Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Company We Keep

I've always believed that we are known by how we treat others on our way through the maze of life. There's nothing more revealing of character defects than how those above the crowd treat those below them in status, wealth, power, and dignity. It's why we elected a President who represented the paradigm shift many of us already felt and wanted to make the norm instead of a quaint idea embraced by an idealistic few.

We knew that treating others with dignity and respect were the keys to creating a better, kinder and more gentle world. We knew that a planet that was lacking in humanity would soon cease to hold anything resembling the enlightened and wise human being. It would deteriorate into an us vs. them, me first, take it all before someone else does jungle of savage and cruel excuses for human beings.

I've tried most of my life to only be around those who are kind, who care about others more than they care about themselves, who are supportive of endeavors without being enablers of bad habits and ideas, who say good things about those who are not in their presence rather than spread mean and self-serving untruths.

I haven't always been successful as I'm one of those people who prefer to believe the best of someone before I accept the worse. And of course, love is the great blindspot that filters all truths, as is the need for survival, the ache for friendship that won't betray you, and the idea that won't turn out to be something other than it claimed to be.

But I'm a fast learner and definitely can say that no one has ever fooled me twice. And along with that learning came the shaping that made me who I am today--someone who will not compromise on her ethics and expects others to live the same way.

For several years I've had many Cafepress shops. I was okay with some of their merchandise as I didn't believe college students who were looking for a beer drinking party shirt cared much if some poor Guatemalan villager made 10 cents for the shirt they just paid 30 dollars for. It didn't seem important that a shirt be 100 percent organic and sweatshop free if it was just going to be used as a limited message against a political candidate I detested. It seemed fitting in a way to use it for that purpose. I always figured people voted with their wallets anyway so if the origin and distribution of the merchandise was offensive to them, they'd simply walk away and buy it elsewhere.

But when I opened a shop that reflected the passion I felt over our need to save the environment, to fight against the corporate takeover of our limited and precious resources, and to promote a healthy lifestyle through the choice of organic food, vegetarianism and other issues that affected me directly, then it began to matter.

I justified my shop at Cafepress even though I was not completely happy with their reluctance to come right out and say these products are not made by people we exploited for a large profit margin in a third world country. I felt they allowed individual artists the opportunity to promote their message in a supportive and like environment. The people who are and were shopkeepers at Cafepress were individual small business owners, the kind of people I support in my everyday life when I choose where to spend my money. I don't shop at Wal-mart, don't eat at McDonalds, and I buy my lattes from my neighbor who is feeding her family with the profits from her personally owned stand instead of Starbucks.

That has all changed. Cafepress is no longer the small shopkeeper many of us prefer to support. Their front page now sports Coca-Cola designs and other corporate contracts. The small shopkeeper is being squeezed out and replaced with those who will work for far less and stay within the corporate lines. Artists are no longer allowed to set the price for their personally created works. Cafepress will do it for them and will also only pay the individual artist 10 percent and no more. This means that the average artist will make about a dollar on every shirt they sell and pennies on buttons and stickers. And worst of all, that doesn't mean lower prices for the consumer. It means that Cafepress is giving themselves the profit we once made.

Of course, this is all within their right to do so. It is their marketplace, their business, and their problem. But for me and other shoppers who take into consideration where the merchandise comes from, how the employees are treated, and how exploitive and corporate-owned the business is, shopping there is no longer an option. In my mind they are no different now than Wal-Mart or their new BFF, Coca-Cola.

Therefore, I and many others are moving many of our designs away from them. And in the way life has of making lemonade, I found the perfect venue for my Environment designs. represents everything I believe a company can represent and still make money. Take a look at their statement of purpose:

Here's what excites me about offering these products through Skreened:

"Everything SKREENED offers is made in the United States byAmerican Apparel.

Since we take a strong stance against any kind of exploitive labor practices, we have chosen to print on American Apparel. Their employees are paid fair wages and have an excellent work environment.

After it's all said and done, wouldn't you rather pay just a little bit more for the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing that no one was exploited to put a cheap shirt on your back? read more

I am looking forward to helping them grow their business with my many designs devoted to saving the earth and each other. I encourage you to shop there and support them because we all need to put our money where our personal beliefs and ethics are or why have them? Here are a couple offerings to get you started, and note that you can take the design that is on this product and put it on one of their other offerings if you wish. You can also add your own text to it. Have fun folks. I am.

This shirt is available at Ursine Logic's Environment Store.

This shirt is available at Ursine Logic's Environment Store.

Later I'll tell you what I really enjoy and appreciate about Zazzle. They are embracing Cafepress shopkeepers with open arms, lots of support, and a cool range of products. They're a great place for those special gifts.

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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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