Sunday, August 18, 2013

Nearly There

Okay I promise the pricing post and the post on what Etsy have done to shackle us are both coming. In the mean time here's a little filler of fun.  Here's an old photo which came in a lot of larger photos when I bought some antique albums on eBay a while back.


Look familiar?

I found the likeness instantly obvious- at first I thought it was a publicity still, but no- it's a legit Edwardian photo. baring in mind she's not wearing make up, but she is of the right time period, and she is holding a rose in her hand. 

 This reminds me of the Nicholas Cage Vampire photo. I wonder if I can get a million for this one...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Let's All Visit The Lobby

Things have been pretty crazy-deep around here these past couple weeks, so let's lighten the mood a little.

Changed the banner on my antique shop because I felt like doing some graphics. I often wonder if I should go into selling this stuff but then I think I have enough to do as it is, and I don't have the energy to compete in the graphics category in Etsy- it's worse than jewelry! Then I updated it with some nice old bits:

 Pretty antique photos- the studio graphics on these ones are soooooooo good!

 Pretty bone bangle carved with leafy patterns, Edwardian or late Victorian. I don't know what kind of bone it is, I assume camel or cow maybe, could be buffalo. Oh- I don't know if you heard, but Etsy changed some policies on what you can't sell lately. As usual they made the announcement in the forums and just acted like that's telling people- so if you sell something that's made of ivory, or has ivory in it, or might be ivory or even is bone and you guessed what the bone is...and you suddenly find your listing deactivated- it's because Etsy have taken it down. They've changed their policy on certain animals who's products can't be sold which is great, only to make things easier they've just decided to ban all kinds of stuff. Even if it relates to an endangered animal but not really. (the fiber artists are fuming.) Even if you have a license for it. Even if it's legal everywhere else. Apparently it's 'not in the spirit of Etsy' - whatever that is. I can't ask because I got banned from the forums again- this time forever! Oh yeah I'm hardcore.

 Nice canvas measuring tape - sadly it was stored squashed flat for some time and it rotted in the folds, so it's in bits. I collected these big numbered ones for a while but I don't tend to last long on these things. I've never been a collector of anything in particular- it baffles me how people can have shelves and shelves of the same kind of thing. I'm too much of a dealer, I'd rather find it and pass it on. I only ask money for them so I can eat and go buy more!

This fab steel tape measure from Russia - the other steel measure I have does well (I sell it by the foot) so I snapped this one up on eBay last week. I was hoping it would have Russian numbers, but it only has our boring Arabic ones. But it does have nice little spear points at the halfway points so it's worth it.

I love the smile on this girl. Tempted to keep her- if this listing is still there next week I think I might!

Then I figured while I was at it with the graphics, I'd make a new one for Sparrow Salvage instead- but it's not up yet, cause it's for the new collection and that's not ready. If it's still not ready by the time all my custom orders have been bought n paid for I might put the shop on vacation for a bit, just so I don't have to think about it. I have so much to list with the antique shop - I have paper ephemera I want to get up there, and lace bits and much more besides, and I have the pricing series I'm really enjoying researching and writing, so jewelry's taken a back burner. I have been making though:

Here's some sneakies at bits from the new collection. Strips of fencing wire I pulled out of a skip next to a church in outback Australia- once they're hammered and sanded all the rust dusts away and you get this lovely mat finish black steel. Shows up the perfect pearls nicely.

Here's some shapes cut from a cake tin- I've had that tin for about 10 years now, been meaning to cut into it for about 5 but I could never get myself to do it. Then it went 3 rounds on eBay and no one so much as sniffed at it for $25, so I took it as a sign. It's a huge thing so I'll get tons out of it.

Petra bits!! I could not resist the lure of these candies- they look like fancy chocolates flaked with gold; look at that insanely delicious crackle:

Seriously these are so ka-pow just on their own,it's going to be so damned easy to make them into jewelry!! Even just a hook and you're done. That would feel like the biggest cheating ever.

