Competition vs Cooperation

Z in a circle, logo of Zazzle

© 2000-2015 Zazzle Inc. Used with Permission

So I launched a store on Zazzle.com about three weeks ago, and a lot went into getting everything all set. (And now with setting up this blog and off-site site, a lot is still going into it all.) Not least of all was actually creating some drawings, many of which you can find in my portfolio. Nor was learning about how to best scan and digitize images for placing them on products, or the untold time spent posting the actual products and writing their descriptions and such. (Each of these are of course ongoing to a lesser extent as well.) But a bigger matter loomed over it all: what I am truly trying to accomplish, and how should I go about accomplishing it?

Zazzle has hundreds and hundreds of stores, all offering some combination of the comparatively limited number of products that store owners can possibly post. Which is to say, Zazzle has “Makers” who manufacture, print, and stock particular products, while numerous “Designers” (the store owners) supply the drawings, paintings, photos, digital art, or whatnot else to actually appear on said products. With so many, many sellers but only a comparatively limited number of fundamentally different items, how can any one store and seller expect to attract many buyers?

We will get back to this in a moment, for this first brings us to the whole matter of goals. In my case, for instance, I had to ask myself, what am I truly trying to accomplish? Am I trying to become an absolute top seller, attracting a great many buyers on an ongoing basis, and therefore a remarkable income? Or at the other extreme, am I simply trying to share, essentially, a hobby with a few other people, on the assumption that at least some of them will find and enjoy my work enough to purchase some of my items? To put it another way, am I trying to compete as hard as I possibly can against my innumerable fellow sellers, or rather cooperate with them in some sense by simply adding to what Zazzle as a whole has to offer? And how distinct are these two goals anyway?

Getting back to how any one store can expect to attract many buyers, there is no doubt that all Zazzlers are competing to at least some extent, simply in trying to make their own products stand out. Issues of visibility and appeal are only heightened by the existence of others’ products, because one way or another, in order to sell items, prospective buyers need to see them to begin with. And, when buyers do see them, they have to be at least somewhat distinct. As the store owner Customizables has explained, for instance, using the right keywords to tag products for searches is critical (see mistake #4), but so too is posting lots of products with a variety of designs (mistakes #1 and #7) and promoting outside of Zazzle (mistake #9). So too, more basely, is simply taking the time to offer quality designs, including making sure that images fit well on the items one chooses to place them on (mistake #2). Anyone hoping to sell much at all on Zazzle needs to take it seriously (mistake #8), and therefore has to stand out, or, compete.

Yet unless one is already an established artist of great acclaim, perhaps, no matter how well they may end up selling on Zazzle, they will never be alone in their accomplishment there. And nor, for that matter, would Zazzle hardly be their only market for their works. Among “ordinary” Zazzlers then, some sell more or less than others, but selling on Zazzle is selling as part of a community, even in spite of the fact that customers may ultimately choose only one item of a particular type, from among the many choices available. If a person is only using Zazzle as one market of a great many then (and has the recognition to succeed at this), they are somewhat beyond this, but certainly if not, success for Zazzle as a whole, is some small success for individual Zazzlers as well. Such is the nature of selling on Zazzle (or any other one or two platforms), and it is not really in conflict with the advisability of conducting one’s business to succeed.

As for myself, I knew my motivations going in. Between school and a career, I wanted to start doing something in the meantime (even if it is not exactly related to my presumed line of work), and with having enjoyed drawing some in the past, I felt doing more of it–having a place to share and even sell it–would be welcomed. And so that matter of goal and purpose was answered nearly as soon as I began the whole process. I do hope to eventually make sales on a regular basis, and I do hope that all my time spent on Zazzle will eventually amount to a little side income. But am I trying to “better” any other Zazzler, even as I attempt to turn a would-be hobby into a light business? No, and besides, I am not even a professional or previously-practicing artist!

I am, therefore, just aiming to sell a little while creating and sharing my work, and to do so with care and attention to my offerings, adding them to the all the other ones already there … for perhaps something I offer, will be just what someone has been hoping for, and they will be happy to have found it.

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