• Since, as solo potters we are both (maker and marketer), then we also need to face the reality that at least some of the savings we gain by cutting out a middle man marketer, we lose in the change of hats from maker to seller. It takes time away from the making to do the selling.
Still, it may be to our advantage to finally recognize that art fairs and internet sales allow us an enviable position of spending less of our time wearing the marketing hat. And the more attractive we make our prices, the less time we have to spend marketing our pots. If our prices are attractive, we don’t need to beat the bushes to find willing buyers – it is that “beating the bushes” that requires the inordinate amount of marketing time.
I, for one, would rather be making than marketing.
• The value/price of a given piece is not exactly what someone is willing to pay me for it. Not if I intend to make a living and a business from the making and selling of pottery.
No, the value/price of a piece is the price at which I can consistently sell it (or pieces like it). And adding a time factor to the equation roots this concept into an even more accurate footing.
That is, the price of a piece is the price at which I can consistently sell multiples over a year’s time. This means that if I want to determine the value of, say, my pitchers, it is to my advantage to find the highest price at which I can consistently sell pitchers over a year’s time. Thus determined, my annual pitcher income should meet my need to make income from pitchers measured against my desire and ability to produce pitchers at that rate per year.
So if I LOVE to make pitchers and can do so at a rate that allows me to make what I need from a year’s worth of pitcher production, then I’ve arrived at a do-able price for that pitcher. If, on the other hand, I cannot keep up, or I really don’t like making pitchers, I need to alter my prices.
• Potters have one foot in each of two conflicting worlds. We have one foot in the art world and one foot in the craft world. This would be fine if we were more keenly aware of which foot we were standing on at any one time. But I don’t think we are. Why are they conflicting? Because the marketing concerns and models are almost completely different. And at odds with each other.
There is a chart that is making the rounds of the internet that illustrates an interesting reality that I believe affects the pottery world like few realities have of late. The chart illustrates that 90% of America makes $31,244 annually. After that, 9% make between that $33,244 and $164,647 annually.
I find those numbers to be quite enlightening, especially when I toss them into the salad of these other considerations:
I shouldn’t be TOO surprised by the numbers and the implications that those numbers cast on the reality of making and selling pottery. After all, even when I have done VERY well at several of the biggest art fairs in the country (Ann Arbor and St James Court, for example) out of the 200,000 people in attendance at those shows, when I'm selling extremely well, I will still only sell to maybe 500 of the attendees. That’s 500/200,000 or .25%. That's not 25%. I said “POINT 25%”. That’s only one quarter of a person in every 100 passing by my booth. One quarter of a person is not a very big person. I bet he limps. Or, if he walks normally, I bet he doesn’t have a head, or is missing both of his arms – either of which would make it hard to hand him a bag with his pottery purchase inside. Even if that bag has handles.
Anyway, those are daunting numbers -- but made even more so when considering that the 200,000 people in attendance at those shows were already culled from the general population by their love of arts and crafts in the first place. That means that of a subset of the general population already predisposed to like the arts and crafts, I STILL only appealed to .25% of them. And I was selling more pottery at those shows than nearly every other potter (they used to publish the sales results from those shows, so I know).
I bring up those numbers to come back full circle to my statement about having one foot in the art world and one in the craft world – and not knowing which foot we’re standing on at any one time. I think that those numbers represent the marketing reality that faces most working potters. I believe that most working potters are creating work that will be marketed to the 90% of Americans making $30,000 a year and a better percentage of those in the next, $164,000 category.
So, as potter/craftsmen we have the numbers on our side – the bigger pool in which to market – but we have to face the reality that that pool’s income is going to put severe pressure on our pricing.
I think that the art/potter is marketing to the smaller share of the 9% making the $164,000. I believe this is so because the higher the income, the less likely that the purchase of pottery is going to be made in a direct-from-the-potter relationship.
It is my guess that the very wealthy aren’t even in the equation – they no more buy their own pottery than do they do their own decorating (or buy their own groceries). But I think a large segment of the 9% follow that same model. That is, the greater the income, the more likely that status-seeking will require vetting by the “right” gallery so as to keep one’s social standing intact. Of course we all know exceptions. Bless them.
And as art/potters we fall easily into the model of allowing such vetting. That is, if we come through some academic training, we are very likely to accept an academic and gallery model that we know better from our art textbooks than from the reality of our day to day lives.
