Friday, June 12, 2009

Craft Ponderings: Results Not Typical

Before I get started with this post, I'd like to issue a disclaimer: This entire series of "craft ponderings" is just an example, within a niche, of how I am constantly questioning the status quo. I do not endeavor to offend anyone, but I'm well aware that it happens. I do this because I am instinctively compelled and because there is some part of me that believes the world will be a better place for everyone if we lift the veils and remove the blinders that prevent us from living to our full and rewarding potential. You might feel that I sound like a righteous pessimist, but in fact I am the complete opposite. I am an optimist of the highest order and I do this as a means to an end...that being a better world.

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The craft world, specifically those tethered in some way to Etsy.com, is all abuzz (or intentionally ignoring) about an article recently published on the online newsmagazine Double X (which appears to be by and for women and simultaneously managed by the overlords of Washington Post/Newsweek/Slate). I say that because I generally find it laughable that women, who are tethered to such enormous news machines, feel like they've founded something novel and new, something devoid of a relationship with or support from the patriarchy. They are all puppets attached to strings, given a platform for entertainment and pseudo-intellectual purposes but still inexplicably connected to a machine (like our government?) who can remove their right to publish at any time (does this sound familiar?). Locally, we have The Sexist. What I'm trying to say is that these online newsmagazines portray themselves in a way that would suggest they are somehow authorities on feminism and modern women's issues, but this is only relevant if you're middle class, 20-40 year old white women who buy into the patriarchy, even accidentally.

Moving on, Double X published an article, which should ignite the craft world and Etsy patrons (sellers and buyers). There are some substantial, frustrating and annoying generalizations/errors/overstatements. I cannot deny that I am tired of white women placing "feminist judgments" on the shoulders of other women, white or not, because they are not acting in a manner that would suggest they care about feminism. Ultimately, nothing about Etsy is about feminism...not in its business/community practices OR in its outcomes. It's capitalism and consumerism in a really, really magical, handmade disguise.

Last night, when I was pondering this article and this conundrum currently plaguing me (don't know about the rest of y'all), a Subway commercial came on television. That insipid marketing plan, with the repetitive melody and brain-snatching hook, is just another way for a big company to convince me that I need what they're selling. In the case of this economy, I need a big sandwich for my buck...I need a $5 footlong so I can still stand in line with the other drones and not get judged for bringing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to my boring and inspirationless cubicle. And a few years ago, Subway made me feel bad about being fat, and they tried to convince me that if I just went into their store everyday at lunch and bought a sandwich with certain ingredients, I could be just like their venerable spokesman, Jared Fogle. Because wouldn't I love to lose hundreds of pounds eating processed meat, cheese, cheap oil and vinegar and nutritionless iceberg lettuce?! Wouldn't I love to believe that with just a little work and commitment to Subway's suggestions, that I too could be a slim celebrity!?

Kirstie Alley and I are here to tell you what's what.

Etsy is just as much a capitalistic/consumerist machine as Subway is, and they are taking the same shameless approaches to engage you in sugar-coated dreams. The Quit Your Day Job series is one example of how Etsy continues to sell us a dream of virtual impossibility. The cast of characters in the series almost always fits a certain number of requirements: female, heterosexual, married, SAHM/SAHW, white, educated. I know that a number of those descriptors that don’t fit who I am, so I’m inclined to believe that they are also not representative of the diversity that must exist in the sellers and patrons of Etsy. Why does Etsy care if I quit my day job? They care because they will make more money. Yes, yes, of course they can and will tell you that the more people who employ and sustain themselves without the need for corporate involvement, the better…for you and for the world. But their responsibility is to themselves first, and the more sellers clamoring for sales and for the ability to sustain themselves, the better off they will be. When Maria Thomas, CEO of Etsy, says that their number one goal is to bring buyers to sellers don’t be fooled into believing that it’s just for the seller’s benefit. They make money on every sale, too.

Personally, I am not opposed to the concept of quitting my day job. I think it is a noble goal, but I think that Etsy has a lot of work to do if they actually intend to create an entire universe full of self-employed crafters. I think the first responsible move Etsy should make is to label all Quit Your Day Job stories with a disclaimer: Results Not Typical. We demand this of corporations such as Subway and Weight Watchers, and the FTC has entertained the idea of insisting that testimonial results be representative of typical outcomes and not incredible feats of magic and perseverance. Etsy has that same responsibility, in my opinion. The results are not typical when women are financially bolstered by part-time jobs, husbands, trust funds and the like…they are unusual, rare and extraordinary. Painting them as anything else is disingenuous and Etsy should be culpable for this misrepresentation.

Optimism is a fantastic and energizing fuel that a person can engage in order to achieve their dreams, but sadly it is not all we need. I am optimistic that by writing these posts, and speaking out against the potentially corrupt and misleading tactics used by the consumerist machine, that the world can and will change for the better. And when the betterment of the human race is the goal, I am confident that the opportunities for crafters and artists to financially sustain themselves will open up like a sky after a particularly strong summer storm.

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Image courtesy BeeListy.com

8 comments:

  1. I don't really think that the "quit your day job" series is meant to make you think these people are actually making HUGE money. Perhaps Etsy just needs to start asking how much of their household income their etsy shop brings in.

    I quit my day job to concentrate on both my Etsy shop AND my twins, 3 years ago. But I also still have to work as a web manager at night when my kids sleep. My crafty business and etsy shop bring in about 1/2 of my personal income and 1/4 of our household income on average throughout the year, but that includes during the holidays when it can skyrocket and be way more than even my husband's salary job. But I work my ass off to send hundreds of orders a week and it is far more work than any desk job. I also try my best to know my customer base and develop product lines that are viable.

