This post was originally a tutorial about how to set up an online store. The introduction outgrew itself, so I’ve expanded this post in order to give webcomic creators a solid understanding of online stores and e-commerce solutions.
Understand your e-commerce online store options
There are several ways for a webcomic creator to establish an online store. Here are a few:
Hosted e-commerce platforms
A hosted e-commerce platform lets you set up an online store on third-party web servers. When an order goes through, you are responsible for shipping the physical product. These platforms include Shopify, Store Envy, Etsy, BigCommerce, among others. Here is a decent blog article comparing five hosted solutions. If you want to read more, here is an article talking about 10 of them. Some of these have monthly fees. Some offer more customization. Some integrate with POD solutions. You’ll have to dig. After my own research, Shopify would be my choice, not least of all because there are actually themes that you can buy.
Hosted e-commerce print-on-demand platforms
To avoid handling orders, packaging, and shipping merchandise yourself, Print on Demand solutions offer a way to delegate responsibility. When you create an online store using a POD website, all you have to do is upload designs and configure them onto the blank stock products. When a user places an order through your store, it is processed and shipped by a POD company’s fulfillment center. Companies that do this include Gooten, Teepublic, Zazzle, Cafepress, Redbubble, Printful, among others. Here is a comparison of a few others, written by an artist. Some of these are free, and some have subscription usage fees. Some allow you to customize your cut. Some integrate with WordPress e-commerce solutions, and some don’t. Some have hundreds of stock products to print onto, while others have limited options. Specifically for webcomic creators, there are a few sites that handle absolutely everything for you, if you are an established comic artist and can convince them your designs will sell. Two I know of are TopatoCo and Hivemill.
Self-hosted e-commerce platforms
Self-hosted online stores are housed on your own web server. Some hosted platforms also offer plugins that let you sell products directly from your self-hosted WordPress site (i.e. the Shopify WordPress plugin does this), but this is not a purely self-hosted solution. There are two high contenders for pure self-hosted e-commerce solutions. The first is Woocommerce. This is a plugin built specifically for WordPress. It functions much like posts do, creating a new post type called ‘Products’. It offers many features for managing your inventory, taxes, shipping costs, stock numbers, reviews, users, etc. The second contender is Magento. Magento is, like WordPress itself, an entire Content Management System that you install directly to your web server. Where WordPress houses both a blog and a Woocommerce online store, Magento is entirely e-commerce based. Out of the box self-hosted e-commerce platforms put the responsibility of processing and shipping physical products in your hands, which leads me to the final solution.
E-commerce platforms integrated with POD solutions
If you don’t want to use a POD website as your official store front, but you do want to pass orders to a POD solution, then you can use a hosted or self-hosted online store platform integrated with a POD solution. For an example of a hosted platform, Shopify offers integration with dozens of POD solutions. For an example of a self-hosted platform, Woocommerce can integrate with Printful or Print Aura.
How some webcomic creators have set up stores
The Awkward Yeti Store – Nick has opted it seems for a dedicated domain for his hosted Shopify store. It also looks like he has a combination of both print on demand integration and hands-on inventoried stock.
Loading Artist’s Store – Gregor’s store is a hosted print-on-demand company called Teepublic.
Lunarbaboon Store – Chris sells his comic book volumes using Big Cartel.
Why I chose a self-hosted e-commerce platform (Woocommerce) with a POD solution (Printful)
I recently launched my shop, having built it with these tools. I’ll tell you why.
Second, I wanted to be able to fully customize everything about my shop, and I wanted the familiarity and support of WordPress. After my experience with Zazzle, I wanted a better print on demand and shipping fulfillment solution. Printful has fewer blank stock products to print on, but the website is smoother, video tutorials easy and succinct, and the functionality to a product is impeccable. Also, Zazzle, as well as most other POD sites, do not offer integration with Woocommerce.
Third, I wanted to use a Print on Demand solution because I travel a lot, and I don’t want the headache of printing comics myself, or ordering and keeping inventory of other merchandise. My time is better spent making comics.
The right choice for you depends on your goals and your living situation. You’ll make more money if you handle stock yourself. You’ll make more comics if you use POD.
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