Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cafepress Further Screws Hands That Feed It

I had a conversation with a fellow Cafepress shopkeeper back in November. It got a bit heated. It was just after I returned from the Seattle Meet 'N Greet and found an email from her asking me how it went, and did I get to see how wonderful and loving and nice everyone was and what a happy family we all were now that I went.

Let me preface my response by saying I grew up in the era of psychobabble. I endured those horrible bonding sessions that HR weenies in corporate officedom inflict on the rabble and I learned all the right buzz words to fling back, much as monkeys fling shit at those standing outside their cages to indicate the insulting indignity of being reduced to a mere exhibit in someone's demented play.

I dated enough losers to know that when someone wants a meaningless fuck that will only benefit them, they will swear undying love and respect and always always always claim they need you so much.

I've been around enough politicians and preachers to know that when someone is talking about doing me good, then I'd better keep my hands firmly wrapped around my wallet.

I've heard enough it's for my own good stories to stuff a million Christmas turkeys and still have enough left over to donate to multiple political campaigns and gardens in need of some deep fertilizing.

So it's perfectly understandable to me, at least, that my response to my fellow shopkeeper was to say that no, for me it was still business and I was not dumb enough to think these people were my friends or had my best interests at heart. They were just nice young folks, the same kind of nice young folks that gorged themselves on venture capital in the 90's and got high on their own arrogance...just before their companies crashed and burned and took all the true believers with them.

After meeting them in person I was even more convinced that it was time to diversify, that keeping all my design eggs in the Cafepress basket was not a good thing. My fellow shopkeeper got all pouty and said that I was too jaded to see the good in them and that they weren't like Corporate Pigs who abused everyone who worked for them and didn't care about them as people. In her words: "They're not Wal-Mart. They care about us because without us they'd be nothing."

I called Bullshit loudly and very clearly as her evangelizing came on the heels of being told we would no longer get a bonus for sales originating from the marketplace. The excuse for this was they needed the money for advertising and we'd all make so much more as result. Yeah, right. Only the dumbest true believers failed to see that they were setting themselves up as our direct competition as their budget was a lot heftier than the average shopkeeper.

I tried to tell her this but she just didn't get it. I gave up then and when I next heard from her it was when she wrote me to complain over the election portal Cafepress had set up with a very nice Obama shirt. It was priced below the base price we had to pay so we couldn't compete with our own designs. I immediately transferred many of my better selling Obama designs to Zazzle and had a great election season there and a pitiful one at Cafepress. This was more than the writing on the wall. It was the path to the future and it was littered with Cafepress shopkeeper bodies.

My fellow shopkeeper didn't join me at Zazzle until St. Patrick's Day when they did the same thing with the featured shirt that was priced below the base price so we couldn't compete. Same with Earth Day. And I'm sure it will be the same with every niche they think might do well.

When her sales at Cafepress tanked so badly that she couldn't even pay her rent for March, she apologized for all the names she called me in November. And today when Cafepress announced that any designs they sold for us in the marketplace would only get a 10 percent commission starting in June, neither of us were surprised nor left wondering what the hell we were going to do and how were going to survive. Her store at Zazzle caught on nicely as she has a lovely and unique niche that will do well there. Considering she made almost 50 grand at Cafepress last year and this year will be closing all but one of her stores at Cafepress, I'd say that was in the top ten of stupid moves on Cafepress's part to lose her. I made half that, but supplemented it nicely with the eggs in my other baskets. So between the two of us they just threw close to 80 thousand dollars away. Idiots.

But once again, I have to say that those who believe Cafepress, Zazzle, Printfection or any other business cares about them other than as a means to increase their bottom line, needs to get into another line of work. We are content providers, nothing more and I predict all the designs at Cafepress, if it's still here in a year, will be cheap knock-off's from China, and a few corporate shops like Snoopy and others that probably have permanent lip marks on their high earning behinds.

