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Confirmed: New CafePress System Raises Prices for Customers, Cuts Pay to Designers

CafePress is a “print on demand” corporation. What that means, practically speaking, is that they have a set of printers in a handful of factories in the United States. The CafePress corporation uses those printers to put images made by graphic designers onto a variety of products, including bumper stickers, buttons and shirts. Because it uses printers rather than bulk silk screening, the CafePress corporation is able to print each item as it is ordered — on demand.

Up until this very morning, when CafePress sold an item with a graphic designer’s image on it, the price system for customers, designers and CafePress itself was simple and straightforward. For each product it sold, CafePress maintained for itself a certain guaranteed amount of money called a base price. When a graphic designer made an image available for sale on a CafePress product, she or he set an additional markup, a commission to be received by the designer for each sale of the image on that product. The price a customer actually paid for the product was the base price plus the commission. For example, until this morning CafePress set a base price of $3.49 for a 3×10 inch vinyl bumper sticker. We at Irregular Times set a commission of $1.16 for a Turn Off Your TV / Think For Yourself design printed on that sticker. As a customer, you’d have paid $4.65 for a bumper sticker with that design on it.

Starting today, that simple system has been replaced by something rather more complicated. From now on, how much a customer pays for a product, how much a designer is paid for the use of a design on a product, and how much CafePress pays itself depends on how the customer comes to chooses that product.

If you buy a CafePress product through a URL featuring a designer’s shop name, the system works the same way as it always did. The “shop” URL for the Turn Off Your TV bumper sticker looks like You might get to this “shop” URL from a Google search, or you might get to that “shop” URL from the graphic designer’s website, your you might find it on a bulletin board.

If the URL for the product starts with the name of the product type instead, then CafePress sets a different base price to pay itself and sets a different commission to pay the designer. In the case of the Turn Off Your TV bumper sticker, this different url looks like You might get to this different URL by using the little blue search box on the home page of CafePress, or you might get to it by a Google search, or you might get to that URL from somebody else’s website or bulletin board.

That’s the new system, starting today. Starting today, the CafePress corporation is putting all of its efforts into promoting this latter sort of URL and not the former. The latter sort of URL raises prices customers pay for the same products while cutting the commission graphic designers earn, down to a mandated 10 percent of the price paid by the customer. It’s confusing, and the reasons for the split are obscure, but the effects are demonstrable.

To return to our example, if you go to to buy the Turn Off Your TV bumper sticker, you’ll encounter the old price structure, in which you paid $4.65, Irregular Times received $1.16, and CafePress received $3.95. But if you go to, you’ll pay $5.00, Irregular Times will receive $0.50, and CafePress will get $4.50.

In this shift, the base prices for items — Customer Price minus Designer Markup — are going up. The source for the old base prices is a list here. The base prices under the new system are figured as the price to the customer minus 10 percent.

Old Base Price for Bumper Stickers: $3.65… New Base Price for Bumper Stickers: $4.50

Old Base Price for 2.5 inch Buttons: $2.99… New Base Price for 2.5 inch Buttons: $3.60

Old Base Price for 1 inch Buttons: $1.49… New Base Price for 1 inch Buttons: $2.25

Old Base Price for 11×17 Posters: $4.99… New Base Price for 11×17 Posters: $7.20

Old Base Price for Round Xmas Ornaments: $5.99… New Base Price for Round Xmas Ornaments: $9.00

Old Base Price for 10 Pack Greeting Cards: $14.99… New Base Price for 10 Pack Greeting Cards: $17.20

Old Base Price for Organic Men’s American Apparel Shirt: $19.99… New Base Price for Organic Men’s American Apparel Shirt: $23.40

Old Base Price for Junior Raglan American Apparel Shirt: $17.99… New Base Price for Junior Raglan American Apparel Shirt: $21.60

Old Base Price for American Apparel Thong: $7.99… New Base Price for American Apparel Thong: $10.80

The bottom line: while CafePress may issue a public relations explanation that this change was made in order to “provide our shoppers with consistent pricing that’s competitive with other online retail stores,” it actually produces inconsistent pricing between two different areas of the very same website. What the change actually does consistently is to raise the dollar amount CafePress pockets on the sale of each product, with much higher base prices than “other online retail stores.” Skreened sells that very same Organic Men’s American Apparel shirt with a base price of just $17.99.

