Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Selling Your Art: Print on Demand vs. Licensing to Manufacturers

It’s a brand-new year, which means everyone is still fired up about New Year’s Resolutions that they’ve made. Did yours include making more money from your art in 2013? (Even if it didn’t, it sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?) So let’s take a look at two very popular methods of using your creative talents to make money and weigh the pros and cons of each.

First of all, if you’re unfamiliar with these two different avenues, it might be helpful to get really clear on what they are.

Print on Demand companies, like ImageKind, DeviantArt, Fine Art America, Zazzle, RedBubble, Cafepress, Spreadshirt, etc. will take your art and display it on various products (canvas, prints, t-shirts, mugs, home d├ęcor, and so on) within their marketplace. You create a shop front and choose what to display your work on. No physical products are created until it sells. When someone sees the product with your art and buys it, you make a commission. Some sites also have shop fees.

Licensing your work to Manufacturers involves giving a company the right to reproduce your work on products and sell them to physical stores where consumers buy them. You make a commission when the products are sold to retailers.

Both are very viable ways to make income, and both have advantages over the other.

For example, with a print on demand company, you make money selling one or two products at a time, which means the volume of sales is typically low. Whereas when you license your art to a manufacturer, they will usually sell hundreds or even thousands of products at once. With manufacturers, however, the commission is usually a very small percentage. You usually make less than a dollar for each product you sell. With print on demand companies, you can often set whatever commission you want to make – anywhere from $1-15 a product, depending on what it is and what people are willing to pay for it because they like it so much.

This means that if you could find a way to promote your print on demand products and sell a high volume of them, you could potentially make a LOT more money this way than through licensing. The downside? This rarely happens. It’s extremely unlikely that you will ever sell such a high volume to print on demand companies, because the markets are so different – not to mention the contrast in the number of eyeballs actually seeing your work.

When someone walks into a store and buys a mug, they are usually thinking, “I chipped my favorite coffee mug and I need a new one.” They wander through the store, find the mug they like the best, and buy it. But when someone is searching for a mug online through a site like Zazzle, they’re looking for something that is very personal. They want something that speaks to them about who they are, what they like, and they really connect with. You’re less likely to make the sale because your work is pretty – it has to resonate with them. They will choose it because they see it and think, “that’s me!!!” If you want to make money through print on demand, you will need to find a way to make your art target a very specific audience that will fall in love with it when they see it, and then promote it to that audience so that they actually do see it. You are more involved in the marketing of your art than you would be in licensing.

The thing is, licensing your work to manufacturers is not an easy thing to do. Submitting your work to them can often feel like talking to a wall. You often never hear back from them, and you never know why you aren’t what they’re looking for. It can take years to break into the licensing business, and when you do,  you still might not make the amount of money that you were hoping for because everything is out of your hands. Sometimes these companies are dishonest and they make it seem like you will be making a larger commission than you actually are, and they may make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit that you only see $500 from.

The benefit of print on demand is that you have total control. You don’t have to schmooze your way through back doors and learn all of the ins and outs of the licensing industry – you can upload your work to one of these sites today and there it will be, up for sale to the world. You can upload as much as you want to as many places you want and the amount of sales that you make will depend on YOU and your ability to promote it to enough people that you make money. The thing is, learning how to do that and spending time doing it can take just as much time as it does to break into the licensing industry.

There are pros and cons of both avenues, and each one requires a very specific, specialized strategy. What do you think about print on demand vs. licensing to manufacturers?


Unknown said...

More and more often, successful POD designs are appearing on product IN reputable stores without the POD artist's knowledge, permission or license of any kind. In-house designers have taken note of the POD industry and are harvesting their ideas from successful POD Artists, though not changing enough of the design to prevent fans of that Artist from recognizing and reporting the infringements to them.

I used to find out about maybe 1 infringement ever few months - Now I have nearly a dozen issues of blatantly obvious infringement in the past 2 months, alone.

Tien Frogget said...

Kim, that is so unfortunate! You're right, with the internet the way that it is today it is easier than ever for people to copy or steal your work and pass it off as their own and make money off of it. It's sad.