Cafepress has been acting like a company that's either on the verge of bankruptcy, going public, or more likely, selling itself to some place that will outsource everything and fixate totally on the bottom line. It will become the Wal-Mart of the POD world. Considering how they've trashed the shopkeepers who contributed to their success, it would be a fitting end.

The people who started the company obviously quit caring a long time ago when they got their money and it became a job rather than fun. That's when Cafepress started its downward slide to corporate sleazebagness and that's where it will remain. Zazzle to me right now is the company that will nip their ass into total and complete mediocrity because for now they are hip, cool, and more than ready to welcome with open arms those who are wiping the shit off themselves and looking for somewhere else to sell their designs. I also like Printfection. They do nice work and I manage to sell an occasional shirt there without trying very hard. I'll probabably put more of the energy I once put into Cafepress there and see how it goes.

The thing is, what Cafepress seems to be unable to comprehend is that those of us who design for PODs, we "POD People" as many of us call ourselves, we do mostly know each other. We talk. We share industry gossip. We go here. We go there. But in the end, we are business people and we go where the income is, where we can make money. We usually go together, in a herd, and we bring our marketing skills, our nice google and other search links with us.  We blog about each others designs. We promote the hell out of wherever we're working at the time. Love has nothing to do with it. It's business and nothing else. Anyone who thinks differently is going to get their heart broken and their bills left unpaid.

So those of you who are mourning over being fucked by the players at Cafepress, there's some nice honeys waiting for you at other places and they'd love to help make you feel better and get over those nasty abusers who really don't and will never appreciate who you are and what you do for them.

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SagArt said...

Fantastic post and I really appreciate the 20/20 vision on the topic. I would say that the CP we know does not resemble the CP of the future.

wolffie said...

Awesome post and right on the mark. As a Cafe Press shopkeeper, and soon to be ex-Cafe Press shopkeeper, I am enjoying seeing my eggs hatch in other POD's, something I should have done a long time ago. Thank God I added some of my eggs to Zazzle and Printfection.

Goyito said...

Last year I earned $28,500 in commissions from CafePress. Had they not unilaterally changed the volume bonus program, I would have earned another $5,000, for a total of $33,500.

As of June 1, shirts that I used to earn 5 bucks apiece by selling are now making me a lousy 2 bucks each. The difference is even worse on small price items such as buttons and bumper stickers.

As a company, CP has the right to make business decisions that are in its best interest. As an independent designer, so do I. As soon as I have moved my designs to I will make them unavailable via the CafePress marketplace. I am absolutely disgusted at the way I and other shopkeepers/designers have been treated. CafePress has acted in a highly offensive, unethical manner. The hell with them.

Anonymous said...

I am a "Top Shopkeeper" with CafePress, and this is destroying my commission and my business. I signed up for CafePress and set the prices on my items. CafePress unilaterally raised their base prices and they lowered my markup prices without my consent. Regardless of how they changed their Terms of Service, they cannot be allowed to do this. I am working with an attorney who is highly experienced with class action litigation that can file an injunction that will force them to revert to the markups set by their shopkeepers, but I need to provide him with as much information and documentation as possible. I'd like to do this while preserving my anonymity until the lawsuit is actually filed, in order to avoid retaliation by CafePress. Does anyone have printouts or saved copies of their previous shopekeeper agreements and/or terms of service? It would be greatly appreciated and it will benefit us all. Thank you!

Nancy said...

If there is a class action lawsuit against Cafepress, I'd sure like to be privy to it, even if I am a little late in finding this blog post. I have a major issue with them.

Anonymous said...

I'm already changing how I file my taxes this year. Instead of commissions, I now claim royalties on intellectual property because I don't set the price or determine what goes into the market place. I suggest everyone do the same. Let CP defend their Bush-era business and accounting practices to the IRS. They'll soon learn what happens when you let diploma mill MBA's draw up your business plan.