Print On Demand Products…Is There a Place For Them in Art Licensing?

15 10 2013

blank mugI often get asked about Print on Demand (POD) products, and whether or not this is a good idea, or if it undermines one’s ability to license products to traditional manufacturers.
Making products available for sale on your web site is very appealing. And certainly the companies who offer POD are growing, and offering more types of products and better quality, than when this new era began.
Print on demand is basically, one-off printing, giving you the ability to buy one mug, one t-shirt or one tote bag with one of your designs on it. And let’s face it, it’s exciting to finally see your art, characters or designs on product. But this is not licensing and it’s not necessarily the way to grow your business.
I don’t think that utilizing POD in the early stages of your business is such a bad idea, but let me point out some POD catches that you might not have considered:

  1. If you want to manufacture your own product, rather than licensing it, POD is not the way to do it. POD products are really the most expensive way to purchase products, since you don’t get any volume discounts when you produce them one at a time. If you want to be a retailer, then you need to get serious about finding manufacturing vendors, warehousing your products, getting sales reps, etc.
  2. If you use POD to create mock ups for your web site or trade show booth, then potential licensing manufacturers may see those products and think you have already licensed those product categories. It may actually turn them off, rather than increase your appeal.
  3. If you sell products on your web site, be prepared to tell manufacturers about your sales results. Clearly manufacturers who want to license an artist would love to have some sales statistics to guide them in their decision. When a potential licensee sees that you have been selling product on your web site, they may very well ask you how the sales are going. If you say you’ve been selling product online for years, or even a year, and then tell them you’ve had sales of 327 units, they won’t likely be impressed. The fact is that if you don’t actively market your products, to a wide market consistently, then no one but your relatives and friends will buy them. Remember that selling products requires more than just putting the up ‘available’ sign on your web site. Of course, if you do market your products and sell 1000’s and 10’s of thousands, then you have got an amazing story to tell and you can probably use that information as leverage to close a licensing deal with a similar manufacturer who would love to create the product for you.
  4. POD products are often not well designed. They are essentially blank promotional products, in which you have a limited and fixed amount of space to place your artistic image. They can be inflexible, to say the least. My point is that these products, no matter how stylishly you place your art on them, are unlikely to sell and will rarely convince a well-seasoned manufacturer that your art belongs on products. They also don’t help build your brand identity. You can do better by creating artistic and inventive product designs through mock-ups.

I think overall that an artist will rarely make a great deal of money for the effort that POD products take. And they CAN potentially inhibit or turn off manufacturers and may be something you will have to explain. So think carefully about why you have POD products on your web site, or why you are considering adding them. If your goal is to create products for yourself, friends and family, then go for it!

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3 responses

29 10 2013
Sarah Hudock

This confirms the feelings I already had about POD. The other issue I am concerned about is the rampant copyright infringement and theft of ideas that is apparently happening on many of these websites. If I were an infringer, that’s exactly where I would go to get ideas. Thank you so much!

16 10 2013
Susan

Thank you. Very helpful.

15 10 2013
Jenn

Thank you for this insightful post J’net

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