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Simple answer: yes. Is it easy? No.
Many people make some level of useful income on print on demand (POD). I have been playing with it for a while. Haven’t made much, but I am learning. I have ended up taking time to see why others sell well, and I don’t. So, follow my journey.
What is Print on Demand
Depending on context there are a couple of definitions. What I am focussed on and what I am doing, is posting artwork, in my case photography, to an online platform. Buyers can then browse the artwork and purchase it in printed form from the platform, which then pays me the profit, being the difference between the selling price and the cost of producing the product. Printed form can be any kind of print, including printing of the artwork on merchandise like t-shirts, phone cobvers and the like.
I use three platforms:
- Redbubble.com can print the image in up to 96 products for each image (they do change them occasionally).
- Pixels.com, which is part of Fine Art America (FAA) and prints the image on a range of different products.
- Photo4me.com. A UK based operation which specialises in high quality wall art such as canvas giclée prints.
Now I am not going to go into the mechanics of uploading and using the sites. Do a search and there are many articles and videos on the subject. I am more interested in the aspects of actually making money or not.
Your Approach to POD
You simply have two choices:
- Produce that fantastic artwork, upload it and see what happens;
- Make it a business.
There is no reason at all why you MUST choose option 2. Your artwork might earn some money, or it might not. If you DO want to make money, then you are running a business. So run the business properly.
From here on, I will use Redbubble as my example, mainly because my efforts centre there.
Sales and Marketing
From comments I have seen online, many artists just assume that they will upload artwork and it will magically sell. Nothing could be further from the truth, except when it does happen like that! I have seen artists complain about their shops with just a few images uploaded and no sales.
So Redbubble recorded a worldwide gross profit of AUS $ 183 million in 2022, paying $91 million to artists. Clearly, they were selling artists’ work! If your work did not sell, it is not the site’s fault!
Redbubble is a business. The company will spend a lot of money, time and effort monitoring the online market, and identifying what people are looking to buy. It will then advertise products to that market, using the online marketing techniques which are normal these days.
So, if your artwork matches the current trends, Redbubble will advertise it at their expense. I have had a number of sales like that. That’s fantastic, but generally, we have to make some effort to market our own work.
You do need to develop an idea of what is trending and what is likely to sell.
What is selling in POD?
It can be hard to tell what is selling at a particular time. But you can find some ideas, without getting into heavily technical areas of market research.
Most of the POD platforms have some form of best-selling page. Just search for it and you will get some idea of the bestselling products at the moment. Follow that through to the best-selling artists to get a better idea. ( Check the Redbubble best sellers page.)
Search for your keywords and see what comes up in the auto-fill in Google. That will give some indication of what people are searching and will also give you some indication of useful keywords.
Remember that people will often buy on an emotional connection – a place they have visited and enjoyed, a movie they have enjoyed with someone special, a gift for a special occasion and so forth. So do think about how you appeal to the emotions. This was a big lesson for me. I was seeing others selling regularly, but I was only seeing a few sales. Then I realised that all of their images were iconic UK based holiday places. And they had many different well known places. My best sellers were of a similar place. But I generally avoid the iconic spots, so many images were a lot more “off the beaten track”, so fewer people with an emotional
If you are selling merchandise don’t ignore the small stuff. For example, stickers on Redbubble are not going to give you more than a few cents profit, but they can persuade buyers to look at the bigger products in your range of merchandise.
Which Products to Sell
Put simply, sell every product on which your image looks good. Redbubble and FAA will aim to place your work on every product on which they will fit by default. In fact most of my Redbubble images are sized and designed to fit all 96 products as far as possible.
You will never predict which product the buyer will actually like. It costs nothing to put the image on all items.
That said, I am working on derivative images designed specifically for certain products. These do fit other products so they will be available on those.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is a specialist game. You can spend a lot of money having it done for you. A lot more than you will make. That’s not necessary if you use some thought.
Think about the platform you are posting on. Generally, each product available for your artwork forms a web page. The search engines (think Google and Bing) will see these pages. They are looking for new and lasting, evergreen, content which they can deliver to someone searching.
The text content they see on these pages is the title, caption (description) and, to some extent, keywords that you post, along with whatever keywords the platform is adding to describe the product.
TIP #1: Pay a lot of attention to the title and caption. Make sure they accurately describe the artwork!
Tip #2: Think about using AI (ChatGPT) to generate the captions, keywords and titles. But DO edit them to suit.
Remember that there is nothing to stop you from changing titles and captions later, or, in some cases, uploading a slightly different image with a different set of text content.
Promote your artwork as far and wide as you can. But be aware that some channels simply don’t bring much from efforts.
A Facebook business page has brought me the most success. Make sure that each and every sale is celebrated on the page. That has also brought me sales. If you are using Facebook the most effective tool is the Meta Business Suite. That makes it easy to post to some Facebook groups and Instagram all at the same time, which is very useful.
Pinterest is the next most useful channel I have found. Pinterest is social, but it is also a search engine, so any well-written posts remain there.
Bringing it All Together
Making a decent income in POD means you are running a business. Like any business, you do need to understand your market and your audience. In other words, you need to understand what the market wants. Your art may be fantastic but that does not mean that other people want to pay for it.
There are ways to ensure that you promote your product effectively and ensure that potential buyers can find it. You do need to make the effort.
Most of all – keep on creating and uploading.
There are a number of books about earning from Print On Demand on Amazon.
I have been using this book: How To Make Sales on Redbubble: Print-On-Demand.
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