Jason Malinak’s fifth chapter in Etsy-preneurship: Everything You Need to Know to Turn Your Handmade Hobby into a Thriving Business (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95) opens with the allegory of Susan Spendfreely and Megan Moneywise. Over the river and through the Internet woods, boy did my eyes roll.
Tedious and confounding, the 206-page book’s useful parts (what Malinak would call “nuggets”) are obscured by throat-clearers — empty set-ups that dither until you get to your point. I fall into throat-clearing mode when I’m, you know, speaking. But on the page, they might as well be lethal: accidental death from clinging to the Jane Schaffer method of paragraph-writing. “Nothing kills your business like wasting time.” “Every year, new cameras come out with improved features.” Pretty soon I’m going to end this sentence and start another one.
Here’s the thing: Malinak and I are in total agreement. Etsy is awesome. The 400,000 vendors on the self-touted “world’s online marketplace for handmade and vintage items” sell everything from Game of Thrones maps to eco-friendly engagement rings to Jon Stewart onesies. My 10 purchases from Etsy – eBay’s successor and Pinterest’s precursor — include a hand-stamped “I Read Banned Books” bracelet.
Malinak is an accountant, not a writer. He caters to advice seeking customers with eBooks and spreadsheets in a pair of Etsy shops. Last year, Etsy sold $538 million in goods. Piggybacking on such success, authors have turned books about Etsy into a small publishing subcategory. (Starting an Etsy Business for Dummies; Etsy 101: Sell Your Crafts on Etsy, the DIY marketplace for handmade, vintage & crafting supplies; Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF, et cetera.) Malinak’s CPA background offers a new angle.
While he claims not to be an artist, Malinak takes major creative license with the exclamation point (on one page, I counted five), even wedging one in after the word “audit.” Ahem [throat clear], I mean “audit!” In a recent essay for The Atlantic’s website, Grantland writer Rembert Browne summed up the anti-Malinak approach: “I would be lying if I described my feelings toward seeing an exclamation point as loathe or not a fan of. The hate in my heart for the misused, overly used piece of punctuation is very real, and I couldn’t be prouder, seeing as that it might be the only thing I truly stand for.” Malinak’s exclamation points reminded me of the airplane trick parents use to spoon-feed babies – watch the birdie while we learn about bookkeeping, taxes and operations.
Since Malinak’s not an Etsy employee, readers miss out on the Etsy origin story (I understand his point of view, but I almost felt — stupidly — that Malinak denied one of the founders the chance to write a this-is-how-we-did-it-back-in-2005 book with the titular neologism “Etsy-preneurship”). I struggled to determine Malinak’s target audience, and also whether the book was well-timed. Initially, the book seemed explicitly meant for crafters who are actively planning an Etsy outpost. However, Malinak’s six core strategies apply to the foundation all businesses. Achieving top positions in an Etsy search function is exactly like navigating the world of search engine optimization to get your website a higher Google ranking. He extolls the value of branding above all else, and provides a very practical pricing formula (direct raw material costs + indirect raw material costs + other direct costs + allocated overhead + markup ± psychological pricing adjustments = your retail price). Every type of protocol is explained step-by-step. (Etsy, PayPal, shipping fees.) All of his mission statement and goal-setting convictions are low-concept common sense, yet compiled in a reassuring read so future “Etsians” forget nothing.
The article “Etsy Goes Pro” from the October issue of Wired legitimized Etsy to the techies and data specialists who previously couldn’t have cared less about a website that sells replicas of Bert and Ernie’s pajamas (ok they don’t, but they should). Wired reports that every month Etsy’s 42 million visitors browse through 15 million goods. Etsy has partnered with the housewares store West Elm, and soon products made by Etsy vendors will be sold locally (causing debate within the Etsy community; some people like the idea of increased visibility while others lament the possible new middleman interfering with the maker-buyer rapport). There’s always the question of when Etsy will go public. The once sparse staff has grown to 160, and social-media watchers are scrutinizing the company’s moves. Recently, executives at Twitter and Etsy announced The Engineer Exchange Program, where members of each staff will ingratiate themselves into the other for the benefit of both. Considering what a behemoth Twitter is, the acknowledgment that they can learn from Etsy is…monumental!