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Friday, September 28, 2012

Making money with a Makerbot

One day I want to write a "How winning a Replicator has changed my life" post, but there are some details that I don't think I can express with the proper tone of ironic humor. Until I work that out I can talk about how having a Replicator has allowed me to be a weekend entrepreneur.

One of the biggest problems with owning a Replicator is the expense of it. While the individual parts, after all costs are calculated, are reasonable there's no question that the individual expenses can be quite a hit at a time. Bless my wife's heart she would never allow me to make the expenses that 3D printing costs if it weren't able to pay for itself. Thus getting into business was, for me, inevitable.

I run my shop by certain rules. First of all I never sell anything that I haven't modeled myself... at least partially. That's why I don't sell a TARDIS thing that doesn't have the door ajar, never mind the aesthetic of it too, since I borrowed the base model from gossimer (and I brought gossimer's attention to what I'm doing and he's cool with it). I just wouldn't feel right collecting money for someone else's work. Fortunately I am more of a modeler than a 3D printer tinkerer and fortunately the Replicator is almost a consumer device. Just enough for me anyways. So I have plenty of things to sell, and the ability to sell them without stepping on anyone else's toes.

That rule may not be for everyone. But I have heard of people who are running a business selling 3D printed parts to help others build their own 3D printers. I guess the point is find something you can sell and still be the good guy. If you're scanning commercial objects and selling 3D copies, while I respect the technology involved I would not be able to support you when big-bad comes knocking.

But there's still some things I don't know. For instance advertising and expanding my market are completely foreign to me. These things are being explored slowly as I'm doing this part time, but how cool is that? Go back just 10 years and figure out a way that a regular Joe could run a part time manufacturing business in their garage with so little initial expense. Without Makerbot and etsy I have no idea how anyone would have done that. My goal now is to see if I can make enough to pay for the Replicator that I won, to see if it's possible to use a Replicator to pay for itself. For me there's no rush to do this, but if I manage to do this perhaps I can set the stage for others.


  1. I'm glad to see you dipping your feet into the entrepreneur pool. I think 3D printing can open that door to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't or couldn't do it.

    And I don't consider you an average Joe. You're Makerbot Joe.

  2. It seems you draw the line at "stepping on someone's toes" at using someone's model that you didn't make. What about intellectual property? Such as Dr. Who being owned by the BBC? Technically because the TARDIS is just a police box, they probably can't stop you legally. Using the word TARDIS to sell your rings is something they could legally come after you for. The Dr. Who dog, K-9, however is something they own entirely. Video game and movie icons and other things like that seem to be constantly turned into products (without a paying for the license) on Etsy. There are companies that pay millions for the rights to do that.

    Not trying to be mean here mate, just trying to understand why you think model re-use is bad, but unlicensed IP use is not. Makes no difference to me since I don't own Dr. Who's IP anyway.

    1. That is a very interesting point. You've given me severe pause for thought. The short answer why I draw that line is because I guess I never thought about it. I knew what went into modeling and I knew how upset I'd be if someone decided to profit off my modeling work so I swore not to do that to anyone else. However, I don't know what what goes into building an IP so I didn't even think about piggybacking off their IP building work.

      I brought this up in conversation this evening and I've had a chance to explore this idea somewhat, but I think I have a lot more to learn about it and I'm open to it.

      There is a huge difference between crafting and object and building an IP. Fan works like mine may actually build their IP. The flip side, tho, is that fan works probably benefit more from the IP than the IP benefit from the fan work. The flip side to that flip side is that the fan work as a body often builds an IP faster than any advertising. And as long as the fan work isn't competing directly with licensed products then the financial harm may be minimal. Theoretically.

      No one I spoke to was an IP expert, but this all sounds good and justifies the decisions I've already been working under. I don't mind talking theory, but I wouldn't mind talking with someone who owns an IP about the impact of this sort of thing either. But I'd be very sad if I had to stop selling TARDIS rings.

  3. I create 3D works for advertising agencies and I do study the IP laws quite a bit and even help others on the subject.

    There are 2 general rules about IP's. First off if you cost the owner revenue then it's a big no-no. If you are making something the owner will never make or license then you don't cost them money directly.

    However the second rule is that if a company does not actively protect there IP or copyright then they can actually loose the use of it themselves. This is why many big corporations or franchises sue the "little guy" for seemingly minor infractions.

    If the IP holder knows of an offender and does not pursue legal action then they loose the right to do so with anybody else. Most of the time for small offenders this can be as simple as a lawyers cease and desist order telling you to knock it off or we will sue you.

    Some large companies have a stricter approach to help scare off imitators and get maximum penalties from small time offenders. As an example let's say you mock up some iPhone key chains (looks like iphone) Apple could sue you for $10,000.00 per unit you ever sold and this could add up rather quickly into the millions of dollars. But in the end it would make the news and deter anybody from ever doing it again so Apple saves time and effort pursuing 100's of copycats.

    A real world general rule is that if many people are already doing it, you are most likely safe and even if you get in trouble it will likely be a cease and desist order rather than anything financial.

  4. Very nice post ! I think I share exactly the same thoughts as you about 3d printing. How has it gone so far ? Have you managed to reach your goal ?

    1. Well, I just had to report about $1000 income on my taxes after shipping and supplies (negated as it were by the fact that it's not even paying for the space in my house it uses), so no I haven't met the goal of paying for machine with itself, but I might be able to in another 6 months or a year. So possibly 18 months if I were diligent about saving.

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