26th. My wife felt extremely bad for dumping the entire world on me in order to help out, which was nothing. I babysat, drove my daughter to various babysitters, and just kept her at an even keel. But, she wanted things to get back to normal so, she took me shopping after her Mother got out of the hospital. This past weekend I had to go to four businesses to get everything but we managed to do it.

At Best Buy we got the Wii, charging station with extra nun chuck, and Wii Play with extra controller for $400.
At GameStop, I picked up House of the Dead 2 & 3 for $31.00
At Wal-Mart, I got the last WiiFit for $90.
I added 2000 Wii points for $21.00
And I bought 2 third party Zappers on eBay for $24.00

In all, I came out ahead by about $32. I also managed to recoup close to $10 by buying the gift cards for Best Buy at our local grocery store which gives you $0.10 off a gallon of gas for every $50 you spend. I dropped my price for gas from $1.99 a gallon to $1.19 a gallon on my next fill up.

After my shopping spree, we came home and put our Daughter down for a nap. I figured I could get everything set up and have some time to play. Two hours later, I had it all setup and was settling down to do some zombie shooting when the little one woke up. Figures. I have been able to get in some game time and I’ve become addicted to beating my own records on Wii Sports. The Fitness part of that game said I was 64 on Monday and 29 on Tuesday. I just turned 34. I don’t think it’s very accurate. I will say that all the hype about injuries are real. My body is hurting. My arms hurt, my shoulders hurt, and my legs hurt. With any luck I’ll end up with a pulled Wii knee. It’s that twisted sense of humor that prompted me to put up these two shirt designs on the store. I’ve already sold one and bought one for myself.

We're doomed, aren't we?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Job More Important Than Brain Surgeon

I haven’t been posting with my normal frequency. A couple of posts back I went into great detail about my Mother-in-Law’s diagnosis with a brain tumor. For any of those of you who are wondering, the prognosis is good. Let me start off by giving a big thanks and kudos to the staff and doctors of UPMC Shadyside. Anyone familiar with medicine and hospital care has probably heard of the UPMC Health System. Being a resident of the Southwestern Pennsylvania area, we have access to some of the most cutting edge technology in hospitals. Granted, there are bigger and more advanced facilities but we hold our own here. The care my Mother-In-Law received was excellent and the staff should be commended on their skills. I’d also like to send a big shout out to Wendy’s for their Baconator Combo Meal and PBS Kids Sprout, but more on that later.

Last I had stated, my wife’s Mother went through an MRI and was admitted to hospital for testing. Two days in the ER and two days in the Neurosurgery wing later, she came home and prepared for surgery. They had given her steroids to reduce the swelling which had caused the loopy behavior. Now, they were going to go in and remove a tumor, roughly 5 cm in size. She was going to endure about four hours of surgery, three to four days of recovery in the hospital and two weeks’ worth of home recovery before going back to work. Truthfully, that’s not too bad. They don’t expect any rehabilitation or adverse effects from poking her in the head. They’re were off on their estimates.

Now before you start to sink and think the worst, realize I said they were off on their estimates. I didn’t say how. It turns out she was in surgery for little more than an hour and a half and was awake immediately after. She spent Wednesday evening and most of Thursday in ICU recovery and then got moved to a room in the Neurosurgery wing. She came home on Friday. The only hurdle we have left to clear is the two weeks of home recovery. See, no doom and gloom.

While I can’t go into any great details about her experience I can give you a glimpse into what it is like as a spectator to the event. Because, as you know, it’s all about me. From my perspective, I’ve had to watch from the outside looking in on the ups and downs of my Mother-in-Law’s health issues. Only recently have I become a more active player but the recent events have been more of an exercise in child management than moral support.

When I got the call from my MIL, as she will be referenced here on out, I was sitting at my desk like always. I had been conversing with her cousin about her impeding MRI and she had mentioned about my MIL stopping at mailboxes and running red lights on the way there. She had been acting rather distant and confused for a month. She seemed meek and this is a woman that is a mama bear. She will knock you down and tell you like it is. For her to have this look of confusion on her face when trying to eat her dinner, you know something is wrong.

And the MRI almost didn’t happen. She had an appointment with her PCP and was planning on telling them everything was fine. My wife, a new mama bear on her way to full membership, was going with her to make sure they understood what was really happening. She helped to get the MRI in the works. Then, my MIL coworkers kept the wheel spinning when my MIL decided she was going to just cancel or reschedule the MRI because she felt fine. They forced her to go…but nobody offered to drive, unfortunately.

So, there I am twiddling away the afternoon when I got the call. “You need to go home now. I need to go to the ER and you won’t have a babysitter for the afternoon.” I didn’t really understand how it all worked. I just did what I was told. I left work, and started home. She called me on my cell and asked if I was on my way. I missed part of the message. Originally, I thought I was going home as her husband, our babysitter, was going to be on his way to pick her up for the trip to the ER. Apparently, I was to take her home, first. Luckily, I was only at the other end of the road her office is on and turned around.

In the car, she quickly tried to contact some people and seemed with it more than usual. I asked her if her or her husband had told my wife, yet. They hadn’t and I specifically told them not to. I would take care of it when I got there. My fear was that one of them would call and tell her on the phone while our daughter was in her presence. Knowing my wife, I was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face and her distressed look would upset the baby. Since our daughter is still less than two years old, she doesn’t quite understand what is about to happen but she does sense tension and despair and her empathic ability carries over into her mood. Her world was going to be thrown upside down and I wanted it to try and stay clear of the debris.

I dropped my MIL off and headed home. The three minute drive from one house to the other wasn’t long enough in my opinion. Here I was about to tell my wife that her Mother was going to the ER and that she needed to contact her oncologist and have him consult with a neurosurgeon. There’s no easy way to cram all that medical jargon into a more digestible chunk without sounding insincere or flippant. I practiced again and again how I would tell her. Not to mention, I was going to have to somehow deliver the bad news with a smile and upbeat demeanor so that my daughter doesn’t catch onto it. I decided to wing it as I pulled into the driveway. My wife was just getting out of the shower and was puzzled as to why I was there instead of her Dad. She had already sensed something was wrong and I immediately asked her if the baby was napping. Luckily, she had just gone down and my wife had every opportunity to act naturally.

She only caught three words out of my entire speech. “ER”, “Oncologist” and “Neurosurgeon.” Everything else was white noise. She began wandering around the house not making any logical motions. Putting things away that didn’t present any issue being out. Trying to get ready to teach lessons that she was going to have to cancel because she was going to go to the hospital. I asked her if she wanted me to take her or to stay with our daughter while she went. She needed me to be there so, I called my Mother to come and sit with the baby. While my wife called her students, I made every possible provision to ensure a smooth stay for my Mom because I didn’t know when we’d be back. I filled up the gas in our car so that if she had to travel, she had a baby seat. I moved all of the cats, their food and their litter box into our room. She’s allergic. I got out different foods and snacks for them to have for dinner and I started listing all of our cell numbers and what hospital we’d be at on the refrigerator.

