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Will "scifantasy" Frank said on December 6th, 2011 at 9:33 am

Someday, when you publish a book of the Flapjack Conversations, its title will be “The Wok.”

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But where will I go to buy wine racks made from reclaimed barrel staves?

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Will "scifantasy" Frank said on December 6th, 2011 at 9:41 am

That said, I tend to agree with, well, everybody. There was a blog post I saw a few weeks back about a hand-crafter saying “the prices aren’t high, it’s cost of materials and labor and if you run the numbers…” And so on.

To which I responded (not to the blogger, to my friend who linked me to it) “no, the prices are high. I accept your premise that the prices aren’t artificially high, but they’re higher than I’m willing to pay for the item, even despite knowing how it breaks down and who is and isn’t getting the funds. To some, they’re worth it, to others they aren’t. That’s the game.”

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But where will I go to buy wine racks made from reclaimed barrel staves?

For those not in the know, there was in fact a booth selling various things made from reclaimed barrel staves. The wine rack was the best of these things. Most of the others were really curvy, narrow tables, upon which you could display – apparently – a small pile of attractive rocks.

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Etsy is an interesting counterpoint to this. Not always, but I’m sometimes amazed by the degree to which people are pricing their items to move — it’s more like $10 for this little ceramic goblin (except not goblins).

I marvel at it, because I can imagine trying to go into a similar business myself, but I honestly balk at the idea of the time and effort it takes me to produce something similar (and I’m not that slow at it, I don’t think), and then I think, “I’m going to get $10 for that? Granted, it will have sold, but I have to make how many of them, and sell them, to feel like I’m getting somewhere?”

There is, by the way, an entire glossy catalog called Napa Style or something like that, devoted to giving you the opportunity to buy things made out of repurposed barrel staves. I don’t know about the guy at the craft-fair, but the prices in that catalog always make my eyes bug out.

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kingderella said on December 6th, 2011 at 10:17 am

knitter here… people who dont know the technique in question always underestimate just how much work goes into making anything, especially if you count development.

eg the circular scarf in the example. did they really just sew together the two edges, or did they do circular knitting? ok, granted, circular kniting isnt really that much more complicated, if you have the right machinery. my point is, well, errr…

anyway, making stuff takes crazy amounts of time, even ‘simple’ stuff like scarfs.

but yeah, high prices are high, justified or not.

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You ended by tying the capitolist market for handmade crap to the financial market which is a bit of a stretch.

You can use your money to vote for or against handmade crap vendors and influence whether that business is successful or not. If not, they will adapt to a more broadly appealing model. However it appears that there is already a sufficient market for the overpriced model.

You can also try to use your money to vote in the financial industry but it won’t be as effective since they have enough money already to outvote any but the most unilateral opposition the market has ever seen.

At least the crappy clay goblin guy’s market is small enough that if even the couple thousand people that walked by at the show symbolically vote against him, it could be enough to affect a change in his plan and lead to a more consumer friendly approach.

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I miss the days when Flapjacks was a blithering idiot.

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slappy the happy robot said on December 6th, 2011 at 11:22 am

flapjacks only ever played dumb in order to borrow woks from the unsuspecting.

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Savage Wombat said on December 6th, 2011 at 11:56 am

The closest comparison we have ’round here is RenFest and other craft fairs.

I find that the real reason for the mark-up on prices of clay goblins, etc., is that the seller probably can’t expect to sell all the clay goblins he needs to stock the store.

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And there in lies the rub.

It’d be nice to buy products from local artisans who spend their days sawing, sewing, hemming, and hawing, but when the price is double what I could get for a similar product at a major retailer, well, Daddy’s got to eat too.

To shift the balance from corporate to local, you’d have to turn back time when multi-national corporations couldn’t mass produce stuff on assembly lines. Also, to pick up stuff at outdoor fairs or markets or whatever, a lot of times you need cash, which many don’t carry anymore. (Well, I don’t and I assume my habits are indicative of the rest of humanity).

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Etsy is an interesting counterpoint to this. Not always, but I’m sometimes amazed by the degree to which people are pricing their items to move — it’s more like $10 for this little ceramic goblin (except not goblins).

This is, of course, assuming you’re looking at an actual crafter and not a reseller moving bulk items made in China or India under the pretense of being a crafter.

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Brandi — no, seriously. I was basing that Etsy example on a woman who sells small ceramic figurines, ceramic beads in the shape of figures, and ceramic pendants in, for example, the shape of owls. These are painted and glazed. They are “primitive” in design, but I personally find her work charming and have purchased several things from her, including a custom pendant that cost a whopping $20.

I have to admit that I have liked some of her bigger pieces, which sell for a bit more money — such as a larger figurine for $45, and I have hesitated to buy one of those, while I didn’t hesitate much at all over the $10-$15-$20 price-point.

On Etsy, at least (which is a website commerce portal), the reseller moving bulk items from China or India is SUPPOSED to be marginalized, if not shut out. The ethos of the site is supposed to be that it’s small crafters selling what they make, *or* it’s people selling raw materials to other crafters, *or* it’s people selling unique vintage items. In practice, you get the resellers of cheap crap amongst the sellers of raw materials, and you get some people who try to push the envelope of what can be described as “vintage”.

