Zazzle.com: on-demand production of culture
What it means to be a “user”
With the Internet’s expansion and systemization of managing the production of cultural goods, we lose a local hands on approach that could lead to further innovation of objects and thus new culture that naturally develops around home-brewed innovation.
Zazzle.com is an online retail store that allows users to create their own customized products from templates Zazzle provides. If you’ve ever wanted a picture of your pet iguana to be placed on a skateboard so that you can shred the streets lizard style–well then look no further you’ve found nirvana, no dude not the band the state of mind. And if you want to share the love you have for Iggy the iguana with the whole world, you can open up a storefront and slap images of Iggy onto super rad stuff like, coffee cups, t-shirts, hoodies, iPhone cases, necklaces, shoes, speakers, office supplies, pet clothing etc. And guess what dude? Zazzle will take care of production and shipping and just send you a check in the mail when people buy your cool merch. Easy money bro! Of course Zazzle will take out royalties according to the percentage you mark up from the base price cost of the product, but no worries that’s just business. So check it, you get your own website, your “own” products and Zazzle will give you 100 free business cards to promote your site or wait is it their site? I forget.
I got to warn you upfront, there’s going to be some serious competition. Not only do millions of other peeps have storefronts with the same products you’re working with, but even companies want a piece of that tangy, zesty, Zazzle pie. Yeah were talking monstrous corporations here–well equipped with Gatling guns and heat-seeking missiles to dominate the playground at recess time. They use Zazzle to promote their already existing operations with the use of merchandise as billboards unlike the individual who can use Zazzle as a way to create culture in of itself. Some of these companies include Hallmark, Disney, MTV, Marvel comics and pretty much every popular band, T.V. show and movie. Don’t have a freak out…I’ll let you in on a little secret–this is some mad strategy I got brewing here. They have a “trending now” section on their home page that has products related to events happening in the media, for example, Osama Bin-Laden was recently killed by an airstrike executed by the U.S.A. Everybodys gotta be super stoked right? So what you do is riff on that news like it’s your Saturday morning cereal and create an image for your storefront that pokes fun at his death. Bam!! You’ve unleashed your laser beam shooting stegosaurus stampede at all dem bitches and people will crash the server trying to get your nutz, I mean goods.
You’ll notice on Zazzle that some companies are advertised on various pages; giving them additional exposure to outshine you. But whatever, it doesn’t have to be a competition. It’s pretty cool that Zazzle lets you upload your own images and lets you become the owner of your own store. So much control and power for the individual right? Wrong!! Let me break it down for you. (But let us keep this on the down low. Zazzle is paying me to promote their website not undermine it.)
Zazzle provides a readymade business model for millions of people to utilize in the name of creativity and clientele right? The problem with this is that it fulfills our need to produce “unique” objects without ever really producing anything unique besides the images people upload. The images are the only physical thing that separates the companies and each individual store owner. Sure the images are pretty powerful but the modes of production and the objects themselves are ultimately determining the platform onto which culture develops. Furthermore, the role, or the lack-there-of, that the general public plays in developing the infrastructure of culture industries defines the type of relationship between companies and the public. Can this ever be a genuine relationship with empathetic concerns for both sides without companies fusing their ideologies into the culture itself? To what extent will privatization shape our future culture? With sites like Zazzle, this relationship manifests itself as a deceptive equilibrium. It would appear, in short-term, that people are being empowered to be culture producers. In the long-term, people are giving up their participation on the level of production and getting quite comfortable with the role as user.
You will notice that the whole production process on Zazzle has become homogenized for worldwide use and company/individual use; this type of model threatens the empowerment of local production and product innovation. The Zazzle model could become the Wal-Mart of retail stores. What will the rise of on-demand printing do for small printing shops? And what type of inventions does Zazzle hinder if people become dependent on being users under the umbrella of a company and not in the seat of producing themselves? Not that people should control how Zazzle operates, however, people should empower themselves to create unique objects, not just unique designs based on the model of a company and call it their own “product.” How do you think skateboards came into existence in the first place? They evolved from the innovation of people’s willingness to be daring and experimental, not from the direction of a how-to guide existing in the vacuum of revolution.
With the Internet’s expansion and systemization of managing the production of cultural goods, we lose a local hands on approach that could lead to further innovation of objects, and thus new culture that naturally develops around home-brewed innovation. Culture can still be created through Zazzle, but it’s a matter of the quality and long-term aspirations of that culture. I don’t know how much low-end novelty items can enrich our society. I think the only enriching is going to be a business one in favor of Zazzle and the sponsored companies. As consumers we can turn that around by buying only from individual storefronts. In theory, individual created designs/stores could become more popular than name brands. This would all still be happening under the mediation of Zazzle and they would still be making profit off of your success as you make it off of their success. It’s a relationship with benefits to both parties, however, not a benefit to the progression of the society we all live in. Can you dig it my ninja?