Based on how the 3D print industry has evolved, it is now our opinion that it’s next to impossible to successfully launch a 3D model sharing site.
Or at the very least it would be incredibly challenging and probably not worth trying, if you are an entrepreneur looking for a way into the world of 3D printing.
Why do we believe this? There are several reasons:
First, there is already a number of very well-established existing 3D model services. These operations are entrenched in the minds of 3D printer operators and are often the only place on the web some people go to get models. There are some dedicated to 3D printable models, such as Thingiverse and YouMagine, but there are also much larger sites that have general 3D material in enormous quantities. Should any of these decide to get into the 3D printable model business, you now have even more competition.
Secondly, the success of a 3D model site largely depends on the number of 3D models available for download. New sites rarely offer more than 100 3D models at launch, and that number is now completely insignificant when compare to the 1M+ 3D models on Thingiverse, for example. Even YouMagine and MyMiniFactory contain many thousands of terrific 3D models. A new site just cannot launch with very many unique 3D models, although it is possible to rapidly populate a new site with copies of open source designs from other sites, but then why bother?
Thirdly, the big sites seem to all have some kind of major backer. Thingiverse has MakerBot, YouMagine has Ultimaker and the pattern continues. Each of these companies brings forward their entire - and large - 3D printing ecosystem to their 3D model repository. It’s hard to imagine how a small startup could challenge such giant competitors.
Fourthly, unique content is required to attract downloaders, but this means the new 3D model site must somehow gain exclusive rights to 3D models from designers. That’s nearly impossible, given the other choices of deployment a designer can select from.
Finally, there are now so many small 3D model sites that they’ve begun to blur: one seems pretty much the same as the next. They may offer slightly different features, but that’s almost never enough to overcome the challenges above.
Years ago we even attempted to launch such a site, but found that even then it was near impossible to catch up to the big players, and we soon closed the effort.
Today our site receives notice of new - and very similar - attempts to launch 3D model sharing services, but it is very difficult to imagine any of them being terribly successful, simply because it’s too late.
Our advice to such entrepreneurs: try something completely different, something that solves a widespread issue in the 3D printing community. Something no one has yet solved or recognized.
Something that you can be first doing.