And she sent me extras cause she's a doll. I already used the little blue pears, and the long unglossy spikes will get some extra embellishment from me because I can't seem to leave well enough alone. I just went to fanci's blog and she's got some too- and she's going to mess with them too! I love this chalkiness, but I want shiny.

Look at those little pawprints! Like otters or some such, pressed into the mud next to the river bank. 

THEN after all that, I spent pretty much the entire night last night (stayed up til 5!) re-working my About pages - one for Sparrow and one for Star Tribe. It was an eye opening experience, as I wrote I realised there are more alignments in my work than I consciously think about. There's nothing like talking about your work to get you to think about what you do and why.

I'm working on the pricing post I promise. It will be up in the next day or two- and then after that will be a showcase post with all the amazing wisdom I've heard from you all. And THEN I have a post to write on something else entirely- the lack of visibility on Etsy. I haven't sold much at all these last couple of weeks, and looking about at some of your shops no one else has either. Views and hearts are way down. I think I know what's to blame, and I think I might have a way to get around it. But it does involve a bit of a rant on the State of Etsy. So it's gotta wait.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Apples and Oranges - That Thing You Do and Why You Don't Charge Enough to Do It part TWO

Okay! Man I am loving this- all the convos and emails and comments and other people's blog posts! There was even nearly a fight in the last one! Okay more of a random idiot spouting nonsense about communists, but still. I want people to say they disagree with me if they do- I don't pretend to be the Almighty Sparrow Who Is Always Right - I'm just throwing this out there because it kills me to see all this talent being underpaid. But if you do disagree, it's best to say so properly, with better reasoning than 'rich people do so too help so there'.

I would like to say I harbor no enmity toward the rich; in fact I'd like to be one. It's the rich (or at least the comfortably well off) who we will come to rely on as the global economy changes; they can afford the luxury of handmade, organic, local. It's incredibly hard to help the poor of the world when I'm in their ranks- so until I make millions of dollars and live in my big old English mansion with a butler all old-school and shit, all I can do is focus on helping the ones I can reach- all these artists around me who deserve to be paid for their talents. Granted they're not exactly child soldiers in deepest Burma, but I can barely think about that let alone get on a plane and help. Besides it's hot there, I don't do hot.

My purpose in life was shown to me long ago - to provide support and justification for creative people. I would often wonder why people always wanted my opinion on their work, why what I said mattered to them. Why ask me? It was their work. Every creative project in my circle of friends was filtered through me, as if I were some font of knowledge. After a while I realised not only did they want the benefits of my flexible, outside-of-the-square thinking, but they also wanted the validation and positivity I gave them. To let them know they are allowed, they have a right to ask a living for what they do. In addition to all that I do for the creative person I also work as hard on their customers. If I can turn just ONE person from the shopping mall and have them seek out handmade work, I'll consider my day well spent. Handmade doesn't only support artists and their local economy, it gives the consumer an alternative route from the Big Machine. The very thing that causes 99% of the crap in this world.

Most luxury goods are all made by hand by trained craftsmen, everything is exact and designed to last forever. Luxury goods are actually a better purchase than anything else- and handmade is a luxury. For most people in the world having a whole house of things made by hand is called 'being poor'. For western affluent people it's called DIY and handmade and luxury product and it's all very special and expensive. Isn't that weird? It's because we might be rich in so many ways in affluent society, but the one thing we've give up is time. Handmade takes time, and like sweet brown says...

And if anyone wants to buy me a Porsche, I'll take an 80s 911 in white, thanks.

Now then, back to the point of this post. Which was going to be the nitty gritty, the bit where I tell you how to figure out how much to charge and where you can justify it and/or reduce your costs.  Initially I started out just breaking down and explaining the usual method spouted on blogs and the etsy seller handbook, and totting up numbers to arrive at a total. All nice n easy.

Except it wasn't.

