Monday, January 23, 2012

Artists Survival Guide (for a down economy)

I followed a link from Timothy Adam's Handmadeology blog, to Etsy's top 1000 sellers list.  WOW.  Talk about informative.  I'm seeing a definite trend here - and realizing that I am in no way anywhere near that trend.  Time to rethink and retool!

The number one seller is Beanforest.  They make items that are easily to print and reprint, can be sent out for assembly, and don't cost over $10.  Not gonna lie, I seriously love this button. 

The second place seller has been in the top 10 for quite a few years now.  AndersonSoapCompany has beautiful photography and packaging, luscious presentation, high quality control - and importantly, these items are consumable, which means that you will run out, and have to go back to him to get more.  That's instant customer retention right there.

The third place seller has also been at the top for a long time, TheBlackApple.  Darling art prints that appeal both to kids, and adults who appreciate a whimsical, folksy feeling.  Reproduceable, low prices, original art = good formula for success. 

Fourth place is norajane, who sells scrapbooking supplies.  Hardly anything in the shop is over $5.00.  This little bird stamp is too adorable, the lines are razor sharp, and only $4.00.  It's the perfect impulse buy, and since it's not too expensive, why not get a few more and make a set?

Other sellers in the top 20 are people who make t-shirts, baked goods, and VERY simple jewelry that can easily be assembled or outsourced in bulk. Honestly, a lot of it can be found ready to sell on  Crochet and knitting patters are big sellers, because all you are getting is a pdf file in your inbox, so there is no shortage of stock and no storage, either.  Just watch out for copyright violations!

1.  Easily reproducable.  Prints, whether on t-shirts, greeting cards, custom labels or prints of original art, are HOT sellers with low prices.  They appeal to the eye, make you happy for very little money, and can be either outsourced for production or made to order.  Storage is only a hard drive away (as opposed to my bead shop, which takes up an whole room).  This is also true for patterns and tutorials that are sent in pdf form. 

2.  Consumables.  Bath, beauty, food - anything that you will use up and have to replace.  If you fall in love with a product, and know that it was handmade (or formulated and outsourced) by only one seller, then that is the person you will return to again and again.  Revlon, you can get anywhere, but where else are you going to get that perfect "pink-mauve lip gloss with the vanilla tangerine flavor" that you've had mixed up custom for you?  Loyalty is priceless.

3.  Simple jewelry.  No one seems to want to spend money on statement pieces these days.  In a bad economy, showing off a big fancy piece seems gauche, somehow.  People want "elegant chic", something that they can wear every single day, and they'd prefer not to pay over $25.00 for it.  Chinese jewelry manufacturers follow US fashion trends, and are cranking out owls, sparrows, lockets, octopi, mustaches and pin up girls faster than you can possibly imagine.  They'll even add the chain and gift box it for you, for the grand total of .89 cents per unit, as long as you order 120 pieces minimum.  Judging by how many sales this type of jewelry gets, buying in bulk doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all!

4.  Not so high up on the list, but still prominent, was factory made handbags, computer bags and clothing from Thailand and Indonesia.  Etsy truly is a "global marketplace" these days, and they seem to have lifted all restrictions on reselling manufactured imports.  I mean, sure, this stuff is handmade (sort of).  Hands had to have touched the product somewhere along the manufacturing process.  Hey, I'm not judging.  (I never claimed to mine my own metals or dig up my own gemstones.)

Here's what I'm NOT seeing in the top 1000 - intricate, well thought out, artisan handmade jewelry.  Sure, it does sell here and there, but lets face it, artisan items are a highly subjective taste.  People will either love or hate an artisan piece, but what's to hate about a little bird on a branch?  That is why the handmaking artist is starving.  So what to do, if you don't want to give up your work?

You need a day job, or you need a separate line to sell that will appeal to the masses.  Take your pick.  Don't get depressed about it.  Historically, all the great artists in the world were poor when they relied only on creating what spoke to THEM.  They only managed to earn income when wealthy patrons commissioned them to paint a portrait or carve a bust of either their wife, their mistress, or themselves.  You have to appeal to the patrons out there, and give them a reason to "support your art". 

Many jewelers I know have a bead supply shop on the side. (more on that, in my next entry).  Many knitters come up with their own patterns, or sell patterns from magazines.  Clothing designers will outsource production to keep costs down, and not get too "haute couture".  Keep it simple - that seems to be the golden rule for 2012. Remember, you are not selling your soul, you are making it possible to do what you truly love, without the burden of sales figures looming over your head.  You can place your art in galleries for commission, instead of sweating over trying to get wholesale contracts (overrated, IMHO).  Basically, by diversifying into a side business with a successful formula, you are buying your freedom to create.

Either that, or you need to marry someone rich. ;-P


knitsteel said...

I think you're right.

Grace said...

Wow knitsteel, your work is GORGEOUS!!!