Sunday, February 21, 2010

Creative snobbery or some other reason?

This is a follow-up to the last post.

I am receiving a variety of reactions to what I wrote, ranging from, "YEAH! You're right!" to "Huh?" to "I love your yarn! You have every right to be on Artfire." While I appreciate everyone's support--and I especially appreciate the fact that the townspeople have refrained from marching towards my house with flaming torches and hatchets--I wanted to add a few more insights to this topic. You are welcome to add insights, too. But not on my Blogger. This blog is read-only. Find me on FACEBOOK. No flaming allowed, please.

Back to those insights:

I believe in what I do and what I make. No one can make me prouder of it. No one can deprive me of my pride. No one can make me feel less worthy OR more worthy. I already feel worthy. And while the positive comments are nice, I think it is important for an artisan to feel good about his or her work to begin with, whether the compliments are forthcoming or not. Ya gotta be who ya gotta be. To put it another way, "Build it and they will come." Your work will resonate with somebody, somewhere, whether you are mainstream or totally Froot Loops, whether you create fine art or assemble purple barrette bows for toddlers. What bothered me about this thread was a sense of hierarchy. Where does this hierarchy stem from? Are crafters judging each other based on ability? Value? Dollars? What?

The people who wanted the list broken into categories were handmade crafters. They did not want supplies, vintage, etc. on this list. To them, perhaps having the other sellers on that list was comparing apples to oranges. I'd like to believe that. Yet they did want to include fine artists on their list. Why would they want that? That is not comparing like to like. Perhaps some crafters view themselves as almost like fine artists but I am pretty sure the fine artists do not consider themselves in the same league. A fine artist with an art degree is almost certainly more artistically skilled than a homemaker making purple barrette bows. More to the point, a skilled oil painter is better at painting than a bow maker is at painting. On the other hand, a mischievous sort of person such as I might also point out that a bow maker likely makes better bows than the painter. At this point, the painter might roll his/her eyes and say, "Who cares? They're just bows!" And I'd like to think that the bow-maker has enough self-esteem to smirk and say, "Yeah, well, I make more money per month than the painter does. Ha!"

Which brings us to the matter of value and dollars. We all know they are not the same thing. The point of the Artfire Top Sellers list was to enable those who sell well to feel good about the status they have attained or to commend themselves for their hard work. Sales figures also serve as a goal for the newbies. It's a promise that One Day, I Will Also Be On That List, Too. In fact, many crafters wrote in to say, "Good job, crafters! I admire you and hope to join you." That was cool.

But I fail to see how a crafter can compare her jewelry sales stats to someone's soap sales stats and come away with any meaningful information.

If I were a soap maker, for example, I would be asking myself different questions:
  • Who else is selling soap on my venue?
  • What types of soaps?
  • What is the price range?
  • How many ounces to the bar?
  • Is there a larger inventory than what I have?
  • Is there a wider variety of products?
  • Is there a wider variety of scents?
  • Which scents sell the best?
  • Do other vendors have more sales?
  • Do they charge the same for shipping?
  • Have they been on the site longer than I have?
  • Have they been in business longer?
  • Did they start out on another web site?
  • Do they sell from multiple sites?
  • Do they use social media?
  • Do they network?
  • Do they run banner ads?
  • Do they offer freebies? Samplers? Package deals? Soap of the month?
  • Do they focus on scent, color or packaging?
  • Do they have killer photography?
  • Is their banner professional looking?
  • Do they write charismatic listings?
  • Can they spell?
  • Are they friendly?
  • What are they doing that I am not doing?
  • What do they do better than I do?
  • What do I do better than they do?
  • Is their number of sales necessarily an indication of more dollars? Or just more sales?
  • Were these sales each larger or smaller than my average sale?
  • Should I care?
  • Am I in this business for the long haul?
  • Am I willing to invest more time or money in this enterprise to achieve what these other vendors have achieved?
I'll tell you what I would not care about. I would not care how my soap sales compare to someone's jewelry sales. But just for the sake of argument, let's say there is some reason why soap makers wants to know how their sales compare to the sales of non-soap-making crafters. Maybe they want to see how popular soap is compared to jewelry. Whatever. Is there a good motivation for wanting to be on such a list?


