We are all patrons and investors

1:05 PM

Today I decided to blog about something I have been pondering about for a while, and has come back up to my mind in the past few weeks.
First when one of my reader pointed out that my Society6 cutting board was too costly once converted in rupees, and then because of that meme I saw and shared on Facebook :

Sadly, this is all due to this ridiculous urge to get value for money at all cost. And as I pointed out to my reader : Sure, my cutting board might be costly if all you are looking at is a utilitarian purchase. If all you want is a wooden cutting board, by all mean buy one for a few hundreds of rupees in a store or online. 
Society6 is NOT about selling affordable utilitarian items. Their business is to sell products featuring original art from thousands of artists on products people might like and use. 

They are essentially a platform that promotes AND pays artists. And pays them fairly. On that cutting board, my royalty share is 10% of the maximum retail price which amounts to $2.50. I get this same amount wether they sell the product at full price or at a discount. 

In the art world, this is called licensing, as an artist, I own all rights on that artwork and I allow a shop like Society6 to use said design on whatever products I told them was ok to sell said art on, I have the liberty to license that same design on other platform because they do not own it. 

It may not seem like a fair price to a lot of you, but trust me, a site like S6 saves me the hassle of being in charge of the manufacturing cost, shipping cost and keeping an inventory. In the end I suspect their profit margin is as low if not lower than mine, but they have the advantage of volumes. 

What is the cost of your bargain? 

Sure, you can get a lot of fun looking mobile phone cases on the cheap, especially in India. I've seen many small shops selling them for about 2-300 a piece and sadly, more than once I noticed there were some ripped off designs from designers I know are selling on Society6 and other print on demand websites. 

You may feel like you have struck a bargain buying that type of product, but at what cost? 

I'll tell you! At the cost of owning something with a STOLEN design. The designer who did the art on your "bargain" product spent hours to create the design. 
Those red fans above? The painting took me over an hour to get right, then it went in the scanner, and hours were spent to clean it up, edit the colors, transform it into a variation of patterns and then uploading it on a platform I personally chose because of their royalty program and the fact that they let me retain ownership and rights of my art. 

Roughly, from the time I put the first dab of paint on paper and the time it's up for sale, I count an average of 4 hours of work. Then comes all the promoting and marketing I do on the side because I am an idependent and don't rely on a PR firm just yet. 
Why should I not act pissed when I see a stolen design then? Or wonder why exactly someone think my work is too costly?

You've got the power

Truth is, since I started being an independent artist and entrepreneur, I am even more careful about how and where I spend my money than ever before. 

Not just on art and design products, but on EVERYTHING. 

Why? Because I realised that we all depends on a level of patronage to make a living, and we all become patrons and investors when we make a purchase of any kind. 
You don't believe me? Next time you shop, ask yourself how the retail price of what you bought is divided and who it ends up ultimately benefiting. 
A portion of that price will go to your store owner, the delivery service, the manufacturer, the advertising company involve and the corporate brand behind the whole thing. 

A cheap good, relies on volume sold to begin with. If let's say Oreo cookies were hand baked with love in an artisanal setting, you can bet you would not be paying 30 rupees for a pack. 
Sadly, even though the price is cheap, it only serves to fatten the bank account of a faceless corporation whose top executives earn crores of rupees a year in salary while the manufacturer doing all the work is paid peanuts, and might even do it in unethical conditions. 

Is it were you want you precious money to go to? Is having a ton of industrially made cookies containing questionable ingredients better than spending a bit more on keeping your artisan baker affloat? 

Value the human cost

That's what being a conscious patron and investor is all about. It's constantly thinking about where you want to put your money. Is it because you want the most quantity possible at the cheapest price possible? Or would you rather spend a bit more and see that money help an actual person you know in your area or put that money into a  corporation whose end means might or might not be questionable? 

Do you really need to have mass manufactured industrial cookies that come in a jumbo family pack but are tasting like crap and are full of chemicals? Or would it be better to invest into a small business that use natural ingredients, make home made cookies that taste better, even if the price per volume is twice or thrice the price of the industrial one? 

All your choices have consequences

Let's be clear, it doesn't mean you have to only purchase hand crafted items or stay away from online stores and big retail chain. It's just that as a consumer, you need to be aware that your everyday choices all have consequences. So ask yourself if you can live with those consequences. 

Let's go back to art shall we? I personally can't see myself buy any framed artwork from a big retail store. The retail price for a framed piece might be 1500 rupees or less, but the picture is likely a stock picture they bought the right for at a cheap price...if at all (I suspect in many case it is either free stock pictures if not stolen ones). 
I'd rather spend twice that amount for a piece I not only like, but will also ensure that 10-20% of the total price will be a royalty percentage to the artist who made it. 

Invest in someone's passion and love of what they do

For years now, I have been commissioning Ishita's cake with a home baker instead of going to a big bakery. 
I'm sure I am paying a lot more for the cake, but the result is a custom cake, made with love by a lady who is passionate about cake decorating, and work with fresh ingredients. 
What's even more important, is that I am being an active patron in her small business. I love her work, I love her passion for what she does, and she is one of those faces I see around in my neighbourhood and interact with. I know this income she gets from those cakes is helping her supporting her business, and passions. If that isn't money well spent, then what is? 

I conduct art classes and workshops in my neighbourhood. It's the other side of my artist business. I do it because I love it. 
And sure you could be whipping up a dot mandala painting watching free YouTube videos instead of paying 1500 rupees for a 2 hours workshop with me. 
Let me tell you though, that the free video, is not going to provide you all the material for free, and the relaxing morning experience of painting in a group. 
Every single person who took my workshop told me they loved the atmosphere and my gentle guidance and reassurance that they have it in them to create something. Many actually came thinking they had zero creativity in them and walked out with a beautiful painting they made themselves, as an added bonus, they took 2 hours out of their time to RELAX, chit chat, and recharge their batteries. 
If that isn't money well spent, I'll ask you what is? 

It doesn't mean living above your budget

Don't get me wrong, I am not asking anybody to spend money they don't have on something just because it's handmade, or supporting a small business. 
As I told my reader, my Society6 cutting board is not something for everybody, the very same way a hand crafter luxury designer bag is not meant for the masses. 
It's just that it isn't very constructive to say "Hey you know what, your product is too costly once converted in rupees" 
Especially since in the case of that cutting board, it's not exactly cheap in dollars either. I know many Americans who would not spend that amount either. But that is not because the item is priced wrongly, it's just that maybe you aren't the niche market for it. 

I know people in India who have no problem paying that much for a cutting board, or a bag, or a pouch or anything Society6 sells. Some even do it on mass retail items without thinking if the designer got paid for it. 

The point is that no matter what your income is, what segment of the population you belong to, the moment you spend money, you are supporting a cause, a person, a corporation, an ideal, consciously or not. It is so when you choose Coke over Pepsi, mass produced over your local baker, supermarket vegetables over farmer's market. 
The money you pay for any good or service is money invested into a business model. So in the end, you may find that some businesses are not the ones you want to support and you should be conscious of it. This means you are by default an investor and believe it or not, you have a choice as to where you want that money to go. 
You make that choice everyday, whenever you chose one brand or one store above another. 

In my case, I'd rather buy less sweets and chocolate in a month but buy the good stuff and savour it. Or I'd rather buy one super good looking display board rather than a bunch of cheap platters. Or spend more on a processed food item if it comes in a glass jar rather than a plastic one. 

We live in a society that has pretty much conditioned us to believe that "more is best" and that quantity over quality matters. Maybe it's time we all start changing that narrative a little. 

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