Saturday, June 06, 2009

New Cafepress Jingle

No, I won't go to CP any more, more, more
There's a big fat thief at the door, door, door
He'll grab you by the collar
And take away your dollars
No, I won't go to CP any more, more, more!

My mom taught me a variation of this jingle only it was about Macy's and it referred to a short-lived practice of accusing honest and loyal customers of shoplifting and having them arrested without adequate proof. They were getting away with it, too, until they targeted a rich suffragette who took them to court. The case was thrown out but the jingle persisted for 50 years or more!

Our days at Cafepress are nearing their end now and what happens? We suddenly got an unusually large sale from a customer who bought 9 T-shirts with the "Rock On" design shown on this blog. We imagine there's a gay softball team in Miami wearing them now. :-) But the sale went through the "Marketplace" and supposedly not our shop although Paul had just posted an ad featuring that design just a day or two before. That means we get 10% instead of the 25-40% we might have gotten before (I don't remember what the mark-up on those shirts were). It's so frustrating! We want to support Gay Rights with our work but at this rate we won't make enough money to even keep our shop open! (They charge us money for that in case you didn't know.)

When we told family members about the bait and switch Cafepress pulled on all the shopkeepers who put them in business, promoted them to all their friends and potential customers, and made them a success Paul's stepdad said it reminded him of Sears. Don't know if it's true but the story is that Sears found a successful small business making something they thought they could sell, test-marketed it in their stores and then bought a huge shipment. The small business owner had to tool up and invest a fair bit of money to fill that order but Sears never bought from them again. The small business owner went under and Sears swooped in and bought the company at a huge discount and went on to make the product themselves and keep ALL the profit. Sears started as a company that profited on other small companies' misfortune. Their first product line was a shipment of watches the original company overspent on. But this set of actions takes that original business model further. Again, this is hearsay, but according to the story Sears deliberately plotted to put that small company out of business and they and other companies like them have done that again and again.

Stories from the CP shopkeeper frontlines include people who were regularly making big sales with T-Shirt designs (mostly slogans) that they created. One day a shopkeeper who had a pagan themed shop noticed that her most popular slogan t-shirt had slipped off the charts. She then went to the Cafepress marketplace and discovered that someone else was selling a similar design with the same slogan at below Cafepress' BASE PRICE. The base price is what the shopkeepers add their mark-up to and the ONLY people who can sell below base price would be Cafepress or one of their affiliates themselves. What's going on?

Well, given that slogans are what sell best on T-shirts, and that it's really hard to claim copyright protection for a slogan unless you trademark it ahead of time, it looks like CP's new business model includes taking the inadvertant market research we all did for them and getting rid of the need to have shopkeeper designers and give commissions at all. That doesn't really affect us because we used CP as a way to provide our art and photography and have very very few slogan designs that can be ripped off. But I think that this new corporate model led to the decisions that are being made now. Do they have anything to lose by getting rid of their top money-making shops if those money-makers were mostly producing slogans with clip art that CP could do themselves? No, the only thing they "lose" is the necessity of paying a commission. Bye, bye top-selling shopkeepers they pay out a fortune to, they've got your ideas now and ideas aren't copryrightable! Some of those shopkeepers were making $100,000 a year and more. That's all Cafepress profit now.

What bothers me more than anything is that we were fooled by them. Conned, swindled and delayed from making choices that could have been a lot better for us over time. And so were millions of people like us. One of those people contacted me privately to try to get me to stop mentioning Cafepress in my blog or by sending press releases to the national news media. "Bad publicity is good publicity" they said and that is a popular notion. But it CAN work another way.
Think: AIG. Big news about business failures based on a lack of ethics can ruin a company.

But I also know that's only temporary. AIG is already figuring out how to hide their name in business transactions. Paul's mom was talked into an insurance policy from her bank only to find out it was with AIG. She canceled it as soon as she found out but how many people haven't discovered the discrepancy? Macy's recovered from the jingle campaign I mentioned above. And despite multiple other unethical activities reported about Sears (credit card reaffirmation fraud, auto repair fraud) they continue on in business as well. And I haven't the guts to even get started about Walmart here ! (Here's a link if you want to.)

What's going on in American business is horrifying. It isn't about Cafepress for me and Paul anymore... but we don't know anymore than anyone else what to do besides tell people about it for now.


Little Dickens Designs said...

Wow, very enlightening and scary. I'm sorry you guys got burned by them!

shannonmari3 said...

Wow, I had no idea they were like that! I'm glad now that I haven't used them. :\

Anne Vis said...

I am also thinking of leaving CP, just a matter of time. The problem is there is really no good alternative, Zazzle is just as bad if not worse and I am not sure who else is around (any suggestions appreciated!)
I just don't see myself doing the shipping and handling, etc.

Sheryl Karas said...

Paul and I started a Zazzle shop and I like things about that site better than CP. But, you're right, their "Terms of Service" agreement is the same as Cafepress. They claim the right to change it at any time with no recourse for the shopkeepers which means it's not really a legal contract at all. We're going slow with it, only have a few things up. Neither one of us can bring ourselves to put the hours and weeks and months of effort we put into our Cafepress shop. Fool me once, alright, but fool us again?

Anne Vis said...

I found a lot of bugs in Zazzle website and their printing quality not good ... :-(
Hopefully something new will pop up soon ...
Best of luck!

Dave said...

Good Luck with the new turn in this journey. I love reading your words and feeling your energy. You ideas and offerings are fresh.
Thank You