    Yes. I have quit my day job. But I still have other jobs. I still work hard and around the clock. I am not making a living yet, but it takes time. I do tend to make more money selling crafts than someone I know who works in child care. That is saying something. But in no way am I about to give up my web manager contracts or my paid writing gigs. But I have had some crafty success and it builds on itself if given time to grow.

    Are these the kinds of specifics you are looking for?

    I do not think that Etsy wants to encourage magical thinking. But they do want to be encouraging. As a writer for the Storque and Etsy cheerleader myself, I do not make any money for advice. So you should remember that, too. If I am positive in my own writings on Etsy, I don't get anything in return for being positive, I just want to encourage crafters because I have found that so many of them CAN be negative about themselves and their work. And that you are not awesome until YOU tell someone you are.

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  2. Well said- and I love the way you used "cube sweet cube"-- which really is in my cube-- at my day job :)

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  3. It's refreshing to have someone point out that I'm not a 'failure' if I don't manage to turn my spare-time craft (negotiated around being a white, educated, hetero, married SAHM) into a magically profitable industry. Maybe if my husband earned more money I could afford some childcare and buy more supplies... ;-)

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  4. Can I also say that Etsy came along right when hundreds of us crafters were just getting started with our own managed online shops with really crappy results. I remember years and years of messing around with crap stuff like Zencart and only getting up to like 100 sales in the maybe 3 years. Sure we pay for Etsy, but dude, it is so much easier to manage your business with it.

    Also, I think that too many Etsy sellers worry about getting noticed ON ETSY, when you really shouldn't be thinking so much about Etsy at all, but should be thinking about getting noticed in the world. Buy a url for your shop and think of Etsy as a tool and not a world and f-ing conquer the real world with your work. The real winners of this whole craft movement are not the people selling to other crafters, but people bringing THEIR customers to them directly and not trying desperately to get noticed in the sea of Etsy sellers.

    I think this whole article on Double X is just belly aching and not at all helpful to anyone. And frankly, I am tired of listening to Etsy sellers whine about how they aren't selling anything. Develop a product line, have a marketing plan, things will happen. If they don't, then enjoy the relationships you are building with other crafters and keep making what you love to make. Enjoy yourself and relax. This isn't like selling Tupperware.

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  5. Agreeing with tinaseamonster. Etsy is just a storefront, and a frakking affordable one when you consider how much it costs to maintain a website with a shopping cart and everything.

    I like the fact that the QYDJ series has had live Virtual Labs chats as well as the Storque articles. That way we can ask them the questions we want to ask, not just eat up the answers to the questions that look best from Etsy's perspective.

    I have a mind now to ask someone "what is there in your life that makes it possible for you to do this job full-time?" I'm not going to insult educated white SAHMs with the assumption that they're all trust fund babies, but it's a good question to think about. Thanks for making me think about it.

    This stuff bugs me when other companies do it, because it's junk science and it takes advantage of scientific/mathematical illiteracy in the target audience. The best results are by definition not the representative results, in a case like this. They're just a tiny little tail off the leading edge of the curve.

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  6. One more little thing -- I agree with you that there is nothing inherently "feminist" about Etsy just because a lot of women find it to be a useful tool for independent business.

    I would like to point out that capitalism and money-making are anti-feminist (I don't think you said anything to that effect, but I thought it needed saying). We are all taking advantage of capitalism when we run our own businesses. It doesn't matter whether we wholesale to retail stores, sell through our own independent websites, or use tools like Etsy and Artfire. There's nothing contradictory about being a feminist and a capitalist at the same time.

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  7. I find this compulsion to point out that (gasp!) Etsy makes money to be confusing. I'm not scandalized by the obvious fact that for Etsy to continue to exist and to provide the services it provides it needs to make at least enough money to break-even, and if Etsy wants to expand its services it needs to make a profit.

    That a company needs to bring in an income sufficient to cover its expenses in order to sustain itself is a basic fact for all businesses. Even small one-woman craft shops or mom-and-pop brick-and-mortars need to bring in money to pay their expenses if they want to remain in business. While it's always good to scrutinize for truth and for conflicts of interest, to assume that money is the sole, or at least dominant, motivator for human activity and enterprise is not only a supremely cynical view of the world but also a shallow and naive view of human nature. If someone makes money at teaching math or farming or running a yoga studio or writing, does that mean all she cares about is making money, her students/ livestock/ members/ readers be damned? Thankfully, in most cases, no, people are motivated by feeling useful, by wanting to do a good job, by social pressure, by pleasure, by ideals and values, by the satisfaction of helping or connecting with others, by a sense of community or place in the world, among other reasons. So I assume that the individuals at Etsy responsible for the QYDJ series as well as the sellers who volunteer their time and stories to share have additional motivations in addition to merely making more money.

    I'd like to see someone actually tabulate the numbers of the demographics of the QYDJ inteview subjects before making sweeping generalizations. There have been a few men, as well as childless women and couples I can recall. I don't interpret the QYDJ interviews as anything other than snapshots of hard-working people sharing their experiences of what it is like to be microbusiness-owners. I don't think sharing honest, real stories of the ups-and-downs of self-employment to be in any way irresponsible.

    And finally, I'll point out something that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere-- that many visible members of Etsy's full-time staff are female, as is their CEO (whose previous position was in the non-profit sector, working for NPR). The idea that there Etsy is staging some bait-and-switch ploy on its female patrons does not strike me as a particularly plausible theory.

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your perspective.

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  8. Guh. I noticed this two weeks later. I meant to say that capitalism and money-making are NOT anti-feminist. Stoopid uneditable comments.

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