Our daughter woke up right before my Mother arrived which is nice because she sees us first. That keeps her life simple and normal. We left for the ER and found out that there was some kind of mass on my MIL’s brain and that they needed to reduce the swelling first. This was the cause for her mental state. That state seemed fine to me as she and the nurse attending to her in the ER had a very upbeat and snappy banter about needle sticks, health care, and all around bedside manner. I don’t know if she was using humor and snarky comments as a defense mechanism but it worked. The nurse was laughing hysterically as were we.

After three more days in the hospital, my MIL came home with a plan of action. The surgeon was confident about procedure and she was scheduled for a Wednesday surgery. I took off work for the last half of the week and got the marching orders.

Wednesday: My wife and FIL were going down with my MIL for surgery. I was staying home until the baby awoke and then will transport her to my parents and join my wife at the hospital.
Thursday: My daughter had a doctor’s appointment, so I was going to be with her, then probably wouldn’t see my wife until late.
Friday: Everything was probably just status quo in recovery and I could go to work and then take over watching the little one while my wife goes to the hospital.
Weekend: Play by ear.

I did what I could to keep busy in the quiet of my house while my daughter slept. I fiddled with my computer, caught up on my DVR recordings and generally became bored out of my mind. Meanwhile, my MIL was having her head cracked open like a walnut so that they could look inside for something that didn’t belong. Once the baby was up, I fed her, packed her whole world into the car and left for my 40 minute drive to my parents. After running down the list of things I could remember, I parted with my daughter and headed for Pittsburgh. One thing I will share with you about this experience. I’ve acquired some new skills. I am now able to eat a full meal from Wendy’s, including a frosty, while driving 65 mph on the Turnpike. Previously, I had always required two hands to eat a Frosty. They require a fork. A straw just doesn’t cut it. I managed to be able to place it in the cup holder and spoon out the frosty goodness without dripping. Both Friday of the last week and today I had to grab my lunch on the go from Wendy’s and I have gained a huge love of the Baconator sandwich. I highly recommend picking up one…or three.

I got to the hospital around 4pm and sat with my extended family in the ICU family lounge. As I stated earlier, surgery was abnormally quick. It was the kind of situation where you think the worst. The kind where the doctor informs you that there was no way to do the operation because of the tumor or that she arrested before they could even get it all out. Seeing a doctor that quick is enough to make your stomach fall out of your ass. Luckily, it was just a quick surgery.

We were allowed to see her in ICU soon after and she looked like a reject from a punk show or someone that had passed out at a party before removing their shoes. Her hair was all messed up with red and yellow patches of color and there was marker writing near her temple. I couldn’t read what was written but in my sick and twisted sense of humor I asked if that was where they notated to “DO NOT CUT” or “CUT LEFT OF HERE.” She had a pounding headache which was normal but had very good cognitive skills.

My wife was a bundle of nerves and constantly needled the doctors for more information prompting my FIL to ask for some Duct Tape. I could understand her state of mind. She and her Mother are very close and ever since her first diagnosis of renal cell cancer in 97, she has become very attached to her. I fear one day it will be very, very hard. I just hope that it’s a situation where she goes in her sleep as a very old woman from natural causes. It’s never easy to lose a parent but this is a connection that transcends normal Mother-Daughter relationships. You have to admire that. One of the aspects of this family that I have grown to love is how Daughters take care of their Mothers, young and old alike.

Finally allowing her to get some much needed rest, we went to pick up our Daughter to get some normalcy in our evening. She was very good for my parents and my wife decided and her parents recommended that she needed to stay home on Thursday as nothing new was going to happen. No test results were going to come in on the tissue that was removed. She wasn’t going to have any changes in care. She needed to just rest and my wife needed to let her. She also needed to go with me to our Daughter’s doctor appointment as I am still a novice when it comes to handling all the particulars.

Come Friday, my wife was simply going in with her Father to help get her Mother home. This was a highly improbable event. After having major brain surgery on Wednesday, she was coming home on Friday. I understand that patient turnaround in a major hospital is essential to maintain, but I just couldn’t believe that she was cleared for this. Granted, when my wife was in for the birth of our child, she opted to come home a day early because she was ready to climb the walls. This was something she regretted as she really needed another day of recovery in a hospital setting. You live and you learn. However, cesarean births and brain surgery are two different matters, yet my wife was in the hospital longer than her Mother in this respect.

While my wife got her Mother settled in and cleaned up around the house in preparation for the inevitable guests and well wishers to arrive, I stayed home once again and watched our Daughter. Since I wasn’t going to be dropping her off anywhere it was just a Daddy-Daughter day and we watched television. First there was Zaboomafoo. Then there was Barney & Friends. Next, was Play With Me, Sesame. Finally, there was Caillou. My Daughter was enthralled and sat on my lap with her “Blangy” (Blanket) and her “BaJoose” (Bottle of Juice) during most of the block of kids programming. Otherwise, she was playing with her Mrs. Potato Head or other toys scattered about our living room.

By Saturday, things were returning to normal. My wife was slowly getting back into her routine. My MIL was slowly recovering all her faculties. And I was slowly recovering from all the junk food and Baconators I had been eating over the last week. Wanting to do something special for me in all this, my wife said we should go shopping and said it was time to get the Wii. This is the same Wii I have mentioned in Free Wii 4 Me: Parts One and Two. I finally got it and boy are my arms tired.

So, while I wasn’t an active participant in all my wife’s family drama concerning her Mother and the tumor, I played, what I felt was an equally important and vital role. Because sometimes, the biggest impact and contribution you can make in any stressful and complex situation is to just keep the status quo for the smallest of affected individuals. In any crisis there needs to be that one person who maintains a unified front, calming those who need it the most, even if it’s just being a chauffeur or a television buddy. That was me. You may be the brain surgeon, but I am the Daddy and that makes me more important here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CafePress Shopkeeping Now It Is For Real.

I have officially ended my free trial period and am now a full time Premium Shopkeeper, that is according to my email that states I’ve just been charged $59.95. What does that mean? I have money in my account….thankfully. It also means I am on the hook for $5.00 every month. As a basic shopkeeper I was getting free use of my shop to create and promote one design per article (shirt, mug, button). Now, for my monthly fee, I am able to create and produce several designs for the same article, customize my storefront, and create sections and sub sections for better organization of my designs. To top it all off, I am able to create a product line and import it into another section so that I can change the image, description, name, and price in bulk. Not bad for the price of a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks.

