How NOT To Make Money With Cafepress Part .5

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make money cafepressIf you have been following me from the start you know that I discovered the possibility of making money online from Cafepress back in 2007.  Even though I didn’t believe you could make money with Cafepress and quit your day job.  It did prove as a good source for a small passive income once you set up your shop.  Having some extra beer money if you will, or some money to pay for extra bills.

You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of my Make Money With Cafepress series.  However I will be editing those post with updates and I am no longer recommending you subject yourself to this torture.

It is kind of funny that this post comes one day after I discussed how a greedy entrepreneur is set up for failure.  Because that is where I think Cafepress is headed.

Why You Should NOT Try To Make Money With Cafepress Part 1/2

I am kind of taking a Star Wars approach here and doing the beginning at the end.  I had to show you how you could make money with Cafepress before I show you why you shouldn’t, right?  Actually that is not completely accurate.  I apologize to anyone if you were reading through my articles and taking action.  I do commend you for taking action though.  Very few people have that drive and you will be just fine and adapt to the situation.

As promised when this blog was created though.  I am staying true to my words and reporting all realities that I promised to report.  Even if it makes me go back on previous recommendations.

So after discussing how you CAN make money with Cafepress.  Why am I now saying you should NOT try to make money with Cafepress?  The answer is really actually pretty simple!  Back in the day Cafepress use to be a great source of passive income.  Even to the amount that you could possible quit your day job.  I hope no store owners actually put all their eggs in one basket and hoped Cafepress would support them for years to come.

Actually you should never put all your bets on any one online income strategy.  Not even if it is your blog, mobile app you created, a new web application, etc.  Technology and trends change to rapidly in today’s society.  New trends and new technologies come along everyday.  Remember MySpace?

Back to the subject on hand though.  Cafepress became greedy and it is ruining their business.

Why did I come to this conclusion though?

The last 2 months have been the first 2 months since I started my Cafepress store in 2007 that I have made NO sales.  At first I didn’t think anything of this because after the end of the year sales tend to dive down.  Never have I had 2 months with completely no sales at all.  I’ve never even had 1 month with no sales before.  On top of that I have been actively optimizing my store and product keywords.

So I decided to do some research and see what other people were saying.  I ended up getting into the financials of Cafepress and seeing their stocks are not looking to promising either.

You can read this article over at Daily Finance and see what I mean.

The Results Of Greed

See back in the day you use to be able to choose your own mark ups and it was easier to promote your shop via Google.  Now you are very lucky if you are able to drive traffic to your actual shop.  Most of your designs will be found in the Cafepress Marketplace where you are only able to make a 10% commission on anything you sell regardless of your mark up.  Cafepress also sells these products for what they see fit.  Which in my opinion is overpriced and results in less sales.

Cafepress got greedy and it is destroying their business.  Originally when they made this change I knew it made a lot of shop owners angry and it most defiantly did.  I was not horribly concerned about it though because all my sales come from the Cafepress Marketplace.  I never spent the time promoting my shop and just relied on making sure I was hitting on the keywords for my designs.  Remember I am trying to make money as a passive stream.

It appears that from a greed driven business model and competition coming around in the recent years that Cafepress is falling apart.  I don’t expect them to be able to keep investors happy since going public and Cafepress becoming the next MySpace.

Another Option

Due to the lack of sales and a failing business I am going to pull my Cafepress accounts.

1. Because when they see what I have written about them they will probably do it for me.  I know they will cancel my affiliate account at the very least.

2. The greedy business model that Cafepress has become is the very thing that I am against.

I have started looking into to move my designs too.  I have not used this site though and will not make any recommendations or links to this site until I decide if it is a suitable replacement.

Remember if you want to be updated on post like this please check me out on Twitter or Facebook where I am very interactive with everyone.  You can also use the social icons below to find me on Google+ or subscribe to my RSS feed.

If you have a Cafepress story you would like to share, please leave a comment below.

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65 Responses to “How NOT To Make Money With Cafepress Part .5”

  1. cheriverymery July 20, 2015 at 14:25 #

    What I want to know and can’t find by googling it is – “is there any form of government regulations that CP has to follow pertaining to fair pay to their artist/shopkeepers, sending out paychecks on time, and fairness of their scoring system?”
    Thank you,

  2. Mike July 18, 2015 at 13:20 #

    Hey, it’s me again, folks…

    So, here’s the latest in the CP saga. CafePress, as you folks probably know, sets up so-called “admin” shops within one’s account on which to feature designs. When this was originally started, I think the goal was to help rapidly market new products for which the shop owner had not yet placed designs. I don’t really have a problem with that, per se, other than whatever the process has been for how specific shop owner designs were selected.

    Since then, what’s happened is that when a shop owner picks “marketplace pricing” that enables CafePress to place those designs — apparently, at *its* discretion — on products using the variable rate for commission. And, on top of this, with their transition to the touchy-feely shuck-and-jive policy for dynamic commissions, that means you can have products selling for nowhere near what you would reasonably intend.

    The supposed resolution to, among other things, physically inappropriate design placement woes (according to an email received from someone in their tech support group) was to NOT pick Marketplace Pricing as your markup. Fine.

    Fast-forward to now. I have completely revamped my shop so that EVERY design there has a fixed markup amount (somewhere between $2 and $5). Unfortunately, these designs are still finding their way into the aforementioned admin shop, and my commissions aren’t ANYTHING like what I have picked. So, I queried them about this, and received an email that was very poorly worded and obviously boilerplate in nature, which suggested that I engage in a lot of social media outreach jiggery pokery, and kind of hope for the best.

    I have now sent (well, I will have as of this upcoming Monday) CafePress’ corporate office a come-to-Jesus-meeting type of letter, and I told them flat out that I neither appreciate the unprofessional response I received, nor the process of having to play some kind of chess game here, and that, bottom line, I want this fixed, or I’m closing out the shop.

    I’m going to wait with such baited breath over this one. But, dear Adapt’d Nation and Cody Stevenson followers, rest assured I’ll keep you posted on the latest developments.

  3. Bitten By Design July 6, 2015 at 23:14 #

    My story is very similar, I was frustrated with Cafepress not willing to send out royalty payments in any form other than a cheque. (now they do use paypal) But I moved to zazzle for the most part, with a few other sites now starting to offer alternative products that I want to use. Like RedBubble for the art prints and for the better quality products, society6 which I only recently found for some all over t-shirt designs (they aren’t perfect but a good start) and there are plenty more.

