A book I read lately (Against the machine: being human in the age of the electronic mob, by Lee Siegel) introduced me to the concept of “prosumer” — a person who creates and consumes at the same time. He rightly critiques this trend, especially where it comes to the internet (read an interview here), but I find that some of the things I’m interested in, that have let me have an “in” to the market as a designer, have made me a prosumer as well.
Consider Etsy, Threadless, and my new love, Spoonflower (I’ve intentionally linked to content related to me). All of these sites offer content that the site owners have not created, and which they do not pay for. Users create content, and upload it to the site. This content is then offered for sale to other users.
At this point, the sites listed above differ — Etsy charges a per-item listing fee, and a percentage is taken by Etsy and PayPal from every sale, but the shop owner gets most of the money. On Threadless, in order for one user-designer’s work to be turned into a T-shirt, it must receive enough votes from other user-designers. If it does, the designer is paid $2000+. On Spoonflower, the designer receives 10% of the cost of yardage sold. Contest winners earn store credit.
I love being able to share my designs and crafts with the world via the internet, without having to create or purchase my own shopping cart system, silkscreens, digital fabric printer, t-shirt blanks, or do much marketing (though marketing on my own definitely helps). But I am now more aware of the economics involved in these transactions.
Every time you comment on a blog, write a blog post, review your Amazon.com purchase, or critique something on Yelp, you are being a prosumer too.