100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 3

I am a little late to the table to write this edition of the debt to financial freedom post since I was away at a conference, and this one is going to be a little hard to post. If you missed the second update in the series, you may want to check that otherwise. Otherwise, prepare yourself to get a real dose of what everyone was feeling for the month of July.

How To Use Upwork To Outsource And Scale Your Merch Business


You should read that article, but if you are really lazy and do not want to take your time, what happened was that my girlfriend was about to 5X the earnings of the account with 30 days of actual effort. Why is she working so hard on this account you may ask? Well, she is going back to get a second bachelors degree and needs to pay off around $100,000 worth of school debt. The goal is to do this within a single year with Merch by Amazon.
We have about 9 months left to hit the goal. I think this is extremely possible even with this update. Keep in mind that Q4 is just around the corner and the Halloween/Christmas season usually sees a very healthy increase in income. I am talking at least 5X normal monthly income in December as everyone is buying shirts as gifts. This is where you can expect to make a LARGE chunk of money, and where we are trying to focus on time and effort.
Last month, this account did $4,098.54 which was a crazy big improvement over the month previous. This month however, not so much.

What Happened In July?

Life.
Life happened. I know I often sit here and preach that you should be hitting your daily uploads, and you need to be spending your time on Merch by Amazon. I only do this because I know the entire process works!
That being said, in early July, we actually ended up traveling 1,000 miles to purchase a new vehicle since the last one was destroyed by hail. If you do not remember what the destroyed vehicle looked like, maybe this will refresh your memory:

So with all the traveling, this ate up some time where not a single shirt was uploaded.
Couple that with the fact that we spent some time with family and July is one of the “down” months for most people on Merch, not much got done within the few days of the month.
Since she is in an accelerated program for her degree, this took up a LOT more time this month than it did before so if any designs got uploaded (some did), it was not many per day.
With the amount of royalties dropping with the season and not having many fresh new designs going live, we finally got hit with something that needed addressed. What might this be? Well, it was something that I never really decided to respond to in the few times that this happened to me before.

False DMCA Notices

During the entire month of July, we had not one, not two, but THREE false DMCA takedowns filed for shirts. Copy and pasting from Google:
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Essentially what happened was that a not so honest competitor got mad that the girlfriends shirts were selling better and outranking them in the results that they decided to file a take down with Amazon in order to get rid of the competition. Even though the designs are 100% different with different sentence structure and different amount of reviews, the shirts were pulled down and it almost seems like there is nothing you can do.
The reason Amazon does this, is because the DMCA is a legal process, and they have to take down the work or else they would risk being sued (is my understanding, I am not a lawyer).
This is what the notice looked like. I have blocked out some of the information.

The most frustrating part of this entire process is even if you contact the Merch by Amazon team at the email they suggest, they will demand that you show them proof that you have rights to the design or trademark that is 100% different than the one you had on Merch by Amazon.
The ONLY solution is to get the person that filed the take down to contact Amazon and ask them to remove the strike. To this date, I have never actually heard of this happening.
There is one thing that you can do, but we will have to go over that in another article.

Outsourcing

With the take downs (strikes on the account) and the amount of work outside of Merch by Amazon that had to get done, there really were not that many uploads at ALL in July.
In fact, she was almost afraid to upload since Amazon is not clear on how many infringements you can get before they disable the account. It is hard when she does all she can to do everything right, and then have to deal with people with low morals.
With a little nudge in the right direction and talk of Q4, I finally got her to do some outsourcing, which just came back to us a few days ago. This outsourcing took about 1.5 hours and should be enough for most of this month.
If you are interested in the exact process of how she does the research so fast, I wrote about that here:

100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 1

The Results For July

Before we get to it, here is a quick recap of June numbers:

I always feel like I need to mention that if you take a look at last months royalties, you will notice that they are higher when mentioned in the previous posts. This is because Amazon pays based on when the products ship out. This almost makes this month a little more depressing but I always have to keep in mind that this is the same trend that MOST people in the community saw as well.
It should also be noted that all the shirts were priced around $16.99 a shirt. This has been the sweet spot but of course, there is always that thought that maybe more money could be made from upping the price slightly. Currently, she is not willing to risk it to find out.
Here is where the current uploads are:

Here is a summary of the totals for July 2017 from downloading the excel spreadsheet:

562 shirts sold and $2,515.57 in royalties.
Some people would be absolutely stoked to see these numbers, but this represents a 40% decrease in the amount of shirts sold and about a 39% decrease in royalties from the previous month.