    True in the early days of cafe press I did make a fair chunk of sales, but they dwindled to hardly any as they kept changing their search or their royalty payments. I literally haven’t made a sale on cafe press in over a year. It is tempting to close off all my products and just reload them into zazzle which seems to give me MUCH better sales and a better affiliate system.

    It isn’t the wisest move to split my designs across multiple providers, but I like to do designs on different things and offer up something different to people via my own blog/facebook page/twitter so I am not stuck with just the usable print area of one POD provider.

    Yes, I could print and sell my designs myself, but I have been doing this as a passive income stream for quite some time and I don’t want it as an active stream at the moment as I have plenty of other things needing my attention.

  4. Rory May 23, 2015 at 00:33 #

    Thanks for this article, Cody. You saved me the pain of finding out for myself.

    I find it quite amusing that people use the CP initialism for Cafe Press, which makes me think of ‘crack pipe’, as used on Jalopnik.


    • Cody May 26, 2015 at 16:03 #

      No problem, Rory! Glad it helped. :)

      • Simon Goodwin June 2, 2015 at 07:26 #

        Any views on a replacement for Cafepress?

        • Cody July 7, 2015 at 10:56 #

          A lot of people recommend Zazzle, Simon. I don’t dabble in T-Shirt design anymore.

  5. (@iheartubuntu) April 13, 2015 at 22:33 #

    Great article Cody. I had a shop I started back in 2005. I won several design awards, was one of the original top sellers and was making $5K a MONTH on average. I bought my first house thanks to my hard work on the designs. Now? 2015? Instead of making an average of $3 per item sold I am lucky to make 20 cents. Its robbery. I just checked my reports and I made 32 cents on a $20 shirt. WOW. Us designers are screwed on Cafepress. Its imossible to get direct from website sales if anyone who has visited CP in the past and already has a CP cookie in their web browser.

  6. Roy April 12, 2015 at 21:43 #

    I have just started with cafepress and I find that I can’t seem to get my paypal address validated, my artwork won’t show up in the marketplace, I have to upload my art in two or three different places and the answer from customer service was “refresh my browser and clean out my cookies” so I started looking up reviews and I found this blog in addition to many poor reviews about the quality and customer service Cafepress provides. Looks like I may better off closing my shop and looking at other alternatives.

  7. Rob April 3, 2015 at 08:33 #

    Hi Cody.

    I enjoyed your take on the Cafepress saga in your article. I opened a CP account back in the spring of 2011 where I opened a handful of mini shops and I uploaded a few designs relating to niches mainly to do with sport, etc.
    My royalty initially was 10%, and I got 10% which was ok at first as I did generate occasional sales, although one or two designs in particular faired a lot better.

    Fast-forward to the Summer of 2013 and I noticed CafePress upgraded its platform by going down the social media route where you could create a vanity URL, have a system of followers and interact with Facebook, etc.
    In general I’m not saying that was a bad Idea in principle, but what I didn’t like was the new rules that came in with it which seemed to penalise the small scale or hobbyist art/designer.
    I found that my royalty halved overnight to 5% and I now got peanuts off my regular sales.

    From what I remember I had to earn or get ‘points’ either through extra sales, following people or uploading new designs regularly within a set timeframe to get my royalty back to 10% again.
    This really sucked! I didn’t want to stalk people for the sake of it as I didn’t have time, or publish mindless design spam on my shops or the marketplace to just get points, but at the same time possibly ruin any previous reputation gained as an artist in the eyes of fellow designers and potential customers.

    I closed my account back in 2014 where I had big trouble getting the money I had earned from my shops back even after going down the correct route. I had to send a ‘wildcard’ email to one of the CEO’s I found on LinkedIn with my complaint after being lied to and messed about by the CP ticket people/operators.
    (I mentioned that along with the BBB; negative publicity, blogging, etc.)

    That seemed to work! I had an answer, along with an apology within 48 hrs and the money they owed in my PayPal account within 7 days after one of her call centre managers got back to me and investigated the matter on my behalf.

    I did try Zazzle alongside, but I found the results rather disappointing to say the least. You probably waste more money in electricity using your computer by creating, uploading, naming and tagging your designs, not to mention the food calories burned and caffeine intake costs against anything you would actually earn in sales.

    TL;DR – Cafepress squeezed the small time amateur and wouldn’t pay out initially. Poor sales via Zazzle.


  8. mommygofast December 9, 2014 at 11:50 #

    I was researching how to use cafepress and pulled up this blog. So glad I did. I’m interested in marketing my artwork on tees as well. I’m not sure which is the right answer but so glad I found this blog and read all the comments first.
    I’m contemplating going to a local shop and seeing if I can work a deal with them, that would allow me to market a little bit to the buyer and whatnot. Thanks for this article!!!

  9. Jonathan Mc November 18, 2014 at 00:54 #

    Hello Cody, Totally right and well these greedy people have a well thought website, but something is missing, creative thought of whats important the designs and illustrators and not realising how much crap is mixed in with some great designs, i understand keywords need to be hit and this can only be done with 10’s of thousands of listings, but seriously… searching for them is a pain in anyone’s arse. I’ve moved into the custom underwear business and well any creative designers looking to make money with commission set by them, up to 25%, and reasonable pricing to consumers. Join me at

  10. Mike November 8, 2014 at 12:13 #

    My first forray into shop ownership was when I had a full-time job in an economy that hadn’t yet collapsed — 2006. I had a series of free shops then, and my first two designs were “I Love Fucking Austria” and “I Love Intercourse Pennsylvania” (with arrows and dots pointing to spots on a map where these two cities could be found). Ultimately, I added about a dozen or so designs in the first year.

    However, unlike you, Cody, I didn’t earn a thing — not a penny — for something like 18 months. I did everything I could think of to adjust the keywords, descriptions, and so forth, but ultimately it never amounted to a thing. Yes, I did finally start selling, but it was a horribly slow trickle. I probably didn’t see my first royalty check until about three years into the process, and even then that was for only $25.

