Zazzle and several other online "print on demand" services have a scheme that sounds too good to be true: earn money from home in just a few simple steps. I know . . . it sounds like a scam!
Here's the claim: You send them digital images of your art or photography, they offer the images on a variety of products (from posters and shirts to iPad cases and almost anything else you could imagine), and when someone buys a product bearing one of your images, you make money. Boom! Making money online. Could it be that simple? I gave it a try to figure that out.
The answer to whether it's that simple is "yes and no". To begin with, you, as a seller, are paid only a small percentage of the total profit from your sales in these stores, usually around 10%. Okay, so that doesn't sound like enough to make a living online...maybe just enough to buy a coffee. Or half of a coffee. On the bright side, the company handles printing, orders, customer service, shipping, and everything else.
Despite the low commission, it is something. So, can you make money with Zazzle -- enough to make a living online?
I got curious, and that led to some footwork. A lot of footwork, in fact: I tried *all* of the print on demand services. Or at least, all that that I knew of, and that made ten.
Why all of them? In this case, I decided that I knew too little and my blind spots were of unknown size -- that unless I knew everything, I didn't really know anything -- and so I dug right into the task of learning about each of these print on demand services. If this was a way to work from home and make a living online, then I was ready to learn how to make money with Zazzle, Cafepress and their counterparts.
Frankly, when I do that much footwork, I often like to share it with other people. Below, I provide notes on the sites I've become most familiar with and have the most to say about. I set up accounts at RedBubble, Zazzle, Cafepress, and Society6, among others.
How to Make Money with Zazzle and other Print on Demand Services: What I Learned and What I EarnedBelow, I summarize a few key details of each service and how to make money with Zazzle and similar print on demand shops. The summaries include the following:
- Commission: What percentage of each sale does a seller earn?
- Shop visibility: How easy is it for users of the site to find your shop and your products?
- Products available: On what range of products can the service print your image?
- How to make money: Is there a strategy for how to make money with this service that differs from other print on demand printing services?
- Seller intro: Link to the company's introductory information for sellers
I also wanted to know whether the companies offered high quality products, so I test-ordered a few products from each company including postcards, cards and shirts. I was pleased with the quality of all of the products I ordered -- everything appeared to be well-made.
How to Make Money With ZazzleZazzle has the most unique monthly visitors of the services I reviewed.
- Commission: You set your own commission.
- Shop visibility: The site has 25 million unique customers each month (as of 2013) and you get a free shop on the site where you can list an unlimited number of products.
- Products available: Over 350 products. You want it? They've got it.
- How to make money with Zazzle: The site may have 25 million unique monthly customers, but you need to tag your designs for customers to be able to find them. It helps, of course, if you promote your own work through other means as well. Unless you promote your own work and make careful and diligent use of Zazzle's tags, design categorization tool, and "power tags," no one will find your designs. You can also make money through Zazzle Affiliate Sales: you link to other Zazzle designers' products, and if someone makes a purchase after following your link, you get a cut of the profit.
- Zazzle's seller intro: http://www.zazzle.com/sell/designers
How to Make Money With Cafepress
Cafepress is similar, though slightly smaller and with slightly less favorable commission settings.
- Commission: You can set your own commission. But you only receive that commission if a customer purchases their product through your personal storefront, like this one: YakLab's Cafepress Shop. The rest of the time, when customers buy your shirt through the Cafepress "Marketplace," you only earn 10% of the sale price. What is Cafepress's "Marketplace"? It's their main site, where users can enter search terms to find shirts and other products and then buy them. Incidentally, this is also how most people use Cafepress, and Cafepress makes it very hard for customers who find your work in their marketplace to find your personal shop.
- Shop visibility: Cafepress gets about 11 million unique visitors each month (as of 2013), and you get a free shop and can make an unlimited number of products to sell. People might see your design in the Cafepress marketplace, but they most certainly will not see your design in your personal shop unless you promote it heavily. Again, just like in Zazzle, you need to tag your images for people to be able to find your designs.
- Products available: 250+ products. Again, if you want it, they probably have it.
- How to make money with Cafepress: Considering the high commission but low visibility of the personal shop versus the low commission but high visibility of the Cafepress Marketplace, either spend a lot of time promoting your personal shop, ideally around a niche, or spend zero time on your shop and a lot of time focusing on a broad range of designs for the Marketplace. Pick one of the two strategies, or find some comfortable point between the two extremes. You can also make money through Cafepress Affiliate Sales: you link to other Cafepress designers' products, and if someone makes a purchase after following your link, you get a cut of the profit.