Since opening my basic shops back in 2006, I have managed to sell four items in the span of two years. Since opening my premium shop at the beginning of March, I’ve sold just as many items in the span of two weeks. It doesn’t take a Fortune 500 CEO to see that membership has its privileges. Then again, I did more work in two weeks than I did in those first two years. Paying for something tends to motivate you versus getting it for free. Granted, with what I’ve made, I do not have to dip into my own pocket for four months. Hopefully, my stream of sales will be steady enough to show a bit of profit by the end of the year so that I don’t have to spend my own money. I’ve already made a deal with myself that if I don’t make enough to at least cover operating expenses in the first year, I’ll close up shop.

Now, if I close up shop what happens to all my stuff? I already planned for that event. If I close up shop, I will move all of my designs into basic shops. That means I will have one basic shop for every design. You see why premium is better? I would have to manage multiple sites and multiple marketing streams. It also becomes problematic because in some cases I would have to double up on a site in order to have the same image with a different background. Confused?

iPootLet’s take this design for example, iPoot. Ok, so I am not above doing fart jokes. Who is? It’s a funny subject. I’m sure you recognize the context of the picture. It has a dark green background which shows up nice on white shirts. However, on the dark shirts it becomes a problem. To deal with this issue, I created three more images with the same theme but different color schemes. There’s the transparent with just the picture in black and lettering in white. This allows you to utilize the different colored shirts as the background colors in the various ads you’ve probably seen. In essence the entire shirt becomes a colored background like the small box around the original image. Then there is the inverted transparent image with no background color and all black letters and picture.iPoot black This works great for buttons and magnets that aren’t exactly square as well as apparel that have colored sleeves or use the image on the pocket like golf shirts, light colored shirts, and zipper apparel. To maximize the possibilities I used two different images on the same shirts that offered multiple colors, including black. On one shirt, I removed black as an option for one of the designs and on the other included all of them. If I revert back to a basic shop format, I would need to have two different shops for one style of shirt. Believe me, it is a lot of work to maintain separate sections on one site.

So, what has been the biggest problem I’ve had as a shopkeeper? I’ve had two which are kind of number one and two in my book. I think the biggest problem is the amount of time that goes into organization, not to mention how those changes affect searching. When I started out, I had about 10 designs which all kind of sat in my main storefront. That became rather unorganized and just kind of sitting there. I wanted to be able to have people use the store with certain ideas in mind. “I’m at Mongo’s store, not what? Oh, I see a bunch of different designs with nothing to tie them together. Bye bye.”

I went back and created sections. Designs that were inspired by Video Game Themes, Television Themes, Movie Themes, Pop Culture Themes, Zombie Themes, and Mongo Themed items to promote the blog. Within each of those sections are designs based off of the theme. Within each design section is all of the products with that design. Now, when people come to my store, they can decide what type of design they want based off of the theme and then they can see all the products that contain that design. It also serves to allow them to see a bigger picture of the design and then they can see what it looks like shrunk down to the size of the image on the product.

Searching from the main CafePress site has nothing to do with the organization of my items in my store and just allows anyone to search for a design and then see mine in the list of results. That’s where my second issue arises. I usually do a quick search for the idea I have to see if it has already been created. This keeps me from copying other people or gives me the opportunity to see how my design can be an improvement on someone else’s. It’s not copying because my thought process never used their design as a basis just as a comparison. If I feel mine is better suited, I will create it. If I don’t, I’m not going to waste the time designing the artwork and then competing with an established design.

iClubHowever, if I see a lot of themes playing out, I will consider mine to be listed among them. Different designs, different logos, similar concepts. For instance, I am an animal lover. I have four cats, how can I not be one? Anyway, I saw a button a few years ago that parodied the “I Heart Something” shirts. Instead of the letter “I” and the graphical depiction of the Valentine Heart it was the letter “I” and the graphical representation of a playing card Club Suit and then a picture of a baby seal. In essence, “I Club Seals.” Crude and possibly offensive, but a clever take on the whole “I heart” genre of designs.

Oh, come on, how can you be that offended by that? I’m not advocating poaching and whaling and all that horrible behavior. I’m just making light of situation. Geez. Where was I?

Right, what I don’t like about being a Shopkeeper. Designing is tough. if you can read this, stop touching my boobsAnybody can just slap a bunch of words on a shirt, or even a picture that represents words. but to truly think up clever or unique designs takes talent and time. Again, that’s why I do a preliminary search on any idea I come up with before I take the time to go and design it. The other problem with that is that sometimes when we attempt to parody or lampoon certain themes we tend to forget the policies put in place by the administrators of the site. For instance, I did two other silhouette iSomething type of designs. One lampooned Bernie Madoff with his facial likeness a silhouette and his white hair and white lapels from his shirt take the place of the headphones in most of those ads. I simply adorned the image with the word “ iStole.” If you do a search on Bernie Madoff there are currently 92 different designs based on him being a crook or part of Wall Street’s crookedness. Mine never names him in person nor shows his picture. The Content Usage Police nailed me for it. Weekend at Bernie'sThe reason was the “Right of Publicity clause makes it unlawful to use another's identity for commercial advantage without permission. A person's "identity" includes, for example, his look, voice, name, nickname, professional name, and other distinctive characteristics. For example, the "Right of Publicity prohibits you using the picture of a celebrity without authorization on your merchandise.” Now, I can totally be fine with that if I hadn’t seen so many instances of designs based off his likeliness. I opted to get rid of any physical resemblance to Madoff and go with the more obvious of referential parodies.

Another case of supposed infringement was another silhouette design with a drawing of the girl from Night of the Living Dead. Part of her face and the collar from her shirt is in white and the only words on the image is iHurt, which is the only line the character has in the movie. Ok, first off, I should probably stop doing silhouette designs. I get it. It’s a little dated. Secondly, the movie Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain. You can legally download it from some website. What happened was that Romero didn’t properly secure the rights back in the 1960’s and the film slipped into the public domain. When he and John Russo parted ways, later, it opened the door for countless non-canonical sequels, such as the Return of the Living Dead series and other bad “Dead” movies. So, the original is up for grabs. So, I did a search and found several designs based on her character from the movie. However, my design was once again nailed by the Content Police. Why? Their reasoning “Although the copyright might have expired you are still using the likeness of the actor which you cannot do unless they have provided you with an authorization for commercial resale.”

Again, I am willing to abide by that but since there are designs which utilize media stills from the movie, including the likeness of actors without their permission such as Judith O’Dea and Russell Streiner, I volleyed back showing examples and they still didn’t budge. The only saving grace to this is that the likeness in question belongs to Kyra Schon who sells stuff on CafePress from her website using her image as Karen Cooper. That’s why I didn’t fight it when they shut me down the second time. Still, there are a few out there with her likeness and the other cast members which infuriates me. I am not willing to jeopardize my store account because of this. That’s why I kind of classify this as the second ranked annoyance with CafePress.