And even if we don’t come through the academic training ourselves, the “famous” potters to whom we are exposed by the periodicals we subscribe to are even more intimately part of that academic/gallery/vetted model than we are made aware. Marketing? What…are you kidding?
If we do become vaguely aware of where income connects the ceramic/art world it is in the other ways in which that academic world follows the Old World academic and art world. It is the model of the wealthy patron supporting the arts. It’s almost a peculiarity, the level to which – probably because of our admiration of the particular potters involved -- we overlook the obvious conflict that occurs where this Old World model clashes with the way potters can ACTUALLY make a living in our culture.
Back in the latter years of the ‘80s, Ceramics Monthly ran a couple of interesting articles. The first article was how the NEA distributed grants of $15,000 - $5,000 to some of our fellow potters. I think most of us cheered the awards – given as they were to some of our favorite potters (including my very favorite at the time). We wished them well and I guess we figured that they were playing a game to which we’d all been invited to participate and they'd simply won fair and square.
Then, in a subsequent issue of the magazine one of the most famous potters in America took some small exception to these NEA awards. Oh, he wasn’t arguing principally against the NEA granting such awards for exploration in ceramics that might be hard to finance otherwise – but rather, that these specific potters were the ones being awarded. He was pointing out that among the recipients, a good number were tenured professors whom one might assume already had an income structure in place – not to mention public facility – with which to explore whatever they might wish in the ceramic world.
And, to his point, these awards were not specified toward projects – nor were they even specified as requiring a ceramic project as the end result of the award money. Heck, one recipient was even so bold as to have publicly stated that he put the majority of the award into savings. Another put a roof on his house.
But that’s the art model. The art model (as opposed to the craftsman model) makes no pretense at income derived directly from the finished product (much less upon the sale of that product) – rather, it is dependent upon income derived by any manner in order to pursue one’s art.
But to the extent that this art world DOES depend on the sale of art product it does so on a scale steroidal. Because the available pool in which the whole market swims is so relatively small, it requires a completely different system of values by which to define that product. The marketers become as important as the producers because the value is so often in the presentation.
So why is having at least some perspective on the two worlds of value to the working potter? I don’t know. I think it’s because we working man potters have a tendency to watch those who are participating in the art world and the art market and draw the wrong conclusions about pricing as we try to translate the art world values to the craft world market.
• Because we are playing a numbers game (remember the “appealing to the .25% at the art fairs?) I am almost shocked as I watch fellow potters who are willing to jeopardize their internet marketing presence – the success of which is so heavily dependent upon social network media – by participating publicly in political or religious debate with their facebook and twitter accounts.
The current form of Facebook is an interesting sociological macrocosm -- a study in current human relationships (though a study from which I doubt that concrete conclusions can be drawn). It's the ultimate in realizing how far we've come from a social norm of not discussing religion, politics, or not farting in public places.
Every solipsistic person on the planet feels free to bare his incredibly ignorant soul about any and every controversial subject -- subjects in which the wisely silent who dwell among us hold doctorates (some real, some conferred by life experience).
”In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell
People whom I admire professionally (my facebook page is equal parts musicians and potters) are obviously quite swayed by the opinion mills of the day – boldly making pronouncements transparently forged by hours of Jon Stewart or Rush Limbaugh -- or pop science or pop religion –- or Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow, than by any serious education. And I’ve no doubt that these people believe that such pronouncements clothe their online persona in great erudition. All the while they are totally unaware of the degree to which they are actually wearing hospital-style gowns and their backsides are hanging out quite unflatteringly.
On the one hand, maybe it’s admirable that those facebook potters wielding political posts believe in something with such conviction that they are willing to say...
“The heck with sales! …I don’t need to appeal to my .25% share of the 50/50 politically polarized population to survive. I can get by while alienating half of my potential customer base. I can survive with only .125% of my share of the pottery-buying public!”
But on the other hand, I’d have to admit that, from my perspective as an admitted life-long politics and theology junkie – there’s just not that many issues that come along in the ongoing public political scene that I believe I’m going to sway the outcome by a facebook post. And if I did choose to so participate, I’m certainly going to run the additional risk of being misunderstood in the mere 500 words Facebook would allow me to voice such an opinion. Maybe it’s short-sighted of me, but I see no upside – only downside – in using the same social media I’m depending on for marketing to air my political views.
Oh, I am a Pottercrat and a Ceramitarian with Guitarican leanings. I have also dabbled in Mandolinia