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New CafePress Marketplace Designs Down 22% since March 2009

When in the early summer CafePress raised prices for customers buying t-shirts and cut pay for designers making graphics for t-shirts, a number of observers predicted that CafePress would lose designers to competitors like Zazzle and Skreened. It was also predicted that CafePress would lose market share to these competitors as a result. Have these predictions come true?

Let’s follow the stats to see whether this is so. For some time, I’ve been noting CafePress’ own internal statistics on the number of new graphics uploaded by designers to CafePress’ Marketplace system. 11,132 new designs had been uploaded on Sunday, March 29 by 8:35 PM Eastern Time. Only 8,681 new designs had been uploaded on Sunday, July 26 by 9:15 PM Eastern Time, a decline of 22% (not even counting the extra 40 minutes for new designs on the 26th).

That’s a downward designer trend for CafePress; how about customer trends? Here is a graphic comparing trends in pageviews of, and over the past three months:

CafePress, Zazzle and Skreened pageviews in 2009

The indie outfit Skreened collects too few page views compared to the CafePress and Zazzle behemoths to show up on this graph well (source: Alexa). But what we can see pretty clearly is that since CafePress announced its changes at the end of May, it has fallen in its share of pageviews, losing its advantage there over Zazzle.

Look to see whether this trend persists after the college kids head back to school. If so, CafePress execs would do well to mark the moment they decided to miff their two core constituencies as a watershed — or is that Waterloo?

5 thoughts on “New CafePress Marketplace Designs Down 22% since March 2009”

  1. Paul Hood says:

    Thanks for the update, we can only hope that the nefarious business practices of Cafepress will ultimately be their undoing. I keep checking the net for news of a class action lawsuit but haven’t seen it yet. Press releases have been sent out but I never saw the story picked up. We’re slowly moving on to other outlets for selling our artwork.

    1. Jim says:

      Paul, thanks for checking in. Is there really a class action lawsuit to which news might refer? I cannot find any reference to one. There was a press release issued by someone upset with CafePress in June, but that was way back and it didn’t seem to confirm the existence of a class action lawsuit.

  2. builder says:

    If you check the stats on alexa today, you will see an even greater decline in all categories since you posted this article.

  3. Paul Hood says:

    “I keep checking the net for news of a class action lawsuit but haven’t seen it yet.”

    No, I do not know of the existence of a class action suit, it’s wishful thinking on my part that there may be one in the works. With all the financial damage caused to so many people, I speculate that Cafepress may have already been served with individual lawsuits: those would not be publicized, as potential publicity is typically a bargaining chip when such suits are filed. My Speculation is just based upon the sheer numbers of shopkeepers (CP claims 6.5 million) and many real world reports of losses of 50-90% of real income, including our own first hand experience.
    It is hard for me to imagine a scenario wherein there would not have been many individual lawsuits filed given these numbers.

    We know for a fact that a press release was composed and sent, and then picked up by other concerned parties and re-sent for a time in a very methodical manner. I did see a report previously on a CNN blog, knocking CP for removing volume bonuses etc, but it had not been updated to include the latest round of abuses. Again with the numbers involved, it seems bizarre that the news story hasn’t hit the mainstream media outlets.

    There are still a lot of CP blogs and such touting individual designers (written by the designers) and the occasional “How to make money selling T-shirts” blogs and websites wherein the writer seems oblivious to the real scenario over at CP. Some are just out of date, and some look a bit like corporate propaganda. Believe it or not there are still shopkeepers unaware of the changes, I just “educated” one of them two days ago.

    I do think that Zazzle, Skreened, and other POD companies are making headway primarily because of CP defections. But considering the huge profit grab per unit, the fact that CP wanted to thin out the marketplace of “redundant designs”, and most likely wanted to hit a lower volume level of production (thus shrinking their workforce, lowering machine maintenance costs and so on ) I am concerned that the management at CP may be patting themselves on the back for having “hit the mark”. I do believe that they actually wanted to reduce a specific percentage of new uploads, as they specifically stated a goal to order the marketplace for better profitability, as opposed to sheer quantity. Any smart business management would strive for that. I’m not saying that they are succeeding at thinning the herd and promoting quality– if you search their marketplace currently you’ll see what I mean– but I am saying that I think they were struggling from too many uploads, and also were overwhelmed with too much physical production of goods. Those two production considerations can’t be sustained in an ever escalating manner, and they were hitting a sort of “entropy” there where even the best selling shopkeepers were complaining about the bloat. The same thing could happen to Skreened or Zazzle– not everybody produces designs which actually sell, and anything that doesn’t needs to be dumped (strictly speaking from the POV of profits and losses ). In other words the more a POD company approaches the techniques of traditional publishing (fewer designs, juried and market-tested, those designs produced in bulk and mass marketed ) the more profitable they will be.

    In the long run, of course, the quality of designs at CP will decline and decline because all this has been achieved at the expense of good designers who were making good money there. So in the long run, maybe CP will crash and burn when all the good designs are housed at competing companies, but that could take quite a while. In the short run however, I must re-emphasize that a decline in the sheer quantity of uploads is exactly what they wanted. I have never known corporate management to be capable of seeing beyond the next quarterly report of profits and losses, and in that regard CP undoubtedly saw an immediate and massive increase in profits, whether they bet correctly against the risks and long term viability of the company is another story.

  4. Paul Hood says:

    One last thing, my post above rests entirely on the theory that quality has anything to do with sales, and I could be wrong about that.

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