Ok, so, that’s it for this long winded update. Stay tuned for more tales from the Shopkeeper.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Are You There God? It's Me, Mongo

It could be anything, really. It could be the gum you just stepped in on your way out of the store, the car in front of you that just stopped at a newly formed yellow light causing you to be late to an appointment, or even your job giving you grief. Any of these among a host of others could be the reason why you're so pissed off at the world that you want to climb up a bell tower with a high powered rifle. When you get like this, that is when the universe knocks on you door, pokes its head into your self centered, self absorbed life and reminds how unimportant your problems are in the scheme of things. The universe is sure to remind you that it's not about you and it's nothing personal.

Now, I was born in a Byzantine Catholic family. I went to catechism classes as a child and learned all the principals of religion, the Nicene Creed, the rosary, and at the age of five I made my first Holy Communion. For seven more years I still held all those principals of faith as truths. God exists, he loves us, and everything is his will. When I reached the age of 12 or maybe 13, I had a drastic change in my faith structure. My uncle, who I hadn't seen since in probably six years or so had come to visit my Mother. At first, I thought he had fallen on hard times. He looked rather bad like he'd been on a three day bender with Mel Gibson in Malibu. He was very skinny and had trouble talking and stumbled a bit. It wasn't until after he had died that I found out he had Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a wonderful little disease. You don't just suddenly up and die one day. It takes its time with you, slowing paring away everything you are, one piece at a time. It eats away at the protective covering to your nervous system, damaging the connections to the point where you have trouble walking and numbness. Imagine MS as a bull fight. It comes into the ring and acts as the picador and banderilleros, stabbing at you and weakening you, but it doesn't kill you. There you are, weakened with your head down in a charging stance and in comes the matador which is most likely pneumonia or some other illness. It toys with you for awhile before finally killing you. It was this experience that caused me to look up into the sky and ask, "Why?" Why would a being, all powerful and knowing allow someone to go through this kind of internal torture?

As I moved through adolescence and into adulthood, I held my discourse close to the vest. I didn't talk about it with people because they had their beliefs and I wasn't about to infringe on their rights. I went through college and graduated and my little world was fine. I began dating my wife after graduation. She held a special place for God and I didn't want to express my disbelief because of it.

At that same time, I began working at a hotel near my home. One of my supervisors had a granddaughter named Samantha, who was 12 years old, and had bone cancer. She was a spirited and cheerful girl who had already beaten it once and now it had come back. Regardless of her station in life, she acted like any other 12 year old who had the entire world ahead of her. Most of us were embittered by life, especially after college, but she still believed in all the things children believed in and showed us jaded assholes what life should be like. As she went back through treatment, she showed more courage and strength as a child than most stalwart of manly men around. Her positive outlook was enough to sway me back towards the flock and I secretly spoke to God one night and tried to mend fences. You know those moments at night between awake and sleep, when you lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling, the wind and that one tree branch banging against the house your only company. You make those little bets. You ask those little favors because that's the time when you believe that God has your undivided attention.

So, I asked. "God. Look, I could be talking to that little bug on the ceiling or I could be talking to you. At this point, it's all the same. I want you to give this one a pass. This isn't about me wanting you to help me pass finals or get out of that speeding ticket. This is a little girl that deserves the chance to grow up and spread that infectious spirit, saving the rest of our sorry asses." I spoke to the big guy two more nights in row. She died a couple days later. I felt like a battered person going back to their spouse, giving them another chance, only to be beaten within an inch of their life.

You can never measure the impact of your life until you're not there with the yard stick. In a medium sized funeral home nearby, people stood in line to get inside for Samantha's viewings. People, religious and not, will spin this experience so many ways you'd think it was politics. On one side you get "There is no God. This happened because it happened." The other side will say that "She was meant for better things in heaven and that her struggle and death serves as a lesson for us all to appreciate life and we've come together to celebrate how she touched us." I say that this is a little girl that didn't get the chance to grow up, fall in love or fall out of love, for the first time. She didn't get the joy of driving her first car or living in her first place on her own. If there is a higher power and he has that power to do some miraculous things, he dropped the ball. There are perfectly normal and healthy people in this world ripping off others' life savings, shaking babies, and killing innocent families before turning the gun on themselves. Out of all those physically fit adults, you have to give a 12 year old with a 10,000 watt smile bone cancer.

I now put more faith into extra terrestrial life. I find it easier to believe that we are just the product of a perfect set of variables than the design and execution of some otherworldly being. Somewhere in that vast universe, another planet at a perfect distance from a star has the ability to sustain life and perhaps they are advanced enough to be able to travel across the universe to ask for a cup of sugar. It makes more sense to me that we are nothing more than a really good flan. The right ingredients at the right temperature producing a tasty treat. Cook it too long, you get Mercury. Open the oven too soon, you get Mars. I find more comfort in that than one being was responsible for everything and did in less time than it takes me to get over a head cold.

After my whole Carl Sagan fueled rant, I went on with my life. My girlfriend asked me why I had so much trouble believing and I told her. Then she told me why she had such an easy time believing. Just before I met her, her mother had been diagnosed with renal cell cancer. Her parents had kept it from her while she finished up her first semester of college. They didn't want her failing out because this type is very dangerous. Not to say that any other cancer is a walk in the park but renal cell has a better green thumb than I do and shoots seeds all over the place. You can have cancer anywhere in your body that is renal cell in nature. Her mom had it in her lungs and on her kidney. In fact the doctors didn't know any of this until they had already opened her up on the table and pulled a football sized tumor out of her gut. Had they known prior to surgery that she was in stage IV, they wouldn't have operated. Instead they would have given her a pat on the head and a "good luck." But they didn't. She was put into a study and given experimental treatments. She shed her skin twice and her body temperature went between hot to cold faster than my shower if I nudge the dial ever so slightly to the right. After an intense battle she was a kidney short, but cancer free. That was her miracle. Her mother survived Stage IV cancer and went on to live her life. My wife told me that she had to believe in God, he saved her Mother. In my own little damaged mind I told her that if he was so great, then why did she have it in the first place.

Further proof of my disdain for the almighty would occur less than three years later. Still three years from getting married or engaged my wife started to experience problems with her eye. She felt as if someone had smeared Crisco in it, blurring her vision. She went to an optometrist which then referred her to a neurologist. She had optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve which caused loss of vision. There were two primary reasons why this would be happening. She either had a brain tumor, or MS. She hoped for brain tumor. She got MS. She's been treating it with a daily shot of Copaxone and has only had one relapse with the optic neuritis. At one point she wanted me to break up with her. She didn't want me to throw my life away on someone who was going to end up in wheelchair. I ended up proposing to her.

Three years later we were planning our nuptials and, if there is a God, you have to believe that he has a sense of humor, if not irony. He wanted to make sure that I knew what it was like to have a parent with renal cell cancer. Again, another set of parents decided to keep their child in the dark about things while he went off and had a good time at his wedding and honeymoon. It wasn't until after the holidays that we found out my Father had been diagnosed with it. It was an odd thing because the doctors weren't even looking for cancer. He was tired and jaundiced and it just happened to show up on one of his many scans performed to determine the problem. So, on my birthday in March, he went into the hospital and had his kidney removed. He came through perfectly and was fine. Unfortunately, his doctor must have been the kind of child that didn't finish his vegetables because he left a little bit of cancer in my Dad. A year later, he had to go back in for more surgery.

