Saturday, 11 December 2010
Is Shapeways a shop or a fab shop?
Is Shapeways a shop, or a fab shop? It's both of these today, but is that the right model? Offering the service of printing a design is very different from offering a shop from which to buy things. I can get jewelry, art, home decor etc, from 1000s of outlets. Some of it may even have been 3D printed. Is it realistic for Shapeways to specialize as an outlet for 3D printed objects? Wouldn't it be better for Shapeways to focus on being the best online 3D print shop, and to work with other retail outlets for distribution and channel? Isn't it simply a distraction for Shapeways to try to be a shop as well as a printer? Doesn't it limit the audience? For example, wouldn't authors of 3D work prefer their output to be available on Amazon? Wouldn't people who print through Shapeways appreciate placing their work (if not for personal use) through Amazon, with Shapeways for fulfillment? Wouldn't this generate more orders to Shapeways?
No doubt Shapeways have thought deeply about business model options. I have not. I'm just throwing this out for discussion. Let's go a step further.
If 3D print shops open up all over the planet, what will make you use one or the other? Will it be the experience of designing an object, or of placing an order, or the range of starter designs to mass-customize, or the repository of reusable objects to draw from, or the quality of the printing, or the simplicity of fulfillment, or some other factor? Will having already printed objects (in store) in a gallery make any difference? Does Shapeways want to be vertically integrated, or to work with retail and channel partners? What's going to drive the market? Unless the market blooms for on-demand consumer 3D printing, Shapeways will also be limited. So, what's the single thing that Shapeways can do to drive demand from consumers for 3D printed objects?
Looking at the Shapeways site today, its kind of a hybrid luxury goods shop, and bespoke tailor. Is this the future for consumer 3D printing? Or some other model? Indeed, when 'goods' can be printed, how does the relationship between designer, manufacturer, supply chain and consumer change? Where is the sweet spot for Shapeways?
Posted by Howard Smith