I'm sending this week's deep dive out to everyone because I have an announcement at the end that relates to this story.
You may have heard me ranting on Threads about it, got an email, or have yet to read about Society6 moving away from its free-for-all strategy and opting for a tiered premium membership approach.
Society6 claims this change is to eliminate the glut of low-quality designs and inactive artists, and I can see how this change could help with that problem, but are they also working to find more revenue in a market in which they have been falling behind?
As one of the more prominent print-on-demand marketplace companies, will this move have ripple effects across other marketplaces? Earlier this year, RedBubble made a similar announcement about artist tiers where, at the point of purchase, they are charging artists differently depending on which tier they fall in.
The Beginning of the End
RedBubble's strategy has been fraught with controversy because sellers who assumed they would be in the top tier based on performance were placed in the lowest tier and paying the most. New and less experienced artists were placed in the top tier.
Some sellers speculated that RedBubble wanted to maximize its fee earnings off the best-selling artists because they made the most money. And there were claims from sellers having their accounts shut down if they questioned their tier ranking.
Society6's approach is less controversial because the seller gets to opt-in to one of the tier levels. Is it worth $12.99 a month to sell at the Pro level? It's a minor inconvenience to pay a monthly fee for something they previously got for free, and with the discounted base product price, they can recoup their expenses quickly.
This strategy is an attempt for Society6 to clean up the mess of low-quality art that has permeated the platform in the last few years. I always saw the site as the premier print-on-demand marketplace because of the level of art and artists selling there.
This change has already taken effect for new users, and legacy users must choose by November 30, 2023, or be placed in the free tier automatically, limiting designs to 10.
There will be thousands of artists who missed or ignored the update and have a lot of designs that sell reasonably well and will have the shock of their lives on December 1st when their accounts are downgraded.
A Finger on the Domino
I don't know if Society6's decision is enough to start a wave across creative platforms, but this shift, along with RedBubble's changes, other platforms will undoubtedly be paying attention. But this is also nothing new because we've seen the subscriptionization of every service and entertainment platform since Amazon Prime added streaming video.
News, entertainment, SaaS (software as a service) companies, social media, offline services, video games, and now creative marketplaces have joined the fray of things that tax your debit card every month.
If I subscribed to every service, news, and entertainment channel I wanted to use, I'd need to refinance my home to pay for it. That's not happening—have you seen the interest rates?
I'm not enough of a thought leader to claim I know where things are heading, but the writing is definitely on the wall for some things.
Did you know that Etsy has a Plus level? I did, and I forgot about it. Most of their sellers do not use the service as it doesn't provide enough rewards to make the $10 monthly fee worthwhile.
I do not doubt that Etsy is already rethinking its premium services, and within the next 8 to 12 months, it will similarly announce these news tiers as Society6.
The current standard will become the Plus tier for $10 a month, adding a little more functionality than most sellers currently get.
The Pro tier will cost $29 a month and give you all that's currently offered with Plus but with some added functionality (who knows what that means—probably AI of some sort).
Anyone who doesn't join the Plus or Pro tier will be remanded to the basic level, which will look like the current standard except limited to 24 listings.
Other Creative Marketplaces
Once Etsy doubles down on subscriptions, other platforms will either lean the other direction (maybe to their detriment) and market themselves as the free alternative to subscription services, only offering a paid tier strictly for customer service capabilities.
Most popular marketplaces will follow suit and offer extended services to compete with Etsy, RedBubble, and the ever-present shadow of Amazon Prime.
Any less-known marketplaces will struggle to keep pace with the larger sites, and many will fold into obscurity.
With Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and even Amazon trying to create an everything app where you spend all your time in that space, you can bet that they will all double down on e-commerce soon.
TikTok recently opened its Shops to all North American users, and they are pushing it hard because they want to capitalize on its popularity to pull some of the e-commerce market share away from the other players.
Right now, it's free to use TikTok Shops, but it would not surprise me if they eventually add a Pro level to the business model, but not until they've secured a much more significant portion of the market.
In other words, if you're using TikTok, now is an excellent time to take advantage of the service because the algorithm works in the favor of TT shops. Seize the opportunity to ride their slipstream.
