Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Shocking Realization

Photo above...Seed bead work, a supple beaded band and hours of work.

Starving Artist! We've all heard the term before and those of us who are involved in the arts in any form or fashion may even have had a chuckle or two over the expression. But this morning in particular it struck me big, bold and blatant, the truth. Most artists do struggle to make some form of existence, many times their art ends up being a sideline while another means of employment pays the bills and puts food into their mouths. Why? Good question and one I wish I had an answer to.

Yesterday I was remorsefully viewing my etsy shop, a number of items had expired and many items that I had worked so hard to fabricate where sitting there with very little views. Disheartening yes, especially when one considers how vast the Internet is and how many tens of thousands, if not millions, of people are browsing it at any given moment.

One item in particular caught my attention, a beaded spiral rope made up of hundreds of tiny little 3 millimeter Czech glass beads and approximately 10 to 12 hours of tedious work. It was listed at $55 (for both the beaded rope and a glass pendant with my own handcrafted seed-beaded bail). How much was my time worth ? What's minimum wage ? I googled "minimum wage" to find that, at the present time, it is set at $7.25 per hour.
Okay now for the math:
I spent about 10 hours carefully constructing the beaded rope alone and another 3 or 4 hours designing and fabricating the bail made from maddeningly tiny seed beads.
So let's figure 14 hours of my time. 14 x $7.25 = $101.50

Now add to that the 6 strands of Czech glass beads that went into the making of the rope necklace 6 x $3.00 = $18

About $1.00 for the cost of yards and yards and yards and yards of Nymo beading thread.
I won't count the cost of things such as the #12 and #15 ultra fine beading needles that were used (beading needles tend to develop a cork screw curve to them and have to be tossed after a couple of projects - also they are very fine and fragile and I can't count how many I've broken).

2 sterling silver metal beads were used in the construction of my handmade clasp; worth about half a dollar each, so there's another $1.00.

The 39 mm art glass pendant cost me only $3.00 wholesale (of course I had to purchase in bulk to qualify for that discount, and a bead shop would at least double that price).

Then about another $2.00 in expensive little Japanese Delica seed beads, the best money can buy (had I purchased them in my local bead store I would have paid 3 times that amount...but bead stores have an overhead to pay for).

Final value of Beaded Rope Necklace :
$101.50 (time in labor)
$21.00 (in beads)
$3.00 (for glass pendant)
$1.00 (for Nymo)

Numbers don't lie! I should be charging $126.50 for that handcrafted beaded rope necklace.
I have it listed at $55 and I have $25 invested in it in supplies.
Etsy's take on my $55 would be $1.93 + $0.20 = $2.13
Paypal's take would be $1.66 (for necklace + S&H) + $0.30= $1.96
total etsy/paypal fees = $4.09

Shipping and Handling is listed at $2.25 (gift box for shipping necklace cost $1.00 USPS fees $1.58 = $2.58 and packaging doesn't include cost for printing out a packing slip, or for gift wrap, tape, a free Thank You Gift, etc.)

So :
$55 minus supplies = $20 minus etsy/paypal's $4.09 = $15.91 minus S&H $2.58 = $13.33
My take for 14 hours of work is a whopping $13.33 that's less than a dollar an hour.

Suddenly Starving Artist takes on a whole new realization!


  1. Isn't amazing when you break down the numbers?!?!?! I've been told to count my labor in my prices for my beady things but if I do, no one can afford them!

    I remember working a craft fair for one of the organizations I belonged to at the time. We were selling handmade wooden toys that were safe and chemical free. The little toys sold for modest prices from $10.00 to $60.00, depending on the size and complexity. I heard it over and over again from various attendees: "We can find it cheaper at WallyWorld."

    Sure if you want to buy something that's been slave-labored overseas by American corporations. But I remember when WE used to be the top manufacturing nation before the breakable-it-so-it's-cheaper-to-replace-it-than-fix-it mentality set in and got us into this mess.

    Sorry for the rant but your post is excellent and explains exactly WHY people do not support their local artists/businesses. That mentality of having it now combined with let's make it cheaper to replace than fix is what's killing our nation--all in the name of profits!

  2. it's calculations like this that make me remember why i hate math.

    just kidding - i need no reminders. zing!

    in all seriousness, i read a forum thread posted by a very successful baby sling maker. she said, if something in your shop isn't selling - RAISE the price. sounds crazy, right? but she swears by that policy. and she now makes a comfortable living from her crafting.

    i think your work is very beautiful. i can't even imagine how tough it is in Etsy's super crowded jewelry category.

    one things for sure - you should definitely be asking for compensation for your hard work!

    sorry for the preachiness. feel free to ignore. not like i'm exactly killing it on Etsy either. :P

  3. Cathryn - You've hit the nail on the head ! People are looking for Wal-Mart (ChinaMart) prices. The US artists and crafters begin to feel guilty for charging a fair price for their work and end up under-pricing their time and creativity.

  4. Both of your comments illustrate why I have never, and will never, spend a single dollar at Walmart. Not judging anyone who does, but in America, we vote with our dollars, and I vote against Walmart, every time.

  5. Yes it's depressing to think about all the hard work that goes into something handmade and people so easily discount it.That band is just beautiful - I have no words of wisdom some times you have to not think about it because it gets too depressing.

  6. i find it so frustrating that the things that used to be one of a kind or hand made only are now being made by machines and the reality is a lot of people won't pay $50 when they can get something machine made for $10. sucks doesn't it?

  7. Oh Anna, that is the story of my life :(

    I have more invested in supplies and framing and equipment, let alone time and energy than I have ever made in sales, even patially made in sales. :(

    But still we keep on, not in the blind hope that we will one day become crazy rich or famous (going out on a limb, wouldn't that be awesome He! He!) but because we truly love
    what we do. I agree with Kelli's person in the forums that sometimes you just have to price your goods accordingly.

    I was very proud of myself (until last year)for never having bought a single thing at Walmart but unfortunately when my youngest went to college we were in the midwest in a tiny college town and the only place to shop was WALMART, go figure. But technically I didn't pay for the stuff he did, I just wandered around helping him pull things off shelves as quickly as poss :)

    The other thing I think we usually forget when pricing is the cost of driving to and from P.O., supply store and for me the amount of time it takes choosing frames to match artwork and then going back 2 weeks later to pick up the completed artwork :)

    Very provocative convo. Thanks for sharing those numbers, it is wise to be realistic.

    Have a lovely day, T. ;)

  8. People who expect and want Walmart prices should shop there. They won't find what you do there. People who appreciate craftsmanship and one of a kind pieces do shop at Etsy.

  9. I've been way too afraid to do this same math but its a good exercise to determine just what we're truly worth huh? Your time & effort on such a beautifully crafted piece SHOULD mean you're selling it at the $126 figure instead of $55 but I also know that the market prevails.

    I'm in a similar boat right now, every single item in my shop is eligable for a 50% discount with my coupon code and even the items that would sell for $2.50 haven't had a single additional view (despite promotion). Its disheartening but yet I keep trying to make things that I think would be beneficial to someone. If it wasn't for my dear friend in Colorado I wouldn't have sold anything since July. And people wonder why I put so many irons in the fire on creative endeavors! Hey, the bills don't pay themselves lol

    I love your work, if only I was wealthy I'd buy every gorgeous piece of jewelry in your shop my friend :-)

  10. Great explanation. I've had people tell me my lanyards are expensive and would love to send them your calculations. Or perhaps ask them to buy their own materials, take their own time to do the work, then add in all the time for packaging, travel to the PO and shipping. If they can buy it cheaper at Wally World, more power to them. They'll be buying it again soon.


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