1,000 to 1: Etsy and the Modern Artisan

Since the refinement of the assembly line during the Industrial Revolution, the personalization of manufactured goods has suffered for the sake of decreasing time being produced and increasing quantity consumed. “Handmade” and “personalized” have transformed from being manufacturer’s mission statement to buzzwords. These are hooks used to reel in customers with the fantasy that they are not just buying a something anyone can have but something just for them and them alone. Unfortunately, Big Companies — even with all their corporate power — cannot always provide that.

Enter Etsy.com, the online platform for crafters and artisans to open shop online and sell unique, individual items to a wider audience. Etsy is a form of modern nostalgia, a means of distancing ourselves from the days of Big using new technological affordances (Nicco Mele, The End of Big). Now that we have reaches the masses using common denominators of public interest, we can now reach niche audiences and introduce products we might not have originally wanted but someone out there has. isla_500x500.18024919_binjcn4i

Here, I introduce a seasoned Etsy seller Gemma, the owner of Newton and the Apple. Gemma isn’t a customer service operator, or a sales representative, or a high-power CEO — she is a real-life human working with two other creators you can read all about and contact directly through Etsy’s consumer-friendly communication affordances.  The store offers a wide range of handmade gifts (a proud feature of Etsy’s craft culture) that includes everything from mugs and wall art to the wrapping paper to decorate them in. The shop’s theme is science and mathematic-inspired art, a rather uncommon theme for gifts in mainstream stores but nonetheless pleasantly unique.

In the 5 years since its conception, Newton and the Apple has obtained a substantial amount of success:

  • 15,564 Shop favorites
  • 21,898 Sales
  • 5-star user rating (ave. from 3,587 reviews)

How did this shop and its 3 designers exceed Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans paradigm?

One might attribute the shop’s success to Etsy’s easy-to-navigate platform which not only allows you to access the statistics listed above, but also gives consumers a list of powers not given to them before by Big Business. You can’t ask the cashier at Target to personalize the painting you’re buying there, or talk to the seller themselves to discuss your reviews of a product.


Sound Wave Art from Newton and the Apple

With Newton and the Apple, you can order art prints featuring vocal wave lengths of any phrase you request, choosing the colors it comes in and therefore feeling as though you yourself are a partial designer in making something you might not have the skills to make otherwise.

Everything is available to you and laid out clear for anyone to understand — customer reviews, shipping and payment policies, update information, the works. Etsy makes you the insider; you can literally see inside Newton and the Apple’s Nottingham studio and speak to the person making your purchase by hand. Why would you trade that for a machine-made replica? This isn’t an industry or art made for the creator — it’s about the consumer, aka you.

The creative industry that crafting and artisanship belongs to has globalized to meet our expanding needs to empower consumers and eliminate corporate middlemen. We are now valuing the individual like Gemma who uses every affordance Etsy could offer her. Through social media links, open-access information, direct producer/consumer information, and interactivity, her shop gives consumers in the crafts and art industries a power other cannot.

This power is what continues to fuel her success. Accessibility is a consumer’s best friend. It allows the shop to be promoted, advertised, and funded by loyal customers online without added expense because its the customers’ choice to do so. The shop only has to encourage this behavior by being friendly and living up to good standards.

Shops like Newton and the Apple give Big Business a run for its money. As caterers to niche consumers continue to increase attention on themselves, larger corporations will start to see a dip in their numbers. There’s only one thing left to ask: just how low can Big Business go, and how high will their new competition rise?

To learn more about Etsy, check out Paul Armstrong’s article which highlights their innovative business strategy on Forbes.


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