Do you sell on Etsy? There has been a lot of chatter about selling on Etsy in the past few years, first from print-on-demand (merch) folks and now to re-purpose your KDP books into printables.
One common thing I see from supposed “gurus” shows a lack of understanding about Etsy and their marketplace rules.
I have seen people promote done-for-you content as something that can be sold on Etsy. Please don’t do that without changing it up—and I don’t just mean fonts and colors. Read on to find out why.
You need to be the artist/designer.
There are two reasons people turn to commercial rights content:
- they want to save time and get more done, or
- they lack artistic skills.
PLR content that includes fully designed elements takes care of those who lack the creative skills and can be great for a blogger looking to put up a printable in their own website shop. But not on Etsy.
I opened my first Etsy shop in 2012 and while I have let my shop lay dormant for some of those years I kept up with Etsy news.
It used to be that unless you were selling a craft supply or vintage item you needed to be the person making the item.
Shops that were successful began to run into a problem of scale. If you were hand making each item there was a limit on how many you could produce in a day. Which meant there was a ceiling on your shop’s growth.
A few years ago Etsy started allowing people to outsource production and hire shop help.
Here are a few select quotes from Etsy’s shop policies:
“You may also have shop members who help you run your business, as long as you, the seller, are making and/or designing your items.”
“A designer is a seller who has come up with an original design, pattern, sketch, template, prototype, or plan to be produced by in-house shop members or a production partner. Simple customization, such as selecting colors, shapes, or choosing from ready-made options is not considered design on Etsy.”
You can read the full terms here: https://www.etsy.com/legal/sellers/ and follow the link for their full handmade policy to see the sections I quoted above.
It is pretty clear that YOU need to be the designer of anything sold in your shop.
So that means you should never take pre-made designs and sell them as your own on Etsy.
If you have a shop on your own website, you can do what you want.
What about plain PLR that you decorate and customize?
This can be a different matter. It depends. What I am going to say next is based on my interpretation of the spirit of Etsy’s guidelines.
Let me start with journals and planners. There are only so many ways that you can make a set of lines or boxes. Most journals or planners are just that—lines and boxes with a bit of text.
Some journals might have prompts, some are more like workbooks. Some planners are simply calendars or appointment books while other planners might be specific such as a blog planner.
The more generic the PLR content is, the easier it is to customize it and make it into an original planner. Let’s face it, if you take a calendar template and add your own artwork to it, who would ever know that you started with a template?
Where things get dicier is when the content is more specific, like a blog planner. It is still very possible to customize this to be unique. The more you can change things up, the better.
Ask yourself, if the customer bought my blog planner and someone else’s (assuming they came from the same source template) would they be able to tell both planner’s had the same source?
My goal when re-purposing PLR no matter where I am selling it is for it to be nearly unrecognizable from the source. The original creator may recognize it as theirs, but the average customer browsing through listings should not.
How to determine if you have substantially changed a work? Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your version look unlike the original version?
- If another person started with the same PLR, would yours look different from theirs?
- Do I feel comfortable calling myself the designer of this? Did I do enough to make it my own?
When you treat commercial use templates as a starting point rather than a done-for-you product, you are still infusing your own creative flair and still the designer.
Why you should follow Etsy’s rules:
First, it protects your shop. If you are found to be violating their seller policies, they may shut down your shop.
Second, for the good of the community of digital creators as a whole. Whenever people abuse a platform and bend the rules it usually comes back to bite everyone.
Platforms like Etsy and Amazon have invested a lot in building a list of buyers and their number one asset is their customers.
If certain sellers are creating a bad customer experience that comes back on Etsy for allowing it, not on the individual seller.
Marketplace’s need to maintain their reputation. If enough sellers are creating a bad experience, Etsy has no choice but to tighten the rules for everyone to save their business.
Selling the same product as someone else on a platform that has built itself as a marketplace of unique, artisan items is not good for Etsy’s reputation.
If too many people start selling non-original work on Etsy because some “guru” told them to, or someone said it was okay, we could see a change in the rules for all of us.
So can I use commercial rights templates on Etsy?
So why bother buying templates or PLR for printables in the first place? Well, it still saves you time. I would argue that creating the lines and boxes and ensuring they line up perfectly is tedious and time consuming.
If a template saves you even an hour of time and you can create both a KDP interior and a printable from it you will end up ahead. That’s an extra hour you can be promoting your work, creating another product, or playing with your kids.
If you are artistic, you can spend time working on the fun stuff while someone else takes care of the boring nuts and bolts.
But what if I need creative help?
What if you are not artistic? I consider myself moderately artistic at best. My cousin is an artist, my grandfather and mother could both draw well. So, the genes are in there somewhere but I am not a natural.
I took a drawing class in college and there was a big difference in my skills in 15 weeks. My son worked through the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of your Brain and showed improvement in just a few weeks.
My point is that even those of us who aren’t naturally talented can practice and get better. Set aside 30 minutes a few times a week and mess around with a creative project, or learn digital art.
The Procreate app is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it and digital art can be more forgiving (it’s easier to erase things completely and you can tweak things endlessly).
If you sell printables or any other content on Etsy and use PLR to help you, be sure to substantially change it into your own work. On Etsy, you must be the designer. And, though it can be boring, be sure to read the sellers policies for any platform that you sell on. If you invest time and effort into building a business using someone else’s customer base you don’t want to lose it all because you made a mistake.