    I’ve done a little bit better since then. I closed out all my shops and started up a premium shop (the lesser of the two premium shops that CP used to offer) and ultimately CP recommended I go with the present iteration of free shop — where they steal 10% of your 10% — and, well, things continued on more-or-less the same. I used to post a lot of political and poli-social / poli-pop culture stuff, and obviously during election cycles I sold a few things, but to this day, now something like eight years on, I’m willing to bet I haven’t netted more than $600 total.

    I absolutely think CP’s policies and agreements suck. But, I’m not objecting to them simply because I’ve done so poorly as a shop owner. Actually, I’m fairly impressed that my designs have resonated with, and been bought by, people in every major country, and on every continent except for Antartica. No, my reason for disliking CP is what you and other posters here have described as basically a vampire-like, predatory greed. Shirts don’t cost all that much, not even really nice ones. Yes, there absolutely *is* overhead at CP, but if the base prices they charge aren’t enough, then clearly they’re doing something very wrong.

    The only reason I keep my shops there is “for laughs”. I am not a coder, and my financial situation at present does not allow for me to hire anyone else, so there are no independent web sites to drive web traffic to my shop, no fully tweaked and customized CP shop interfaces, nor high-falutin’ SEOs, or anything else like that, in my future.

    I’ve looked at Zazzle, but their user interface is so amateurish and limiting that I couldn’t do with it what I wanted to, which in essence is to do much the same thing I’m doing with CP: take a design, apply it to a wide variety of product types, and tweak them to fit (size, coloring, etc.) So, I gave up on them. Lately, I’ve been on Skreened, but they pretty much suck rocks as well, though at least their UI isn’t completely retarded.

    • Cody November 10, 2014 at 23:00 #

      Thank you for your comment, Mike! You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Your comment was pretty humorous too :)

      I should give an update. CafePress must of found this post and seen how popular it was or seen how well it ranks in Google.

      I never check my CP store anymore or even log into CP. I got a bunch of emails from them though stating that most of my designs go against their Copyright policies. These were designs that were completely unique and have also been on there for about 7 years now.

      At the end of the day CafePress and the organization are a bunch of greedy assholes.

  11. things collectible plus October 16, 2014 at 20:22 #

    I have designed for cafe press for 1 year. I have 330+ designs and this past summer sales were on the upswing until……………… mid September. All sales abruptly stopped for about 2 weeks.

    Recently, I started getting a large no. of duvet sales. These sales were sitting in pending for 10 days. By accident I found out that Cafe Press had technical problems down loading my designs for only the duvet covers.

    Instead of contacting me first, they went to the customer and cancelled all duvet orders.

    I have put in a tremendous amount of time creating these design. If cafe press can cancel orders without contacting the shop owner / creator………. I can no longer continue to design for this organization.

    For the amount of time I put in designing, sales and exposure of product is just not there.

    Consequently, I will not continue designing for CP.

    I am putting my time and talent else where

    • Cody November 10, 2014 at 23:01 #

      “I am putting my time and talent else where.”

      I think that is an amazing idea and what anyone that has figured out CafePress should do.

  12. Rick London (@ricklondon) October 16, 2014 at 17:04 #

    Enjoyed your article very much and I’m always glad to see fellow creatives trying to make a “go of it”. Unless one is born with a giant trust fund (I wasn’t) PODs are about the only predators er uh businesses out there in which to make a bit of money.

    But there’s a few things missing in the article and responses that might be overlooked (that is far more harmful in the long-run than the low pay (which is bad enough).

    It’s something I’ve coined as “Brandpiring c2003”. When we sell with a POD, we have no control over our client relations. The packaging, the packing slips, the emails, the promos, etc etc etc are all going out via Cafe Press, Red Bubble, Zazzle, Spreadshirt, etc etc etc.

    Branding is more important than ever today. So is collection of contacts (if we ever decide to sell our businesses, we need that collection of names, addresses and emails or we’ve got nothing to sell, really. But they do (hence my terms brandpiring, predators etc).

    But they’re better than nothing (sort of).

    And I agree, using them all is smart. They’ll be history in 10 years or so. Most open not to be the family nest egg but to sell from the sweat off OUR backs to another predator who will (most likely) pull even more ridiculous stunts.

    There are some solutions but they take work, organization, and the ability to fight obstacles that are to be expected from current PODs.

    Form our own “creator union” and approach blank makers of mousepads, tees, etc etc and present a proposal. We can get a much better deal (and probably get them to go “POD” on our terms if we approach it correctly.

    They need business too.

    I bring to the table a 17 year old cartoon which has been Google #1 ranked (offbeat cartoon) since 2005 (google “offbeat cartoon”) and you’ll see I own the top spot, offbeat cartoon gifts (again #1) and Bing #1 since 2008. I have a site with about 5000 images and 8.9 million visitors.

    I write that, not for bragging purposes, but to let you know that even with all the work I’ve done (and there’s been many sleepless nights, return to college at age 49 (am 60 now), 2 major heart attacks, etc. But I’m still plugging away, sadly on PODs.

    I have a fairly good deal with a private manufacturer on Amazon in which my attorney wrote the contract; but even then there’s a great deal of brandpiring going on, though the pay is much better, and I have access to my clients. My brand is displayed fully in the description. Branding is everything.

    Sadly, the have removed creators, and are by invitation-only but have stopped that about 4 years ago.

    So my suggestion is to find blank tee, mug etc makers and “make deals” as a large group.

    We find a decent law firm who understands branding/copyright law and make the contract to favor us as well as them (all the POD TOSs only favor them.

    For instance, I like the people at POD but I mainly use it as “a testing ground”; I don’t have many sales their but a nice community of creators. But they’ve recently added insidious hyperlinks at the top of every page that takes visitors off your gallery and onto a generic Red Bubble page with items either made by them or their top sellers.

    Zazzle does such terrors as well; with long coupon codes that nobody can remember when you tweet or promote them on any social media, so they click on a link at the top and bam, they’ve got your customer never to find your shop again. Cafepress, in spite of its dismal 10% marketplace that makes Walmart look like a “House Of Generosity” may be the least offensive at taking ones brand away. All your items are aligned in a row and nobody is taken from your store or items.

