Why do independent artists charge so much?

Being an independent artist is hard. It is hard to be successful, actually make money, gain respect and be treated like a professional. Whether an artist sells artisan goods on Etsy, Facebook Marketplace or even Ebay, one way or another they are bound to get into an argument with a potential customer who claims their prices are outrageous. However, most of the time, the artist is charging a fair price for the work that is put in and the materials they use. In most cases, if they charge any less, they end up making $5 profit at most. When considering whether or not the majority of artists are charging too much, it is important to look at a few things: the materials of the item in question, the complexity of the commissioned item and the overall skill level of the artist in question.

I have been crocheting since I was nine years old. I have made many things in my life, only getting better as I went on, and now can confidently say that I can crochet circles around most anyone. My stitches are always tight, even and perfect. That being said, I rarely make anything as gifts for others, and I do not take commissions unless asked by someone I know personally. This is because, having been in the crochet community for so long, I know what the standard for the business is, and I know how poorly some of my fellow hookers get treated by potential customers about the industry standard price.

In the knit and crochet world, the standard pricing is three-times the cost of yarn, plus extra materials (stuffing, buttons, etc.), plus compensation for your time. For example, let us consider a scenario where someone wanted to purchase a 100%-wool afghan big enough to fit a twin bed with a popcorn stitch. Wool yarn from most craft stores is approximately $8 for a single skein. With a popcorn stitch, which is a heftier stitch that uses more yarn, a twin-size afghan would need at least 10 skeins of yarn, if not more. This would mean the cost of the blanket, materials alone, would be $80. If they then only charge $100 for the blanket, they would only be making $20 profit. And, given that the blanket would take upwards of 20 hours, they would be making less than $1 per hour. Obviously, this is an outrageously small amount. To compensate them fairly, they would need to charge three-times the cost of yarn, plus compensation for their time, meaning that for a 100%-wool afghan, a person should be charging no less than $300, at the bare minimum. To some, this may seem outrageously expensive, but it is a completely fair price for the materials used and the time put into it.

Obviously, there are other kinds of artisan goods than knitted and crocheted pieces. Some of the most popular are custom t-shirts, mugs and stickers made with Cricut cutting machines. Far too often, crafters are criticized for the amount they charge for these, but it is once again easy to overlook just how much work goes into a single item. Given the customization, the seller would need to make custom designs for each and every order. Depending on what they are making, this is going to take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. Then, they will need to work with the customer to ensure that they are okay with the fonts being used, the colors of the base items, etc. By the time the item is finished, the seller has spent at least two hours on it, if not more. Additionally, the rolls of vinyl, iron-on and other materials are more expensive than most people realize, starting at $8 for two feet of black vinyl. It only makes sense that custom Cricut items are sold for the prices they are, as it is a very laborious craft.

The list of crafts available from independent artists goes on and on. My siblings and I bought a custom ring for my mother a few years ago, and only paid $50 for it. While she loved it, it was nowhere near a fair price for the artist to charge. It certainly was not cheap for them to obtain a stainless steel ring in the precise size we requested, and it was certainly not easy to inlay the stones, in the exact order we requested. A ring like that should have been at least $75, if not more.

A friend of mine recently purchased a 3D printed Animal Crossing decoration. They paid an underwhelming price for it, considering how much the material costs and how difficult it is to design 3D printed items. Another friend recently bought handmade resin dice, and paid considerably more than it was worth, given the simplicity of the design and the number of items received. The examples continue, ad infinitum.

If it is easy to see what makes a fair price for an artisan good, it begs the question: why are prices not more uniform? Why is it so easy to find overpriced items, as well as shockingly underpriced items? The answer, I believe, is simple: artists have become afraid. Too many screenshots of horrible conversations between sellers and potential customers ridiculing them for charging a fair price have been circulating crafting circles for years, to the point where the comment sections are usually flooded with artists claiming that they will never sell for this reason. Art, in any form, is not easy, especially given the subjectivity of it. When someone pours hours of work into a piece, only to be told that they are price gouging or overselling themselves, it hurts extremely deep, more so than people tend to see.

Furthermore, when people are searching for artisan goods, they tend to not leave kind reviews on the fairly priced items, and take screenshots of overpriced items. They then post these screenshots online, and the comments are filled with people exclaiming that all artists charge too much for their goods, and none are worth buying. This perpetuates the stigma around artisan goods and the idea that they are often not worth the price. The way artists are treated by potential customers is quite disgusting, and is a big turn-off for any up-and-coming artists with dreams of selling their pieces to the world.

It feels rather bleak at this point, then; customers are rude, artists are getting tired of it and no one seems to be coming out on top. I think the best thing we can do to support artists is to support artists. The next time you are in the market for handmade artisan goods, think twice before you fight with a seller about the price; know the difference between haggling and harassing. Stop buying mass-produced goods from big chains, and buy them from small designers instead. Most of the time, the items will be better quality, and will last much longer. Most importantly, if you think an item is overpriced, keep scrolling. There is bound to be a more fairly priced option, and there is no need to circulate images of overpriced goods. All that does is add to the stigma that artists are out to get your money. Overall, being an independent artist is often a thankless job, and virtually impossible to make a living from. If it continues at this rate, we will likely see a sharp decline in the number of artists doing commissions in years to come. The best way to prevent this is to support your local independent artists, and to remember that on the other side of the item is a creative person who just wants to be compensated fairly for their work.