When I first discovered Cafepress in 2003, I already had a few t-shirt designs that I’d tried unsuccessfully to market on my own, so finding an online company like Cafepress, which offered to do all the printing and shipping in exchange for putting my original artwork on their blank products and making a few dollars on each sale, was a combination that not only allowed me to prove myself as a person of marketable talent but also provided me with the financial freedom I’d always wanted. I wasn’t making a fortune mind you, but it was often more than any of my past jobs and I could make my own hours doing what I enjoyed and had a talent for, and I could even work in my underwear and fuzzy slippers whenever I felt like it (usually not a problem unless I ordered a pizza and forgot what I was wearing.)Shock

It took quite a few years to get to that point though, but on the day I first used their product designer and saw one of my designs magically appear on a t-shirt, I knew my life was about to take an entirely new direction. Every day after work (and sometimes during work if I could get away with it), I would design and build up my shops to the point where, after a couple years and probably a few thousand hours and many sleepless nights, I was able to quit my job and walk out of my cubicle a free man with my own business (actually I was laid off but I prefer my version better.)

That level of financial freedom lasted for about three years, and during that time I tolerated a lot from Cafepress – sloppy programming, bug-filled maintenance runs, one poor business decision after another that showed a complete lack of forethought for their company or consideration for their shopkeepers, but I put up with all of it because I was, for the first time in my life, a success.

I started developing a sense of pride and self-esteem that I’d never known before. A few weeks before his death my father even told me how proud he was of me – words I never thought I’d hear from his lips. When someone would ask me what I did for a living, I’d smile, hand them a business card and tell them “I have my own t-shirt business with this company called Cafepress. I do the designing and store-building and they do the printing and shipping. It’s a great partnership.”

Well, at least that’s what I thought. To this day I still don’t know what went wrong or why they made the decisions they made that devastated my income along with millions of others.

For those who aren’t familiar with the scenario, basically Cafepress allowed shopkeepers like myself to have as many online shops as they liked, with premium shops costing only $6.95 per month but offering more flexibility and freedom over basic shops which cost nothing but were essentially made for one design on a limited number of products. The great part was that, aside from the monthly fee there were no upfront costs, and shopkeepers were able to set their prices to whatever amount they wanted over the base price and that would be their commission on a sale; so if a t-shirt had a base price of say, $18.99, a shopkeeper could charge $5 over that base price and when a customer bought that shirt they’d make that commission. The key to success however was the Cafepress marketplace, which is where everyone’s designs were available and where most everyone’s sales came from because Google loved the marketplace and pretty much ignored our shops.

But then in June of 2009 all that changed when Cafepress decided, in what was to become the A-bomb in the history of incredibly asinine and hurtful business decisions, to change the marketplace so that they set the prices and shopkeepers would get only 10% commission of the sale, although the exception was that if a sale came through our shops rather than the marketplace we’d get our usual 100% amount. The problem was that the marketplace owned the search engines, so because virtually 90% of nearly everyone’s sales came through the marketplace, most people, especially those like myself who were doing this full-time and relied on Cafepress for their livable income, were essentially wiped out. The result for me was complete devastation, with my earnings dropping from an average of $3000 per month down to about $300. Cafepress, on the other hand, was staged to make more money on each sale, despite the fact that they’d just cluster-f*cked the millions of people who made them successful in the first place.

So after begging for mercy in their forum and eventually being banned by their goose-stepping moderators for speaking out a little too loudly, I focused on improving the SEO in my shops so I could be seen by the search engines and increase my sales, which sadly resulted in virtually no increase at all. The only alternative then, aside from crawling back into a cubicle, was to move all my designs over to another print-on-demand service called Zazzle, which has thankfully helped me to make enough to pay my rent but not much else, with the rest slowly leaching out of my once bountiful savings account. Sadly Zazzle has their head up their proverbial rectum as well, but I can at least earn a full commission on my sales so for now they have my kudos.

Which in turn brings me back to the reason for this blog. My goal here is to show off my stores and designs and let people know that I’ve got some cool stuff for sale while also including some of my original cartoons, poems, and other tidbits that I hope will entice readers to view my site and return to see what else I have going on. So now that you have the story of Inside Out T-Shirts & Gifts, I suppose I just have to figure out what my next topic should be. Okay, I’ve got it…

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