    To fight that, I wrote them (to no avail) but nice friendly smiles and “we’re so glad you’re here type BS, so I added an “Important Notice” along with every product IMPORTANT NOTICE: PLEASE DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINK AT THE TOP OF THIS OR ANY OTHER PAGE, as it will take you off my gallery and onto pages not affiliated with mine, but competing products that are not part of my brand.

    I called them “brandpires” to their e-faces (to no avail) but I’ve done that wiith CafePress and Zazzle as well.

    In retrospect, I’d not do that again. The few extra sheckels are nice additions at the end of the month to pay extra bills, get extra food etc.

    So if anyone wants to give it a try, there probably is a way to put our art together in our own POD, artist-owned, and let the blank manufacturers/dropshippers bid on “having the opportunity to work with us.

    We have full control of clients, pricing, etc.

    Having been at this for 17 years, I assure you none of the PODs are on our side. They are sort of the e-Walmarts of the Internet. Our blood sweat and tears is their riches.

    We can change that with an e-union, in which we own the POD, we set the prices, we have our own labels on mailouts (even our own packing slips with our logos etc).

    There could be something of which I’ve overlooked, and if so, please advise. I am open to ideas.


    Rick London
    Londons Times Offbeat Cartoons & Gifts
    Google’s #1 ranked Offbeat Cartoons & Gifts Since 2005
    Established 1997
    Follow me on Twitter:
    Like my facebook page
    :) Thanks Enjoyed all the gr8 info.

  13. Melissa October 9, 2014 at 13:37 #

    Thanks so much for this article. I have a design that is going some what viral and was really considering going through cafepress for some tshirts, mugs, etc, instead of ordering in bulk and selling them myself. However, I decided to do some research first and found this article via google, and am SOOO glad I did. Their site is vague and it’s hard to find what you DO make. Why let them make 90% off your design? Thanks again for taking the time to write this :-)

  14. George Everet Thompson September 13, 2014 at 19:12 #

    I knew Cafepress from long ago when it seemed pretty good. I just started putting designs on Zazzle and was thinking of expanding to Cafepress, but your comments have convinced me not to bother. Any recommendations of better sites beyond what folks here have mentioned? Or is this a time for artists / designers to create their own? It is expensive, but doesn’t cost millions as some think.

  15. Bryan Ezzell July 29, 2014 at 15:19 #

    I think it is important to see where the sales come from. If your sales were all ‘Marketplace’ oriented, meaning cafepress sold them for you, and they stopped selling your design, you have no complaint. But if you mean you have an independent ad campaign that sends buyers directly to your store (indicated in the sales notice emails) and suddenly the sales-to-visitor count ratio change, that is different.

    I have a different problem with cafepress. I do make money every month and have for several years. My complaint is that they are too liberal with blocking images for reasons they think may someday be a problem, with no real complaint, yet there are a hundred cafepress shops selling illegal Fender Stratocaster shirt designs.

    I think they are too big to fail. Money will back them if they stumble. They are constantly making it seem more and more like multilevel marketing however. I use Zazzle with none of the extra problems but none of the extra sales. Cafepress ‘Marketplace’ sells more of my stuff than I ever have and I advertise during all key seasons.

    Hope this helps.

    • Cody Stevenson July 29, 2014 at 20:35 #

      Bryan, all very good points!

      I personally don’t even go to CafePress anymore. I think they realized the traction this article gets (CafePress being the only people that can beat me out in Google page rank for most things searched about CafePress) and they have removed all my designs saying they don’t meet their ToS. Even though they had been up there for the better part of 7 years.

      I am glad people read this article and find value in it. I don’t even consider CafePress a valid option as an income though. The time and effort is not worth the reward in my opinion. I commend you for sticking in there though! I just have other streams of income that do much better.

      I completely disagree that CafePress is to big to fail though. They are a dinosaur in a rapidly evolving technology world. CafePress won’t even be a blip on the map in the near future. They got greedy and being greedy never wins on the internet. Much larger and better tech companies have failed, CafePress is no different. In my opinion they have already failed, but who knows! Maybe they will make a great comeback like the ever so popular MySpace 😉


  16. Pekka Markku May 8, 2014 at 19:09 #

    After nine plus years, I closed my CP shop. I used to brag about CP. The shop was a labor of love. The extra income was nice. Pulling the plug didn’t bother me as expected.

    My CP based business grew the first couple of years then prospered until recently. My web-site drove about 1/3 or the traffic and transactions. Worked great. Then CP tinkered with the commissions and pricing. Commissions went down but it still worked. But starting in the fall of 2013, sales plummeted. Why? IMO because CP trashed its brand through spamming. Its awful. The CP spam emails never stopped…always some last minute 1/2 price special. About the same time, the CP marketplace search quit working for my designs. Before, my stuff was easy to find in the CP marketplace and the search engines. My content was military in nature, with unique names like MG42, MP40, etc.

    The relationship was great up to 2013. Since a quick demise. Glad I never took the quit the day job and drive an CP income plunge.

  17. HiyaHowyaDoin May 6, 2014 at 23:31 #

    Hi Cody,

    This is a little bit old but I thought I’d chime in. I’ve had a CafePress account since at least 2007, but I used it to upload my own personalized designs for my own iPhone cases and such. A couple of years ago I started getting checks from them and had no idea why… it was because a design that my husband had made for his own iPhone case (that incorporated an internationally known corporate logo) had hit the marketplace and was selling several units every month. Of course the commission was pennies on each sale, but it was nice to get a $25-$30 check every couple of months off of a single design that wasn’t even meant for public consumption.

    Over the years I had tried to come up with really clever, well designed offerings but they were all largely ignored, and to be honest the money wasn’t worth the effort so I just didn’t worry about it… until about a year and a half ago I made acquaintance with an actor and custom designed a cute little cartoon caricature based on the character he plays on tv, so I could send him sometihng with it on it- he even picked out the colors for it so I was really excited to get to give a celebrity something with my work on it. Despite the fact that it had no direct reference to the show at all (you really would have to be a fan of the show already to even know who it was supposed to be), they banned the image. I sent them the original sketches and concept art I did for it to prove it was original, but they refused to release the image for purchase even though it did not mention the show, the network, or even the character’s name, just because it vaguely referenced it. Yet there I was all that time making money off of a CORPORATE LOGO. Their policies are crap and aren’t universal.

