Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and great start to the new year! Artisan keycaps are about to enter their 13th year with no sign of slow down, innovation, and bar-raising craftsmanship. Against a somewhat sombre backdrop of the pandemic, regional conflict, and economic uncertainties, we are fortunate to be able to continue participating in our niche hobby and benefit from the amazing art and friendships that it brings. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights, notable releases, and trends in 2022…
Mechanical keyboard meetups were a staple of the hobby until the pandemic shut down pretty much all non-essential public gatherings during 2019-2021. During this period, the hobby grew significantly. Ostensibly with more people working from home and looking to spruce up their keyboards. Those new members didn't have as much of an opportunity to try out new keyboards and meet online friends at meetups.
As things started to return to a semblance of normality in 2022, this pent-up demand resulted in meetups returning to higher frequency, at more locations globally, and in most cases attendance that exceeded previous years events. From examining various sources (including Reddit, Geekhack, and kbd.news), it appears there were at least 65 meetups listed publicly in 2022, and likely many more private gatherings, across nearly 20 countries.
On average, there was more than one meetup every week in 2022! A meetup in the Philippines in October sold over 2,603 tickets, the largest mechanical keyboard meetup to date. While in the past, artisans were relatively underrepresented at meetups, several 2022 venues, such as Nashville and Chicago, saw impressive artisan collections on display.This enthusiasm reflects the tremendous growth of the hobby over the past two years. This trend will likely continue and result in even more meetup activity and record-breaking attendance in 2023. Many are looking forward to the return of the annual Keycon event, as well.
The artisan community has always been generous with charities when the need arises. Since my time in the hobby, I’ve frequently observed makers (along with vendors and collectors) running charity events and auctions for a variety of natural disasters, general charity fundraisers, helping fellow community members, and other philanthropic endeavors. In recent years, the amount of contributions have been growing significantly.
In 2020, for example, Minterly Studios ran a charity event for mental health, with contributions from both keyboard and artisan vendors, that raised close to $20,000. She followed this up with another "Mints for Health" charity auction in 2021 that raised an impressive $75,000, nearly half from artisan contributions.
The results of these generous contributions from artisan makers, keyboard vendors, and private collectors was nothing short of stunning. A total of $118,537 was raised and sent to various charities helping in Ukraine. An amazing $30,000 of that amount came from artisan auctions. Massive thanks to everyone who participated and helped in these events.
In what is now established as a highly anticipated annual artisan event, the duo at Nightcaps ran their annual Poison Summer sales, which is now on it’s sixth year. For nearly 60 days between July 5th and Sept 30th, Nightcaps ran sales for various sculpts including many of their collaborations such as Bongo Face (Hello? Caps), Fugukotsu (Hello? Caps), Fughoul (SludgeKidd), Fugthulhu (HWS), and Egg Pilot (BroCaps). Poison Summer sales usually serve as a traditional artisan introduction of sorts to new collectors, who have plenty of chances to enter these daily sales.
Halloween is widely considered one of the best seasonal events for amazing artisan keycap releases, and 2022 was no exception. There were so many incredible Halloween themed colorways in what felt like a record-breaking number of October raffles.
In addition to the Halloween sales, several popular makers held a pumpkin carving competition that saw some mindblowing artisan-themed entries. Hello? Caps, PrimeCaps, Bogan Caps, Rubrehose, BG Caps, and Hellbent hosted a marathon livestream on thepressurepot Twitch channel with tons of giveaways and live voting. Top prizes from Hello? Caps were sets of his Halloween themed Bongo Cats. Some of the highest-voted entries are below, and you can view the full album here…
Widely collected artisan maker Artkey Universe launched about 6 years ago, and their popular Sirius space dog sculpt turned 3 this year. To celebrate the occasion, the team at Artkey created 18 one-time special Sirius sculpts for an entire week of sales and community events, starting on November 16th. These limited-edition Sirius set the bar for unique sculpt variations, and immediately became some of the most sought after artisan keycaps in 2022 (and probably well into the new year).
