Society6 just dropped the announcement they have been hinting at last April : the introduction of paid artist subscription plans. We were all expecting this change, and unlike other PoD who implemented changes in 2023, they have announced it early on. The question on everyone's lips now will be "Is getting started with Society6 still worth it?" A fair question because of all the big PoD introducing measures to flush low quality accounts, Society6 has taken one of the most stringent measure and it could keep many budding artists at bay. But first, let's dive into what those changes are.
society6 is no longer a free platform
As of October 19th 2023, every new accounts will have to choose one of the 3 subscription plans Society6 has to offer and they each come with a cap of how many designs you can have live in your shop : - The Free plan which as its name suggest is free but comes with MASSIVE restrictions. On this plan you can only have 10 designs in your shop and you will no longer be able to set your margins, so your earnings will be the default 10% of the retail price. Which could have you earn nothing on some sales as they still have the shipping fees announced last April going on. Society6 explains that this plan is ideal for artists just getting started and testing the waters. Bear in mind that even though this plan is free, you will still need to pay a 5$ PayPal verification fee when you sign up to sell with S6.
- The Basic plan will cost you 4.99$ a month and your designs limit will be 100 and you'll be able to set your own margins on all products. With this subscription plan, you also will get access to trend reports emails and webinars. This plan is the one to go for the artists who already have some experience and a bigger portfolio of designs and those who have outgrown the free plan (which will happen quick). From my own experience selling on PoD in general as a genuine artist, I say you should be hitting the 100 designs limit after a year or a year and a half, so it's definitely a plan for the intermediate artist.
- The Pro plan will set you off 12.99$ a month and you'll get a max limit of designs set to 10'000 which is a lot and will take years for a quality artist to reach, even with color variations on existing designs. I've been selling with Society6 since 2017 and I currently have about 400 designs in my shop if that gives you an indication of how a portfolio grows. The Pro plan of course offers the flexibility of setting your own margins and gives you access to the trend reports emails just like the Basic plan, but it also offers you access to an analytics tool to see which of your designs are selling the best. Then there is the additional perk of being able to purchase your own products at an additional discount. The Free and Basic plans will only get their artist margin taken off the retail price, but Pro account get an additional 20% off the base price taken off, which means they could order some of their products at a huge discount during a sale.
Is getting started with Society6 still worth it?
The appeal of Society6 and other PoD has always been that it was an easy way for artists to showcase their work, build a portfolio and make sales along the way. The problem was that over time it also attracted a lot of people who thought it was a way to make quick money and all you had to do was upload images. Many of those were pretend artist uploading stolen art, cliparts, and stock photos that weren't original in any ways. This lead to Society6 having to host an enormous amount of low quality designs, often with a low resolution that could potentially lead to dispute with buyers who would question the print quality. Not to mention that genuine, quality SERIOUS artists would often disappear in the mass of low quality cheap-ass designs that came flooding in. The new subscription price is pretty drastic, and it's clear that Society6 is intent on flushing a lot of dead weight with it which I think is a good thing, but it might impact new designers hard and for some, getting started on Society6 might actually not be worth it at all. The 10 designs limit on the free account is going to be really restrictive and I personally think they could have made it 20 or 30 designs and still been able to flush bogus accounts out. More than that, I agree would have been too much of a design allowance. I remember when I started back in April 2017, I did upload about 10 -15 designs in the first month alone, and I made my first sale at the 2 months mark. So if back then I had to decide to pay 4.99$ a month without a proof of sales I might have given up. That said, I also remember falling for the myth of quantity, believing that the more designs I had early on, the higher my chances of sales were going to be and I uploaded a few quite frankly cringy artworks as a results, which I have since then deleted. Society6's move is clear, they want artists who can pace themselves and upload quality over quantity.
My advice to get started with society6
Despite all this, I think Society6 is still worth giving it a chance if you are a new artist, but know that the guidelines and advice of "yore" will no longer work on that platform, especially the idea you need a lot of designs early to be able to sell. - Focus on quality and set an upload pace of 1-2 designs a week so that you can go without having to switch to the Basic plan in the first 2 months.
- Work on your marketing skills and building your own audience rather than worry about how many designs you need for that first sale.
- Don't make selling on Society6 your only presence online. This is one of the common mistake many newbie make. They think they have to pledge allegiance to just one platform and pigeon hole themselves. Open a shop on each of the big PoD platforms out there like Redbubble, Teepublic, Threadless and Zazzle and see which one works best for you. Society6 is for now the only one which has designs restrictions in each tiers, so take advantage of the fact others don't to test your market and niche.
- Treat the subscription plan as a business investment. Society6 is setting the tone about wanting a more curated, quality catalogue of designs and would rather work with artists who are in it for the long run and understand the importance of treating their work as a business and not just a hobby.
The future of print on demand
The fact that not one but THREE big PoD have been setting stricter terms to sell on their platforms in 2023 is no mystery and that was a change that was sure to be coming and will soon affect other platforms as well. What happened in the recent past that is pushing Redbubble, Society6 and Teepublic to introduce fees and membership tiers levels? The threat of AI generated art! It's as simple as that. AI art started making waves in the second half of 2022 and the threat that it will put artists out of business is a real one. On top of it, several text to image AI generators have been trained using stolen content. Then came the question of copyrights. As in who would be getting the rights to the AI image? The debate about intellectual property rights still rages on, for now a US federal judge ruled out that AI art cannot be copyrighted as the human role in the creation of said image is close to none. For PoD companies it is clear that as a result, AI images should not be sold as unique art on their platforms since the owner of the shop who is supposed to be an artist is NOT the owner of the image. Will that change in the future? No idea, but for now I can't blame print on demand platforms for preventing a flood of cheap AI designs on their platform considering the legal issues it could bring. In fact, Redbubble announced in an email to all their artists in December 2022 that they were working on catching stolen and non original images as they are being uploaded. Open AI who brought us Chat GPT and Dall-E is also working on a tool that can spot an AI generated image and it is said it can or will be able to detect these with 99% accuracy. All in all, it means that PoD platforms will have a shot at going back to what they were meant for in the first place : A platform for REAL artists to build a presence and build a business. If it means having to introduce fees, membership tiers and different earning structures to weed out the frauds, then be it. Being an artist is a real job, and starting a business always come up with a few upfront costs, in the case of Society6, they are still less steep than starting your own shop on your own website and having to worry about stock, inventory and shipping.