Remember I said God has a sense of humor? Down the road at another hospital, my Mother in Law was also having surgery at the same time. It turns out her cancer had come back and got into her pancreas. My wife was convinced her mom was about to die and I was just oblivious because here I was wondering why my Father was flat on his back again. To know the man you would understand why him on his back in pain is an odd sight. At 65 he was still active with a full time job and spent his extra time with his brother taking care of a farm which includes replacing the roof of the barn and other laborious tasks that puts me to shame when I breathe heavy from mowing the lawn.

After dueling bed pans was done, both our parents became cancer free for second time. Unfortunately, my Mother in Law's lack of organs had begun to catch up with her. Without part of her pancreas, she now has Type II diabetes. She lost her spleen previously and takes longer to bounce back from illness, and Sleep Apnea forces her to wear a CPAP mask at night in order to breathe while sleeping. In all, she has no complaints. According to her, she's been playing with the house money for the last ten years and regrets nothing. She's seen her daughters be married and have children. She has her quirks like her love of a good gadget or toy and she's not afraid to tell it like it is. She's sharp. As a benefits analyst she knows her stuff. That is why we were so concerned when she became unfocused and foggy in the last month. She began repeating questions that she had already been given answers to minutes ago. She seemed meek and unable to even type properly at work. We implored her to get an MRI and find out what is going on up there. She had recently been given a different blood pressure medication and put on singular, both of which can cause headaches but this was different. On her way to the MRI, she stopped at two mailboxes and ran a red light.

Back at work, she got the call. "How are you feeling?" the doctor asked, "Fine, just fine." She replied. "No, you're not. There is something going on up there. You need to get to the hospital now, call your oncologist and get a recommendation for a neurosurgeon." Our collective stomachs fell out our collective asses. In the past ten years she hasn't had a brain scan because they've been so worried about the rest of her body. I immediately spoke in a Sallah accent saying, "They're digging in the wrong place." She is at the hospital and their is some kind of mass on her brain. Swelling has been causing her mental lapses and right now she is being treated for that until they can come up with a course of treatment. And me, I'm calling up friends I haven't spoken to in years.

I don't want this for me. I want this for my wife. I want this for my daughter. I want this for my Father in Law. This woman has been able to hold a family together much better than I could ever hold anything together, and I pray in the church of duct tape. The people around me that I love have gone through cancer, MS, Graeves Disease, diabetes, OSA, and a slew of other health issues. Some have made it, some have not. Whether you're out there rolling your 20 sided die, deciding our fate, we're here and about out of saving throws. I know this lady has beaten cancer twice. But in football, beating someone twice usually can mean anything come the playoffs. We aren't ready and I'm not willing to call this one, yet. You're not doing anything to help sway anyone like me back to flock. She's already lost a kidney, her pancreas, and some of her bounce. What more do you want? She has a family that loves her and a little granddaughter that adores her. The company she's worked at for over 15 years has decided to sell to a bigger company, forcing her out of her job that she's been so loyal to. Prove me wrong and we'll talk.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

15 Companies that might not make it in 2009

As the economy slides further and further down the slippery slope of recession, odds makers are starting to look forward to the potential loss and closing of more companies. Here’s a compiled list of 15 companies that might not make it to 2010.
  1. Rite Aid
  2. Claire's Stores
  3. Chrysler
  4. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group
  5. Realogy Corp.
  6. Station Casinos
  7. Loehmann's Capital Corp
  8. Sbarro
  9. Six Flags
  10. Blockbuster
  11. Krispy Kreme
  12. Landry's Restaurants
  13. Sirius Satellite Radio
  14. Trump Entertainment Resorts Holdings
  15. BearingPoint

Looking at this potential list, I only recognize half of the companies, a product of my sheltered Southwestern Pennsylvania life. I can only speak to those I am aware of, so this is not a complete analysis by any means.

Rite Aid
Perhaps the first major retailer to fall in the wake of Wall Street’s woes not solely at the fault of Wall Street. You can probably bet on seeing more stores like this collapse under the weight of Wal-Mart’s integration into everything America, especially during a recession. If Rite-Aid does go, keep an eye on CVS. They have roughly three times the revenue as Rite-Aid but again, competing with Wal-Mart is like going into a gun fight with a spork.

Claire’s Stores
One of the last bastion of 80’s fashion accessories, I’m surprised the chain is still around. Blame a hefty acquisition by its parent, Apollo Group, last year for signs of doom and gloom. These are the same folks that bought Linens-N-Things right before they went bye byes. Another factor, mall traffic is waning as people tighten their belts further.

Not even Michael Scott’s love of the Italian eatery could be enough to save them. Their financial standings aren’t that bad. Again, mall turnout is a definite factor in the loss column as is their competition from juggernaut’s Dominoes and Pizza Hut.

If The Detroit 3 were comparable to the Laff-A-Lympics, Chrysler would be The Yogi Yahooeys. They’re not as evil as The Really Rottens (GM), but not as strong as The Scooby Doobies (Ford), which boasted powerhouses Captain Caveman and Blue Falcon. You just can’t compete with one team that is pure evil and the other which has better players like the Taurus and F-150.

The media rental giant has been fighting an uphill battle ever since OnDemand became part of the digital basic service. Not to mention, they didn’t make any friends with their problems concerning late fees a few years ago. While they’ve tried to compete with NetFlix in the online mail order service, their brick-and-mortar approach is their strong suit and unfortunately bad economy equals less trips to the store and more home rental service through cable and satellite providers. While die hard cine-philes while still go to the store to rent DVDs for the extras, the general public has only the attention span for the movie by itself and needs only one night to watch defeating the no late fee perk Blockbuster has adopted. Similarly, my own local Supermarket staple Giant Eagle did away with its DVD and game rental service in house and opted for the vending machine style Red Box kiosks outside the store. They’ve already surpassed Blockbuster’s number of locations and require no Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarrantino types on the minimum wage payroll.

Sirius Satellite
Desperate times call for desperate measures. In this economy people are going to start looking at the things they can do without and a subscription to satellite radio is not safe even with Howard Stern as its biggest feature. As XM and Sirius decided to join forces instead of die alone in the satellite market, HD radio has tried to carve out its niche by touting more music for free. Frankly, I can’t find enough good music to listen to on regular radio, why would I pay for satellite or even an HD receiver both of which could cost hundreds of dollars. I’ll stick to my iPod and NPR for my tunes and news. Most people will either resort to buying CDs or songs from places like iTunes and becoming their own DJ, commercial free.

