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Which Print On Demand Service Will Close First — CafePress, Zazzle or Skreened?

As the economy implodes, I’ve been watching my mailbox fill with more, and more, and more offers from the services that print bumper stickers, buttons and t-shirts with various designs on demand. These offers promise me $5 off a purchase of $20, free shipping, extra business cards included, even a chance to win a prize… if only I will buy something, anything from them.

I can smell the desperation in those messages, and the desperation is understandable. Budgets are getting tight all over America, and one of the first things to go in any clampdown on expenses is discretionary spending. A bumper sticker, a button, or a t-shirt is a discretionary purchase, an optional item that might help one spread some message but really isn’t necessary. So of course visits are down to print on demand services like CafePress:

CafePress Page Views, Winter 2008-2009

Of course sales are down at print on demand services like CafePress and Zazzle. My question isn’t even how sales are at outfits like these. My question is, which print-on-demand service will close first?

Will CafePress be the first to close down its shop? It has a lot of designs to sell, but it has also recently expanded into international sales, recently laid down somewhere between $15 million and $20 million to buy the niche service Imagekind, and there are rumors and denials that CafePress borrowed a bit less than $10 million from venture capitalists. Last year’s overhauls, which involved the introduction of a slow design system and the slashing of commission payments to designers, has users disgruntled. Big $$$, unhappy people.

Or will Zazzle be the first to close down its shop? This printer’s website background color is black, an advantage that should never be dismissed. But this outfit spent last year spending some serious cash to acquire the disaster called Goodstorm and apparently pay off Cafepress users in order to switch all their products to Zazzle. Big $$$, happy people?

My bet for the service to stick around is Skreened. It has a small number of employees, a small need for equipment, and no need for big overseas purchases, since its clothing is all made in the USA. In lean times, smaller operations can keep right on chugging at a smaller scale without all the corporate bloat to support. No big office complex in trendy, expensive California. Working at its small scale Skreened innovates and attracts innovative designers. In my opinion the people at Skreened are most likely to continue succeeding at what they do.

Plus, I just plain like ‘em.

16 comments to Which Print On Demand Service Will Close First — CafePress, Zazzle or Skreened?

  • thanks for the vote of confidence. I think you’re right too!

    so, for a frank picture of our business now:
    we’re doing quite well headed into 09. I can’t imagine having the kind of overhead of a mega-corporation to lug around, though.

    Someone told me today that zazzle is laying off 20% of their workforce. yikes. we don’t even have 20% of a workforce without having to cut people into pieces.

    So we give out a little coupon here and there! come on! it’s for January and February. We gotta give the kids who want hoodies a few bucks off!

    BTW – use the coupon code kickedin09 at checkout to get 5 bucks off your skreened order until the end of the month. /endplug.

  • Adam

    90% of those desperate coupon emails have been coming from the Zed company, I’ve been feeling the implosion too. And CafePress _didn’t_ raise any more venture capital – that was a hoax.

    Don’t know why you put Skreened in the same category, like Daniel said if you cut their workforce by 20% you starting cutting limbs. What about Spreadshirt? It wasn’t that long ago that they built an enormous HQ. With the EU feeling the downturn quite bad, the UK even more so, Spreadshirt may be the next to go. Although Jana says things are all rosy.

    Anyway I predict neither will go. T-Shirt sales are good at the moment. The people to survive will be those that built a brand that people go back to, who kept their customers happy. Obviously Skreened have done a great job at that.

  • My vote is none will close, but if any one does Cafepress will probably close before Zazzle. While you point out Cafepress’s traffic is trending down significantly, Zazzle’s traffic appears to be up 135.5% year over year according to compete.com: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/zazzle.com/?metric=uv Overall traffic is a much clearer indication of health than individual posts from the community (although the community happiness – you and me – is also a good indicator).

    The community at Cafepress got the total short-end of the stick this year – shop fees, max on shop categories, elimination of marketplace for performance bonus (after years of having us setup our links to point to the marketplace), etc. as you point out. So so frustrating. Way more evidence of the kind you link to for Cafepress than the kind you link to for Zazzle (that person is probably a wedding seller and no one buys wedding stuff during the winter months – that’s a spring niche all the way). That said, Cafepress’ marketplace still gets more visitors than Zazzle (although I wonder how their headcounts compare after the latest news at Zazzle: http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/30/zazzle-hit-hard-by-the-economy-lays-off-15/), but with their transition money to shopowners winding down this month it is another painful reminder of all the time we put into that platform.