CafePress is not putting itself in a competitive price position, and its explanations for the changes do not match with observable reality. It’s typical behavior for a profit-maximizing corporation, not all that surprising.

11 thoughts on “Confirmed: New CafePress System Raises Prices for Customers, Cuts Pay to Designers”

  1. Tom says:

    Yeah, typical corporate move. My wife’s (Australian owned multinational) job sent e-mails to all the “lackeys” (anyone under upper management) that due to the current economic climate raises will be pushed back to January 2010 but will not take effect until September of 2010. On top of that, my adjunct positions in the several colleges i teach at have become at risk due to lower than expected fall enrollment projections.

    Watch for the on-going commercial real estate collapse to continue, another round of mortgage defaults next year, more layoffs and cutbacks in employment (so increased UNemployment) and the raising of taxes on we who are already drowning in debt due to the too big to fail banks stealing our money via the Fed’s “plan”.

    Corporations will make life in their organizations practically unbearable for their employees who will have to accept any draconian measures their employers dream up in order to keep themselves solvent over the next bunch of years too. It’s not going to be fun and keeping up with the surging cost of living (just look at gas and food prices) won’t be easy. Savings will melt away, future plans will be put on long-term hold (like vacations and college) and life will grind many into insanity and desperation.

    Down is the new up.

    1. Jim says:

      Ah, corporatespeak: “pushed back to January 2010 but will not take effect until September 2010”. It’s like a sharpened pencil to the eardrum.

  2. Tom says:

    “job” (in the first sentence) should be “company”

  3. J. Clifford says:

    Those prices are absurdly high. I’m starting to think that CafePress wants to push independent designers out of its business.

  4. Elle says:

    I have lost over 50% of my profits due to this change and seeking another venue for sales but because they have the license with Summit for Twilight designs they seem to have me over a barrel. I can remove everything from the marketplace and promote my own shop to preserve my pricing but I’m already advertising on Google and Facebook. I will need to figure out Yahoo and some other search engines. I guess marketing will be my new venture.

  5. Goyito says:

    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.

  6. Cameron Hinkle says:

    Yeah this is really lame. As a result I haven’t sold a sticker in almost a week. For what it’s worth, support your local designer. If you want a sticker, go here:

  7. insan_art says:

    Just saw a link to this on Twitter. Very nice write up on the changes at Cafepress. I’ve read a number of articles on this but you’ve put it very plainly. Thanks! Support Cafepress shopkeepers!

  8. Sebastian says:

    Cafepress Sucfks, before 1 june i was getin’ 5$ for one sale.
    For example: white t-shirt in my shop was 19.99 and i was making 5$
    now i make 2.00$ and the t-shirt in marketplace is 22.
    I mean…. WHAT THE FUCK?
    Excuse me for my bad language but i’m new in english language.

    DJ & Trance t-shirts @

  9. Sebastian says:

    Please follow @SupportSks on twitter and we (cafepress shopkeepers & others) can make a change on how things work at cafepress.
    my twitter is @Dj_Clothing

  10. Grant Devereaux says:

    My profits on CafePress were several thousand a month a year ago. Now they are not cracking $200. Like one of your other posters, I am moving over to Zazzle and will eventually leave CafePress altogether.

    This is the worst abuse of people I have seen in a long time. CafePress in effect is stealing from us after using a bit and switch marketing program. Designers are making almost nothing now and CafePress is pocketing huge profits.

    It took me a while to figure out what to do, but I can tell you, spending money to send people to their site is out of the question.

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