As usual, I am a little behind the curve - print-on-demand sites like Redbubble and Cafepress have been letting people upload their designs and make money for several years. But I'm onboard now, and I'm excited. Not just because I'm making a bit of money, but also because I believe this is part of a fundamental shift in the future of human media. But largely because I'm making a bit of money.
For those who are new to print-on-demand, here's a quick run-down:
- You make a pretty design (or just think up a trashy slogan)
- You upload it to a website like Redbubble, and attach a bunch of keywords
- People searching the internet find this design and say "hey! I want that T-shirt!"
- They order 1/2/60,000 T-shirts, you get some money (eventually). Sweeeeeeeet
Okay that's the simple version, and yes I realise I might be buying myself more competitors by excitedly explaining how it works, but hey, I'm open like that. More importantly, it's a global market - more people are getting online around the world all the time, and more people want to buy T-shirts. Okay, more people are uploading their own designs, but even more people are buying T-shirts too.
It's exciting for me for a number of reasons. Take fact I'm a musician: I've made more money from T-shirt designs in 9 months than I have from music in 12 years. Not just that though; I got into it because I was looking for a place to sell T-shirts for my books and music, but the difference is that these designs can be searched online. I'm not just trying to flog them to my friends and family (as I do with my books, unsuccessfully) - they are being found and bought by people who have no idea who I am. In a weird way, some of my T-shirt designs are promoting my music and books.
Anyway. What does this mean to me? Well, at the moment I have 300 designs, and while I'm not going to share all the gory details, I can say that it's easily covering my phone/internet & power bills. So naturally I'm thinking, what about 400 designs, or 500, or 1000, or 2000? The magic potential here is not just that I could make the same money from this as I do in my office job, but that I could make it without doing any work at all - giving me the time to record music and write books, and sleep properly, and exercise every day, and wake up when I want, whether it's late from a party or to watch the sun rise.
Am I even close to that? No.
Is it secure? No.
Is it a replacement for a job? No, because even if I made the same money as my current 40hr/week job, there is no career progression, no pension, and you don't meet people. So if this was to happen, if I really was to pack in my day job and become a full-time travelling musician-author, I would have to be making a vast amount of money and saving a shedload for if/when the bubble bursts.
At the moment, it's supplementary income, like my life modelling and occasional web stuff, and that's just fine with me.
In his amazing book Snow Crash, introduced to me by the dazzling @desdrata, Neal Stephenson's main character Hiro Protagonist (amazing name) makes some money on the side by submitting ideas for novels and stories to the central information marketplace that the US Library of Congress has become. So, as a big sci-fi fan and a fan of the potential of both mankind and technology, it's especially exciting for me to feel I am living in the future, or at least part of one person's version of it.
And this is just the beginning. There's more options out there already, and more ways to engage and make something out of ideas, and all I have to do is find them. I am an ideas generator after all.
Me on Redbubble: