Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

In my first piece for “Reading Rights,” I wrote about the problem with the desire to read only the bestsellers in order to keep up with the most prominent form of reading culture. To me, this mentality has never seemed like the most personally fulfilling way of reading. And when I say personally fulfilling, I’m referring to a mixture of pleasure and intellectual satisfaction.
To be able to read the work of someone who can’t be referred to as a celebrity – who is in some way still accessible – is more interesting. It provides a connection to the artist that isn’t present when one reads more popular works.
It seems, often, that we see big publishing houses as institutions that are permanent in our society. But after seeing the success of a website called Etsy.com, it is not difficult for me to imagine a movement in the publishing industry that would privilege the less-known, the hand-produced and the self-advertised.
For those of you who may not have heard of it, Etsy is something like the Amazon of handmade or vintage products. It is a huge marketplace that allows people from all over the world to share their handmade products in a surprisingly personal way.
Initially, the shopping experience still feels like typical shopping. There’s a search field at the top of the front page, but once you find something that appeals to you, a whole wealth of opportunities opens up.
You can send a message to a seller – called a “conversation.” You can request a custom item, perhaps the same item in a different color. You can see which sellers the seller whose items you’re searching through likes. And this is all part of the appeal of buying directly from an artist.
Of course, Etsy houses a huge community of buyers and sellers. In September alone, 280,538 new members joined and 1,466,039 items were sold.
The appeal of the handmade, personal and separated from the larger economy, is largely manufactured by the aesthetic of the handmade movement and the ease with which one can use the website to build friendships with the makers of products from all over the world.
A cynic might say, “Well, Maggie, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Etsy provides us with the illusion of doing something good – or something conscientious with our money. We think we’re supporting the artist. But what about the fees these artists pay to Etsy? What about the fact that Martha Stewart sometimes features people with Etsy shops on her talk show?”
By buying and by producing, we can never fully extricate ourselves from the world that will always in some way need to make a profit or the world that will want to find the next big thing wherever it sells its wares. But if we have to pay, isn’t it better to buy from the individual than from the Walmart around the corner?
Most people want to feel as if they are making a difference, as if their mark on the planet could be something as simple as buying a bar of soap or a packet of seeds or a stuffed animal from a real person.
The real people in this analogy between Etsy and the world of reading and writing are those writers who still write for more than the money and more than fame. Those are the artists who deserve our support for continuing to pursue that which promises little in the way of success and a lot in the way of personal connection.

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