    Add to that the recent point system they’ve put in place for marketplace commissions and they’re just about useless. Granted, I only spent about an hour the other day to get my rating up high enough to earn 10% again, but in the meantime I’ve been earning a measly 5% since I wasn’t sure how to go about that until I researched it. What a total slap in the face. Yet, I keep going back because even though I put these designs in other places, CafePress is the only place I actually DO get passive sales, even though the commission is crap. I’ve recently revived my efforts to make money with them, if only because of divorce I need it now, so I’ve been uploading tons of crap designs of simple one word or logo based designs that are simple but specific to groups of fans of various popular things. That seems to have done the trick… I was being too specific to too small of an audience before so no one was searching for what I was offering, but now I have to say I am starting to see sales off my newer designs that I didn’t expect so soon… and none of it’s coming from the Marketplace (although it doesn’t matter, I set my commission to 10% universally anyway just to price match). So my items are getting indexed, I’m just figuring out what’s popular enough to garner sales… although so far it’s still not enough to pay any of my bills.

    Maybe it’s because I tried CafePress first and it’s what I’m used to, but it seems like it gets a lot more foot traffic and I prefer it (particularly with their range of products). I never thought I’d sell yoga pants with my design on the butt, but I did. It’s a total catch 22 because every time you turn around, they’re kicking the designers in the teeth again. I hate to patronize them, but I actually prefer them, even with their clunky interface.

    By the way I heard that Redbubble was by far more artist-friendly than CafePress, although their product selection sucks by comparison. I put my celebrity’s design on there so I could order his product and he had me send it to set last year (it has been on there ever since but has only made about $50 total in sales since). He actually tweeted a picture of it saying he thought it was “rad” (he never tweets pics of gifts like that so I felt special) so untold thousands of people finally saw my art for once, so you’d think it’d sell a lot based on that but nope… I guess you really just have to sell your soul to make money this way.

    • Cody Stevenson May 6, 2014 at 23:49 #

      I completely understand what you are saying. I went through that for a long time, it is a double edge sword and you are right, it really is one of the best options in that niche.

      CafePress is a business that chases the money though. They just became too big and churned into another piece in the machine cranking out profit (for them).

      Thats why I started looking at options outside of CafePress a long time ago. I wanted to work for myself and not have to deal with corporate bullshit. Seemed like every time they had a policy change I was just reading how they were preparing to give it to me, sans lube. I was trying to get away from that environment.

      Thank you very much for sharing your story. I really enjoy the honesty.

      Your very last sentence really hit the nail on the head.

      • HiyaHowyaDoin May 28, 2014 at 15:37 #

        Hey again Cody. I thought I’d come back to give you an update. The very day after I posted this, several designs of mine that had been online a while (and some that had been selling) got suspended out of the blue. I hope it’s just coincidence, but shortly after that I decided to “play strictly by the rules” and go on an “adding” blitz trying to see if more designs really would equate to more sales, adding about 200 designs in about 3 days. Nothing so far, and now a week later the products aren’t showing up in the searches even though I know they’re all appropriately tagged. On the flipside of that I added several of the same ones to Zazzle and I have yet to get a single sale even with my ace-design that always sells on CP, even though they all show up in the Zazzle search results. I’ve just about given up trying to figure out how to play this particular game, even though it’s such a shame, it used to be a great way to make extra money.

        I can report that my designs on Redbubble were selling more than I realized. I’m selling less units by far than I am on CP, but because it’s those custom pop-culture caricatures I drew (better than the generic crap that CP and Zazzle restrict you to), I’m able to sell at twice the commission rate so I’m making almost as much on Redbubble as I have with CP. I’m going to try not to fixate so much on how much money I COULD have made, and go back to just trying to have fun using it as an artistic outlet, and just make up a few more caricatures to sell. At least I know no one can rip them off and sell them on CP!

        • Cody Stevenson May 28, 2014 at 16:07 #

          Have you ever considered just opening your own store with your designs? Then you are in control of your marketing, SEO, etc.

          I have spoke to others that have also went the ETSY route with their artist abilities.

          I have completely written CafePress off. The time and effort just isn’t worth the reward to me. I could throw up a bunch of micro blogs on various subjects more efficiently and make more than I would on CafePress putting in more hours.

  18. ASG11 March 21, 2014 at 02:16 #

    Hi Cody, Nice informative article, which echoes my point of view exactly, and more.

    The thing is I am new to online t-shirt selling business. About 3 months into it. My initial designs are on Skreened, where I was getting decent traffic to the designs, and approx $400 in weekly commission for last couple of months. My own margins on skreened are $10-$15/shirt. I would say the designs are good, hence I’ve been able to sell from Day 1.

    When I decided to scale up and move my designs to other places as well, I tried Cafepress before others.

    First, the entire cafepress system of designs, shops, markups is complicated. I am a designer, not a accountant or a statistician. On a scale of 1-10 on simplicity of setting up your store, I would rate Cafepress at 2, while skreened is up there at 9.

    After 2 days of getting my head around how things work at Cafepress, I uploaded a design, set $10 as markup for one of my most famous design at skreened, and it was a go.

    So 3 days later, on a Sunday morning, I got up, checked my email on phone and a Cafepress weekly alert says I’ve made approx.$250 in sales in last week. That’s $250 worth in Sales. Voila! Then I scrolled down, and it said that total earnings, of guess what, $11. Yes, on a $10 markup, Cafepress sold about 9 shirts, whilst my earnings were only $11. Why? Because Cafepress chose it to be so. So instead of simple math, which says $10×9 = $90, I ended up earning only $11 – and that is on my OWN designs.

    And here is the worst part, I noticed, that somehow, the traffic to that particular design had dried up on my Skreened shop. 90% of my traffic on skreened is organic search[mind you, skreened rocks as far as organic search is concerned]. So the buyers went to the same design on Cafepress and simply bought the same design at probably $8-9 less per shirt.

    I took me about an hour to figure all this out. I realised, that Cafepress’ volume of traffic was pretty good, but when it translated into less earning per sale for me overall, it was a loss of about $90 in one day. I decided to shut down my Cafepress shop there and then.

    That was about 2 weeks back. I till now have no idea, why I earned so low on Cafepress. The entire system they have is more of a headache for a designer who’d be rather designing stuff than figuring out the complex system they have. And I have no intent of spending anymore time on finding that out.

