I Can See Clearly Now: Life on Etsy

1.

Long ago, in 2005,

Etsy was the great new hope for hipster e-commerce, taglined your source for all things handmade. Full of fancy tech and smiling people, it would connect artisans and artists with buyers, redefining the marketplace with a rustic, meaningful patina.

The girl who told me about it

emanated patchouli as she moused around my laptop to show me her shop, filled with her handmade, bohemian-esque scarves. It was summer 2006. Another freelance job lay on the table, awaiting my tired eyes. Literalist by trade, I stared at this made-up word on the site’s homepage, elongated white typeface letters floating in a bar of muddy orange:

E t s y.

What does it mean? I said.

She looked at me sympathetically. Like, you’re so old school.

I was raised by workaholics.

My father’s business associate was also my honorary godfather. He was Chinese. He’d say, Don’t be a writer. Be a businesswoman. Make money. He’d say, Businesses have to grow, or they die. I never understood that, which I took as a sign I should be a writer.

But then my life changed: after years of rumblings, my marriage exploded, scattering me and thirteen rooms of vintage homespun with it. And publishing was in the throes of its gerund phase: downsizing, outsourcing, retooling. So I opened my own shop on Etsy in July 2008, where, despite the tagline (later changed), you could sell vintage, or supplies. The first items I listed were the artifacts of heartbreak: revenge retail. I recouped domestic losses by turning them into cash.

Über market

Etsy was like an online craft fair, each shop a little storefront. Membership was free, each listing cost 20 cents; 3.5 percent of every sale, including shipping and sales tax, went to Etsy. Most people paid through Paypal.

The rules were simple: be honest, be nice, keep vintage at least twenty years old and handmade entirely designed and constructed by you, the seller. That definition was adjusted to include small collectives, a wee indication of how Etsy liked to evolve by redefining its own terms (and “handmade” is elevated from adjective to noun). There was an official blog, with inspiring features like “Quit Your Day Job” and “Featured Seller,” shelter-porny home tours, discussion forums (just no call-outs, ok?), chirpy DIYs (granny-square laptop covers!) and an endless stream of market-y emails (“Handmade Weddings!”). Staff avatars had real faces. The CEO, Rob Kalin, dispensed furry optimism and used words like transparency, meaning, ethos.

etsy2

Etsy burlap roses for a rustic handmade wedding (seller: theruffledaisy).

Be Personal. Be transparent.

If you tell people who you are, they trust you, said Etsy. Also: create your unique brand. The advice seemed contradictory to mea brand is made up, a tasty phantom; a person is just a person, and who wants to know who I really am? Instead I became the cheery head cook, my shop set up like a diner, a menu serving up apple pie necktie, tenderloin jacket, maple crunch pumps, blue plate specials. Neat idea, howd you come up with it? other sellers asked. I didnt tell them it was my inside joke: given my anemic income from publishing, I would have looked for restaurant work if I didnt try this.

It was easy, mostly.

I was good at finding vintage; I had radar. I once spotted a roadside carton marked FREE and found Atomic Modern cocktail glasses inside. And everyone wanted vintage: it was green and hip: Dude, cool old toaster object. That apron’s really sexy. Recycled clothes are way more righteous than Chinese sweatshop factory crap. It was refreshing to have this much fun working, to have to shop. Just take some pictures (I loved photography), do some research (majored in history), write a listing (and creative writing) and voila, thirty bucks. I began making money, one sale at a time.

2.

Handmade is noble.

Vintage was the giggly older sister on Etsy, parading around in a bouffant with her rockabilly boyfriend. But as part of the mission’s core, handmade was the kid under pressure. Handmade embodied a better past, a better future. To Etsy it wasn’t the objects that gave meaning, it was how they were made and who made them: the method was the message. And handmade spoke to our preindustrial, kinder past, of heritage crafts, authentic process. It was all so romantic, if slightly abstract. But Etsy made it fun, too: Stay handmade! staff saluted in wacky DIY videos, we’re taking over the world!

etsy1

Felted sushi. (Courtesy Brooklyn Etsy Labs)

But handmade is a preindustrial concept.

