Monday, March 9, 2009

The Economics of Trading: Why it's so important I sold cards for soap

In case you haven't already heard, "The Economy" is in the crapper. "The worst _____ since 19__" has become the daily Mad Lib of the financial news, opening up employment to sports-averse statisticians while the rest of the world loses jobs and savings and all that nice shiny prosperity to which we'd grown accustomed.
We're broke, and if we're not broke we're afraid of becoming broke, so whereas a year ago we might have spoiled ourselves with the new cute handmade handbag for spring, now we're thinking more about toilet paper. But as soon as we don't buy the handbag, the person making and selling handbags suddenly has no money to buy the earrings she wanted from another artist, who can't buy the skirt, who can't buy the journal, who can't buy the soap, and on and on. So now that soap is sitting in its maker's house, the journal, the skirt, the earrings, and the handbag all staring back at their creators who have nothing to do but wonder if perhaps garbage collection wouldn't have been a better life path.

Most of the time when we buy things, we use money. Credit, cash, whatever, it's all the promise of numbers that can get us stuff. Let's go back to my Etsy fish swimsuit seller from previous econ ramblings. When someone buys a fish swimsuit, the artist can do anything she wants with the money: put it in the bank, stuff it under her mattress, use it to buy food and toilet paper, or spend it on the felted boogers she's been eying from another Etsy shop. The trouble with our current economic situation is that we're all so short on actual money, when somebody finally buys a fish swimsuit, there's little choice but to spend said money on food and toilet paper. We can understand and want to support our fellow artists, but at the end of the day, felted boogers are murder on the digestive system.

So what can we possibly do? Especially if we still have tons of inventory collecting dust on our shelves while we fill our "favorites" and wishlists with things we'd love but just don't have the money to afford?


The felted booger maker might have an aquarium full of embarrassingly naked fish. She couldn't have justified sending precious rare dollars, but a two green mediums and a yellow extra-large she'd already made that they wouldn't accept as currency at the grocery store? Oh, happy day!

So how do you go about trading?
  1. If you want something you can't afford/justify in money, approach the seller about a trade. A very simple polite convo with "Hi, I love your ____ and wondered if you'd be interested in trading for anything in my shop. I also have several children of varying ages and genders and a time-share in Guam..." The worst that can happen is they say no and you're in the same position as you were before you started. Assuming no one reports you for the whole child slavery thing...
  2. Cruise the forums. Just searching for the word "trade" in the forums brings up a few gazillion threads from people looking to do just that. They'll often say what sorts of things they want, like clothing, gifts, bath products, stationery, sex toys, etc.
  3. Etsy Traders. It's a big long list of trade-friendly shops, run by the Trade-A-Holics team. Some say what they want, some say what they have, some just have a link. It can be a bit daunting, but it's also the most comprehensive list I know.
  4. The Etsian Trades message board doesn't get much activity, but it's another place to scope. Before stupid people squashed the soul of EtsyTools, they had started an amazing trade list with keywords so you could see what people had and wanted. I'm hoping someone will fill those shoes again, but it's a big job.
  5. If anybody reading this knows of any other fabulous sites, please please please leave in the comments.
  6. Chatrooms. Statistically, this is your worst bet since you're at the mercy of whatever random people happen to be online at the same time as you, but you never know. Just please don't go into a room blasting all caps "LOOKING FOR TRADE!!!!!" It's poor web etiquette. Sometimes people even set up specific trading rooms, but as long as you're polite, you can go into just about any room and ask, especially if you find a particular shop you like. "Would LOVE to trade for that ----->" while you put the coveted listing card up for the room to see is always a good way to go.
Somebody who isn't me really should set up a comprehensive trading site that could somehow allow for multi-party trades, so if the felted booger maker didn't want a fish swimsuit but did want plarn planters, and the plarn planter maker wanted fish swimsuits, the trade could still happen.
"That's why people use currency instead of just a trade-based economy," you say? True, but like I said earlier, we're all out of currency and all we have left are our many, many things that can't be used to pay bills but aren't making us happy, either. So let's get them moving around and making some happy again.

Now who wants to trade for something I can send to my almost 20-year-old brother at college and my friend who's totally reading this for her birthday?


Daogreer Earth Works said...

Great post, great ideas!

Ann Wilkinson said...

i love your post, and as a matter of fact, i just did a trade today. thanks for all the tips, too!

Heathen's Hearth said...

Great post. The only thing I'd say though, is that even the trade friendly have to have currency sooner or later, or we run out of things to trade because suppliers and wholesalers don't take trades. :(

Samantha said...

Love trading! Just wrote a blog post about a successful trade I had last week that I was thrilled with. :)

We can't just stop getting the things we want and need altogether, even while we're struggling. This is a great way to still be able to get little luxuries!

Julie said...

I love trading--most of the time. It's so great to get some of the luxuries in life without worrying about having the cash on hand :)

Meekiyu said...

great idea I never thought about trading as a an alternative. I've been approached with trades but didn't find anything in the shop I liked/could use. Feel sort of bad. =(

amy said...

And I'd venture to say that unless one is more specific about what one would like when stating a trade request, it's harder to find what you want/like/need.
I'm in the middle of a trade right now, and it's also a great learning opportunity; I took a moment making something for another artisan (a new crochet technique/stitch) and she's working on a new oxidizing technique. So don't forget the R&D value of such trades.

a. said...

I would like to trade the gift that I never sent to you on your LAST birthday for a million snuggles.

And at first I thought you were going to trade your brother for something. I imagine he could be quite valuable. Maybe you should try to get some TP out of the deal.

a. said...

p.s. your live traffic feed thinks i'm in san diego.

Anonymous said...

I might be up for trading!