Krispy Kreme
Talk about having two strikes against you. The donut giant exploded onto the scene in the 90’s and its impact was much like a sugar rush. Fun and exciting at first, but the withdrawal and crash later was detrimental. First off, the healthier conscious America began shunning the franchise, which started closing locations, some months after they were opened. Now, with the recession, donuts are less of a necessity and more of a luxury. Unless the stimulus package can gave an insulin boost to the economy, the Hot Light may go out for good.

Six Flags
This one surprised me. Granted, they bought up the defunct Sea World park in Ohio, before turning around and selling it to Cedar Point’s parent group Cedar Fair, but being paired with a Hollywood Giant Warner Bros. should count for something, right? Six Flags has been in trouble for years with investor issues and having to sell off assets to pay off debt. Unfortunately, the economy has taken the plunge over the lift hill and it’s a hell of a drop before it goes into the next hill. Bad economy = no money = no vacations = no riders = no fun.

Trump Entertainment Resort Holdings
The fact that the namesake left in February should give you an indication of how bad things are. They also filed for Chapter 11 and casino buying is the third rail in a bad economy. No one will touch them. People aren’t going to gamble what little money they have, especially if they have to travel outside a certain radius and possibly pay for lodging as well.

You have to take these prognostications with a grain of salt. It shouldn’t take a psychic to see what sectors of the economy are going to suffer the worst in a recession. Entertainment, luxury items, and businesses that have direct competition with other businesses that can undercut their prices are going to suffer. A powerhouse like Wal-Mart can pretty much outmatch any niche store because of all of its offerings.

The bleakest looking outcome for this mess would be that only two things will be left standing, the U.S. Government and Wal-Mart. In that scenario, Wal-Mart will buy the U.S. Government, offering to handle all of its services at a discounted rate, and we will finally be under the rule of the Chinese. In this case, learning “Would you like fries with that?” is not going to help you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

CafePress Premium Store Updates

It has been an exhausting week. First off, today is the day of Mongo’s birth…..which I’ve been trying to fly under the radar with but still people find out and wish me a Happy Birthday. Not that I mind, but I try not to be too outgoing on this day because I may not be in a good mood and why dash someone’s well wishes with my wishy washy well being?

That being said, my wife thinks that I am obsessed with the new store. Well, it’s hard to get up and running, especially during a trial period, so that you can maximize any selling opportunities before they start charging you for your premium store.

On a positive note, I sold another shirt. This little number was inspired by those Spencer Gifts tees with 13 different pictures depicting an act or emotion of the character like Anger, Hunger, Happy, etc. Mix that with the Zombie theme and you basically get the same picture for each mood.

I had to include ennui as it is just too funny to think of a zombie that way.
Now, I added that design on March 3rd and within 2 days, I sold one. Again, I don’t make that much off of each shirt, but it helps boost the visibility of the design early on and will maybe generate more sales. It came from the “Marketplace” which means someone searched a keyword that led them to my shirt, rather than they stumbled into my store and bought something off the rack, as it were.

In that regard, I’ve done some rework on the store, finally. I used the basic template and structure to get things up and running, but as I add designs and products for those designs, I find myself having a hard time managing all these products in one place. Now, being in the job I currently am, I am very conscious towards scrolling and clicks to the center of a tootsie pop. If someone searches CafePress for keywords that lead to my items, so be it, but that is only half the battle. You might also get people wandering into your store and the further they are from a selection means the further you are from a sale. If you have some good marketing skills you can drive customers into your store from outside CafePress’ website. In that case, the better your organization is, the better you can fight a two front battle.

When I first opened the store, I wasn’t thinking ahead. Oh, I’ll throw up a couple of designs and add some shirts and that’s it. But what I found was that you need to constantly be thinking and working ideas to see which produces results. If you have a niche store, selling unique designs, you probably don’t have to do as much work. Simply add a new design every so often, throw it on some products and wait. But, if your brain is constantly going, like mine, you want to try and capture everything. Hey, I just thought of a funny design, I need to go work on that. Soon, you have 15 designs. Oooh, I want that to be in different colors for the dark shirts. Take those 15 designs and multiply by that by how many colors you want to display.

Here’s a prime example. I have a store section called, “Insert Coin.” This is basically where I’ve put all my designs that are based on or inspired by video games. Being a child of the Atari Age, I thought it would be cool to capture some of those pop culture kernels of cheesy goodness and “make some shirt.” I had three ideas which I thought were clever. So far, I’ve only gotten to one. The other two are going to be awhile, because my first design spawned three more related designs and three colors for each.

Based off the old Adventure game, I put the dragons on individual shirts. Clean and simple recreations drawn on a transparent background should be easy. Let’s face it, the Atari was not that advanced, recreating a blocky dragon that looks like a duck is easy. However, there are three distinct dragons in the game, Yellow – Yorgle, Green – Grindle, and Red- Rhindle. Now, I have three colored designs on 15 or so shirts. Then, the other two designs I had for the dragons had to be produced the same way. Now, my section was very crowded with all these dragon shirts and my poor Keytar Hero shirts were lost in the shuffle. Rearranging the store to stagger the designs on each style shirt style caused any customer to have to scroll through a lot of dragons to find a Keytar Hero shirt that they may want.

Rhindle, the meanest of all three dragons.
This is where my work experience comes in to play. If I break up the section into designs. I can then have the front of the Insert Coin section showcase the individual design. If they click on that design, they can go to a section of those products and instead of scrolling through multiple designs, now they are scrolling through multiple products with the same design. In essence, I’ve created a basic shop all over again and imported it into a premium hierarchy. Remember, in your basic shops, you are allowed one design per product but multiple products per one design. I can’t believe I didn’t see this concept sooner. If I were to create different basic shops, like I used to, I would follow the same pattern. So, if I follow that model, managing my products will be a lot easier.

Now, whenever I come up with an idea for a shirt, I build the section, first. Add a design to the section and then import all of the shirt styles from another section. This keeps me from having to go through and choose each one the list. Then, I can now check all and change the name, description, and image on the shirts in bulk. With each section devoted to a design instead of a theme, this frees me from having to scroll down through 30 or so shirts checking which ones I want to change. It also makes it easier to manage the markups and color choices. Some designs don't work well on dark shirts, so I have to go back and choose those to change the image to an inverted color scheme so that they'll show up. This came into play with my Wii-knee shirts. Apparently, there is a report that Wii related injuries have been cropping up involving gamers' knees. How could I resist?

The drawn outline shows up OK on a white t-shirt.

But it would have been lost on a dark shirt, so an inverted image is used.

Just in case, I also included a design with just the phrase.

That's all for now. I still have many designs to try and get into the store, but I am just about out of trial time, so the quicker the better. Now, I'm paying $5.00 a month and as of today, I have about three months paid up with sales. Hopefully, soon, a profit will be made. More later.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flavor Shot of Love on the Rocks

Oh for crying out loud?!? How much more can we endure? I will not go on at length about my already established loathing of reality television but will share my thoughts on some things.

