Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thing 15: Itsy Bitsy Etsy

Now, I'm not one to advocate joining the consumer rush for the holidays, but if you do enjoy giving gifts that mean something, perhaps a few online alternatives might make things easier.

To illustrate the point, let's look at Etsy, a "marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade." Rather with struggling with their own sites or large, multipurpose clearinghouses, Etsy gives artisans a place of their own on the net. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Sites like this bring us back to a time of small, personal business while they open us up to the products of the world. As an example, take a look at Cosmo's Curiosities.

Small entrepreneurs can find a marketing site for nearly any thing they create. Here's a small sampling to show you what's out there:

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of many stripes. They use Lulu's tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports. They can then use Lulu as the back end for their electronic store or distribution network.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it's printed onto a T-shirt and sold through the site. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life.

New to the scene, Spoonflower will soon be making quilters and crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. A perfect example of a small home-grown business designed to serve the same type of folks.

Remember SmugMug? You can use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, photo books, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts.

If custom printing is more your speed, you've got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom bumper stickers just for you.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards -- trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos -- but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the customization possibilities!

Discovery Activity
No, I'm not going to ask you to purchase anything. Instead, take a look at a few of the sites above and post about what might convince you to buy (or not buy) from the sellers there. What did you like or dislike about the site or the merchandise? How far could this micro-business model go?

That's all the fun and games for now. I hope you all have a wonderfully spooky Hallowe'en! Next week, we'll get back to some nitty-gritty work with Thing 16: Now My Whole Office is Online! See you then!

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