Independent Artist, Top 10% Seller on Redbbuble
Michael is a professional independent artist and likely a top 10% artist on Redbubble. In 2013, he started designing and selling t-shirts online through print-on-demand sites like Redbubble and Teepublic and today his biggest revenue source is Amazon Merch. He earns over $1,000 per month from Redbubble, 2-3x more from Amazon, and <$1,000 from Teepublic and Etsy.Read moreView Profile Page
- Amazon sell 2-3x as much per month compared to RBL for this t-shirt designer.
- Amazon may not compete with RBL, but if a large portion of searches start on AMZN, does this reduce the TAM for Redbubble? That user who searches for 'dinosaur t-shirt' starts and maybe finishes on Amazon. Same could be said for Etsy at a given scale.
- Creating consumer mindshare is the biggest challenge for Redbubble. Building brand equity globally as the go-to place for customised products.
- Artists are more of a principal rather than an agent in a transaction on Etsy. It's more expensive for the artist and less profitable.
- The artist believes the biggest competitive risk is IP infringement
- How Redbubble could improve the uploading process for artists
- Suggestions for RBL to improve the artist experience
- In theory, as RBL expand the products they print designs on, the larger the TAM. However, it's unclear just how incremental certain products like jigsaw puzzles or backpacks really are? Also, it's not as easy for artists to use the same design across all products; each design is optimised for the product
- Customer behaviour; is there a limit to how much customisation a person wants? How many customised t-shirts? Or customised furniture? Also, as the customer's income increases, how much does the true quality matter more than customisation?
Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.
Michael, can you provide a short introduction to yourself and your history working on Redbubble?
I was a web designer, graphic designer for about seven years. I worked at a small agency in Manchester. During that time, I stumbled across the world of print on demand and, in particular, t-shirt design and websites that allowed artists to upload work and to receive royalties or get payments for designs that sold. This was maybe 2013 or 2014 and I came across a collection of websites in different places like this. One of the places that people were uploading to was Redbubble and, being a graphic designer and having the ability to create designs and to take funny jokes or something that was happening pop culture related and create a design from that, I thought I'd jump in and give it a go.
I uploaded some designs to Redbubble and, within something like 30 days, I received an email that said your design has sold and you've made £3 or something like that. That was my initial experience. It was that little spark that kind of showed me that this was possible and I made my first bit of money from it. Ever since then, I've kept uploading to Redbubble and I’ve been making thousands a month from Redbubble, for at least the past five or six years.
It’s been a very good relationship. It's a strange one because I've never really had much formal interaction with any person at Redbubble; everything's done automatically through the site. But that's how I got started with Redbubble.
What’s your distribution of revenue per month roughly today, on the different sites?
The biggest one is Merch by Amazon, which is Amazon’s own internal print on demand service. That is the biggest and has been ever since it launched. Merch by Amazon launched in October 2015 so I'd already been on Redbubble a couple of years by that point; I already had a decent portfolio of designs. When Merch by Amazon launched, I obviously uploaded all my designs over there as well and, within a few months, Merch by Amazon was the biggest of my sites in terms of what was bringing in the most income.
I would say not much changes over the years. Merch by Amazon has certainly held its place and Redbubble has just been slowly, consistently growing bit by bit. But I would say Merch by Amazon is probably two to three times the income from Redbubble in any given month and then there’s some other sites as well, such as TeePublic which is also owned by Redbubble but operates as a separate platform and as a separate site. I would say that usually is bringing in almost the same as Redbubble for me. TeePublic’s done very well for me over the years; I've got some quite well embedded designs on there.
Then there's a collection of other places which would be bringing up the rear and not really doing much, such as places like Society6 or Threadless and other places like that. In terms of the big ones, it's Merch by Amazon, Redbubble, TeePublic. The other one which is slightly different is Etsy, which is not a print on demand site obviously. Etsy is an open marketplace but you can sell on Etsy and use print on demand fulfilment sites such as Printful and Printify to fulfill those orders. Etsy is quite a big part of our business as well, but it's not really comparable to Redbubble and TeePublic directly because it's a different beast.
Are you getting the same revenue growth as Redbubble on Etsy?
It’s a lot choppier with Etsy month to month. Obviously, Q4 is when we tend to do very well on Etsy; that's when it really picks up. I would say, on an average month, it would probably be half of Redbubble for us right now, but you probably see that get dwarfed a bit more when it gets to Q4 and the shopping season.
Why do you think Amazon Merch is the big leader?
I think it's Amazon, isn't it? It's the world's number one ecommerce destination. Redbubble is not a household name; obviously Amazon is. Let’s say I'm looking for a funny dinosaur t‑shirt for my kid or something like that, a lot of people these days – and this has been accelerated in the past couple of years as well with Covid – will go to Amazon first, especially with the growth of Prime and stuff like that, when they're looking for a product rather than, for example, going to Google and searching for ‘cute dinosaur t-shirt’. Let me see if Amazon's got this and if it hasn't, maybe I'll go and look elsewhere.
It's Amazon; it's got the reach, it's got the brand and it's the number one destination. It’s a search engine in and of itself. Seven or eight years ago, people looking for a t‑shirt would maybe not necessarily immediately think of going to Amazon, especially if they were looking for something that was maybe pop culture or a bit left field or a bit weird. They would assume that they're not going to be able to find that on Amazon. I still think that's largely the case but I think a lot of people have that kind of mentality of saying, I'll just go to Amazon first.
Is Amazon Merch growing much? There were reports of them limiting artists, so are you a unique case where you’re in there and so you get larger sales but most of the other artists can’t get on Amazon Merch?
It's hard to say. We have slightly more public data on Redbubble but when it comes to Amazon Merch, it is hard to kind of judge what's going on sales wise. I think Amazon Merch didn't know what they had on their hands when they launched it. It was launched as a completely different kind of product. It quickly became apparent that this was a print on demand site and a lot of people flooded over. Quite quickly, Amazon realized they had an incredible business on their hands and they had never really prepared for that, but they quickly invested in it and made it happen.
What sets Merch by Amazon apart is it's within the Amazon ecosystem. Everything happens there. It's not like Redbubble; it’s not a separate brand. It’s appealing and it reaches Amazon's own customers. Yes, I got in early, I had a lot of designs. I was able to jump on Amazon and get those designs in there and get them embedded and that's why we still make money from those designs five or six years on. I think it's hard to tell whether Amazon is struggling to grow Merch or is successfully growing Merch. If you could look at the numbers of sales I think it would obviously dwarf any other POD company in a direct comparison. If you could pull out the t-shirt sales from Merch and compare them, I think it would dwarf them.
But they have a different modus operandi. They have a different kind of goal and I think one of the big things they’ve focused on is looking at officially licensed stuff. So if you go on Merch by Amazon, the bestsellers will be Disney; there'll be Star Wars; there'll be officially licensed brands that Amazon has signed deals to work with and I think that's very sensible. It makes sense for them to push that but Merch by Amazon has never been big on targeting the independent designers. They've attracted them because it's Amazon – it's the biggest marketplace in the world – but they've never pushed that in the way that Redbubble does because part of Redbubble’s marketing and its whole approach is hey, independent designers, come and support independent creatives. That’s the kind of vibe they have.
Merch by Amazon doesn't have that and I don't really think it could ever develop that, so Merch by Amazon is always kind of a behind the scenes thing. It's not a brand. It's just part of Amazon and you can have your designs on there but you're not going to be building and growing a brand through Merch by Amazon. You have a bit more of a chance of doing that with Redbubble, as an independent designer, and you're not going to get crowded out by Star Wars and Lego or whatever it might be that's taking up the best-selling spots.