The latest season of The Bachelor wrapped up with a three hour meh fest. The final episode and the “After the Final Rose” or as I call it, “You’ll-watch-this-because-there’s-nothing-on-during-the-10-o’clock-hour-on-other-channels-and-Heroes-is-still-lagging-in-the-9-o’clock-one!” I refused, flat out refused, to watch this season as a captive audience to my wife’s kidnapping of the remote. Luckily, she was turned off after the last offering of The Bachelorette, where DeAnna Pappas chose Spicoli-lite Jessie Csincsak over the current Bachelor, Single Dad, Jason Mesnick. The wife was pulling for Graham Bunn, but he was unwilling to play Deanna’s game. He probably was the best man for the job but since he didn’t fall all over DeAnna and make her the center of the universe, she dropped him.

So,…am I telling you anything you don’t already know? Ok, well, you know that DeAnna and Jessie broke up before the wedding and it had to be her choice because Jessie had some YouTube video talking about it and he was crying about the breakup. Anyway, DeAnna came crawling back to Jason crying, “I made a mistake!”

Obviously, the producers knew or had heard of the breakup between DeAnna and Jessie and made her an offer to come back. What? Scripted reality television, you say? No, you must be mistaken. Yeah, well obviously, Pappas has no dignity because she did just that, she appeared in the season finale. She probably tried to call Graham Bunn, but he’s too busy dating someone else, so what else was there? Again, I didn’t watch any of this season but saw the last five minutes of the finale and a couple of the after show thinking it couldn’t still be on at 10:00 pm. I was wrong.

How can they keep plugging this crap? Is standard television fare that bad? Is this high brow Jerry Springer? Instead of being a voyeur into the trailer park crowd, we get the beautiful 20-30 something professionals in a mansion. And why do people keep thinking that these people will make it? Is it any wonder why the show is two for 13 in successful marriages? It’s obvious that there’s a lot of screwing around going on, so why should anyone, guy or girl, feel that they are really special. They’re just a numbered contestant.

Then we have the cable knock off shows like Flavor of Love and I Love New York, and the rest. This stuff is a steaming pile of poo. Yet people watch with all the fervor of a Smoke Monster centric episode of LOST. On a side note, if the Bad Robot and company were really cool, they’d do an episode like that with Smoke Monster flashbacks. I guess only in my mind, only in my mind.

Where was I? Oh yeah, there was some story that Glen Danzig was going to appear in the next season of Rock of Love. Of course, it would be slanted towards a satanic spin with weird challenges involving body parts and goats. My question is who would be allowed to audition? He already has a built in warning to all the Mother’s of potential contestants telling them not to walk his way or hear his words. That’s probably the theme song. It’d be dumb for them to not use it.

And don’t get me started on that whole Tia Tequila hot mess. This chick was just an asshat and a sellout. Make up your mind…and you want to talk about glass houses, you’re doing about as much for the GLAAD image as Lindsay Lohan. Don’t let this one fool you. This was pure spot light grabbing idiocy. She knew what the demographic was going to be if she played both sides of the field and she was about as big a fake as the Joe Schmoe show. The fact that she even got a second season shows how depraved producers in Hollywood are. You know you can’t play the ambiguity card this time, and in the end, the winner bowed out. She couldn’t commit to her own fame seeking sham image.

How about Tool Academy? Let me get this straight. The object is relationship boot camp for idiots. How dumb does a guy have to be to think they are being entered into a “Mr. Awesome” contest only to be put into “charm school?” They obviously are somewhat in on it because they don’t walk away right after they’ve been let in on the joke that is them. Oh, and then in the second episode, one of the guys replaced his girlfriend. What the hell? The girlfriends signed the guys up for the show and this freak of nature drops her for an ex.

Oh and my personal favorite idiot of all time, The Pickup Artist. First off, take that dumb hat off your dumb head. Next, realize that you are an idiot and regardless of how special you think you really are, you’re just ripping off a sub par Molly Ringwald movie. Kind of fitting, no?

Look, I don’t claim to be anything but me. I’ve never, for once, in my life relied on sex appeal or looks to find someone. I’ve always been the Ducky, the Farmer Ted, or the LIoyd Dobler. I’ve relied on my character and humor and I ended up just fine. Yes, I watched as other, better looking guys, put a revolving door on their bedroom but I didn’t care in the end. I may have slammed them for being assholes or players, but at the end of the day, it all worked out for the best. I’m happy and I have I no regrets other than a couple of bad choices which I got lucky over the outcome. But I don’t get these mind numbingly dumb shows. At least with The Bachelor and Bachelorette, they find someone and they’re done, for a few weeks. Flavor Flav and Brett Michaels keep coming back for season after season. It’s not like they’re trying to find Mrs. Right, but Mrs. Right Now.

It makes you wonder what kind of compensation they give rejected contestants on those shows. You know how Oscar presenters get baskets of stuff from all kinds of high profile designers and confectioners? I wonder if contestants on these shows get a basket from CVS and Rite-Aid pharmacies. How about a lifetime supply of antibiotics and delousing powder?

Monday, March 2, 2009

CafePress Premium Shop Owner Wees and Woes

I’ve been selling or have been trying to sell shirts and other novelty items on CafePress since 2006. In the beginning I had a couple of ideas for some shirts based on the Mongo image I use on my blog. They were a parody of the “got milk?” ads and asked people to embrace their inner “Mongo.” You know, the one who gets angry when the copier jams or knocks over three bottles reaching for one on the table. That guy, the bull in the china shop.... have you read my blog? Ever seen the graphic at the top of the page? Go ahead, I'll wait. OK.

I opened up a basic shop, uploaded my images, and sat back and waited for the money to roll in to my account. Yeah, it didn’t happen. Still, I was hopeful. I thought I tagged my images correctly but when I did a search my items were buried three or four pages deep into the results. So, I did some tweaking and some research on how to effectively tag images. Then other ideas started flooding my brain. I expanded and opened up another basic shop that dealt with Pop Culture parody items. Because the basic shop allows you to have one type of item per design, it became necessary to open up multiple shops to have a basic t-shirt with different graphics on them. It became a little tedious, but I wasn’t selling anything yet, so I couldn’t justify opening up a premium shop which would allow me different sections and multiple designs for the same style of shirt at a price. In all, I opened up three stores and in all, I sold zero product.

I kind of left the shops up and running and used my account to make calendars for my family at the base price. Everything else just sat and waited for someone to stop by and pay for a shirt $3.00 over base price. The markup is where shop keepers make their money. CafePress charges a flat rate to the customer, not the shopkeeper, and then you decide how much of a markup your design is worth. You keep the markup, CafePress keeps the base price. That, coupled with a huge amount of premium customers adds up to money in their pocket.

Lately, I decided to see if it would be worth taking the risk and paying $5.00 a month to aggregate all of my ideas into one shop. CafePress is offering a 15 day trial and if you don't like it, you can cancel it. However, be warned, if you've operated a few basic shops up until now, you may not want to upgrade. Once you go Premium, you can't revert back to basic. You would have to start all over again, so it might be more beneficial to keep your basic shops separate and open a brand new Premium shop and import your items over from your basic ones.

