- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

It’s that artful slogan or creative thought that comes to you through the fumes of the morning coffee — the passing fad or the latest news about the “Runaway Bride,” Wendy’s “finger in the chili” or domestic diva Martha Stewart’s latest travails.

“Hey, I could make some money if only I could market that idea,” you think, before concluding that you have no time to locate the raw material, machinery or printing ink needed to bring your idea to market before the fad dies.

Welcome to the Internet age. Such simple ideas are what launched the Web site CafePress.com.

“A lot of people want to sell online, and they have good ideas, but they have no idea how to deal with the business to carry their ideas to fulfillment,” said Maheesh Jain, co-founder of the Internet site, which offers more than 8 million items for people to buy online.

CafePress has been a good deal for Mr. Jain and his college buddy, Fred Durham, who started the Web site in 1999.

CafePress offers 50 basic blank items — from coffee mugs and lunchboxes to sweat shirts and bumper stickers — all available to be decorated with creative ideas devised by others. They earn money on the difference between the marked-up item they sell and the price CafePress charges for the blank item. The site recently has expanded to allow self-published books and CDs.

Some ideas don’t sell well. But others, including “Save Martha” T-shirts, “Hillary for President 2008” hooded sweat shirts or “W for Winners” buttons, have taken off. The Web site offers products from corporate clients, but Mr. Jain estimates that a quarter of the products are generated by fads.

“Runaway Bride” buttons and fake ransom-note buttons appeared for sale on CafePress within a day after Jennifer Wilbanks was found in Albuquerque, N.M., after fleeing her marriage-to-be in Georgia. Mr. Jain said Stewart’s legal travails and five months in prison produced a “Save Martha” campaign that lasted for months.

“Some ideas get old, but there’s always a different spin,” he said.

Mr. Jain said his staff checks the submissions for potential legal problems. Items that are overtly racist or use copyrighted materials are rejected.

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