Zazzle or Etsy? There is a right answer.

Although I classify myself as a hobbyist-artist rather than a professional, I figure there must be a way to convert the work I'm doing into something tangible (like pizza. Likes on facebook or llamas on DeviantArt don't do much to appease my constant desire to cram pizza into my face.) No part of me ever thought that anyone out there would be interested in paying get some of my art on their walls. This hesitancy kept me from investing any significant money into setting up an account at one of those expensive online art galleries. Hell, the .20 cents to list a single item on Etsy for 3 months was enough to push me away from that being an option, despite regularly losing 20 cents to my couch and being a literally insignificant investment compared to the potential return. It's really the principal of the whole thing.

So Zazzle is free! But....

The first venue my cheap ass was the free-to-list site Zazzle. I very quickly got my Megaman X derived abstract design shut down, immediately after making a sale. Zazzle has a place and a purpose, maybe for corporations or people particularly sensitive to the daily spam of various coupons, but for artists, it's not a particularly useful venue to get your art out. Although you can set up a store under your name, the Zazzle store front doesn't focus on you as a brand. It has a few integrated social media components, such as setting up collections where you can display items that you enjoy, a customizable profile, but nothing more than that. Establishing "Austin Lim" as an artist requires forming connections with individuals, and that sort of infrastructure of networking was simply not in place in Zazzle.

Zazzle does excel in many ways, however. It is easy to customize the products you put in your store - simply upload a picture, set the commission, and hit add to store. However, the ease of customization gives me the impression that Zazzle is geared towards individuals who already have designed a product, and want it made. People don't search on Zazzle to buy other people's products - they go there to make their own products. If I'm planning to print some unique items for myself, like phone cases, pillows, or coffee mugs, Zazzle is most likely my first option. But I don't ever see myself searching for a particular design that someone else has made through this site.

One huge advantage is that while you are the creative driver behind the wheel, Zazzle handles all the logistical work: They print, they ship, they take the flak for customer dissatisfaction. These print on demand aspects of Zazzle are convenient, but it comes at a tremendous cost: While you can set the commission that you earn from each sale, increasing commission also raises the price of the base item, often times to some exorbitant price. Worse of all, it distances you from the customer. There are no opportunities to interact with your buyer. As I process my Etsy orders, it honestly never feels like a chore, despite having all the characteristics of chores. Putting that giant envelope in the mail is so utterly satisfying.

So for me, the case in favor of Etsy is clear: Having a community of buyers and sellers gives me room to expand beyond just the store. In fact, the Etsy Reddit thread is what inspired me to set up this website!