I kept the theme of my own personal logo, “Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash!” and added sections to cover various themes. Some of the features make owning a premium shop more beneficial. I have the ability to add various designs to the same style of shirt, which is nice. I also have the ability to modify and personalize my site with my HTML knowledge. This is going to require some time but I’ll eventually get it done.

So, after four days, how is it going? I’ve made three dollars off of a pin I created.

It was an oddball thing I thought of when I heard that people actually recognize Pi Day as March 14th, which is three days before St. Patrick’s day, and people own pins that say "Kiss me, I'm Irish." Well, you get the idea.

With that sale and a few other sales I didn’t know I had, I have managed to make about $15.00 total. This will keep the light on in my shop for three months after my initial trial ends. Now, I will have to sell about nine more items to pay for the rest of the year, and anything on top of that is profit. But is it worth it? If I can afford to spend $5.00 a month, then yeah, it’s worth it. But you have to think in certain terms.

First, while CafePress is a very nice and affordable site for a shopkeeper, it’s not exactly the same for a consumer. You are paying a lot of money for a shirt designed by an amateur. Granted, there are some talented artists out there among the sea of mediocre shirts. I do not claim to be an artist or designer, I just have a broad and insane sense of humor. My ideas are based on absurd situations or parodies of pop culture ideas. I also have to be vigilant enough to stay ahead of the current trends or someone will have beaten me to the punch. I made a little parody design for a Helicopter Tour outfit based on a popular television show. If you search “LOST” on the main site, you’ll get 11,200 results for designs on a quarter of a million products. Everything from the numbers to symbols from the stations to even character specific tees. Just for the sake of argument, my design is on page...well, I gave up after the first 500 results. Now, if I search the word “Lapidus”, you get one result and it’s my design. That’s not that great. I may have to go back and retag my image. That’s the trick. You have to think like a consumer. What kind of shirt are they looking for? Will they get it? Are your designs or store properly tagged to rank high enough in the search results? Will people be willing to go to page two or three to find your little idea on a tee?

Secondly, and more importantly, can you accept a couple of dollars off of a sale? I tried to be really fair on my prices. I have a flat rate which just makes it easier to manage. However, the base price of a blank shirt is comparable to one in the store, if not more expensive and it has an actual graphic on it. Blogs and forums will tell you to not sell yourself short, but you have to be cognizant of a struggling economy and your competition. Even the most die hard t-shirt, clothes horse is hard up for cash these days. People may not be willing to pay $20.00 for a goofy shirt that looks like a knock off of a real one. If you are trying to capture the mood of the customer for any given topic in entertainment or news, you will compete with tons of other shopkeepers for customers. Now, If you can really design well and have good marketing sense, you may be able to create a niche for yourself in unique shirts and other products. If you’re a pop culture schmo like me, you’re fighting an uphill battle with two strikes against you. You’re only going to make serious money in volume sales. Forget about trying to make it all on one shirt. Create a product that you can move repeatedly, and you’ll see the benefits.

Now, onto my biggest pet peeve. Every so often, you can get nailed by the Content Usage police. Imagine you are in the shower or some other place where you do your best mental work and an idea hits you that is so clever and funny…to you…that you spend an entire weekend tweaking a design to make it look just right. You upload you design, choose your shirt styles and then sit back and wait for the sales to roll on into your pocket. You go to bed after a long day of squinting at your pain program of choice, only to wake up to an email stating that your wonderful and fantastic image has been put into pending status. It pisses you right off it does.

I mentioned in a previous post how I had a design which was violation of content usage policy… That’s lawyer speak for, “You are not allowed that design.” I ended up redoing it, which made it look less professional but it’s still live on the site. It sucks, but I guess I really didn’t make my first design unique enough to pass the censors. However, the second design that came into question deserved a reprieve. I spent a hell of a lot of time trying to design this little parody shirt. I found a font called Nightmare Hero which gave me that Heavy Metal Feel. I felt really proud of my Keytar Hero shirt and they nailed me for it!

Further review of Cafepress’ site revealed a few shirts called Cowbell Hero which was a clever take on the whole idea. If I hadn’t seen it on Chuck, recently, I would have hoped my brain would have been able to come up with it. Alas, I did not and I won’t touch it since there is another shirt with the same logo. I just don’t have another weekend in which I can blow on a design. The ones on CafePress are a bit sloppy but similar font style, which prompted me to cry “Shenanigans” to the Content Usage Police. I informed them that I did download a free font and that there were other shirts with similar designs. They backed off and reinstated my image. Now, whether the Cowbell Hero shirts were spawned after the episode of Chuck, where the shirt was visible in a closet, or solely inspired by the hilarious Christopher Walken sketch seen on Saturday Night Live, years ago, is one of the chicken and egg people. My only concern was that if I was going down, so was everyone else. I might still do a redesign and offer it as an alternative on the chance that they may come back and say that I am infringing somewhere. This one is going to be a more 80’s style design with bright neon colors and rounded font style instead of the black and white Heavy Metal font. Who knows, it might be a bigger seller.

These are the things you deal with when you opt for a premium shop. It takes a lot of time to do the work. I spent a good hour rearranging my store so that I could group my shirts by style and then design. You can choose one or multiple items and then move them up or down by clicking on arrows on the side of the page. I added products in bulk and then had to go back and change them by grouping. You have to check each item and then choose from a drop down like “Add/Change Image”, “Change Name”, “Change Description”, "Change Markup", etc. You can only change one attribute at a time and then you have to go back and recheck each product and choose another attribute to change. Shoot me now. However, I did find a shortcut. If I created one product, say a white t-shirt, with a design I want and then realized that I could probably use a bunch of other shirts like a baseball jersey or golf shirt for the same design, I can cheat a bit when it comes to changing attributes. When you go through and check off each product to change, also check off the original item you created. This automatically populates the attribute from the original in the text field leaving you to just click “Apply Changes.” Nine out of ten times this worked successfully. If you have a lot of products in a store or section of store, it can be a tedious task to rearrange. I think they should do some work to update this feature letting you choose your items and then click and drag rather than click an up or down arrow repeatedly. Or they should change the interface all together to allow you a more dynamic feature utilizing AJAX widgets like iGoogle. I’m sure if those features become available I could get my work done more quickly. Still, I managed to get the store rearranged the way I want. Each row was a style of shirt and each column was a different graphic.

So, there you have it. I’m going to try and sprinkle in some more tips and stories from the world of a CafePress newbie from time to time. Hopefully, this will either give you inspiration to either venture out on your own or at least caution you against even starting. In any case, it will maybe drive some traffic to my store. I need to keep selling or it’s going to cut into my own t-shirt fund. Unfortunately, I may be my best customer.

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