Surviving in polyPODland

For around six years now I have been trying to make headway in what could be best described as polyPODland; a place on the internet that has multiple online “Print on Demand” stores. All these stores are vying together to make their own overhead costs and through recent twists and turns in global economics and relentless thievery from the Chinese rip-off markets, have created a difficult business model to be part of. This is my insight as an independent artist looking to making a living at the art game, in the copy/paste society of polyPODland.

I started off in polyPODland with Society6. This was an artist community based site back then, and was a good place to be. At the start I didn’t get many sales, and slowly over the years I found that out it was more about promoting than creating. Society had a system, even they call their secret algorithm, that is said to reward those who are promoted most or promote most. Actually I getting a feeling this is all bull, and the system like most systems gets exploited. Six years down the line with S6, and I am finding that there is too much emphasis of letting any talentless weekender put their failed refrigerator art up for sale. This does one of two things; first it saturates the system so the people who do have a modicum of talent (unless a Society6 stable pet artist) get lost. Now there is a great deal of good images on Society6, but this is countered by the excruciatingly large amount of garbage that people assume might make them a buck or two in the open and free market place.

This is then also countered by the fact that, like most POD sites, there tend to be ‘strict’ terms of agreement. One of which, which is blatantly ignored by all parties concerned is that of copyright infringement. Now, the simple fact (which in it’s self is a long blog post) is that the status and effectiveness of copyright enforcement only works for large corporations who like throwing their DMCAs about. I have been subject to this myself, with images of celebrities, which in all fairness to the copyright laws can be done under the fair use clause. But recently I have had items removed because of DMCAs from VW. To show how petty they are, the item in question is a vehicle bearing their logo. Logos tend to be trademarked, cars can’t be as they are under the utilitarian aspect of design (like fashion), so are void of that right. So, having an incidental logo on a car their manufactured was enough to make them have my best selling design taken down. The answer, though it came a little late in the process, was to cover the logo up. This is now my new rendering of the VW camper logo of any copyright offensive material.


That said though, any 5 minute search on any given POD site will see a plethora of infringing pieces, under the Disney, Anime, film and television genres. People with no understanding of the copyright law, actual seem to take the ‘terms of agreement’ statement; “You must be the owner of the image”, as meaning, if you made it (regardless of where any copyright material came from) then that is OK.

The only sites I have seen any real success in are the ones that actually do some curating. That doesn’t include Displate, who claim to have an art director who curates the artworks, but frankly so much passes the 7 point checklist that are illegal and badly composed that it seems they have opened their floodgates to allow free market selling of anything that can be vaguely considered aesthetic. Sites like Juniqe, Posterlounge, ArtBoxOne are all well organised and add a little restriction into the artworks they allow. That said, even these are not willing to take on all your art, as they say they don’t see a market for it.

So, what is this market model. For many of these POD sites the market model is “if we can sell it, we allow it!” This has now, like in the early 80’s for music, created a punk like arena in online art. It is appalling to see so much lack of detail, effort and correctness in the artwork. Bad composition, bad use of typography, bad use of colours. This all comes down to some desperate global economic crisis among a majority, that defines art as an easy money earner (on the side). That however, creates a bigger issue. Some of the ‘actual’ creatives out there (me included) who try to make this their main income source, it is the decisive factor in living or dying in the art game. Now, that said, I am not suggesting there should be no competition at all, that is healthy. But having to promote day and night a quality art piece over a plethora of ‘fan art’ scribbles of the latest Marvel superhero that seems popular, isn’t fair or healthy. They should not be on the market (even in counterfeit central China). This type of art, that takes up I would say 70% or more of these PODs should be relegated to fridge doors or toilet walls.

So, how can you survive in the polyPODland circus. In my case, it seems that instead of spending the majority of my time creating (which is what I love), I have to spend a majority of the time, posting, uploading and advertising to my slowly growing audience. Which is another issue. Finding the market is very hard. There are people out there with no talent with 13K followers and then I find trouble getting to 2,000! It seems like that the internet is a very fraught and turbulent place. But it is the two edge sword that we use to sell our art. Slowly, slowly numbers are increasing in sales and followers, but if I was honest, if a Facebook ‘like’ was worth a $1 it would be a different story. And the interaction on social media is indeed a different story.

For now, this is the case of living in polyPODland. I best analogy would be the same as what happened to the punk era in music. The maelstrom of bad music crashed and out of the mire emerged some great musical talent. One can only hope that this could happen in the POD scene. It has already been reported that two PODs and closed doors this year; The Untapped Source and Vectoriel. If copyright laws and low income for bad artists can help shed the worst off the surviving sites, maybe art can gain a good name again.