But there are definitely a significant number of real, individual actual crafters, who to my eyes really are putting prices on their hand-made stuff that feels low, to me, even while I appreciate the price.

I realize that there’s definitely a psychology at work. As I said above, I’ll buy things more readily if it’s $20 or below, and maybe for the crafter, it makes sense to “underprice” in order to actually sell. What makes me pause, though, is just that I’m also a crafter, I’ve made my own little owl pendants, I know how much time and effort it took me — not a huge amount, but a couple of evenings. So I really can do the math in my head and work out how many evenings it would take me to earn… how much? Oog.

Perhaps the actual crafters who sell with low prices really are that much faster than I am at making what they make. Perhaps there are some other economies of time and scale going on that I can’t see.

I’m also not saying that Overpriced Clay Goblin Guy probably isn’t represented on Etsy as well. I’m sure he is. And there are also actual crafters selling things that I look at and think, “well, that IS worth the price, but I can’t pay that price, alas”.

It’s just interesting to watch sellers on that site figuring out how the market there works, and how to work it.

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It’s tricky. I have friends who are glass and ceramics artists and I’ve seen how hard it is to make the numbers work (you forgot to factor in the $2k-6k in booth fees it costs each *seller* to participate in the show).

Let’s assume your pepper mill was netting $60 above costs… you’re going to have to sell at least two of them a day to just cover your booth space – let alone time for you (or someone) to staff the damn thing (or travel and accommodation and shipping if you’re from out of town… as most of the exhibitors are because none of them can afford to live in urban centers).

And then, at the core, you have the reality – that as awesome as my friends goods are (and they do amazing, award-winning work)… they hear hundreds of people every day muttering that similar goods can be bought at IKEA for 1/10th the price (which is absolutely true because you can’t come close to matching the economies of scale of mass producing goods in China. No one can. That’s why they’re China.

Basically the whole thing for most “professional” artisans boils down to “can you build enough of a profile to do something *else* to make monkey while you work on your art”. Most of the *really* successful artisans I’m aware of are really in the business of running studio space, or galleries, or doing installation work for corporate offices and hotels, or holding day jobs… pretty much like any “arts” field.

It’s no different than Webcartoonists who self-finance through t-shirt sales attending cons. Mostly their happy if they cover their costs, but there’s no way that XKCD shirt is being sold at the same price as a Hot Topic (nor is it 10x more expensive, but each shirt isn’t hand-drawn either – there’s some mass production there).

As much as One of a kind does feel like a completely shameless cash-grab by the One of a kind people – it is one of the most visible venues for folks in these fields in the country… and they seem to feel it’s worth it.

I think they’re crazy.

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Mecha Velma said on December 6th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I was hoping for a debate on the merits of capitalism. I wanted to point out that the only thing Capitalism has going for it is the potential for choice – even if the only choices available are those that suck.

As for the scarf, you should have told the guy you weren’t going to pay them $80 bucks for them to sew the ends together and offered them $75 instead.

Also, do you have a link to these supposed fetish catalogues of which you speak?

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Something I think often goes unremarked when discussing things of this nature, is that sometimes producing something of low quality very cheaply is quite beneficent.

Take a look at watch guy. Sure, his watches are super expensive; they’re artisan watches. And a hundred years ago they would have been the only game in town. These days timekeeping is so cheap that its included as an afterthought on our cell phones; if you really want a watch, you can get a halfway decent one for cheap. That’s a relatively new innovation, once upon a time your choices were ‘pay for artisan quality or go watchless.’ There was no such thing as a free watch.

The peppermill, another good example. Once upon a time the only way to get something like that was to buy it (or more likely, COMMISSION it) from an expert woodcarver. You COULDN’T buy a cheap one that wasn’t as good, it didn’t exist. You got the fancy one or you went without.

Clothing. The clothes I’m wearing right now aren’t bespoke tailoring or anything. They’re mass-produced, and they’ll wear out in a year or two. Used to be your choice was between fancy clothes that cost six months pay but would last basically forever if you took care of them (and there’s a reason that a lot of people wore leather) or basically rags.

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highlyverbal said on December 6th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

@ Mecha Velma:

A small sample of the fetish catalogue’s work:

http://www.bestweekever.tv/2008-8-28/the-30-porniest-american-apparel-ads/

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highlyverbal said on December 6th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

@ Murc:

I don’t think you mean “beneficent.” That word speaks of intent, not results.

Also, in the pre-modern society, there were tons of crappy, local artisans who were paid in barter (ie: in ways hard to retroactively measure and make claims about). Further, there were more artisans devoted to repairing the high end stuff (tinkers, tailors, 80 different kinds of smiths, wrights, & coopers, etc) so the economics of high end purchases was very different. I personally would be much more tempted to buy an artisan peppermill if I knew that a tinker who could repair it would be visiting twice a year; if I wasn’t risking having a peppermill shaped paper-weight a few months down the road. (This is why The Sharper Image doesn’t get a lot of repeat buyers.)

