ACC Conf.: Rob Walker - “Handmade 2.0”
ACC Conference: Julie Lasky - “Men in White”

ACC Conference: Riding the ‘Long Tail’: Marketing Craft on the Internet

1Namita-Wiggers 2Lisa-Bayne 3Amy-Shaw 4Maria-Thomas

Do you know what the "long tail" is?  The "long tail" is a catchphrase about how the Internet enables consumers to easily find and connect with relatively obscure and widely dispersed suppliers. It allows anyone, anywhere, with unusual interests or tastes to find items from the smallest niche suppliers, makers, or manufacturers.  This is in stark contrast to the limitations of a "brick and mortar" store that must restrict its inventory to only relatively popular items and the physical limits of its shelf space. Long_tail_graph

Both Amazon and Netflix are good examples of the near limitless inventory available through the Internet.  They can offer an enormous number of products from the most popular down to extremely unusual items.  Similarly, art and craft fit perfectly into the "long tail" phenomenon and can leverage the Internet as a highly effective marketing strategy.

This round table discussion, moderated by Namita Wiggers, brought out the range of perspectives regarding marketing on the Internet from professionals in the field. 

1Namita-WiggersBACKGROUND: Namita Wiggers was curator at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon.  

2Lisa-BayneLisa Baye is CEO of the "Artful Home.  The Artful Home website offers a wide spectrum of objects, clothing, jewelry, designer objects all selected by the Artful Home staff.  The Artful Home is one of the rare website marketplaces that use the same commission structure as "brick and mortar" galleries.  Artists who want to be included in one of the seven mail-order catalogs distributed during the year must also be showing work on the website. Revenue is generated by the commission structure, listing fees, and paid advertising.

4Maria-ThomasEtsy is represented by CEO Maria Thomas whose background was primarily in online marketing. In recent years, Etsy has exploded in popularity with participants from D.I.Y. to more seasoned professionals. Etsy presents no barriers to participation.  There is NO registration fee or participation fee for sellers. Sellers agree to pay 20¢ per item for a four-month listing, plus a 3.5% commission on each purchase. There is also a social networking aspect that some makers consider important, but participation at this level is optional.   Additional revenue is generated through paid "showcases" and a limited amount of print advertising. Until very recently Etsy was only about the Internet. 

3Amy-ShawAmy Shaw was the third panelist.  She is a writer, blogger, and independent curator in Brooklyn, New York. "Amy and her husband started Greenjeans as the place where they could put their values and ideas about craftsmanship, sustainability, and conscientious living into action."  This site and the "brick and mortar" location were a "business concept rather than a business plan" so they are no longer in operation. The blog is closed.

Panelists for the "Long Tail" Round Table discussion       ACC Conference
Photo Credit: Harriete Estel Berman

Namita Wiggers asked questions of the panelists, but most of the panel discussion was focused on the difference between Artful Home and Etsy.  Artful Home represents a combination of old and new business models but its fees and marketing is definitely based more traditionally requiring payment upfront for review and participation, selection of work by a jury review, 50/50 commission structure, and a printed catalog.  Etsy allows everyone to participate for free, there is no review, and the low commission is offset by millions of items listed 20¢ at a time.

Both Artful Home and Etsy are successful online marketing sites.  Both promote the story of the handmade object and the lifestyle/livelihood of the artist to sell their items. (This reinforced the message from the previous conference speaker, Rob Walker.) 

Contrast the business models by reviewing the chart below to understand the major differences.

                Artful Home                  Etsy

selection     juried by staff           open to anyone

review fee   one time $35           free

items           portfolio page          artist's shop
                        one of kind               one of kind
                       production           production

listing fee            $300/yr.          20¢ per listing 4 mo.
                       or $25/mo.   

commission              50%           3.5%

price             $100 and up           $6 and up

posting                  artist             artist

photos                   artist             artist

payment             30 days             prior to shipping 

catalog       7 times a year           none

Artful Home clearly established that it is a "quality filter" for the consumer which it says is a benefit to both the consumer and the seller. There was no discussion about how they justified such high commission fees (a fee structure that is highly unusual among Internet sites).


AOL Earrings
Recycled tin cans
Harriete Estel Berman

Etsy CEO Maria Thomas suggested that the Treasury and Favorites categories on Etsy play a role as "filters" but I think that is an overstatement or a very low hurdle. Both the Treasury and Favorites have social networking aspects on Etsy along with "heart-ing" your friends.  The contribution to Etsy from the various revenue streams was not clearly discussed either.  I've heard that commission revenue is not significant and is far outweighed by the millions of listings at 20¢ each - that is a lot of money.

Amy Shaw was relatively unknown to this audience and her credibility was never clearly established. We did not hear why she was considered so influential. Her comments were knowledgeable but did not add much content to the conversation.

SUMMARY: There were several key issues raised which all merit further discussion. These include the roles of "filters" either with online search technology, peer review, jury or curatorial selection, or the role of galleries. Additional issues involved the idea of multiple craft communities, participation without judgment, the importance of social networking, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to generate visibility. 

I wish that there was more time to discuss these topics in depth. After these blog posts about the Conference are complete, I will discuss these important business issues in future posts.


Bracelet, in gold and orange
Recycled tin cans
Harriete Estel Berman

The Q & A session was postponed.  They just ran out of time.

WHAT DID I LEARN? I learned more about Artful Home because I researched it before the Conference and sat with Lisa Baynes, CEO of Artful Home at lunch.  I would like to see some evidence that Etsy could effectively serve segments other than the low-priced end of the craft market.

LIFESTYLE OR LIVELIHOOD? It still seems that most artists can not make a living from selling their work either online or in the established craft world. Our lifestyle is romanticized, making a livelihood is more like an aspirational goal.


Emiko Oye
terra black 1 x 4 bracelet
legos, peridot set in 14k gold,
rubber stretch cord. 1.25" tall

Read the book
Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. It is absolutely essential reading if you want to understand the potential for Internet marketing.


This post was updated on January 3, 2022.