I remember wondering about this: how could small-scale production, based on village-sized supplies and demands, work on a global scale? Nineteenth-century pre-industrial artisanal production, aka handmade, was just that. Unfettered by factories, container ships, paypal, FedEx, cities, inherently isolationist. Was it truly sustainable to ship one soy candle from Vermont to France? Could someone even support herself making soy candles? Would Etsy be able to create a magical marketplace that sustains us? A handmade utopia?

Trust us, Etsy said.

And reselling is evil.

Even in Etsy’s early years it wasn’t easy to keep the mission pure. Interlopers were always crashing Etsy’s borders to steal business away from good, honest, transparent folk.  Shops that didn’t give a whit about integrity would hawk wares they hadn’t made reselling, in Etsyspeak. There’s something Court Jester vessel-with-the-pestle about this distinction, but a maker is a seller, and a faker is a reseller. 1) make, 2) sell vs. 1) make, 2) sell it to a reseller, 3) who re-sells it. Other shops tried to get by with fake vintage, hoping no one checked the labels against logo dates on trademarkia.com. Counterfeiters bought an item from one shop, copied it, claimed the copy was their own design, and then undercut the original by selling theirs for less (there’s a missed term from the Etsy lexicon: re-makers).

So narc for us.

But we Etsy villagers, we were vigilant. It makes business sense to help keep your own playing field free of cheaters, and Etsy made it so easy to flag errant items. There’s a report this item to Etsy tool on every listing page. Etsy was ever expanding: $180 million in sales in 2009, $314 million in 2010, and 400,000 active sellers. It was refining its Board of Directors (from Facebook, Flickr, WalMart), courting investors (big influx coming right up), developing an in-house payment system (why let Paypal have all the fun), getting a CTO (Chad Dickerson, soon the new CEO). Staff had little time for dealing with all the clamoring at the bottom of this giant pool. And for years, despite extolling community, you couldn’t reach Etsy by phone: there was no phone number.

No, really.

Also, Etsy wasn’t always that good at due diligence. Sometimes, shops were flagged unfairly (by crazy buyers, jealous rivals): wrongly shuttered by Etsy, sellers had to beg via email to reopen. Frustrated sellers took the forums to complain they were twisting in the cyber wind, emails unanswered. Shops eclipsed by counterfeiters had to generate so much proof it was easier to just give up. Meanwhile, shops flagged again and again were still thriving (back to that one in a bit). The discussions would pour on advice and sympathy, until finally, an Etsy admin appeared and finished the thread with a bureaucratic Thanks, we’re looking into it. If the tone got too shrill the forum might simply get shut down. Nontransparently, part of Etsy’s company culture included muting dissent, sometimes just for a bad attitude: Please be respectful and stay positive. Thanks!

etsy3

Black harem 100 percent cotton Hippie Fisherman pants. (Seller: Lunalin)

3.

New old things all the time.

Mostly, I stayed in my vintage bubble, fully hooked, by 2011, on the highs of great finds and rising sales. I bought a pricey camera, an antique dress form, was collecting vintage by the garbage bag, any style so long as it was old. I sold Kennedy-era to Mad Men, rural farmy to Hilfiger, heritage to Japan. I cultivated a flooded-with-daylight look in my photos. And I started to imagine not having to freelance anymore, sipping that Quit Your Day Job punch. Because oh, that 1920s tux from Kerhonkson, that Ginger Rogers dress, that Danish Modern so many new old things all the time, an endless supply, and the research fascinating, people in Indiana, Sweden, Calfornia so happy to buy. I imagined the only thing limiting me was the fact that there were only twenty-four hours in a day, but I was sure I could somehow get more efficient (how industrial, actually).

I promise I won’t leave you.

Fretsy, we called it at home. If I didn’t have a sale for a day I’d fall into a funk. If I was off the site too long I got jumpy, tilting in the direction of my laptop. Addiction, a friend said, only less fun than dope. No, I said, it is so fun. Etsyholic, she countered. And anyway, don’t you have a book to write?

But don’t leave me.

It was a strange world, all confined to these pastel framed screens, sales hinging on your ability to be found. You might get an item on the Front Page possibly via the treasury system, in which members scrambled to curate collections (hundreds of them) that Etsy might pick and post for half an hour. (Another twisty term: a treasury is a storehouse of wealth, which we kept replenishing, for free, for Etsy’s use as front page content.) You might strike gold and be profiled as a Featured Seller. Or land in an Etsy Finds email (“Rustic Wedding!” “Trending: Chevrons!”). Still, there were so many ways to disappear. Use the wrong keywords in listing titles. Let listings expire. One night I dreamed I was a sweater, lost in the woods, lying unseen on the forest floor, while giant, spidery search engines roved overhead. Because I’d forgotten that Search (a verb turned noun) was now based on relevancy, not recency.