    Wrt to community on Zazzle, at least those guys did answer with a “seller incentive program” and have a too-good-to-last in-house affiliate payout (that, if anything, would be a cost concern – margins must be good to pay out 30%+ royalty, if they’re not… uh oh!). Zazzle also spent a big deal of press release time on new products – “profile cards,” shoes, skateboards, embroidery; Cafepress got the flip mino because they share the same investors… kind of a toss up, I wonder how much any of those sell and how much they cost to implement (my bet is this is a strike on Zazzle in these lean times), especially since the sales story this year was political swag.

    Cafepress did a much better job with the elections… the Rock the Vote and Rolling Stone partnerships were great, Zazzle isn’t the only one with branded merch. My political sales were awesome this year. Cafepress also closed Twilight which is significant on the branded content. On the strategic development side, you point out Cafepress bought imagekind this year, agree that looks expensive with all the details out there but it was a strong community (but profitable?). Also agree that Zazzle’s Goodstorm acquisition seems silly… the founder from the press release moved on some time ago: http://www.linkedin.com/in/yobie

    As Adam points out, Cafepress didn’t raise any more “venture capital,” but there was a regulatory filing made this year related to $8.3 million of something (which was the basis of the news release). Actually, it would be a better news story for Cafepress if they *did* get any kind of money this year. These companies that make their own stuff need cash to survive.

    In terms of survival, I think on the whole all three – Cafepress, Zazzle, and Skreened – will probably survive, but I must say that Skreened is in the weakest position by far… they are so small that they probably can’t pare back costs if sales dip and they probably aren’t making enough money to reinvest which means they will need to raise capital to grow significantly (tools, equipment, people) and this is the wrong year to try and do that (raise money)…

  • fifilaroach

    can you make money at skreened? that’s all i care about. if they are so small, do they make you sales? cafepress is all about the sales, people.i get next to nothing at zazzle.

    • Cafepress has lost thousands of artists who closed their shops after Cafepress covertly revamped the Market Place to no longer direct the artists products and also so that search engine finds also no longer show the shop owners sites. They at the same time right before Christmas cut the markups a shopkeeper gets unless the purchase came directly from the actual shop web address. I went months without one sale from my shops, all stated came from the Market Place. I sent friends my direct link and yet still only was paid 10 percent claiming it came from the Market Place. In two months I lost over $1,000 in sales each month so I pulled all my stores and went to Zazzle. I am not at level 3 Bronze seller making up to $5,000 a month there, no shop fee’s.

      Zazzle as long as they do not do what Cafepress did to us, is not going anywhere. Cafepress has a member forum and no one even posts there anymore but a handful of people as they banned most everyone that complained about the changes and suspicious activity that is going on with sales.

      Skreened as well as all the other POD’s do not promote the shop keepers therefore sales are never going to be worth my time opening a shop there. I know many people that have for years used these other PODs and sales are terrible.

      It took me 3 years to get to where I am on Zazzle and as far as I am concerned its Cafepress’s loss. I am shocked they are still on board, and do not believe any reports that they are doing well.

  • Jim

    Well, if all you care about is making money, why don’t you go pimp out some crack whores in Vegas? I mean, really, to be honest, I imagine there’s a lot more money in that than selling shirts. But if you are interested in making sales in an ethically-oriented market, then yes, I can tell you personally that you can make money at Skreened, because we have.

  • fifilaroach

    if i am going to spend hours daily uploading products i want it to be worthwhile, is my point. don’t appreciate the nasty comeback. but mine probably sounds harsh too. i’m smarting today from the cafepress debacle and i don’t want to pursue another pod with little chance of sales since i make my living off of t-shirts. (granted, a second income for our family, but i made 30k last year across all my stores and pods.) the commission cut at cp, however, will cut that to around 10k with the same sales. and also, i just don’t appreciate how they handled this whole thing. so i’m looking for new places to work. i checked out skreened and it seems great, i like their interface a lot. and the products offered. i’m going to put a few days in there and see if i get any bites. if i do,i have thousands of designs to upload. hope this makes better sense than my first snarky post.

  • I have made money from Zazzle and Printfection so I will be spending my energy there instead of a greedy company like Cafepress. They have screwed me for the last time.
    At least there are now plenty of other PODs that want our business and are a bit more ethically pure.

