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Discounts at a museum trunk show? Who should absorb this expense, the artist or the museum?

A response to the discussion on a blog

I am hesitant to add to the long discussion on a blog about Etsy and 2.0, but here it goes.

Without choosing sides, I want to support every artist in their creative effort and the profession of arts and crafts. Every exhibition, whether online, in a gallery, non-profit show, museum or indie show offers the good along with the bad. My judgment or measure of what is good or bad may vary for different venues and may differ from any other person’s scale. So what is “good” or “bad” is subjective and unique to each person – and is not the crucial issue of my concern.

I think it is great that Etsy has created an alternative, online exhibition space. My real concern is how can artists think that they are making a living by selling $6 or even $20.earrings. At such low prices, very few people residing in the U.S. can recoup thier full costs to design, fabricate by hand, photograph, post on Etsy, monitor the site, absorb the transaction fees, and then package and mail the work – and have enough left to pay for materials, labor, and overhead expenses such as studio rent, tools, utilities, insurance, meals, housing, clothing, etc.

The low price points attract bargain shoppers – and every shopper loves a bargain – but does this provide a sustainable living income for artists and crafts persons? Do we want to cater to bargain shoppers or to the advancement of art and craft?

It makes me extremely uncomfortable to look at the plethora of stuff on Etsy at what appears to be exceedingly low prices. I shutter to think about the artists and craftspeople trying to make a living. How do they cover the essentials of modern living? Does it cover business insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, or the orthodontist for children?

Etsy serves a broad market. It is a reality that a large number of artists will offer their work at lower and lower prices to make a sale. I know this generates short term cash, but I also believe that this is a spiral downward for any artist who falls into this trap. When too many artists sell work at such low prices, the competition eventually weeds out unsustainable practices. Etsy is not responsible for pricing; Etsy is simply another market.

Therefore, it is the artist’s responsibility to produce and market work that can be sold at prices that will sustain the artist long term – where design, innovation, and features other than low price attract buyers. 

I’d like to encourage everyone in the marketplace to at least ask a reasonable price that includes not only cost of materials and direct labor, but also overhead and a small % for operating profit.

We need to educate our community to act responsibly and to reach new audiences wherever we can. This was the failure of many craft shows, and online marketing efforts.

Education and outreach need to extend beyond the hallowed halls of academia, beautiful magazines for a small audience, and conferences preaching to the choir. Etsy, the Internet, and indie shows reach out to new audiences and draw in new artists and craftspeople. How can the community embrace and support these new channels?

I'd like to propose solutions rather than complaints. I am excited about the new opportunities in a constantly evolving landscape. I would also like to encourage new artists to price their work at realistic values. What if we talked more about the full costs of creating art and craft? What if more people posted better quality work on Etsy at prices that provide artists sustainable income? Would that benefit everyone? Maybe.

There are many ways to change the future, but each of us needs to act responsibly within our community. We can't expect other people to do this for us, We need to do this for ourselves - for each other.