Oooh, today's topic is a good one! It might be a bit polarizing for some, because I have some strong opinions about POD sites (Print on Demand) like Zazzle, Society6, and Redbubble.
For the record, I'm not 100% against them in all cases. But here I wanted to explain the difference of what true licensing is vs. these types of sites.
I see a lot of newer artists adding their art to these sites (myself included when I first started out), so let's set the record straight on what the differences are between POD sites and licensing, and when it could be worth it to add your art to sites like these.
Print on Demand Sites
Print on Demand sites allow you to upload your art onto various product types at no financial cost to you. Customers can purchase from the sites directly, and the company takes care of manufacturing and shipping out the products for you. You, as the artist, get a small percentage or flat fee of sales (usually ~a few dollars per sale).
• You just get to make and upload the art. You save time and the financial risk of producing your own products.
• You get to see your art on all kinds of products, which is fun.
• You make very little income in return. It takes promotion and marketing to your audience on your end to make more sales, and even then it's not guaranteed. Sales volume is important.
• You don't get to quality check each and every order that goes out. This may reflect badly on your brand if the products are damaged or low-quality.
Art Licensing means you are working directly with brands or art directors who are paying you a flat fee or royalties to use your artwork on their products for a certain period of time (usually at least a few hundred dollars per artwork). You also don't have to produce the products or ship them yourself - they do that on their behalf to their customers.
• You can earn significantly more than POD sites in pretty much all cases.
• You can grow your brand by exposing your art to the licensee's audience, especially if your name is associated.
• You have more control over the quality of the products by choosing who you work with and approving samples.
• It can be difficult to get art licensing clients, especially when you are first starting out.
• You have to learn how to negotiate when it comes to pricing and contracts.
How Licensing and POD sites Can Work Together
You may see the merits of using both of these options. If so, I think they can work together nicely. But it's important to be strategic about it. You don't want to throw your entire portfolio or best work onto a POD site, and have a licensing client come calling who no longer wants to use it because it's already been made available to customers.
If you want to do both, I suggest having a separate licensing portfolio vs. artwork you upload to the sites so things don't get muddled. It's up to you how you want to separate it.
Maybe the art you upload to the sites isn't the type of art you are typically known for, but you know it's marketable. For example, I usually paint florals and that's what I'm known for. But if I had some cute digital patterns I may upload them to a POD site separately because I know I wouldn't want to license them elsewhere.
You could even use a separate brand name on the POD site than your own name to differentiate them further.
The most important thing is to give it thoughtful consideration, because your art deserves it!
How do you feel about POD sites? Have you found success with them? Share below with us in the comments!