And sometimes,

on a sunny Sunday, I’d leave the screen and go outside, feeling like I’d stepped off the crazy bus. Everything would be quiet. Birds were flying, dogs playing in the yard. My eyes would relax, free of that endless pixelating overload. I’d pick up a book, read language unco-opted by agenda. Then I’d hear a voice: What, you want to lose your edge? Get back on that horse.

We’re getting Bigtsy.

By 2011 that old village felt more like a new international airport, a heavily invested behemoth hub attracting, according to Dickerson, now CEO, some 25 million visitors a month. There were more than 7 million members, 800,000 sellers, and so many ways of knowing what everyone else was doing; a vast social network with facebooky feeds that made it so you never wanted to look away. Numbers began to fill Etsy’s announcements, as if they were magic, as if they were better for everyone. It’s amazing, Etsy seemed to be saying, We’re growing exponentially and yet still able to maintain our integrity and transparency! Start patting backs now, everyone!

And kind of creeptsy.

That’s when Etsy made its first overtly un-transparent mistake. Not like having no phone number, or shutting down the wrong shops (that just seemed like rank incompetence). It brought in a data mining company, KISSmetrics, presenting it as Google Analytics on steroids, meant to help us learn what drove traffic to our shops. But KISSmetrics didn’t give one byte about our shops. It slipped into our browser files, installing secret, undeletable tracking codes Supercookies to record everything we did online. Was Etsy selling this data? Using it as value to beef up its value? A lawsuit charged KISSmetrics with violating U.S. privacy laws (the firm settled with plaintiffs), and everyone felt sold out: Etsy (named in the suit but dropped) had ignored it own member privacy rules.

The debacle was widely reported, in  Inc., the Daily Dot, Wired. Everyone asked (rhetorically, really, because think about it): could a breach that vast be unintentional? We had no idea, Etsy insisted. Very Nixonian, very we are not a crook. Also cutely retro, I thought. Then as if to save us, it announced it disabled KISSmetrics. You’re safe now, it said. Not according to my Mac guy.

Moose head with colorful birds print on vintage upcycled page (Seller: ForgottenPages)

Moose head with colorful birds print on vintage upcycled page (Seller: ForgottenPages)

I began falling out of love with Etsy

in 2012. The skimcoat of meaning was peeling away. Having ramped up my shop with a do or die momentum, I was having my best year. But the romance was fading, that sense of community curdling into scared factions facing a growing epidemic of resellers (bubble necklaces, prom dresses), and a new feedback system where a buyer’s negative (this vintage sweater arrived preworn!) could damn you forever. At least get a freaking phone number, members raged.

Etsy seemed strangely above it all: rehashing the same ideas (no really, Quit Your Day Job!), the same trend reports (Mermaids, sapphire!), same aspirational profiles. In spring, its coveted Featured Seller spot was devoted to furniture maker Mariana Schecter, whose shop, Ecologica Malibu, was exposed as a reseller in a heartbeat. Was it her French manicure, diamond ring, her spotless, creamy hands that gave it away? Watchdog and spoof blog Regretsy (tagline: Where DIY meets WTF) posted bills of lading from an Indonesian factory to Schecter, and found the same neo-Brutalist armchairs on Overstock.com. The interwebs had a field day.

In the annals of transparency, an “Our bad” would have gone far. But Etsy would not retract the profile. Our only mistake was not calling this a collective, it insisted. Dickerson himself defended Schecter (we’re satisfied, based on her evidence …). Okay, but what about those chairs on Overstock, Ebay? [vigorous, futile pointing gestures here]. Etsy simply deleted all the comments. 4,400 shops staged a one-day blackout Protestsy. Ecologica disappeared but probably voluntarily, since the profile’s still up: there poses the fake carpenter on that Frankenbench, magazine in lap, declaring her passion for working with her hands. Etsy was dead. Long live clueless Etsy.

 

4.