  19. Mary Springfield September 29, 2013 at 16:59 #

    Hi, Cody. I started using cafepress in 2004 but didn’t have any sales. I didn’t actively use it and forgot about it for years. I had my first sale in December 2007. They had an agreement for twilight designs so I decided to try making images reflecting that series. I made about five thousand on those images during the next two years. I don’t make the big checks anymore, just enough to pay my car insurance and do a grocery run most months. I always keep tabs on the new movies if they hAve an agreement for designs because teen girls will spend a lot of money.

    • Cody Stevenson February 17, 2014 at 14:40 #

      Hey Mary! Sorry, for some reason I missed this comment and just saw it.

      You bring up a great point with CafePress though. I good strategy is to jump on the current trends. However, I find this to be a pain and really not worth the payout. That is just my opinion though and some people do very well using this strategy.

      • Mary Springfield February 18, 2014 at 19:49 #

        Since I posted this several months ago, they’ve changed the commission payout. I now make about 30% less than I did before.

        This past holiday was the worst that I’ve seen, being a quarter of what I normally make during November and December.

        It may be several years before we see another twilight-like phenomenon, but I know I will jump on that once I hear about it.

  20. Jonathan Baran September 19, 2013 at 10:29 #

    I made my first sale with cafepress in 2010 and I have worked very hard for the past few years to make money with cafepress but I have made very little. The thing that is really making me angry and frustrated now is that I am trying to get information on how to tag my images properly, but I can’t seem to find it. Cafepress tells you not to put product names in your tags and that makes no sense to me. I have 72 designs on cafepress now, but I’ve lost my motivation because why should I spend a LOT of time perfecting my designs if nobody ever sees them??? The marketplace algorithm is hidden from us, and so is google’s algorithm. I’m disgusted and frustrated at this point, because my designs have been invisible in the cafepress marketplace and organic search. Now what???

    • Cody Stevenson September 23, 2013 at 18:52 #

      Hey Johnathan! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.

      You, me, and so many others are at the same point as you. Unfortunately, poor business models, greediness, and a flooded market place have made CafePress a very undesirable time investment.

      I think the good thing to take out of this is that you have drive and an interest in entrepreneurship. That is what you were doing building your own CafePress store anyway. If it were me I would take that drive and the time you invest in trying to figure out CafePress tags and channel towards a real product you can sell on your own. It could be a blog around a subject you are good at or have a lot of passion in or something you have wanted to develop for a long time.

      Let me know if you have any questions on how to move forward on any ideas you might have.


      • Jonathan Baran September 24, 2013 at 09:49 #

        Thanks for the reply Cody, I guess I started using cafepress to begin with because it’s an easy way to get started on your own business and I really didn’t have a better idea. I’m searching for better ideas now and I am a big fan of The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. I’ll still use cafepress because I’m a Visual Artist, but I know I need to add something more to the mix.

        • Cody Stevenson September 24, 2013 at 10:19 #

          Send me an email if you get a chance with some of your work and past experience. I will be looking for graphic artist to work with soon on some of my projects i want to get off the ground.

          I know how to use the Adobe suite in and out, but no matter what I do I am just not a “artist” so I am looking for graphic artist that are self starters, motivated, and can think outside of the box.

          Who knows, maybe we can work on a project together in the future.


          • Edgardo F. Salgado Bonilla February 14, 2014 at 01:54 #

            Hey Cody, I gotta say your info on Cafepress helped a lot bu then I couldnt help but continue reading because I tend to get trapped in the thread of conversation ( as i usually do on any comment section) This time, the topic and the things you’ve said to others really hit base, I’ ve been going through a lot of these issues with myself and my talents and youve covered some great stuff. It great that you take the time to reply to people and i can see your intentions of actually , possibly, opening up people’s views in the way it happened to you. :). keep it up. also are you still looking for some one to design things? I basically draw it’s what I ve done all my life and what i’m best at. Let me Know!.

          • Cody Stevenson February 17, 2014 at 14:42 #

            Hey Edgardo! Thank you so much for stopping by and giving me the great feedback! I hope you stick around and find some more useful information here.

            Please send me an email via the contact page and we can talk about your artistic abilities.


    • Terri Taylor June 23, 2014 at 21:11 #

      Hey Jonathan, if you’re still using Cafepress, I can give you some help in the proper ways to tag your designs and products if you’d like. For me, I’m ready to bail on Cafepress.

  21. Barb Brady September 15, 2013 at 10:51 #

    Hi Cody,
    This was a really good article. I was thinking of trying CafePress, but checked out their site and was concerned with how they price. I am glad I found your take on it. I am now NOT going with them.

    I have also started a new blog and have been working like crazy on it — writing the content. I am now, finally, stepping outside the isolated blogging side to connect with others. I like you philosophy of being a straight shooter. I read other website and I just think they are trying too hard to prove they are making money and doing a good job, I just don’t trust them to blog the truth.

    I will connect with you also on Twitter and hopefully I can share my successes and lessons as well as learn from you! P.S., I am an accountant , , , as I say on my website, don’t use that against me . . . so maybe I can help if you have questions:)

    • Cody Stevenson September 15, 2013 at 14:37 #

      Hey Barb! Thanks for stopping by and I am glad you enjoy the content :)

      I am traveling around right now, but I will check out your site and see if you can give me any accounting advise haha. Likewise, if you have any questions at all don’t hesitate to ask me any questions.

      I think you’re completely right, it can be very difficult to find the “truth” on a lot of these blogs, more like hype hype hype… buy this.

      • Barb Brady September 21, 2013 at 14:53 #

        I know what you mean . . . this job stuff takes time :)

        Funny about accounting . . . I have worked with different accounting packages, but I am just learning a new accounting package . . . even for us accountant’s there is a learning curve :) I hope you find the accounting system that is straightforward and a quick learning curve.

        I followed you back on Google+. I like knowing that someone else is out there working on building a blog and wanting to do it the “right way”.

  22. Bob Johnson August 6, 2013 at 08:45 #

    Hi Cody–Love the info you put out here!

    I wanted to follow up with you and see if you had found a replacement for CafePress and to see if anybody out there knew of some similar sites and perhaps some hidden jewels.

    I’m looking specifically for a service that allows me to design and sell iPad/iPhone cases.

