Redbubble wasn't the only one to drop some massive news this April. In fact Society6 was the first to announce some changes in their artist earnings payments with the introduction of shipping fees on ALL artists account and this got the artist community talking and debating the move. Along with the introduction of shipping fees starting on May 4th, Society6 also announced they would roll out a member's subscription plan later this year but so far there haven't been more details on it other than it's likely to roll out around September 2023.
What do the shipping fees mean?
Society6 explained that in the recent years, their shipping cost has drastically increased and that in order to keep them from being a burden on the customer alone, they took in some profit cuts themselves, but it's no longer enough and they decided to also put some of that burden on artists by levying a flat rate that can go from 0.30 $ to 8$ depending the product. You can find the complete shipping fees list on their help page. All the basic items like art prints, t-shirts, mugs and phone cases are under 1$ and a vast majority of the products will attract a shipping fee that is under 2$. The big tickets items like the credenza and other furnitures are the ones with the biggest shipping fee, but most will stay under 5$ the only item that will attract a 8$ shipping fee is the credenza.
What should you do about it?
The gut reaction of many artists was to shut down their shop immediately in disgust. But I think this isn't really the first option one should consider because those fees are NOT going to put you out of pocket, they are levied on your sale's earnings and the new earning structure goes like this : Artist markup on the retail price - shipping fee = finalised earning
This means that if you let's say have an art print that is selling for 10$ and your markup was 10% your earning would be 1$ before fee deduction. Art prints have a flat shipping fee of 0.80$ meaning your actual earnings on that sale would be 20 cents. BUT!!!!!!!!!! If you left your markup at 10% you made a poor business decision. Society6 introduced custom markup on all products back in 2021, this means your first move should be to check if your margins are still making your earnings worth your time with the new shipping fee. Unlike Redbubble with their tiers fees, Society6 is not levying their fees as a percentage but as a flat rate. This means that no matter what your markup is, the flat rate for Art prints is going to be 0.80$ and 30% of 10$ means 3$ which means your earning after the deduction is going to be 2.20$ which is still quite fair if you ask me. I started selling on Society6 back in 2017 when back then, the only products you could set your own margins on were art prints, I set it up at 30% from the get go and it has NEVER been a deterrent to sales. Art prints are the items I sell the most frequently on Society6. I sell most of everything else at a 20% markup too and have increased a few products with bigger shipping rates to a 30% markup as well.
understanding the logic behind their move
Most artists flamed the decision and blamed it on corporate greed which I think is way too simple as far as reasoning go. Shipping costs have been rising in the retail world since the pandemic hit. On top of that, Society6 and Redbubble are the two biggest player in the PoD industry which has been attracting a lot of scammer looking to make a quick buck. Just head to Quora and see how many questions there is just for Redbubble alone on how to crack the SEO code to quick sales or people looking for the magic formula to overnight success on the platform, not to mention the amount of people stuffing their shop links in questions and comment hoping to drive traffic to a shop that inevitably contains a lot of stock photos, clipart and graphics if not stolen ones. Hosting high resolution artworks and designs cost money to begin with, and I can't blame PoD for wanting to raise the bar in term of quality. Too many poor designs that do not align with their brand is also going to cost them potential customers.
My opinion on the matter
I said it already when I wrote the blog post about Redbubble's tiers and I'll say it again now : I think it's a great move. In the case of Society6 I hope the introduction of subscription tiers will not leave Indian artists out of it as the RBI guidelines regarding recurring transaction has made taking international subscriptions challenging at times and I got contacted by a few people on Instagram about how the verification fee charged by Society6 via PayPal is not going through depending which cards you use. Ultimately it's more of a PayPal issue than a Society6 issue, but it could potentially impact how some people could access the paid subscription model that will roll out later this year. Personally, I am not going to worry about it too much until then and will then reassess how I go about it all.
My opinion on it all pretty much echoes Cat Coq's view on the matter of fees and PoD. These fees is the price of being in business and it wasn't unexpected. There are a lot of changes happening in the art world, one of them being the introduction of AI art, which is a gray area still when it comes to copyrights, and unfortunately it has become quite easy to generate AI art in the first place and then open an account on a PoD platform in hope of selling these computer generated designs. There is no denying that setting up shop on any PoD platform is frankly way too easy, with minimal verification processes in place, so it should really come as no surprise that these companies are tightening up in order to maintain a certain level of quality going. In the end, PoD are running a business too, they aren't running a charity, non-profit program to support small artists. Just like Cat's, my advice is to DIVERSIFY you income streams as much as possible. Again, I see too many questions on Quora that are about "Which PoD is best" as if it was ever a "This or That" situation. It never was a this or that choice, the truth is you 100% SHOULD open a shop on several platforms all at once, as long as those platforms do not demand exclusivity over a design, you can upload the same one on several PoD website. The truth is that some designs will sell on repeat on one platform and not at all on another, and you could be missing on a massive amount of sales by deciding to stick just to one platform. There are also new PoD coming up all the time, the earlier you join one, the more likely you'll make sale when that PoD will peak and become popular, so you will need to stick around to find out. And, yes, it's a big gamble too, because some of these small PoD platform will go bankrupt before you can cash in, or some will change their business model in a way that will no longer make it worth your time, or they will cancel the licensing model to become more like Vistaprint. I've had a presence on 5 PoD that either ended up shutting down without paying me my dues or changed the direction of how they do business. It's a risk worth taking, and it's very much part of business. I think the wise thing to expect right now is that all major PoD will start introducing some fees or a curating process. Redbubble and Society6 weren't the first ones to do so to be fair, and they won't be the last ones either. Spoonflower has had that policy about surface pattern designer BUYING a proofing sample before they are allowed to put their designs up for sale and Zazzle has had an inactivity fee going on past earnings if a designer didn't upload new work at least once a month.