Imagine you’re a merchant on the other side of the world,

wanting a bigger foothold in e-commerce. You’ve been watching Etsy at first, it was bafflingly noble, elevated above evil mass manufacturing, extolling the noble artisan, so odd and out of step with the times. But now it’s courting international markets, heavily invested, projecting escalating profits and, as if to broadcast its real values, defending an accused reseller. Except for that weird handmade hangup, it’s turning into a business-friendly place after all.

Then Etsy took the grand, final step.

It deregulated itself. Simply did away with its own rules. Took a once functional word handmade and killed it . Re-revised the definition, unfurling it this past October like a golden scroll.

Handmade items must begin with the imagination and creativity of the member operating the Etsy shop. Sellers can use the help of other shop members, or outside manufacturers, to bring their visions to life. 

Outside manufacturers could mean anything, including factories. Sketch a dress on a napkin, reproduce it in thousandplicate; it’s still considered handmade. Sellers can also dropship now, factory direct. It was couched as a way for growing sellers to stay on Etsy, but it was much more. Etsy followed a very traditional, very capitalist, very organic economic trajectory from rural hamlets of makers to one grand city of industry. It just accomplished the shift in eight years instead of centuries.

In Etsy doublespeak, handmade means not handmade.  Maybe brainmade; thoughtmade, but there’s a loophole the size of the sky here: all a shop has to do is say it thought of that same coat you see everywhere, and who’s going to be able to prove otherwise? Just say, No, I’m not reselling that coat, I thought of it first. Here’s my sketch on a napkin. Then forty other factories somehow got a hold of my design and copied it. Honestly.

To be fair, there is a manufacturing approval process. Sellers have to submit a manufacturing application. But on it, you don’t need to actually name the manufacturer. You can use a display name. Etsy also lists guidelines to consider when choosing a manufacturer. Like fire exits, no child labor, possibly a place where fingers don’t wind up in conveyor belts or where animals are not skinned alive. But the operative verb is “consider.” These guidelines are non-enforceable.

Just in case, there’s a line to make it clear: Etsy is not responsible for any manufacturers chosen by sellers.

The thing about transparency,

as Etsy defined it, is that it was about something intangible, fueled by idealism. The thing about business is that it’s fueled by a very tangible drive to grow. Rob Kalin, Etsy’s co-founder and former CEO, may disagree, but now he’s busy planning a giant hotel/restaurant/crafter’s workshops up in the little town of Catskill, bringing artisanal tourism to a defunct industrial complex, which I find rather poetic: he’s returning to the beginning of the evolution to start the process all over again. Meanwhile, Dickerson projects exceeding $1 billion in sales next year, wants half of Etsy’s business to be in international markets, and there’s talk of a pending IPO (hey, dejected crafters, possibly quit your shop and buy some stock).

Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

Yes, there was a profile in the recent Etsy blog of a cute American couple making their living handstamping forks with phrases like Live the Dream. We can hardly keep up with demand! they gush. But they’re just banging words into premade forks. You can hit a lot of forks in a day. And Etsy is Sweatsy. It is a reseller’s paradise: factory-issued polyester chiffon frocks, plastic necklaces, chevron-patterned laptop sleeves; none of it handmade, all of it listed under the category of handmade. The listing might actually include the word handmade to get seen by the search bots. It’s an e-commerce version of the emperor’s new clothes: It says it’s handmade, so it must be. Though really, when you can get a “handmade” wedding dress for $169, does that even matter? Even if the shop is called SuperDressFactory? The search bots certainly don’t care.

Many of the shops are based in China, with nonsense names like Commandery (owned by “Comma”) or misspelled ones like MordenMiss (as in “modern”) and Fantacydress (oh, that’s fantactic). Or they’re smashed up phrases: AlwaysBeUp, PureStunning. Other shops are simply selling goods manufactured in China. It’s lots of China, lots of times: a search for “handmade chiffon dresses,” resulted in forty sherbet colored frocks, of which ten were the exact same (and photograph). Often, you can match the identical item, down to its photograph, to a factory’s listing on the giant wholesaler portal, Alibaba.com. Some sellers throw in a line on how everything is from their heads, or how their families create every single wool neon-colored coat you see. But it’s a formality, a dot the i based, I suspect, on a tacit agreement: Okay Etsy, well help you reach for the stars, but you need to just let us sell.

Vintage pig toothpick holder. (Seller: BigAlsKollects)

Vintage pig toothpick holder.