    Semper Fi!

    • Cody Stevenson August 8, 2013 at 02:38 #

      Hey Bob! Thank you for reading and I am sorry for the delayed response. I am currently a little disconnected from technology with a busy schedule.

      To answer your question, no I have not found a suitable replacement for Cafepress. I did start to look at Zazzle, but then I realized that the time and effort put into sites like this just wasn’t worth it to me for the return that you get on your own hard work.

      There are way better options for making money online and the reward is much higher. However, if I was set on designing iPhone/iPad cases to sell I would honestly look into wholesale options and do my own company or just find a manufacture and go that route. If you had a good enough brand in mind and something unique to offer I would even look into It is a great way to prove your concept and get funding at the same time.

      Let me know if you have anymore questions and currently email is the best way to reach me.

      Thanks again, Bob!

      • Bob Johnson August 8, 2013 at 11:40 #

        Thanks for taking the time to reply Cody.

        I’m not set on just those, but thought it would be a good way to get some side income flowing and to use my passion for cars and military vehicles.

        If you have the time can you please expound on some of the better options of making money online?

        Any help you can offer is much appreciated!

        • Cody Stevenson August 12, 2013 at 22:05 #

          Hey Bob! I apologize again for the late response. I am just slammed with my day job (traveling) and don’t have a lot of access to internet.

          Anyway, I will be going over a lot of ways on here to make extra income just online. I see you are into cars and military vehicles. I am as well! That could also be a good way for you to start. Have you every thought about starting a website or blog going over these topics?

          What kind of technology interest you? What are some of your other hobbies? I always like to look into ways I can monetize my hobbies. This keeps me interested in what I am doing.

          What kind of cars are you into the most? I pretty much enjoy anything with a motor and wheels :)

          Semper Fi!

          • Bob Johnson August 22, 2013 at 08:37 #

            Now it’s my turn to apologize… Moved our home and then three days later moved our daughter to college so just getting back online.

            I love cars in general, but have a real passion for Corvettes. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of making office chairs out of car seats so that if you were say a VW GTI fan you could have an office chair that matches your car to show your love of them.

            I still think the idea of having car and military themed iPad/iPhone covers has potential, but I have no idea where to start. The Cafe Press idea appeals as I can focus on the design, but I personally think they are overpriced and that the margin would be pretty thin.


          • Cody Stevenson August 23, 2013 at 20:19 #

            Agreed on the comments with CafePress.

            Bob, please feel free to email if you would like to discuss your iPad/iPhone cases more in depth. I will help where I can for free, esp. for a fellow Marine.

            The office chairs idea is really good and I personally love it. However I think this would take a good amount of capital to actually make into a profitable business. You have to be able to mass produce and get your margins down. I’ve seen it tried before and failed because they lacked the ability to turn out a lot of product at once.

          • Bob Johnson August 27, 2013 at 16:04 #

            I agree—think it’s definitely a great (and potentially lucrative) niche, but it’s not something that I could get up and running on the side.

            I tend to look into 500 different things at once, so I need to have the discipline to focus just on ideas that provide passive income and have the ability to blossom into something large enough to augment, and eventually replace, my full time job.

            It seems most conversations focused around that idea deal with eBooks and blogs. Both areas seem like a non starter to me as I don’t think I have enough meat to put on that bone to make it worthwhile.

            Any other areas that I might be overlooking?

            Eagle, Globe and Anchor!

          • Cody Stevenson August 27, 2013 at 16:38 #

            Hey Bob,

            I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

            1. You are a Marine, you can do anything you set your mind to.
            2. Look at me, this blog is less than 6 months old and I thought the same thing that you did, why would anyone listen to me? I don’t have anything to talk about. Now I can’t keep up with the feed back I am getting and it is growing faster than I ever anticipated.

            If you are really interested in this passive income strategy you should really consider starting a blog regardless of your knowledge in a certain area.

            1. You are going to learn a lot from it and figure out how to navigate the areas you need to in order to have any successful online business.
            2. You can start building your customer base. I am a firm believer it is way easier to sell a product when you already have a following than trying to sell a product when nobody knows who the hell you are.
            3. You can start a blog in any niche, it doesn’t have to be around internet marketing. In fact, I encourage that its not! Start a blog around something you like, are interested in, or a product that you would like to sell yourself one day. Just make sure it is something you enjoy.

            I’ll be blunt with you, Bob. Another trait I learned from the Marines. Police your own and tell them how it is or they will never fix their shit.

            You can accomplish what you want to do, however you have to stop making excuses or finding reasons you can not do something. You are your own worst enemy when it comes to this. You and anyone reading this can accomplish any goal they want to, you just have to be willing to put fourth the effort.

            Having a job, not enough time, to many other activities going on are excuses we all make. Excuses I made myself for a long time.

            Successful people are the ones that decide they are going to overcome those excuses and put in the work to achieve their goals. Non-successful people are the ones that continue to make excuses and never take action. Then many years down the road they wonder why they never achieved their goals.

            Its all about priorities and deciding what yours are.

          • Bob Johnson August 28, 2013 at 08:45 #

            Thanks for the feedback brother as it’s truly appreciated. It’s not a question of if or lack of desire, it’s really about where to start in terms of product.

            I’ve been working a “traditional” job for the last 15 years and it has numbed me so much that I’m really struggling to find any kind of passion in anything.

            I think my biggest obstacle at this point is that of distraction as I’m determined to change, but seem to be trying to read multiple ways of doing it and muddling my thoughts.

            Was there one philosophy, system or book that gave you your inspiration?

            Thanks again!

          • Cody Stevenson August 28, 2013 at 14:56 #

            I understand man, I can relate to you a lot on several levels.

            I wouldn’t say that there is a person, a website, or a book that I have read that really gave me my inspiration. A lot of my inspiration comes from my travels and seeing different cultures. The other part is I have been in the Marines, after the Marines I ran my own business for 3 years, then I went the corporate route.

            What I have realized now is discussed a lot on my about page, but I just don’t buy into this whole “system” we have been taught.

