As the marketplace for commercial and commercially viable art changes, so too should the business model for creators. As a cartoonist, it used to be you’d submit your work to syndicates until they either offered you a contract or you gave it up and went back to another line of work, or you submitted relevent material to magazines and was able to sell regularly. In either case, a handsome living could be made pursuing your God-given talent, in comfort and with great satisfaction. This has largely changed.
An avenue I’ve written broadly about in this blog is art licensing. There is virtually no limit to how far you can take your art business in the licensing arena, and it presents a new frontier of exciting opportunities for the ambitious creator. But say you don’t yet have a sizable enough portfolio, or you’d like to sell your design on products yourself. You can take that in two different directions: you can pay manufacturers to put your design on hundreds or thousands of products – whatever their minimum order is, assume the considerable financial risk, and hope the buying public comes to appreciate your art and product enough to buy you out of your inventory. The other way is print-on-demand online stores. This is where Zazzle comes in.
This article is not intended to be a step-by-step how-to in getting started with Zazzle. Rather, my intention is to introduce the concept, and more importantly, the financial possibilities that are available to you – something worthy of being excited about. Zazzle, started in 1999, is essentially a product manufacturer who allows users to provide their own art and share in the profits of any of the items sold through their online store. One caveat – make sure you own the art and its associated copyright – you can land in some hot water for taking legal liberties with work that is not entirely yours. That said, you upload your art, cartoons – even catchy phrases you’ve written, into your online store, then select one of hundreds of products and manipulate the image till its just right, set the price, then Boom! – you’re in business. It’s actually not quite that simple, but once you sign up and begin navigating through the various pages, I suspect you’ll find it quite intuitive.
So, you’ve gone through the process, you’ve now got an online store with products featuring your art or cartoons, and you’re ready to retire in sunny Bermuda. Now what?
Just like any brick and mortar store, if no one knows you’re there, you won’t make any money. Money is good, so we want them to find us. No doubt you’ve heard of social media, social networking, and social marketing, and that’s a great place to start. I won’t pretend to be an expert in this arena – in fact, if I come across as a completely incompetent boob, there’s a good reason – it’s true. But what I do know is that by setting up a business Facebook page dedicated to your art and business, and you let the world know what you’re doing, what’s exciting, and where to access your store, via links you provide in your posts, you’ll in effect be walking people off of the sidewalk into your establishment. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and no doubt others are your billboards, flyers, and magazine advertisements of old. It pays to gain proficiency in this new marketing dynamic and to pronounce to the world your existence and what wonderful products you stand ready to provide.
On a personal note, I just paid my mortgage with my most recent royalty earnings from Zazzle. And I’m a social networking disaster. So what if you get really good at social networking, you’ve set up an aesthetically pleasing Zazzle store, and you’ve created a line of products that are viable in the marketplace? You’ll likely create a steadily growing stream of income, that’s what. Zazzle has a great feature in the form of forums (form of forums – yes, I just made that up). As you read through the different, and highly useful entries, you’ll begin reading about people who make their entire, and substantial living from Zazzle proceeds alone.
As the marketplace changes for artists, following the old business model is like following a map of San Diego from the 1850’s. In it’s time, it was a useful tool to get you where you wanted to go. Now, you’ll be going nowhere. Using new methods of marketing your art, exploring potential revenue streams like Zazzle (there’s many others like Zazzle too – I’ve provided some links below), you can achieve the same end but by following a better, more up-to-date map. Best of luck, and be sure to enjoy the process!
If you Google “Print On Demand For Creators, you’ll find many more of varying, and sometimes dubious quality.
Spoonflower is new to me. It seems to be well thought out. Do you have your stuff on Spoonflower so that I can take a look?
Hi David – I’d taken look at Spoonflower some time ago but haven’t had the time to really do much with it. I’m confident there are other cartoonists on there and I’d be interested in hearing about their experiences with that site.
I should have mentioned that I followed the link from your post on the Art of Licensing group on LinkedIn.
What a great article!
I did dabble with Cafe Press and Zazzle without any success – so I gave it up as a bad job. If only I had read this a few years ago I would have persevered.
It is time I had another look at it – and at the forums to get motivated by other artists successes.
Thank you Richard – I’m glad you found the article useful, and best of luck as you re-explore the print-on-demand sites. Over time, I think you’ll find they’ll pay off.
Dear Mr. Abbott:
My name is Mike Filippello. I’m an Artist, Illustrator and published Author. I have a zazzle store with some designs that I created called “The Scrollington Series” they are kind of a mix of my folk art with a unique twist on the design with scrolls incorporated with them. I have a fb fan page for them and I am on Linked In. I have a twitter but recently been having trouble with twitter because I keep getting hacked and so I have decided not to continue (at least for now) with Twitter because of that reason. I was wondering if you could look at my store on zazzle and give me some advice on how to continue because it’s just “there” …I will say that my fb pages don’t do anything for me at all with regards to this kind of thing… I don’t know what it is but the support just isn’t there for my store. I have been online for a long time and my art gallery at http://www.artwanted.com/mikefilippello has had more than 300,000 hits.. but few sales. I really want to do this t-shirt store/etc but I am at a loss.. I hope that you can look at my online zazzle store and maybe advise me from there. I appreciate your time.
Thank You So Much:
Mike – thank you for your email. I’d be happy to help in whatever way I can. My email is or if social sites are better, I’m on Facebook (Bill Abbott Cartoons) or Twitter @abbottcartoons.
hello, i am a social networking disaster too!…so your article was inspiring! i just stared to look for print-on-demand online stores and zazzle seemed the best to me!? i also started a facebook page, not public yet! thank you for your article!
Great article and wonderful motivation. Spoonflower is good for other types of things – fabric is its base I believe. You can do wondrous things with it. THANKS AGAIN….
What a motivational article. Thanks for writing that. As artists at one time or another everyone needs the push. Spoonflower, someone mentioned, is basically fabric but there is a lot you can do with it. Make products from fabric with your designs on them. I am going to finish my Zazzle store. Thanks to you!
Thank you Madeline – I’m glad you found the article useful – and I’m still learning a whole lot myself – best of luck!