Is Print on Demand Too Competitive in 2021?

I’m often asked whether print on demand is ‘saturated’ or ‘too competitive’ in whatever time frame we’re currently in. In this article I’ll be discussing whether or not I think this is the case.

If you’re a beginner or someone considering creating a POD business, perhaps you’ve never sold anything online before, hopefully this will be a useful introduction into the POD world.

Too Saturated?

Print on demand is just a business model, so it can’t be ‘saturated’ in itself.

What people really mean when they ask this question is along the lines of, ‘do I stand a chance of making a profit if I try print on demand because there’s so many sellers’?

They want to know whether it is worth spending time building a POD business.

The straight answer is that you’ll never know unless you try.

While the opinions of one person alone shouldn’t dictate your decision, it can be useful to hear current sellers’ experiences.

The notion that you could create a successful POD business is almost too good to be true, which is why many are sceptical. No inventory, no website and no ads – all you have to do is upload digital files.

This is the reason many people think it’s a scam altogether.

if it was that easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

The catch is that because of the low barrier to entry, the industry is very competitive.

Competition is the rivalry between businesses selling similar products and services with the goal of achieving revenue, profit, and market share.

There are so many designs being uploaded every day to POD sites, so it is hard to be seen and subsequently purchased by customers as they have so many alternatives.

Making Sales vs Getting Hired

We can relate this situation to getting a job at Google, one of the most competitive tech companies.

They have several thousand job spaces per recruitment cycle (let’s say ~2000) but 2 million+ applicants. That is a 0.1% success rate, which is more competitive than getting a place at Harvard University.

Let’s compare this to POD. There are 64 results on the first page of Etsy search results.

For argument’s sake let’s say we only have a decent chance at making sales on the first page.

If we wanted to sell a shirt in the dog niche, we are in competition with 350,000 other search results. Some aren’t even POD sellers.

This is around a 0.02% success rate, about a fifth the chance you’d have applying to Google as the average techie.

In addition, sellers that have been on the site for longer and have made sales previously will have higher search ranking than new sellers. This further shifts the odds out of your favour as a beginner. Not looking good so far,

Back to Google.

Let’s remind ourselves why people want a job there in the first place. It pays decently, it’s a prestigious company that will boost your portfolio and you’ll have the opportunity to make connections with industry leaders.

But you have a small chance of making it. If you’re not as confident in your tech abilities, why not try applying first to a different company with less applicants? This will boost your chance of success dramatically, and is ideal if you’re less bothered about reputation.

Avoiding Competition

Equating this to our POD scenario – why are you selling in the dog niche?

In fact, why are you choosing to sell in any competitive niche? Unlike working at Google, there’s no benefit to your reputation selling in a particular niche (at least in my opinion…), so let’s avoid the competition altogether.

Being stubborn about your niche is the classic beginner mistake i.e. “I love dogs so I’m going to sell dog shirts”, even though there’s already thousands of other sellers in your niche.

There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about a certain niche and creating a POD business around that, and this works best if you have your own loyal audience and are confident in your design and marketing abilities.

But if you are looking to maximize your sales potential, especially relying on free marketplace traffic, creating designs for select high demand low competition niches is the way to go.

The difficulty lies in finding these niches. You can use sub niches and combine them, but in many niches this is overdone. The best way of finding them in my experience is to use research tools which arbitrage data from the marketplaces directly.

See my recommended resources for the tools I use for specific platforms.

While we are doing this, we also want to be improving our design and marketing skills in the process. Developing your skills alongside getting your first sales is in my opinion better than investing a ton up front e.g. buying a course, all the paid tools, then trying to be profitable from scratch.

Understanding traffic and conversion is important, which I expand on in this article.

Relying on marketplaces (e.g. Merch by Amazon, Redbubble, Teepublic) by SEO is my recommendation for POD because customers there have buyer intent, as opposed to trying to market with paid ads which requires more experience.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article gives you a better idea of how being profitable with POD is actually possible.

There will never be more sellers than customers. You are always earlier than the people that come after you, so you’re never too late to be profitable.

By finding and designing in low competition, high demand niches you will build up traffic to your listings and eventually make sales if they can convert.

This is easier said than done – research tools can help but many people have them.

Constantly looking for new ways to find these niches and experimentation to identify what sells for you, then dominating these niches by having several listings ranking highly is the key to POD success.

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