The Problem With Going Viral...
I know I need to preface this blog post with a few things to keep people from getting the wrong idea, so I'll try to quickly do that.
Inspiration is cool and should be encouraged in the creative space. I wouldn't be where I am in carpentry if I hadn't first learned from someone else. In my case, it was apprenticing under and learning from my dad's experience and the way he did things. In other words, I copied what he was doing to build a skillset of my own. From that point, I expanded that knowledge, developed my own style, and wasn't stepping on his toes by doing my own thing. Carpentry is complicated and generally not intuitive, so if someone is just starting out and wants to use my ideas and designs to develop their ability to use tools and improve their own skillset, that's great. Replication for personal use and to further one's education is how most people actually learn. Painters start there, sculptors, musicians, and anything creative. You start first by replicating and use that as a jumping off point to do something unique and catered to your own style and creativity.
Unfortunately, something I have seen happen over and over again is this: Someone is starting out in a craft or new medium, then makes a replication of someone else's design. They're proud, show it off, and then people they know ask them to make another one of said design for them. Wanting to throw a little cash at their friend, coworker, relative, etc for their effort. The person then sees dollar signs and decides to start replicating that design for profit instead of using it as a stepping stone to further their own creativity and experience. Either that, or a person already has the experience and just sets out to replicate something for profit because they only care about making money from it anyway.
And that brings us to this:
On November 7th, 2018 I posted this picture on my Instagram. This is a design I came up with months before setting it up to take a picture. I really didn't think anyone would be interested in this crescent moon shelf with a staircase going up it, so I made one of them and just sat on it for a while. That being said, I'm not going to sit back and say the concept is completely original and unique to me. I've never claimed that and never would, because I was inspired by a 1940's era shelf design which is this:
I had seen the above design floating around in thrift shops and such, but wanted to do a modern, cleaner take on it, which aligned with the type of work I do for a living now. I really like clean lines, so a moon with simple stairs and half circles underneath would be perfect for that use. When I finally released them in my Etsy shop that November, people were excited, but they didn't sell out in record time or anything. They trickled out of inventory over a few days, I made another smaller batch right before Christmas that year, and then sent one to my best friend, Chandra. I put my shop on vacation mode after Christmas orders had gone out and went out of town to be with my girlfriend's family. Then, the day after Christmas, Chandra posted this picture to her social media accounts:
Her post blew up. Went crazy. Thousands of shares on Facebook in less than twelve hours, Instagram went crazy, and my DM's were flooded with messages from people asking for them, on top of Etsy messages and emails. You see, I work year-round with no real vacation. The online store where you are reading this blog is my only income. I make the pieces you see here, market, ship, answer questions, it's all just me. One person. When this post went viral I was about two days into the only time off I had taken that year, and was also in another state, almost 1,000 miles from my shop and tools. I couldn't have made more of them in that moment if I had truly wanted to.
Many people were patient and waited though. This design was my best selling item from January to March of 2019. But, within two days of the post going up, people were replicating them and posting their copies to Etsy. Not inspired designs which were similar to mine, but exact replications of what I had done. One person even posted a YouTube video three days after the viral post, showing people how to make it. He included screenshots of my Etsy shop and my social media accounts to give credit, but then also showed the world how to copy it so they wouldn't have to buy one from me.
Later in 2019, I abandoned this design. I'm still incredibly proud of it and happy it was "mine" for a few months, but even to this day, the same picture my friend posted is making the rounds without credit all over the internet. If someone saw this picture and made one for their mom as a gift, I'm okay with that - I encourage it. But, if I see this picture reposted on Facebook or Instagram these days, I don't even read the comments. Anytime I have, it's usually full of people saying "I bet you could make these and sell them" while tagging their friend. Or "I can make these if anyone wants to send me a DM." I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I read things like that because, like I said, I'm proud of that design, but I feel like I had to let it go and surrender it to the internet. And that isn't me "crying" about it. I'm not crying. It's just the reality of being a maker in the days of everyone having mass access to the same media and information.
If you were wondering where that particular shelf originated, you have found me! If you want to dispute my claim, send me a picture of that shelf design which is stamped earlier than my Instagram picture above and I'll recant every claim I have made. -J. Drew Silvers
PS: I'm not blaming my friend Chandra for posting a pic that went viral while my shop was closed. Haha. You can't predict those things or how they happen. The exposure from the pages and accounts which gave credit to me for the design did have a huge impact on my growth for the better. So, the design ended up being sacrificial, I guess you'd say. It worked out better for me than most, overall.