Handmade at Amazon: A conundrum

We have been invited to join Handmade at Amazon.

According to the email my “talent and beautiful products have impressed the Handmade at Amazon team.” Of course, I went on the website and filled out an application, so is it really an invitation? But that is not the question I am here to ask.

Is Amazon a good company?

My belovedest and I stopped shopping at Walmart many, many years ago. The reason I gave at the time was that all the people there are unhappy, but really the reasons why we have maintained not setting foot into a Walton store since has continued to grow. The essence is that the corporation creates an entire culture and society that we do not wish to be part of. We wish for quality over quantity and convenient. We live spreading what we have and do not want to be part of something that skimps and skims from the bottom to give to the top, or — to put it in a more colloquial quip, we don’t want to deal with those who rob from Peter to pay Paul.

Independent vs Public

It is easy to use simple categories and labels to determine good and bad, but is it right? Is it correct?

The current goal of most individuals investing in the stock market is just that to invest.

Invest (v) expend money with the expectation of achieving a profit or material result by putting it into financial schemes, shares, or property, or by using it to develop a commercial venture.

Folks are putting money into the system with the expectation that they will receive more money than they put into it. The goal is more money. Be it fast or be it slow.

From my way of seeing that necessarily creates an ambivalence within the function and goal of any company.

Ambivalent (adj) having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.

Building on that, the leadership of the company is determined by the shareholders.

Relevant things about the writer.

I have not lived a life rich or a life impoverished. I have done well sometimes and gratefully accepted basic food at other times. I work with a union (IATSE — stagehand’s union) and I work for non-profits (theatre companies) and I am an artist and creator. I started, like so many of us, selling to friends. I keep up a few digital shops.

My belovedest (also an artist of sometimes different and occasionally convergent mediums) and I started on Etsy. It was a good deal at the time and a good atmosphere. We had a lot of consistent clients at the time and Etsy handled it without going through Paypal (we hold issue with Paypal’s privacy policies). Everyone liked Etsy, it was a nice place to visit.

Sales tapered off. Our independent art is rarely our primary source of money and necessities, so it was just a thing sitting there online. Our shop, manned by the digital impression of ourselves that keeps the lights burning at any of our online sites. Then it came time to renew listings and pay to relist them.

We decided to glance around and came across Square. Free online storefront, accepts and directs the money, and we got a little tiny card reader that plugged into our phone and let us accept plastic money. Awesome. (We have rarely had reason to use the swiper, but it was great going in together on a Christmas present.) We haven’t sold a lot through there — but I do not think it is because of our online visibility.. I like our store and when it is time to sell a painting, it is an easy system to use.

By happenstance, we changed from Etsy to Square right before Etsy went public.

We recently listed merchandise through CafePress. They, too, are privately owned. We understand that some stuff is good quality, some is mediocre. We only list merch in our store that we have heard adequate things about the quality of. They set the prices and do all the work but the artistry, we take a markup. I wish they had a base price+pay-what-you-want price.

Pay What You Want

I believe in this system. I really and truly do. I think it helps us assign value to a thing that we do, already, value to offer a gift in return. I also think that my art is a gift. I create things that are simultaneously without value and beyond value. Just as I have had cash to burn and given freely in return for things I desired and needed, I have also been poor enough that need for food, warmth, and shelter made me miserly and thankful for the art, music, literature, creations and information that is freely given.

A year ago, we stumbled on (not stumbled upon) Patreon (I spent free hours of a month catching up on years of the daily comic Questionable Content and the artist Jeph Jacques funds his site through Patreon). I thought it was a brilliant idea, immediately signed on. It took us about 9 months to find a good rhythm and balance with the rewards and what we were actually capable of doing every week, but our few first patrons stuck with us and now we make enough not to starve every month (if we were without other income) just for doing what we do and sharing it.

We found a new site for sharing our digital things called Gumroad. (I like the name, it reminds me of the Gum Wall in Seattle.) When we joined, they had just expanded to include physical items that has a pay-what-you-want system that stands alone (free+pwyw) or above a set price ($13.13 +pwyw).