I can't speak for everyone, but my reasons for wanted inclusion on this list of Top Sellers is this:
I want to be able to tell my customers that I am one of the top sellers on Artfire. Period. The reason I want to tell them this is because it is a quick, Twitterific sound byte that states, "My stuff sells, therefore it is good." Or "Other people buy my stuff so you can have confidence in it, too." Customers want reassurance, so being able to offer it to a customer is no small thing. If you poke around my Artfire store, you will see other quotes and comments that speak to this premise. I have a lot of repeat business, for example, so I mention that often. And I am a Top Rated Seller on eBay, which means I have made eBayers happy for years, and honey, if you have ever owned an eBay store, you know how excruciatingly difficult it is to maintain a good reputation on eBay. As they say about New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

So, yes, despite having a healthy sense of self-esteem and some years in the biz, I wanted to be on this list and I wanted a numerical rank to sort of wrap my mind around. Fortunately, I can guess at where I fall on this handmade list because I am armed with the following information.
  1. I see how many sales these people have.
  2. And I see how many sales I have.
Plug the second number into the list of the first numbers and VOILA! That satisfies the question of "How am I doing compared to some of the other Artfire sellers?" To find out how I am doing compared to all other Artfire sellers, I will have to combine the lists that others compile for vintage, suppliers, etc., if anyone volunteers to compile them.

Just for the record, I will not be that someone. And the reason I will not be that someone is because I feel the segregated lists are a form of snobbery.

Unless you can come up with another reason. Yes? No? Please tell me. No one has given me an answer and my life experience has shown me thus far that whenever there is a painful silence with no one willing to step forward and answer the question, it often means that the true answer is embarrassing. Maybe they think my handmade work is crap. Whoa! That is embarrassing. But it doesn't hurt my self-esteem. Maybe they went through my store, determined that I sell a lot of yarn and they think my yarn is crap; but I have sales, so I can't get upset over what they think. Maybe a lot of people writing in this thread just didn't want to get involved. I can understand that. I'm pretty annoyed that I even read that thread.

Here's my hypothesis: Maybe some handmade crafters think yarn--whether handspun or commercial--is a supply and supplies of any kind are either easy to make or just aren't as hard to make as ______. (Fill in the blank with whatever it is that you yourself make.) And because ______ is harder to make, then hand wound or homespun yarn has less value. Or maybe all yarn has less value. Heck, if you don't knit, are you going to get excited about yarn? But that shouldn't be a factor. I don't wear pierced earrings and I don't look down my nose on earring makers. Or earring suppliers! But I digress.

Now we are no longer talking dollars. We are talking craftsmanship, effort, value. I'm going back to the soap maker example, but please understand that I have no quibble with any soap maker on the planet, on or off Artfire. I am merely using soap as an example. I love handmade soap. I buy and use handmade soap. I despise grocery store soap. All clear on this? I cannot be emphatic enough. I have zero issues with soap makers. It's just an example that I can use while still protecting myself from the townspeople with their torches, because I am a #1 fan of handmade soap and have been for years.

Which is more valuable? A $5 bar of soap or a $5 skein of yarn?

Some would say they are equal because they are both $5. My marketing instincts disagree. I would say it depends on how many people want the soap versus how many want the yarn. Supply and demand determine price and value in a capitalist society. If more people want the soap, then the soap has value to more people. Soap has more appeal to the widest market. Virtually everyone in the US uses soap. Not everyone uses yarn. If the yarn is the same price and is outselling the soap, then either more people want that particular yarn than that particular soap or I do a damn fine job of marketing my wares. :o) This still doesn't mean the soap or the yarn is more important. What's important to one customer may not be important to the next. Nor does it mean that the yarn designer or the soap maker is more talented.

Well, enough philosophical marketing diatribe. Intelligent comments are welcome. I would love for someone to tell me that Artfire is an egalitarian marketplace in which fine artists rub elbows with earring wire sellers and vintage booksellers and yarn suppliers and we all root for the same side. But I suspect that is not the case. I would also like to say that this experience hasn't changed my approach one bit, that I will continue to tweet up a storm and post links for my fellow artisans as I have done for years. But I have a sour taste in my mouth and it isn't from a bar of soap.

dj runnels
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