As the leader in the personal e-commerce area, Shopify knows precisely where the winds are heading. I don't see them adding new tiers or options to their service because they don't want to upset the shopping cart when their users soon have more options from frenemies like Meta and TikTok.
If I were to predict anything about Shopify, they would also lean into AI technology to improve user experience. They dabbled in it with product descriptions and copy editing. Still, they could add AI to the design aspects and even collaborate with Open-AI or Midjourney for image creation. These will likely be another app that can be integrated within Shopify, and almost all Shopify app developers use the freemium model.
Adobe will continue to raise prices at a rate of 5% (or more) every two years. Figma users will be dismayed sometime in the next few years when the service gets rolled into Adobe Creative Cloud.
Adobe's ascent as the defacto AI creative tool will become even more evident at Adobe Max 2024, making Midjourney and Dall-E nearly obsolete by comparison.
Alternative creative software like Affinity will continue to fall further behind because they don't have the talent or revenue to compete with big boys.
The only competition Adobe will have is Canva (which also has premium tiers), and the market will be divided. All the professional artists, designers, and video editors will continue to be shackled to Adobe, while Canva will cater to the remaining casual users.
Stock Imagery and Digital Assets
In the next two years, Creative Market, Envato, Design Cuts, and others will struggle to retain relevancy because of improved AI capabilities. Why pay for these services when Adobe can craft images from scratch out of a trash pile photo, turning them into award-winning work?
The only exception I see here is fonts. AI cannot craft typography with any accuracy or consistency. This may change in the future, but even if Adobe does figure this out, we will still need the typefaces as a reference to the type style we need for the designs.
Social Media + Commerce
Earlier this year, Meta announced that sellers who use Meta's shop services on Facebook and Instagram will be forced to sell directly through the native consumer marketplace.
Currently, legacy users could use an e-commerce solution like Shopify or Big Cartel, and any sales through Instagram would be processed through those services. By April 2024, that will no longer be possible.
Meta's objective is to keep people on the platform as much as possible, and the money they make on transactions in their shopping areas is small potatoes compared to their advertising revenue.
Instagram/Threads has already implemented a Verified program where people pay for the blue check mark and get access to support. That will likely carry across to all Meta apps eventually. Could there be more tiers in the future? I wouldn't bet against it.
Making the Most of the Dystopia
If this is our future, what are budget-conscious creatives to do? Unfortunately, there will never be a single solution for everyone because your priorities differ from mine, and the nuances will dictate where we invest our money.
I plan to scrutinize all future subscriptions, asking myself some important questions.
If the answer to those last two questions is no, I cancel or pause the service.
The caveat is that some expenses may not directly impact my revenue, but they help in secondary ways. For instance, I don't earn any money from some of my news subscriptions, but they keep me informed, and I can share the most important stories with you.
I could justify why I don't need Spotify, but it brings me joy and helps me in my business because I use it as brain fuel while I'm creating. I'm listening to music as I write this (Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats if you're interested).
On the other hand, I had a Teachable account hosting some training, but I wasn't getting much traction on them. I kept the pricy subscription for a long time, but it wasn't serving me. I worried that someone would find the broken link and be upset if I canceled it.
I cannot live based on an assumed perception from people I don't know, so I cut out Teachable last year. I've heard no complaints.
If there is a service I want to add to my business, but I'm unsure if it's worth the investment, I come up with a responsible use case for the service.
I dive in if I have the time to use the service and earn enough from it to at least make back my investment. If I can't make the case, then I don't invest.
This is not a black-and-white solution; there is some wiggle room in either direction. The trick is not to get caught in the gray.
If it's not a hell yeah, it's a no!
Not Adding to the Problem
Yes, I see the irony of talking about memberships and subscriptions this way, knowing I have a membership of my own.
Well, Society6's decision to change its business model made me rethink my view on memberships.
There is an honest place for paid memberships, but if I'm being frank with you and myself, I struggled to find the appropriate use case for my membership program.
Tell your friends!
The Hungry was built to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The object of The Hungry is to empower creative people to see the opportunities available, and I don't think that information should be kept behind a paywall.
This decision affects my ability to earn revenue in the short term, but I'm looking at the long game now.
When everyone else charges you a monthly chit to sit at the cool kid's table, The Hungry will be at the large, family-style table, and all artsy types are welcome.
Please pass the mashed potatoes.