They are all private companies.

Private Companies

We are back to over simplification and labels. Not all private companies are “good.”

Good (adj) to be desired or approved of.

I have dealt my art nearly all through private companies, with limited success. I am not famous, I am not rich, but I am happy. They have fulfilled my needs taking a small percentage when I am successful. They are each their own small marketplace, their own small city. I own a small basement shop on a side street.

I have worked for a man with a private company who literally has “sellout” on his license plate (he is an entertainment promoter, so it is kind of a joke. Kind of.)

No simple labels.

Back to Amazon

Amazon is the marketplace. We shop through Amazon, doing “an order” 2 or 3 times a year including everything from leggings to books to japanese tabi to a wine aerator to a scientific boiling flask (they were to make a cold brew coffee maker. The flask now holds maple syrup.). And of course, every place we buy the tabi and books and leggings from is a company,be it public or private.

Amazon is digital New York City. They have offered me a storefront out in Brooklyn.

I am giving away my book on ebook platforms — distributed through Draft2Digital (basically as a public service — they let you give it away and get nothing or take a cut if you sell it) to Nook, Ibook, Tolino, Scribd, Oyster, Kobo, and Page Foundry. Kindle isn’t on their list. I haven’t figured out how to make it free, it is listed as $1. They give you a greater percentage if you list it as a higher price and have an exclusivity option that essentially puts it in their private lending library.

I feel a little strange about that. It is counter to the model I have chosen.

I haven’t read the terms and conditions. Perhaps this is all a pointless debate and they require exclusivity, which I won’t agree to.

If it looks like someone is trying to trick you, they likely are. If it seems like someone is trying to trap you, it is likely true.

But so many people, our selves included have traded through Amazon — can so many people be wrong? (Of course they can, silly.)

Terms and Conditions

At this juncture in my conundrum, we realized that the email has no link to terms and conditions. In fact, we realized, the email was rather a one path proposition:

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

Log out of any Amazon accounts
Before you get started, please be aware of the following
Your registration link is unique and can only be used once
There will be a tax interview which will ask for your tax identification number (SSN, EIN), legal name, physical address, and date of birth
New to selling on Amazon in the U.S.? Register Now
Have you ever created an Amazon Seller account? Follow the steps below.
Professional Sellers, click here
Individual Sellers you will need to upgrade to be a Professional Seller, then come back to this email and click Register Now
If you have never sold with Amazon, Register Now.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Meanwhile, my belovedest is skateboarding around the interweb and discovers that starting in August 2016, the shop will demand a rent of $40 a month. Waived, for this launch and trial period.

Then my belovedest found this:

A review by an jewelry artisan, Marnie’s Creations, who had jumped early on board, with an except from the Amazon License agreement:

License: You grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all of Your Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights to our Affiliates and operators of Amazon Associated Properties.

Well….

::she starts to wipe the dust from her palms::

WAIT!

My book is copyright creative commons, attribution & share alike. Which means that anyone can use a part of it or all of it, build off of it, make a movie adaptation, a radio adaptation, an audiobook, a comic series, a spinoff book of their own, print copies and sell them, whatever any one can dream, as long as they credit AmarA*jk and that the copyright for their own creation is ALSO creative commons attribution, share alike. This does not mean that folk can’t make money off of their creations, sharing, or marketing. Any one can. Any corporation can. Including Amazon. If they are willing to copyright under Creative Commons they can already use some of our work.

All of my posts on Medium, on Tumblr, on YouTube are Creative Commons. The images I have made of my paintings are in the world and I have not limited who might use them or for what.

But I haven’t yet walked up and handed them to Amazon in trade for a shop in their mall. For a shelf in the largest department store ever conceived, in the quaint homemade section. And I don’t think I will.

Conundrum Solved.

Thank you for reading my strange experiences and tale. Links to places and things and more about me and galleries of images are on my Site of All Things hosted by Weebly.

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