>> Ulla-Maaria is the developer of Thinglink ( thinglink.org), author
of the HobbyPrincess blog ( hobbyprincess.com), and researcher of
design and innovation work at the University of Helsinki. firstname.lastname@example.org
In his essay “The Long Tail,” Wired’s Chris First, learning, recognition, and reciprocity motivate
Anderson wrote, “The future of entertainment crafter exchange at least as much as economic profit.
is in the millions of niche markets at the The American Association of Hobby Industries
shallow end of the bitstream.” I’ve been wondering reports that only 15% of crafters claim an interest in
how the economics change when exchange moves selling their creations. The rest have other reasons
farther down the tail from manufactured products for making things.
to crafts. Second, barter and conversation are more
When I post a picture of a self-made laptop important modes of exchange to crafters than
sleeve on my weblog, does that mean that my monetary transactions. I impart bits of my know-
laptop sleeve is now “on the market”? Many of us how in exchange for your recognition and advice. I
would probably say that the answer depends on may also swap my laptop sleeve for something that
whether I offer to sell my sleeve for a price. you have made. To sell my laptop sleeve for money
Well, let’s assume I do not, but then a stranger is just one option among many.
emails me offering to swap it for something she Third, links determine the crafter value of an
has made. And when my friends see my creation, object. Crafters value objects that can teach them
it inspires them to make their own versions that something new. A product rich with stories about its
inspire yet more crafters. Some sell theirs on origin, maker, materials, and techniques of manu-
Etsy ( etsy.com). facture is infinitely more interesting than a product
In this story, the self-made laptop sleeve on my without a history. For a crafter, a product without
blog is clearly part of some system of exchange. links is a dead product.
Still, it seems that in this system of makers, users, Lastly, crafter demand shows as recognition,
buyers, and sellers, the idea of the market is broader not just purchases. Recognition depends more on
than classical economics would have it. We are used recommendations than marketing dollars spent
to thinking that: on media space. Companies who have dabbled in
» profit motivates exchange, purchasing recommendations will keep burning
» exchange is based on money, their fingers.
» price is determined by supply and demand, So is there a different crafter economics? I think
» and demand can be purchased (stimulated there is, and the crafter exchange logic is moving
through marketing). up the tail to manufactured goods. Witness the
But my goal wasn’t to profit. Money did not growing preference for customized fashion, cars,
always change hands, there was no need to negoti- and electronics. In America, the size of the craft and
ate a price except on Etsy, and nothing was spent hobby industry has risen by 50%, from USD $20
on marketing. billion in 2000 to USD $29 billion in 2004. Although
If we still want to call this system a market, we money doesn’t move crafters, crafters are moving
need to update the definition of the term. increasing amounts of money. ×