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.


Blackwillow Boho said...

Thank you again for such prolific and thoughtful posts on this subject. I'e made things (fusion belly dance costumes, jewellery, random stuff) for years and, well, the pricing has probably always fallen short. I've just been across to edit express and upped everything by 20%.

And I look forward to your post about how to price. Although I'm tempted to now just make stuff and come up with an arbitrary high figure and see what happens - as you so beautifully say, the making comes from the need to make, the solace that creating brings is worth more to me than the prices I charge. However....

fanciful devices said...

yeah- and where in that damned formula is all the time i take photographing, editing and listing? goddamn it. looking at your example item/prices made me ill. why am i comparing myself to target? cuz its what i know...

Lesley said...

Eek! what an eye opener - now where's my calculator...!

Gardanne said...

I'm catching up on posts. Great stuff, really has me thinking even though I am on the handmade supply end. I would love to hear opinions of jewelry makers taking the leap to appropriately value their items, would you take a similar leap to pay more for handmade supplies.

When I am pricing maybe I am getting too emotionally connected to my customers, because I think that all jewelry designers out there should have access to handmade supplies for their creations. I want them to raise the bar beyond buying at Michaels and chinese lampwork strands not only for me but, for them pushing their creativity, and for their customers seeing that there are other unique choices out there.

I totally agree that the retail formula does not work for handmade, of course we need to know our costs. But I have to make every bead and jewelry component on my table I am not just ordering supplies, my wholesale can't be 50/50.

When I first started selling at shows and a bead shop owner would ask if I sell wholesale I would be nervous and indecisive in my response, in fact I did not even know what to ask for. Sensing my insecurity and lack of confidence with naming a wholesale price the bead shop owner would go for the kill and say " I ALWAYS get 50% off from artisans, you are hurting your sales by not offering 50%." After a few of these unpleasant experiences I reached out to other artisans at the bead shows and I found out that a great majority of them do not wholesale at 50% in fact artisans like me that are not doing production work would wholesale at 20% or lower. So I finally had permission to ask for 20%, I literally went home and practiced my new confident artisan persona in front of the mirror. I needed to believe that 20% was totally fair. Now when a customer asks about wholesale I say without stuttering and not making eye contact "20% for bead shops" the response is usually " Thanks had to ask, hope you are not offended your work is beautiful." It's amazing how much a polite but confident manner from me generates a completely different response. Try it you will like it.

Beatnheart said...

I went into the "Top Ten Etsy Sellers" that you showed on a previous post...I looked at the top Etsy sellers in Great Britian...Jewelry...well just as i thought...
Cheap, $15 and under, not "handmade" but put together with Chinese findings and a bit of wire...
Nowhere were "artists"...basically mass produced crap...
so I guess we will never be top sellers...But it makes me realize that the big draws are cheap, cheap ,cheap...
and throw in crap.

Lindsay said...

Brilliant article, especially the bit about the glue around the stones....I shall act upon it too!

CraftyHope said...

I've known for some time that I've under-priced my items and underpaid myself, but this series of yours is really bringing that to light. Your examples definitely help me see what I'm doing to myself and the rest of the handmade community. Thank you for prying my eyes open a little more!

Lela said...

Seriously...your examples make me ill. And yet I know it's all true. I've always known it. I'm lucky in that I am not having to make a living selling my stuff. But still, we should at least be respected for our efforts.

Before I got so heavily into jewelry making (for the second time in my life) I was deep into photography. That world is the same. I was (and still am) contacted quite frequently by someone wanting free use of my images. My standard answer is NO unless it's for a non-profit. Then I *might* agree. But the people who ALWAYS GIVE their photos away kill the rest of us. And what really angers me is when someone GIVES permission for photo use to someone else who is putting it in a book for SALE. Who gets all that money? Uhhuh. Ok, sorry for the rant. I think this might be a good post for me. ;)

Thanks, Penny. Your efforts in this are very eye-opening & appreciated.

Jiorji said...

i won't comment on those samples. I won't comment on how "DIY" and "handmade" is making its way in the mass production world and people are eating it up cos it's trendy and it's "in" and all that crap. And i won't make a comment on how my ex employer whose "designers" create the lowest possible creative hair accessories ...creative as in picking different colours on a computer screen and then sending off the "artwork" to china to mass produce thousands of shit pieces that fall apart in your hand AND THEN>...he wanted to have a tag on everything that said "handmade" BECAUSE it would get him more sales because that's the trend. I haaaate trends. are we all sheep?!?! can't we have our opinion?? BLAH!!!

i will however make a comment about how i had a craft show a few weeks ago and as i priced things, i lived in fear of you sparrow(haha) thinking that if i even dare to lower the prices you'd kick my ass. umm well i lowered a liiiittle bit. A little. The silver pieces i left as is. I wanted to have a variety of prices so that it would balance out and GUESS WHAT!! the highest prices sold faster. I was quite shocked. They preferred to go for the more detailed/highest priced items.