 I've been soaked through my mind these last weeks trying to figure it out, and I've come to a conclusion. Retail costing isn't designed for artists. In order to use the formula devised and passed around (materials + labour + overheads + profit  = wholesale x2 = retail) you need to have a consistent product which sells for the same price per unit, which is either made with cheap materials or doesn't take too long and can net you an income-level profit at it's wholesale price.

But we're artists, and we do things much more organically and holistically than can be charted. I can break down the usual formula and explain all the details, but it's not going to help, not really. We make jewelry, we sell it, we make more. It doesn't sell, we make more anyway. Some of you don't need it to be your whole income, some of you don't want it to be your whole income. What we do is essential for our well being, it's who we are and why we exist; the money that comes from it is a happy aside.

This whole selling your art online thing we all do now is as Dawn said in my last post 'a new paradigm'. Traditionally the artist has sold their work through galleries or private shows; markets have long existed (since the dawn of human civilization roughly!) where craftspeople can sell their wares and those two outlets have been the norm. Now we have a retail environment where this can happen. Places like Etsy, Artfire, Zibbet etc allow us to represent ourselves, to sell whatever we like, trusting that the online system will bring us the customer we need. It's wonderful to have this way of making and this modern system of buying where we can channel artistic processes into a practical commodity.

It's never been easier for the artist to make a living from their work!

Fact is while we are all artists, we also produce our work in the form of a retail product - jewelry. We can choose to make that jewelry as authentic and fine or as fashionable and fun as we like, but whatever it becomes, we don't deserve to be stuck on the shelf next to ordinary retail. We ought to charge more than the big boys do, because our work is unique and produced with heart, not stamped out en masse.  Again it goes back to under-cutting; if you charge what the big boys do, then another artist has to drop to compete with you; the service becomes a contest in who offers better prices and before you know it it's a Walmart world. We don't want to be a Walmart world. As sellers of handmade we are just about as far away from that as you can get and still maintain a mass market presence. We are fair trade - everyone involved is being paid respectably for their work. Currently most of you are putting the buyer first by keeping your prices low, the greatest bastion of falsity born by the cult of shopping. To use common pricing as a basis of comparison for your work does a great disservice to anyone who sells a truly handmade product - jewelry, soap, clothes, furniture, dance performances, self-published books and music...the works.

In a recent update to her blog, Kate of Quisnam Jewelry said ''I'm not interested in benchmarking my work against the mass produced stuff available in retail stores or online markets places like eBay because that's like benchmarking processed against whole-foods.  I have found that most of the people I meet would much prefer to buy something hand made over something mass produced and they are absolutely prepared to pay more for it."

Nutshell wisdom! And most of us know this- we know what makes us special, we know people will pay more for handmade. So if we know this and are applying it to our work, then it follows we all think our prices are higher than most commonly available jewelry, right? While it might be true for the likes of Accessorize and Forever 21, we should not be comparing our prices to them. Our direct competition is higher; respectable brands who people go to for a particular style that handmade embodies. Truth be told there are no comparable brands to our work- Sundance sells a lot of handmade jewelry, as do shops like Free People and Anthropologie.

Like the pretty print says, comparison is the thief of joy. Good advice. So let's give Joy a ride through bummer town and do some comparisons. I'm calling this the 'apples and oranges' method.

I went though a handful of shops on Etsy I'm familiar with- your shops, dear reader- and looked over the prices on comparable items to detirmine what the average price is for a pair of earrings. It was $45. Forty five bucks. Yes, if you're on the lookout for a pair of handmade, one of a kind earrings made from scratch with vintage and artisan made components (as 90% of you make) you can be up to your armpits in choice and still walk away with change from a fiddy. 

Well let's see what $45-50 picks you up in the earring department of a large chain store brand who's product is produced on an industrial scale from ordinary materials. I chose 4 popular stores who are what I'd call mid range- they're not exactly Tiffany&Co, but they're not Forever 21 either. These are very popular brands so if lots of people buy their stuff, they must be charging a fair price right? Right, let's take a lookie.

