Redbubble, Discord, and the enshittification of things I was mostly OK with

If you walk through our house you'll notice that I'm a pretty big fan of Redbubble, especially of the artwork of David Revoy. My laptop is adorned with Rebubble stickers, my cupboards have Redbubble mugs, and my walls have a few Redbubble prints. And let's not talk about the T-shirts lest I embarrass myself. I've literally had to take months off from heading to Redbubble lest I spend all of our money there.

Last week I deleted my Redbubble account.

Cory Doctorow coined / popularized the term "enshittification". The term is primarily used to describe how services go from being mostly free and amazing to abusing their users and suppliers. In this case Redbubble has decided to put the screws to their most vulnerable and least-likely-to-retaliate users: folks like David Revoy.

They describe their new tier structure and how they're classified in a series of blog posts. Most accounts start off as "Standard" (a few items, small audience), then graduate to "Premium" (which are artists with a significant following), and then, if you're Netflix, you can graduate to "Pro".

Now, segmenting a population isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the surface this just offers a small demarcation between folks that put up a few items here and there and those that have a significant following.

Where things get interesting is the new fee structure. Oh yes, did they forget to mention that these tiers actually relate to how you, starving artist, actually get paid?

I won't attempt to replay how this new fee structure plays out for artists. The best that I can come up with is "Byzantine". It's complicated and, as far as I can tell, puts pressure on the artists that can ill-afford to have said pressures applied to them.

Folks like David Revoy.

What's worse is Redbubble is the number of stores on Redbubble that just repackage a lot of expired trademarks and gray-copyright material. Oh yes, I have purchased a few things that have been, shall we say, quasi-legal. The fun part of this is that those stores likely do a better business than a smaller artist with a loyal following. I'm not sure where they fit on the tier schedule, but I can only assume that the more money brought into Redbubble's coffers the better your tier is.

What's also interesting is that Redbubble's stock is not doing so hot. Last I checked it was barely scraping $0.40 AUD.

I don't claim to be wise in the ways of the stock market but this article from Seeking Alpha raises some concerns. It has that lovely word "flywheel", which, in the words of this article:

Moat Will Be Enhanced By A 3 Sided Flywheel Effect

As customer growth returns, this will propel a three sided flywheel effect together with artists and fulfillers, and this will only increase Redbubble's competitive advantage to its peers, making it even harder to replicate Redbubble's superior offerings.

Again, as a fan of Redbubble they were the first place I'd head to in order to satiate my "buy creative shit, support artists" desires, but if that comes at a cost to the artists (and the fee structure is definitely screwing over the most vulnerable artists) then I can choose not to play this game.

Redbubble is a publicly traded stock, so we at least have some idea of how things are performing. What's worse is a company like Discord, which is really getting annoying with their fundraising drives as of late. I'm starting to worry about what will become of Discord when their loans come due (and come due they will).

This is why I think it's vitally important to not only diversify income streams (because unfortunately it doesn't take much for a company that you adore to suddenly change their mind about how they'll reciprocate that adoration), but also choose protocols and services that can't be subjected to the flywheel effect and subsequent enshittification. This is why I'm suspect of efforts like Bluesky, which as of this writing has taken on Series A funding (a fancy way of saying "one round of other people's money"). At some point those loans with expectations of 10x returns (yes, they're usurious loans. Don't kid yourself.) will come due, and with it the expectations that this will be profitable and contain those lovely flywheels of continuous income generation.

The best ways to win are to not participate with companies that have an incentive to enshittify their products to please investors. That means open protocols, B-Corps, and other collectives that I'm too tired to imagine in this post. The worst way to engage with them is to allow them to steamroller the places we like and the creative folks we adore. We need to be vigilant against such abuse.

And that's why I deleted my Redbubble account. I'm still working on the alternatives to Discord for my communities. Matrix is the best alternative thus far but it's not perfect.

The time to protect our communities from these flywheels was before they became reliant on them. The second best time is now.