            So in short, my inspiration comes from realizing that life is not this long drawn out journey and it can be taken away from us at any moment, that money does not buy happiness even once you obtain that big salary and fancy house, that if we just keep acting like robots and slaving away to pay for all these objects that we think we need we will never really accomplish our dreams and the reality is you have no legacy and the life you lived meant nothing. Congratulations, you gave a company that you were a number to 40 years of your life and that is considering an accomplishment?! Ha, give me a break! We are so blinded most people don’t even know what happiness is anymore.

            People aren’t their own personalities, nobody questions anything, nobody dares to take a risk. They just rather keep working a job they hate to buy things they cant afford so they can impress people they don’t even like. That is the cycle of our culture and it is sad.

            If I had to recommend a book for you to read I would say take a look at “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” At the bottom of the resources page here:

            This book helped me a lot at getting more focused and using talents I thought were holding me down to my advantage. I am a lot more productive now and don’t waste my time trying to use a talent I don’t even posses. I focus on what I am good at and live the rest to others.

            Let me know if you are still having trouble finding that path, Bob. My main goal is to get others to realize what I have and its hard to do that if I can’t get them headed on the right path from the start.

            Talk to you soon

            – Cody

          • Bob Johnson August 29, 2013 at 14:14 #

            Thanks brother.

            I plan on picking that book up soon so I can identify my base skills and build off of those.

            I’m 45 and I think my generation is caught in between a bit in the fact that we witnessed our folks work for the same company and follow a very traditional path while we were young. As a result we patterned our thinking and behavior after them thinking this was the “right” way to do it.

            I’ve always had a “why do we do it this way?” gene in me which I love to use to improve processes and make things easier for people around me so my guess is that is the beginning of identifying a passion for me to build off of.

            I truly appreciate you taking the time to offer encouragement, advice and direction!

            I will keep you in the loop going forward as I break out of the rut.


          • Cody Stevenson August 29, 2013 at 15:36 #

            No problem, Bob! Thank you for actually engaging here, thats what keeps me going. If it wasn’t for people like you willing to take action there isn’t much reason for me to show all this.

            I also understand growing up traditional, my father is the same way and it was what I learned. I was fortunate enough to take the work ethic I learned from my dad and the Marines and apply it making me fairly successful at a young age where I could achieve “The American dream”.

            Like you, I have always had the trait to question and improve processes. It wasn’t until I achieved this “dream” of the job, the house, the wife, the cars, etc etc that I stopped and looked around. The conclusion I came to was this can’t possibly be what the rest of my life is going to be.

            After much discussion and explaining to my wife, she finally understood where I was coming from and we have agreed to change our life goals and take a different route.

            BTW, I forgot to add this for inspiration. I was having a hard time breaking through to my wife for awhile and she didn’t understand what I was so unhappy about. Most people wouldn’t either, they think I am just complaining. I have a gorgeous wife, a beautiful house with some land, a really good corporate job, and I have the cars I always wanted. Yet I was unhappy with the road I was taking. So I found a documentary that explained the same thoughts I had and after watching it my wife completely understood.

            You can find my article and the documentary here:

            (No I do not get compensated to promote this, plus its only $5 if you download it)

            Take some time to look through all this information and let me know where you end up, Bob.

            Talk to you soon!

            – Cody

          • Bob August 29, 2013 at 15:49 #

            Good stuff there! I’m at the stage you were at when you started your adventure w/ the exception of a wife who has been urging me for years to set goals and pursue them.

            I feel the same way you do in that there has to be more to life than to chase after things and just sit through life w/o any purpose.

            I’m energized when I’m actually working and contributing, but in my job (scheduling natural gas) it is frowned upon to show initiative and color anywhere outside the lines. Most days are spent sitting in front of the computer w/ absolutely nothing to do.

            Does it pay the bills and provide “security”. Yes. At the cost of apathy and the loss of doing anything beyond the bare minimum lest you be seen as stepping out of line.

            Think back to the Marines. When did you feel fired up? I was in armor so for me it was live fire exercises and actual training. It certainly wasn’t during field day in the barracks or waiting around in the desert for another unit to show up.

            I’ll definitely check out the video and thanks for the link to Adam’s blog!

    • Michael January 26, 2014 at 19:50 #

      Hey Bob, I dont know if you have found it by now, but there is a place you can. It is and they do iPhone and iPad cases. Very cheap compared with Zazzle and Cafepress.

      • Bob Johnson January 27, 2014 at 13:27 #

        I hadn’t so thanks much for the heads up! I’ll check it out ASAP as that’s the sort of thing I can do w/ my 16 y/o son so he can learn to be his own boss!

        • Cody Stevenson January 27, 2014 at 17:28 #

          Bob, yet another good point! As I don’t find sites like Cafepress, Zazzle, or even Red bubble able to replace a real income. That is a very good point! It would be good for someone just starting out in the online market or the younger generation that we would like to teach the basic of business to!

  23. Natalie June 29, 2013 at 11:46 #

    Look what I found about zazzle:

  24. Natalie June 29, 2013 at 11:45 #

    I opened stores on zazzle , but no success. I prefer

  25. Adam May 5, 2013 at 05:09 #

    Hey Cody,
    I had a similar situation with Hubpages. I was doing well and then BOOM – No traffic, no more sales and it feels like a waste of time now.

    I have looked at Cafepress but never went further than ordering a mug and a t-shirt. Appreciate the honesty. Things change in the online world. I have been rambling for four months now and feel the same.

    • Cody May 5, 2013 at 09:58 #

      Yep, the online world is always changing! Sucks Cafepress had to take the greed route, but whatever. I use to do pretty decent with them, but now they are so money hungry it just isn’t worth the work:return ratio for me. Good stuff coming up in the future though so all is well.

  26. Matt Helbig May 1, 2013 at 00:25 #

    Another great article Cody. I really enjoyed it. I’m always skeptical about the promise of money in the absence of value. It’s not sustainable at best and morally wrong at worst. Thanks for adding value to the internet.

    • Cody May 1, 2013 at 00:28 #

      I appreciate the feedback Matt! Thats what keeps me going and writing more. Sometimes I just think I am rambling about stuff nobody cares about haha.

      • Katie Stevenson May 1, 2013 at 09:25 #

        You are rambling, but it’s good rambling :)


  1. Trying to make money without Investment - Quotes Unleashed - June 23, 2014

    […] Cafepress from what I have heard was popular but due to some policy changes it has ceased to be a very good alternative for people who want to earn substantially from […]

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