  • I’m starting to worry about zazzle not crediting me for all my affiliate sales. I’m making a restaurant city site right now and I don’t know if I am going to be considering selling shirts of theirs on it after the current bad taste in my mouth I am getting.

  • I think zazzle will be the first to close, zazzle is not paying anymore. I see many users complaining about zazzle credits.

  • I think both Cafepress and Zazzle will close simply Number 1 prices for Cafepress have become outrageous and they no longer seem to support the shopkeeper’s and for Zazzle well they use to have a guest button you could click on to order from a site you at, they no longer do this and therefore they are not making money from new customers who don’t want to create an account just order what they were looking at so these 2 are going to close most in definetly to bad because they were both doing some wonderful things I used to buy stuff with money I made with my shops now that things have changed for both cafepress and zazzle My clientel has diminished simply Cafepress is too expensive and for Zazzle my clientel won’t create an account just to order.

  • d glassman

    Zazzle has prices that are simply insane. The cotton used on the T shirts are cheap Chinese cotton. I have seen the Disney products Zazzle creates and the colors are washed out and far from what the customer sees online. A shirt will cost about 25$. That pricing is just wrong. Zazzle does not use the best system printers. Vutek system for example would be one of the best but Zazzle does not go in that area of printing. Quality is not a number 1 issue. Cafe press…ditto. Neither offer a great product that you would write home about.

    Zazzle is the proletariat printing company. Ideally for 14 year old kids and not for professional quality printing. Zazzle uses mostly kids and they get their orders wrong. So far we have obtained 4 shirts..all the wrong sizes. Zazzle is no longer an option for us. The idea of the company business model is fine yet in reality they use cheap base clothing and poor quality control. If they go out of business it will be as much for their poor attention to detail as the economy.

    • Have never in 7 years had a return, and buy shirts for groups all over the country. You have to also take into consideration the artist and if they are using the proper resolutions and imaging dimensions.

      They also have a money back regardless of customization, and anytime a customer has a problem they can call them, and work it out. There are many options for shirts, types, weight, prices. I do agree the prices for t-shirts are way to high. And also the area available for customization is limited which is totally out of style for shirts today. We have mentioned this over and over and they just do not get it. Shirt sales for me are not great but then knowing these things I do not push shirts. I sell posters, and other items and the quality on them is incredible and current technology used in High Definition that looks just like what you see on the screen.

      • Legally can CP “own” your artwork? I was away from my 23 stores (in a premium store) and when I recently came back – everything had changed. NO PAY and my work was all over the marketplaces (in 7 countries).

        • Jenn

          If you didn’t have any pay, it means you didn’t sell anything. And if you didn’t opt out of the marketplace, your products are allowed to be there per CP’s conditions. You can opt out of the marketplace by simply checking a little box in your store settings. But unless you’re doing some really good outside promoting on your own, you’re not going to get any sales.

          Sounds like you were away for a long time if when you came back “everything had changed”. I recommend visiting the forums at CafePress and familiarizing yourself with the changes. 23 stores would be a waste to just “let go”. I only have 4 and make enough money each month to live on (quit my day job 8 months ago). And all of my sales come directly from the marketplace. I do no marketing myself whatsoever.

  • Jenn

    lol I know this article is well over 3 years old, but it’s really very speculative. The reason the author was (is) seeing so many advertisements and mailbox “spam” is simply MARKETING…not a failing company’s desperation. I can’t imagine how any person with common sense would think plentiful company advertisements = a failing company begging for money.

    I have sold items on CafePress for many years (the company has been in business since 1999) and after the big commission change for shopkeepers there was an uptick in marketing by CafePress that continues to this day. We all felt the pain of the bad economy, but due to CP’s marketing efforts my daily sales have more than tripled from what they were in ’09 and continue to increase. CafePress is also constantly adding new products, making changes to its website, holding contests, and a multitude of other things non-indicative of a “failing” company.

    I have also been selling at Zazzle for a couple of years. While it certainly has products, features and commissions that I wish CP had, Zazzle just does not generate the traffic that CafePress does. On average, shopkeepers have a much harder time making a sale on Zazzle than CP. Anything can happen, but based on that fact alone Zazzle would not “outlast” CafePress.

    Skreened I’ve never even heard of and have never seen any marketing for. Again, anything can happen, but “as is” that place will never outlast Zazzle or CP.

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