As a freelance graphic designer I have been using print-on-demand platforms like Redbubble and TeePublic as sources of passive income, and so far sales haven’t been too bad considering I just upload and forget. However, Redbubble and TeePublic has recently introduced account tiers, which based on online discussions has apparently been affecting artists, with experiences being mostly negative.
The Introduction of Account Tiers and Its Effects on Artists
A CLOSER LOOK AT THIS CHANGE
For those who are unaware, TeePublic is actually owned by Redbubble, which explains why account tiers has been introduced on both platforms around the same time.
Let’s start with Redbubble, which has now classified artist accounts under three tiers: Redbubble Standard, Redbubble Premium, and Redbubble Pro. You can learn more about this change from their website, but essentially for Redbubble Standard an account fee is levied from any sales made. On the other hand, Premium and Pro accounts are exempt from the fee, while enjoying additional features to help artists market and promote their work.
From their words, “The tiers are intended to encourage positive engagement with the marketplace and recognize and reward artists who invest time creating and promoting unique products.” While they don’t mention it, but I would imagine the proliferation of AI-generated art and new accounts spamming the platform with less-than-original work is likely one of the main reasons for their decision. Consequently, many of the criteria for classifying accounts are based on the artist uploading designs that are unique and showcase their creative skills, as well as adhering to their content guidelines.
For instance, artists in the Redbubble Pro tier have a proven track record of creating unique work that sells well, while taking time and effort to build the branding and presence of their shops.
Similarly for TeePublic, accounts are categorized as Artisan and Apprentice. They see Apprentice Acounts as those who may be spamming automated content such as AI-generated art as high volumes and don’t really care about the quality of their work. However, one big difference from Redbubble is that there are no account fees no matter the category, though I would expect designs created by Artisan Accounts to be featured more on their marketplace.
Note that accounts are reevaluated on a regular basis, so there is definitely the possibility of your account getting re-categorized to a higher tier if you put in the work to improve your shop and designs.
MY EXPERIENCE SO FAR
My accounts are classified as Premium on Redbubble and Artisan on TeePublic, which I guess is testament to the time and effort I have put into creating quality designs.
Here’s a look at what I have earned as passive income on Redbubble for these past 12 months:
And for TeePublic:
Based on my earnings for these past few months it doesn’t seem like I’m really affected by the introduction of account tiers, with sales being pretty similar to what I have experienced so far.
WHAT ABOUT OTHERS?
A lot of complaints from artists on TeePublic are related to their earnings dropping significantly after this change. For example, one went from making around four thousand dollars a month to just five hundred after getting downgraded to Apprentice. Another had almost ten thousand sales with work that they claim to be original and doesn’t infringe on any copyright, but was classified as Apprentice instead.
As quoted by an artist with an Apprentice Account, “It’s been quite a shock for me, to be honest. I used to not even go a day without any sales. Now it’s…terrible. Just terrible.”
Sentiments are similar on Redbubble, with artists lamenting the huge drop in sales and earnings over these past few months. Examples from those in Redbubble Standard include “Sales have been in the gutter for the past two months, used to make consistently about a $100 every month (less on bad months) but now I am lucky to make $20” and “It’s not even that my sales are down but Redbubble now takes close to $50 in extra fees a month…”
On the other hand, there are artists who look to be doing quite well, with sales going steady despite the introduction of account tiers.
SOME ADVICE MOVING FORWARD
Ideally your accounts should be Premium or Pro for Redbubble and Artisan for TeePublic. Like I mentioned previously the criteria for being assigned a higher tier is to create work that’s original and likely to sell well. As a suggestion, take a look at the artists and bestsellers featured on the platforms, using them as inspiration when creating your own work.
It’s also not recommended to use AI-generated art, since for those who are unaware even if you may be the one to come up with the work, its ownership doesn’t belong to you. For example earlier this month, the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) deemed that an AI-generated artwork, which won the top prize at the Colorado State Fair last year, was not eligible for copyright protection.
So focus on creating quality work, and remember that you can always upload the same work to multiple platforms, thereby increasing your sales potential. In addition, as I have always emphasized, diversification is key when it comes to making passive income as a graphic designer. Besides Redbubble and TeePublic, consider selling on other platforms such as Design by Humans and CafePress.
One way or another, for better or worse, there’s no denying that the introduction of account tiers by Redbubble and TeePublic has wide-reaching implications on artist earnings and passive income — and only time will tell whether this change will be positive to both the platforms and artist community.