It is now virtually impossible to track all the new makers and sculpt releases that debut each year - a testament to how active and varied the artisan maker scene has become. At the risk of this being mistakenly perceived as some sort of formal or objective evaluation of the complete 2022 catalog, I would like to mention some notable sculpt releases, collaborations, and updates, which I personally (subjectively) feel were standouts in their own special ways…
Notable 2022 Sculpt Releases (in alphabetical order):
Notable 2022 Collaboration Sculpt Releases (in alphabetical order):
Notable 2022 Sculpt Revisions (in alphabetical order):
Honorable Mentions 2022 (in alphabetical order):
The Notable Releases and Honorable Mentions above represent a tiny fraction of the incredible art put out by makers in the past year. There were many other interesting makers who I did not have an opportunity to speak with, and artisans that I did not have a chance to see up close, that I'm sure are very impressive. What are some of the new sculpts you enjoyed in 2022? Drop me a PM on discord, if you'd like to share your thoughts. =)
Now let's take a look at some 2022 data and trends. A huge thanks to Zekth for starting to capture time series data from Keycap Archivist that gives us some interesting insights. And also to 89sec for his Reddit data scraping and aggregation work.
Looking at the number of "Artisan" flair posts on Reddit MechMarket, which are primarily maker sales, we see consistent, albeit slower growth than previous years. Mature makers mostly advertise their sales to followers on Instagram or their Discord server, so the sales post activity on MechMarket is primarily driven by newer or casual makers.
After scorching growth over the previous three years, Reddit MechanicalKeyboards and MechMarket subscribers were up at a slightly slower pace of 16% and 12% respectively, year over year. Annual activity on Keycap Archivist slowed down a bit, with a 15% drop in Pageviews, and 18% drop in wishlist activity (as measured by visits to the wishlist page).
Geographically, visitors to Keycap archivist remain fairly consistently distributed, with the US, Canada, Vietnam, and Singapore still in the top 4 countries by visitors. Activity from South Korea and Vietnam was up significantly, at 47% and 32% respectively. Visits from Singapore and the United Kingdom were down annually by 20% and 11% respectively.
As of March 2022, Zekth started saving time series data on usage of some aspects of Keycap Archivist, including wishlist activity. We now have the first nearly full year's worth of data that shows wishlist activity over time, by sculpt and maker.
The chart below shows the top 3 sculpts that have the most wishlist activity per month. Over time, this type of data could provide a rough approximation for the ebb and flow of popularity or demand of sculpts. However, keep in mind that the wishlist function on Keycap Archivist is also used to generate lists for selling or trading purposes, so it may more accurately be a measure of "anticipated transaction volume" (either acquisition or divestment).
If we assign a point score of 1, 2, or 3 to each of the top 3 wishlist activity sculpts per month (ranging from 1 for the 3rd most active to 3 for the most active), and then sum up the scores by maker, we can get a sense of which makers have the most popular sculpts throughout the year. In 2022, there are 3 clear top 3 wishlist activity leaders: Hello? Caps (14 points), PrimeCaps (12 points), and Rubrehose (11 points).
There are, however, other dimensions to consider. For example, beyond the top 3 wishlist sculpts, some makers may have consistently high activity across their catalog, resulting in a higher overall wishlist activity metric. We can also examine the number of page visits to each maker's index page on Keycap Archivist as another proxy of sorts for interest.
The charts below show the overall Top 30 makers in 2022 by both wishlist activity and by page visits. When we look at overall wishlist activity, the top 3 leaders become: PrimeCaps (38K), Golden Star Keycaps (31K), and Artkey Universe (30K).
This data also shows the "long tail" effect that is now prevalent across the wide variety of makers in the hobby. The top 7 makers have nearly as much wishlist activity as the next 40, but the market is now large enough to build a fanbase for, and support, all these makers.
One thing I would have assumed in the top 30 charts is a strong, almost complete correlation between wishlist activity and page views. However, if you look at the makers on both charts, there seems to be some ranking variance across these two categories. So I decided to dig a little deeper and plot these two variables to see what the actual correlation is, and the results are pretty interesting...
Some (mostly unscientific) observations from the wishlist vs page views chart above, in no particular order...
In the future, it might be interesting to see if there is any correlation between these data and maker activity, measured by number of caps/sales per month. One could hypothesize that there is likely some relationship between frequency of sales and large catalog to metrics such as wishlist activity and page views. What do you think of this information? Did I miss any interesting observations? PM me on discord to chat.
TL;DR Analysis: meetups are back in full force! Go hang out with friends and have fun in 2023! =D