These studs are from Kate Spade. They're $48 and are made of enamel and 14k gold. Also available on eBay!

These are from Free People -let's not mince words, they're two clumps of citrine stuck on base metal posts. For $49.

These are from Anthropologie, who make it damn hard to shop by price. These are $48, and are 14k and glass and measure about 1.5 inches. As you can see by the site's zoom function, they're just loops of wire - no casts, solders, bezels or fabrications.

These are from J.Crew, for $50 (close as I could get) - they're glass and 14k 'light' plate (which I assume means the minimum amount required to cover the surface).

Are we building a picture here? Essentially what you get for $45-50 at a mid-range jewelry store is a 1.5 inch bit of glass and metal with the occasional scraping of gold. I went back over those sites and looked at all the jewelry, to see what I could find that in my opinion came up to par with what my secretly reviewed Etsy shops were selling- that is handmade, opulent bohemian style, containing materials of note (ie vintage, hand-cast, fair trade, artisan made) and anything else that makes it on par with all you lot.

Brace yourselves.

Here's Kate Spade - the closest I could get to 'opulent bohemian'. They're $98 and made primarily of plastic.

Free People offers up these, priced at $70 and made primarily of 'faux crystal' (that's a fancy term for glass). There's a customer review for these noting the 'painful' $70 price but that she might buy the other colour variant as well because she likes them so much.

Anthro came the closest to my 'wants' - these earrings are actually made by hand with decent materials by a US based jeweler - classic example of Anthro selling handmade goods. These are priced at $288. (Same price as they sell for on the maker's site). I especially like the zoom function here which allows me to see the glue between the beads. So authentic.

Finally J.Crew, who lashed out big time and offer up these for boho opulence.

$118 and they're glass stones sewn onto fabric (marked 'import' so put together no doubt by someone underpaid - just like you!)

Now- I can hear the distant rumbling 'but they're big shops, people pay it because of their brand reputation'. They all have very strong reputations yes but that hardly matters to us- we're not interested in why people buy from these shops, just that they do. This is what people are willing to pay. After all this is just factory tat- most of these designs are available on eBay, usually from the same Chinese factory who made it in the first place.You make handmade, and as we can see by the prices on handmade things in Anthro, Free People and Sundance, handmade costs money.

The people who want to buy handmade jewelry understand this and part of the whole experience of buying handmade jewelry is the extra price you pay, because you know what you're getting. So if someone goes into Anthro or Free People and expects to lose the best part of $100 for a pair of statement earrings made en masse, should they not expect to go over that price for your handmade ones?

These earrings are handmade from scratch using antique beads, recycled glass beads from India and unusual A grade polished slabs of chevron amethyst. Then they're photographed and edited by the artist. Should they be $24.95?

If that's true, you say, why isn't everyone rushing to buy my stuff now while it's priced too low? The answer to that is strange but simple- they don't think it's worth it. Buying handmade is about quality, it's about the passion and the talent of the artist, it's about owning something with soul. How does that translate in a $24.95 purchase? They will either assume the jewelry is not made to quality standards, or that the artist isn't serious about their work, or that it's simply not worth charging more than retail junk. You may actually be losing sales due to your low prices. Time and time again I have heard from sellers and gallery shop owners that an item which is under-priced will go stale on the shelf quicker than an over-priced one. Many times in the etsy forums I've seen experienced sellers advise sellers with low sales to raise their prices. Looking through some of my favourite shops on Etsy, I can see most of you could easily take at minimum 20% price rise on your work.

As a maker of handmade jewelry, a self-representing artist, a retail artisan, a craftsperson - whatever you want to call yourself - your talent is immensely rare and valuable. You are worth thousands.

So go raise those prices! Please. Just 10%, just to see how it feels. 10% isn't much, but it's the first step I took and it's easy when you use Edit Express. And keep the comments coming- but try to keep it constructive, anon.