While Printful have a wonderful range to offer, they are printers first and foremost. Their online store is for printing services, rather than printed products. While they have put work, effort, and marketing into their brandname, it is a brand which ultimately sells printing services to “developers,” rather than printed merchandise to the public (I will discuss their shop plugins later in the article).
Society6, as a result, has a larger brand name and presence which I can benefit from, because what they have to offer isn’t “developer” specific—young people and members of the public visit it like one would Ebay, or some other online store; to browse and purchase whatever they’re looking for. Their customers like the idea that they’re supporting artists, and they often discover new ones along the way just through browsing content.
Society6 also does features of new artists, and as a company they can mark down prices or shipping in sales without impacting my profit margin (they foot the cost themselves). As a small business (i.e me, alone, selling art prints), this is something I would be making a sacrifice to do.
Now, onto the money! Why, if Printful pays more, wouldn’t I still go with them anyway? After all, they’re encouraging fairer pay for their artists (less of a profit margin for them, at the same price), and even if it is a small market, that’s something I would like to support, right?
The answer is no. As I have illustrated above, Society6 put more effort into making their print merchandise publicly available, as a brand which will generate me more views and/or sales. I like that they thought ahead in this way, and had the daring to tackle a new and in-demand market niche.
However, provided it’s a four-week month, that’s only $250 a week. Paired with other things, it can add up—however it is only one of the many “octopus tentacles” which independent artists must establish in order to achieve a standard income, as Bobby Chiu discusses in his video, “Seven Steps to Becoming an Independent Artist”.
Sven Vinke discusses direct sales vs other retail in the video-game industry through his article, “Should indie developers invest in boxes?”. In it he shares how Larian Studios has prioritised its sales for best results (see the excerpt below):
“1. Direct Sales – Via Larian Vault & forums. Full control, largest margin, allows direct contact with our players.
2. Steam – Reliable, report on time, pay on time and regularly, are very developer friendly
3. Other digital sales – Easier than retail, monthly payments, you occasionally ned to yell a bit to get your money.
4. Retail in key markets – It’s possible to work with civilized companies that are ok, even if they are stressing for the moment.
5. Retail sales in non-key markets – Need to work with either finished goods deals, so sales/messaging can be controlled – be damned sure about who you are dealing with.”
I really love Sven’s articles, and highly recommend them; they’ve taught me a lot about independent publishing tactics over the years. But the above statement brings me back to Printful.
I would be a fool to ignore the benefits of having my own online store, which is why I’ve always been working towards setting one up in the long-term (building my website / career is similar to renovating a house). This is going to take a while, but in theory I would rather source local or ethical print solutions and ship them off myself using WooCommerce.
- I don’t know how much time I’ll have to manage this all myself;
- or what the wholesale print prices will be, and how they compare to these commercial print services;
- If they’re more expensive my profit-margin may be the same anyway as I lower my cut, keeping the prices competitive.
- and I imagine my own website will not get as much traffic as something like Society6.
In this instance, offering Printful’s services through a plugin on my own store might be a good, easy solution in terms of time-income ratio. I would still be making a higher profit margin, without having to do (hopefully) too much work that detracts from making art.
This takes us to how I am using Society6. If it has a low profit-margin, and the money’s just a bonus, why—and how—am I using it?
The answer is, for advertising. The art prints I don’t care so much about—alongside books, they’ll be the staple of my web-store in years to come. But what I do care about, is the exposure through merchandise.
Society6 gets a lot of clients—and who wouldn’t want fun, practical, artistic items for day-to-day use? I know I’d love a mug (or a collection of mugs!) with cool art prints, or a phone case that’s engaging to see. It’s bringing art into daily life again, which is a really wonderful thing—but I see a lot of artist’s letting this opportunity slip by.
To my knowledge, Soceity6 doesn’t credit the artist on the printed merchandise. And so, while I have left things like canvas and poster prints pure artwork, for things like tapestries, mugs and phone cases I have gone out of my way to adjust the crops of each item and provide a small water-mark detailing who I am, so that if they like the work, they can find more.
So this is the true reason why I am using Society6. While in time I would like to set up more sources of independent income, for now that is an ongoing project, and Society6—being a great source of advertising—is something I hope will bring me a bit more exposure as an artist 🙂
The Dreaming Sentinel
I also don’t agree with the synthetic materials they use.
I cannot review Printful on this topic as I haven’t done enough research.