Makers now have access to an expanded range of retail platforms and services that enable them to market and sell their creations to larger audiences.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a maker puts his masterpiece on a shelf where no one can see it, is he still maker? Philosophers have argued that it is only in perception — the knowing by others — that a thing exists, and some say that the maker movement is the same.
“I don’t agree with the concept that the maker movement is something new,” Eric Wilheim, founder of Instructables, said recently.
“It’s actually quite old. What’s different is that suddenly, all of us are able to take pictures of the cool things we’ve made, and we’re able to find people who like those cool things, and that inspires us to do more,” he said.
In other words, it’s the global gathering of makers and maker creations through the Internet that distinguishes today’s tinkerers from the hobbyists of the past.
This gathering together is increasingly taking the form of online marketplaces devoted to small-scale, DIY creations. Their contribution to the economy is growing by leaps and bounds.
Etsy sold $1.35 billion in goods during 2013, and Atmel projects the total market for 3D-printing products and various maker services to hit $8.41 by 2020. The trend in maker marketplaces is not just in their proliferation, but also in their specialization. Online retailers sprung up for everything from 3D printables to DIY hardware devices. Brick and mortar outlets joined the fray as well, with troubled electronics giant RadioShack devoting floor space to maker products, and Manhattan’s STORY is bringing the maker movement to an innovative retail scene.
Arts-and-crafts content platform Brit + Co created ‘Shop’ — a dedicated space for creative types to display and sell their wares. The marketplace complements the library of crafty tutorials and online classes, underscoring the idea that anyone can make … and anyone can sell.
Brit + Co focuses supports and inspires female makers, featuring everything from homespun ribbons and glue to 3D-printed electronics. Brit + Co also carries more established brands, extending the maker concept to an increasingly large and diffuse community.
Online marketplace Kazzata has planted its flag in a niche that, for some, represents the sweet spot for 3D printing — spare parts. As manufacturers innovate and decommission past products, the supply chain for replacement parts becomes so inefficient that consumers frequently find themselves with no choice but to trash-and-replace.
Kazzata, however, aims to provide those manufacturers (as well as independent designers) the opportunity to keep spare parts in ready supply on digital shelves. Anyone can upload the CAD file for a given piece, allowing those in need to print the spare part themselves or have it produced through an established network of 3D printers.
So far, the catalog is small and tends toward the obscure. One mechanism for growing the catalog, however, is a feature which allows consumers to request parts and have that request distributed to Kazzata’s network of product designers and engineers for on-demand production of new CAD files.
Bridging the online/offline divide in maker marketplaces, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) partnered with crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to feature a curated collection of 24 products on display at its high-design MoMA Store.
The mix of low and hi-tech objects available online and in MoMA Stores around New York City were all successfully funded on Kickstarter and exemplify the maker mindset of innovation satisfying a creative impulse. This is the first retail partnership for Kickstarter and presents makers with a global audience for market-testing, funding and ultimately selling their creations.
Jules Pieri, co-founder of online “Citizen Commerce” catalog The Grommet, defined the movement this way as something built by a person, not an institution. That covers a broad spectrum of products, but the shared maker identity is constantly reaffirmed in the real and virtual spaces where they gather to display and sell their creations.
As a result, the rapid growth of these maker marketplaces is not simply feeding a demand for new, DIY creations. It is growing community, inspiring further innovation and incentivizing makerhood itself.