3D model repository Sketchfab has now removed the “beta” tag from their online store.
The site, one of the long-standing sources for individual 3D models, had been experimenting with an online store in beta mode since January.
The concept then, as now, has been to enable designers to connect with buyers in a large marketplace. As items are sold to buyers, Sketchfab would take a small piece of the action.
While Sketchfab has an enormous number of 3D models present - currently in the millions, we’re told, not all of them are suitable for 3D printing. But that’s OK - readers may be surprised to learn that 3D designs are NOT always 3D printed, but in fact may be used in 3D games, virtual reality, movies and more. But Sketchfab has 3D models for all that.
And the new store has a couple of interesting and unique features. The most notable in my opinion is something they call the “Model Inspector”. Yes, they have a 3D “spin around” player view of every 3D model, like many other repositories, but the Inspector takes it a bit further. Using the new tool, you can see a 3D model’s wireframe view and check the vertex normals.
This last factor is something I’d love to see on other sites, where attractive but technically flawed 3D models are uploaded and you get surprised when attempting to 3D print them. Short of actually test 3D printing each model, this is a useful feature.
It was not surprising that Sketchfab decided to implement a store, as it is challenging for such sites to maintain afloat without doing so. Several repositories for 3D print models, notably Thingiverse, seem to survive only because they are being funded behind the scenes by a sponsoring company, in that case, MakerBot.
By opening an online store the company can monetize some of the activity taking place on the site. And it could attract even more traffic.
The key question for any 3D model repository attempting this move is whether they can attract a sufficient number of designers to participate. It’s a chicken and egg style situation, in which you won’t get buyers unless you have designers, and you won’t have designers unless you have buyers.
Many startup 3D model repositories fail at this stage, as they are simply not large enough and have sufficient traffic to attract designers. And without those designers, there are no buyers and the Spiral Of Death occurs swiftly.
That may have been the reason for the beta period from Sketchfab: could they attract a suitable number of participants, and would the sales justify the move?
It seems so, as the removal of the beta tag suggests their online store is here to stay.