Finally, your economic analysis needs to be weighted by the higher cost of pre-modern materials. When a few lumps of iron are worth fighting a war over, everyone is willing to make sure that even a crappy horseshoe is super high quality. You couldn’t get cheap things back then because no raw materials were cheap, not because the artisans had too high of a mark-up. (The reason a lot of people wore leather is NOT that the leather-workers were the cheapest artisans.)

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@highlyverbal

I agree with a lot of what you say, and, of course, economics are enormously complex. But I do think my basic point holds; that the development of cheap, shoddy-by-comparison goods was in many cases a GOOD thing, because it put many useful things within financial reach of people who otherwise could never have afforded the expensive but not-shoddy-by-comparison versions that previously were the only game in town.

Your point about raw materiel is something I’m not sure about. Yeah, people have a lot of incentive to make sure things that are made out of rare materiel are high-quality… but you still have cost of labor to consider. Handmade goods have enormous labor costs. A finely made watch (and once upon a time ALL watches were finely made, because if you were going to spend a whole week precision-grinding a gear the size of button you were damn sure not going to half-ass it) would, in a pre-industrial society, probably ALWAYS be very, very expensive even if the raw materiel for it rained from the sky.

Regarding the leather thing specifically, I think you misconstrue my point. The reason a lot of people wore leather wasn’t that leather-workers were the cheapest artisans. It was that leather lasts an incredibly long time and is very durable. A decently made set of leather clothes suited for doing something physically taxing (perhaps with linen worn under them) would cost you a huge chunk of change, but then you’d wear it for years and years.

Nowadays people can do that sort of work wearing low-quality mass-produced denim, which wears out fairly quickly by comparison (I know people in trades who go through three, four sets of work clothes in a year) but is also dirt cheap and far more comfortable.

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you forgot to factor in the $2k-6k in booth fees it costs each *seller* to participate in the show

I don’t think it’s a good idea for artisans to expect people to pay outrageous amounts of money for their goods because they chose to pay outrageous amounts of money to some landlord in return for some space for a weekend and some advertising for the event.

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Cookie McCool said on December 6th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Jesus, you want a handmade woolen scarf with the ends sewn (or knitted, or crocheted, or fastened one way or another), I’ll just send you one. I’m too po’ to donate to you through PayPal, but I’m planning for the impending cephalopocalypse (that’s the one where octopi, octopusses and octopodes rise from the briny depths to conquer the entire world) by stocking up on wool, because it stays warm when wet.

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highlyverbal said on December 6th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

@ Murc

Fear not, no misconstruing occurred. Please reconsider my remark (that leather wasn’t preferred due to artisan costs) as a gentle suggestion that leather was preferred, instead, due to its superiority as a raw material… high in durability and availability. (Make sense now why that remark is in that paragraph?)

I am unconvinced by the watch example because demand for watches was low and the cost for labor AND materials was high. Which is this example supposed to test? Do you think that more people owned watches than, say, clocks at any given period in time? (And it was a status symbol in a way that pollutes the issue, too. What was being purchased was labor-intensive-ness itself, to display wealth.)

Finally, I dispute that there was some huge discontinuity for watches around the industrialization singularity. Certainly nothing like textiles, where the quality jump is insane. Watch-making, clock-making, and precision machining were all increasing steadily before the industrial revolution; and the watches produced just after strongly resembled those just before – industrialization occurred first in precision parts production (or raw.materials++) with assembly still left to artisans.

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I agree cheapnice things for the masses is cool. Totally cool. However, to the extent that thesis is relevant to a thread on artisan-ship, your examples are … facile.

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I think clay goblin guy’s main problem is that who the hell wants a clay goblin?

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bunnyofdoom said on December 7th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Man, they only thing I buy that’s handmade is beer. Then again, I work at the LCBO, and the kitchisippi brewery is just down the street from me.

Am I a horrible person? I mean, chocolate tastes better when it’s made with children’s tears. Scientific studies done at christmastime by older siblings upon me have shown that.

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Oxymoron 1 said on December 8th, 2011 at 8:16 am

“But there’s nothing wrong with machine-produced goods so long as the machine operators get a fair wage and the goods are decent, and nowadays that is a fair amount of stuff.”

The source of the raw materials is extremely important especially in relation to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. The new capitalism.

I agree that many craft-showers are not depending on their craft to make a living, but are married to someone making a living, or doing the craft as fun and for extra cash to supplement their day job (just like most musicians). These extra-crafters financial plan is vastly different than the few dependent-crafters who depend on their craft for their living. The latter have much smarter array of items: some priced to sell and make reach their break even point, and the rest priced to make their day. The extra-crafters often don’t even know their break even point, which is much lower than the dependent-crafters. This dualism screws up the supply and demand curve. The merits of capitalism are easier to reap if you have a sugar daddy.

Etsy does not have any filter or test to determine if the person selling the goods is the person who made the goods.

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And over at Slacktivist, we get the view from the other side of the counter. Granted, they seem to be selling for lot less than the people at the One of Kind Show.

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How small is a small one? Because this is how much mass produced gargoyles cost. Note the 7 inch, $99 one that’s out of stock. Part of the pricing is that it’s a small market, so you’re paying for the fact that no one else is buying these things.

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