Stop the CafePresses!

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CafePress (NAS: PRSS) is printing something new today: stock certificates!

The one-off printing specialist went public this morning. The IPO priced at $19 last night -- above its projected range of $16 to $18 -- but that still wasn't enough. The stock opened at $21 shortly after today's opening bell.

CafePress offers users the ability to upload original designs that can then be turned into clothing, art, mugs, and other customizable items.


Shutterfly (NAS: SFLY) has been turning snapshots into personalized photo books and drinking mugs for ages. Stamps.com (NAS: STMP) lets creative shutterbugs turn their photos into postage stamps. Vistaprint (NAS: VPRT) offers companies easy access to custom-ordered business cards, rubber stamps, and bumper stickers.

Do investors need another on-demand print shop to consider adding to their portfolio?

Well, CafePress is different. Shutterfly, Stamps.com, and Vistaprint offer consumers solutions for one-off printing. CafePress offers creators cottage industries.

The real appeal to CafePress is that folks who upload their designs can then sell them.

Here is where the CafePress model gets both exciting and challenging.

There were 3 million virtual shops on CafePress.com when the year began. That's a lot of companies, stay-at-home parents, and other entrepreneurs warming up to the model, stocking CafePress with 320 million unique products. However, CafePress shipped just 7.8 million products last year.

Can a model really exist if the average store is selling fewer than three low-priced trinkets a year? Most businesses couldn't survive ringing up average sales of less than $60 a year, though this is largely a platform for hobbyists. More ambitious sellers hop on over to Etsy or rely on eBay (NAS: EBAY) through either the auction giant's namesake marketplace or its recently acquired GSI Commerce virtual storefronts.

It's a shame, because CafePress should be doing a lot better right now.

The viral nature of Facebook, blogs, and YouTube should be a rich playground of promotion. You would think that 3 million shop owners would be shouting -- or at least tweeting -- about their money-making creations.

Revenue climbed 37% to $175.5 million last year.

Last year Stamps.com, Shutterfly, and Vistaprint clocked in with revenue of $101.6 million, $473.3 million and $817 million, respectively, and that was without the benefit of 3 million supposedly financially motivated sellers.

Wake up, CafePress!

 The good news is that the company -- which has been around since the dot-com bubble days -- is also profitable. Net margin may not be spectacular, but CafePress did see its bottom line grow 32% to $3.6 million last year. Based on the 17 million shares that are now outstanding, that would translate into roughly $0.21 a share.

Is CafePress really worth 100 times trailing earnings, as today's open seems to suggest?

It seems a bit rich, but the IPO itself should increase awareness of the company. Margins should also improve in the coming years, even if the cost-intensive nature of the business makes it more of a low-margin e-tailer than a scalable website operator.

Just don't dismiss CafePress. The moment the light bulb goes on and it's able to turn its army of 3 million largely passive shop owners into ambitious merchants, and its 15 million registered members become actual shoppers, that's when the CafePress news here will truly be worthy of stopping the presses.

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At the time this article was published Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of eBay and Vistaprint; and writing puts on eBay. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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