REALLy appreciate your posts :)

martinisfor2 said...

Another great post Penny! I read this yesterday and came back to comment. You and Dawn have been very eye-opening for me. I really appreciate the time you take to educate us. I agree with Marina about the time it takes to photograph and list also. There's so much that goes into our work besides making the pieces.

Speaking of eye-opening... the prices that go along with the mass-produced jewelry in your photos. It's sickening. Your gorgeous pair at the end show the time, labor and unique components put into their making. Not to mention the photos and composing the listing. At least with our creations you won't see yourself coming or going. That's what I look at whether I'm buying for myself or creating to sell.

In conclusion, I must add that Edit Express rocks! Thank you for sharing it with us!

fanciful devices said...

can i just add that i actually came back just to read the comments?
numinosity i feel you so much about identifying too much w/yr customers. but RAISE YOUR PRICES. just do. also lela this is such an art-wide issue across all fields. i love when ppl talk about their similar experiences in very different areas, like shipwreckdandy's wisdom bomb about the massage/holistic world.
and good on ya jorji! next time, price higher!

13 said...

Storing all these insightful articles of yours in my bookmarks and to give myself the time to work through and digest thoroughly. These big companies are all about the brand first and selling the emotion of owning their pieces, rather than any real artist design and intent.
We've all got to hold on to our design souls and find a way to get found.

Ohinemurri said...

Edit express here I come!

Blackwillow Boho said...

I'm a sucker for coming back every couple of days to see how the comments are going...

When it comes to applying the same standards of pricing to other work I've realised that when it comes to my costuming work I price much more realistically and absolutely hate seeing others who drastically underprice in order to sell their work. One of my most popular headdresses is one I blogged about 2 years ago. It's a be-atch and now when I get enquiries about it I tell 'em how much I want. Eight of ten will never get back to me, but the two who pay get something that they love to wear and I that I enjoyed making because I didn't have my face screwed up the whole time as I was burning my fingers thinking, "If only I'd charged what I should have for this!"

And as a dance teacher I've been taught by my mentors to never under-sell. It's a common discussion theme in belly dance forums simply because there are so many people who start their classes or perform at events for prices that really harm the rest of the community, particularly those for whom it is their main income.

So yes, as creators of something physical to wear and that will hopefully be cherished we should command our worth. I'm as interested as anyone to see if I can bear this out.

Rebecca said...

Such interesting, useful posts that you are writing really is major food for thought. I am trying more and more to make a living through my jewellery (and supplies) businesses, and I am definitely stuck between the "but nobody will pay more for my work!" fear and the fact that I absolutely agree with everything you are saying. I will look forward to your last post....

Jiorji said...

i forgot to say something that i read one time about this girl's reason to raising her prices. she said something along the lines of "i'd like to exist in a higher monetary vibration and therefore to attract that i need to raise my prices". can't charge $30 and expect to earn thousands. You want that reality, you need to vibe in it.

ok time for bed :)

Melanie said...

I've never considered selling my work cheap. I have customers who tell me 'don't lower your prices just to sell'. They get it. I sell at markets and people ask for a discount. I never say yes. Straight out 'no I do not reduce my prices'. If they ask why I simply tell them 'this is my occupation. How I earn money.' If I am feeling really cheeky I add 'would you accept less pay if your boss asked you to give him/her a discount?'

betweenreader said...

Okay, those last few paragraphs made a believer of me! So at my current prices, I should be selling alotta, but am not, am mostly flatline. So what have I got to lose? My prices are going up. Next subject, how to get past the feeling that a sale is a sign you are doing good work, and all that stuff. Intellectually, I know what it really means when you sell is the right person found you. Just raised the prices on my earrings. $60 is the new $48. Thanks for the effort you are making to liberate us! xx,P

Melissa Manley said...

Wow, this is all gutwrenching. It hits in the solar plexus. I agonize over this stuff. I guess we all do. I agree with fanicfuldevices I spend almost as much time photographing, editing those photos (and I still hate them)and then listing, posting as I do making my product! and that's saying something! That frustrates me GREATLY. If I could reduce the time and frustration there it would make my life better. I'm not selling diddle on Etsy and am trying different people's advice about promoting. But it's slow going. So I lay awake worrying about pricing, shipping pricing, etc. My partner says, "you price to low because you don't have any money and are poor all the time. So you can't fathom anyone paying over $25 bucks for anything!" Sadly he's right. I also sell in a gallery where I work part time in the summer. It frustrates me to have to convince people I MADE the work. They see prefab stuff at Hobby Lobby and think that I assemble the pieces from store bought. They are shopping the places you've illustrated in this post. That is what they know. They don't see my moldy garage studio with the bucket of acid the soldering bench the anvils the hammers..... I sell more when I bring in a small bench and demo. I don't get much done but I sell more. That's a little hard to do on Etsy. the About page helps.... maybe I need to make youtube promo videos and link them somewhere.. thinking out loud....