- Cafepress's seller intro: http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/sell/index.aspx?area=intro_money&page=intro_money
It is worth noting that a lot of former Cafepress sellers badmouth Cafepress because a few years ago the company reduced shopkeeper commissions in their Marketplace. It created a lot of ill will and a lot of pro-Zazzle sellers. But, if you can promote your personal Cafepress shop enough to get customers to go there directly and buy your products (rather than in Marketplace), then you'll still get a full commission. Without promoting your personal shop, though, absolutely no one will buy products there.
How to Make Money With Redbubble
Redbubble is an even smaller site, but with favorable commission settings and a more attractive store than Cafepress and Zazzle. They have significantly fewer product offerings, though.
- Commission: You can set your own commission.
- Shop visibility: They receive 5 million unique visitors per month (as of 2013). You get a portfolio and can add as many products to it as you'd like. Unlike Zazzle and Cafepress, there is no distinction between a "main store" and your personal store. If someone searches Redbubble for an item, sees your item, clicks on it, and buys it, they have effectively bought it from your store. This, along with a more user-friendly site that suggests other designs of yours to the customer, helps give your designs greater visibility.
- Products Available: tee shirts, long sleeve shirts, kids' clothes and baby clothes, sweatshirts and hoodies, ipad/ipod/iphone cases, cards and prints (framed, matted, mounted, and other options) and stickers.
- How to make money with Redbubble: There are no affiliate sales like the ones that Zazzle and Cafepress offer, unfortunately. However, you are provided with a more attractive shop that receives traffic from the company's main site and a less bewildering array of products to design for. You can take that and run with it by focusing on a product niche and becoming great at it, like ipad case designs, or awesome sticker designs. If you want to make money, though, you still need to spend time and thought tagging your images and promoting your shop.
- Redbubble's seller intro: http://www.redbubble.com/about/what
While images you submit for their other products can be in JPG format, Redbubble requires that you use PNG format for t-shirt printing. In itself, this is not a problem. The problem is that for some reason, the way they convert your PNG colors into their printing ink colors for t-shirts makes all of the colors in your design duller. They provide a realistic preview on the site, so at least you get a sense of the change your design has undergone. This does not happen when submitting images in PNG format on the other sites I've mentioned. Also, I wish Redbubble previewed the shirt options on real people instead of on cartoon people.
How to Make Money With Society6
Society6 has a poor commission scheme and poor seller visibility, but lets you set your own commission on art prints.
- Commission: You can set your own commission, but *only* on art prints of your images. Society6 sets a fixed 10% commission on the other products you can sell.
- Shop visibility: Unknown unique monthly visitors. Visibility seems to come mostly from the recency of the products you post. Right when you post, people see the product and might "like" it. After that, it drops into obscurity unless you promote it. Also, while all of your products are listed in *your* shop, they aren't listed in the official Society6 shop -- only select items are chosen to be offered in the main Society6 shop.
- Products available: Art prints, cards, iPhone cases, iPhone/iPod/iPad/Laptop skins, tote bags, hoodies, tee shirts, throw pillows.
- How to make money with Society6: Because your products are only available in your store, and not in a larger marketplace, you need to heavily promote your own store, even more so than on Cafepress and Zazzle where at least your own items are available in the main shop. On top of that, you can't set commission on products in your own store except on prints. So a good strategy with this print-on-demand provider would be to focus on making and merchandizing high quality fine art and graphic design as posters and prints and promoting these items in your store heavily.
- Society6's seller intro: http://society6.com/help/selling
Other ServicesThere are other print on demand digital printing services as well: Spreadshirt, Printfection, Custom Ink, Envelop, spoonflower (specializes in printing patterns onto fabrics) and shirt city.
Can you make a living online using Zazzle, Cafepress, or another Print on Demand Site?Can you make some pocket change? Yes. According to this article, the average Cafepress store sells about three items a year totaling about $100 in total sales, which means you, as a seller, would make about $10 in royalties per year.
If you earned a little more and you relocated to a country with a very low cost of living you might even be able to make a living online that way.
But if you want to make a living online and stay in a country with a moderate to high cost of living, these services are not a golden ticket to freedom. It may be possible, but if it is, it takes as much work as a traditional office job and potentially much more; you might "work from home" for 100+ hours a week for years with no guarantee that the income you do make will grow beyond a small trickle. So don't consider these sites a shortcut around hard work and dedication.
That said, don't underestimate the power of hard work and dedication when it comes to making money online. I did read one account from a seller on an online forum who claimed to be making a living using these services. To achieve that level of earning, it sounded like she had to work 12 hours a day, day after day, for several years before she was able to make a living online. And now that she is making money online, it requires her constant work to maintain up-to-date design offerings and to promote her store.
Hope some of you find this helpful!