The longer we keep looking back in the rear view mirror, it takes away from everything that’s moving forward. ~ Dan Quinn

That quote above basically sums up this month perfectly. After I finish this article, I will try not to think about July at all since the only thing that matters is moving forward. I would hope the rest of the Merch community that is down on their numbers from the previous month can take that to heart and move forward.

The Math

Since designs can easily be created yourself (and what most people are doing when they start), we are only going to be including the royalties in the math.

Comments
  • Hey Neil, we also got a DMCA notice this month, I don’t see any infringement we did, it’s completely original. What’s the best way to approach this? I already have 4 deisign rejection so am scared to upload now :s

  • I’m really sorry to hear about your Girlfriend’s DMCA Takedowns. The person who filed these complaints clearly has no grasp on how business works. Your girlfriend was able to offer a better product, at a competitive price. End Of Story.
    I can understand why your girlfriend was so terrified to continue uploading, 3 takedowns seem like a lot (especially when Amazon has no guidelines for how many strikes someone can have).
    Neil, I know you’ve been on Merch for a while. We are all eagerly waiting to hear about the one way to combat false claims in your next article.
    Best of luck to you guys, and as always; thanks for the update!

  • Neil,
    Thanks for sharing about the struggles your girlfriend had in July. I know that this process isn’t all sunshine and roses and sometimes there are speed bumps that have to be dealt with so it’s really helpful for me to see how you and she handle it. The false takedown claims are one of the many things that worry me about Merch. I know your process is to have your designers look at other ASINs that are selling well and have them make a variation so if I were to do that when I outsource I worry that what my designers return may be too similar to others work and I will get accused of being a copycat by Amazon. Are there any guidelines you use to make sure a design you submit isn’t too similar to other shirt designs already on Amazon? Has a designer ever returned a design to you and you had to tell them “that’s way too similar to someone else’s design and we need to make changes?” Thanks you Neil

    • At first yes. What I essentially do is send them to my designer and have them take a look at the design/niche and let them use their creativity to come up with something DIFFERENT. Same concepts as what is on Amazon and selling, but if you were to put them side by side, they would look completely different. Once you find a designer that will do that, keep them!

  • Hey life happens , at least she had some sales to keep things going. Plus she has you to help coach her. I’ve been trying everything i can think of and still haven’t had any action on my designs. At this rate im scared i will have to regulate my merch account to the backburner. Good luck on reaching 100k.

  • Thank you a lot for all the articles and the insights of your work and progress.
    Did it ever happen to you, that Amazon listened a shirt in the wrong category?
    For example: You will find “Bonsai Shirts” in the category: “Grocery & Gourmet Food > Fresh Flowers & Live Indoor Plants > Live Indoor Plants > Bonsai” and not in “Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry”.
    It happened to me with two shirts. I deleted them and uploaded again with the same result.

  • You mentioned 1.5 hours of outsourcing. Does that entail all the research? That’s really fast and you also mentioned that it is good for almost a month of slots/listings. Sometimes it takes me 1.5 hours to find 5 good niches. Am I taking too long to find a good, consistent BSR?

    • It does. We mainly just use the Merch Hunter now since it displays the historical data we can quickly bang out the niches, and then generally if there are more than 1 shirt selling per niche, each niche you find you can spin off into a few variations.

  • Hey Neil. Kudos on the honesty. Some ‘operators’ might have decided to take a route away from the truth at this point and sell some story about the revenue increasing by another 100% for the month. Your clear honesty makes all your write-ups feel more ‘real’.

  • I’m guessing your girlfriends account is accessed through the same IP as your account? So there is no problems with having multiple accounts on the same IP address?
    Thanks

  • I don’t understand how the uploads were twice as much, but it sold less.
    Do you have a rule if the shirt doesn’t sell for a number of months you delete it and create a new one?

    • If the slots are available, the shirts stay up. It is just the time of the year with retail being really slow and print capacity probably going to the viral eclipse shirts.

  • Hi Neil,
    Thanks for all of the great information. It has really been eye-opening. I would also like to know how you handle the DMCA complaints (future blog post). I am just getting started on Amazon (only 2 shirts uploaded so far) and if I can do something ahead of time, I would like to do it. Thanks again!
    Dustin

  • Hi Neil,
    after reading this post again for like the 100th time I wonder, has anyone ever filed a false claim against you? And did you fight it?

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