5.

We can talk about China now.

A recent forum thread complaining about Chinese resellers got shut down for being racist, as if the fact that these shops are Chinese was the issue. (Nice sidestep, Etsy.) But if Etsy is going to defend the resellers as pariahs again, I nominate my favorite, Idea2Lifestyle. Based in China (really, I can’t help it, it is), the shop has been repeatedly flagged since 2009, with 34,241 sales to date of $75 tunics, $150 muted wool coats. The models wear hippie-tinged jeans and boots. You rarely see their faces, just their skinny frames.

Idea2Lifestyle insists they’re just a collective dwelling in “Neverland,” who “brainstorm, explore, experiment together to work out things verify our existence.” And everything is “hand-cut,” handmade. When, between experimenting and brainstorming, do they have time to sew all those clothes? In 2010, a blog, CallinOutEtsy, matched a dozen Idea2Lifestyle items to another Chinese megaportal, available by the hundredlot, and sent the info to Etsy with a Why haven’t you shut them down?

The shop has grossed over $3.4 million since it opened, and that’s a low estimate. It’s an undeniable cash cow. If you really want to think about what transparency means, it means a business is a business.

One of Etsy’s November 2013 emails

was a pre-holiday gift guide. Beneath the header, Shop small: one of a kind gifts was a unisexy teal canvas knapsack with leather trim. I clicked on it because I liked it, and landed in Commandery, a Chinese shop for accessories. The description was transliterated nonsense: “Luggage bag opening method: pumping with.” I found the bag on Alibaba, manufactured by a company called Shenzen Reach. Minimum order: 600 pieces. Supply ability: 500,000 bags a month. This is one of Etsy’s picks for small, one-of-a-kind gifts? Is this just more incompetency, or is it something else a willful push to tout nonsense as meaning  if that’s what it takes to make money? If you start with a company whose name is a word that doesn’t actually mean anything, perhaps that sets a certain sky’s the limit kind of tone.

Which makes me love Idea2Lifestyle.

Unlike Commandery or MissPretty, where the descriptions are straight off a manufacturer’s line sheet, Idea2Lifestyle works on its illusion. It’s crafted a mystical, ethereal allure, similar in raggedy hipness to Urban Outfitters (possibly from the same manufacturers). As Etsy drowns in mass-market sameness, Idea2Lifestyle may be regarded as a quaintly eccentric forebear, who actually took the trouble to create an impression, painting an implausible portrait of some free-thinking group of Shanghai longhairs, jamming on asymmetrical hemlines. Even if it’s not really a bunch of artisans, at least it honors the idea.

There’s real verse in every description, like this (from an orange tunic):

I try to sail across,
But come to a standstill,
I find myself in front of a sorrow narcissus,
I have to go on the venture
Hope none understands what I am writing
As long as you get it.

I find these lines gorgeous, a bit of art and fresh air. And they describe my journey on Etsy as well as theirs. We’re both on the venture, trying to sail across. Which makes me forgive them.

Dabney Dog, crocheted hand puppet (seller: fritzandtootie)

Dabney Dog, crocheted hand puppet (seller: fritzandtootie)

Jana Martin

About Jana Martin

Jana Martin is the author of Russian Lover and Other Stories (Yeti Books / VerseChorus Press), as well as numerous books of nonfiction, including Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Abbeville Press), Great Inventions, Good Intentions (Chronicle Books) and Scarlett Saves Her Family (Simon & Schuster). Her stories and short prose have been published in such journals as Glimmer Train, Five Points, Mississippi Review online, Spork, Willow Springs, and Turnstile, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Chronogram, Tucson Weekly, and many other publications. She is a former member of Eagle Valley Search Dogs, a K-9 rescue team in the Hudson Valley, and was for years a bass and guitar player and lead singer in various unsung punk and indie bands. She still has her Etsy shop.
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53 Responses to I Can See Clearly Now: Life on Etsy

  1. Jen says:

    Brava, Jana! Well said!!

  2. Brenda says:

    Well written Jana ~

    Brenda

  3. kelly t says:

    wowza Jana

    you chose the right path–writing

    bravo

    now I’m gunna go outside and try to garden
    just what this addictsy needed to hear

  4. I can’t even begin to express how much I want to marry you Jana. You are my HERO. ♥♥♥

  5. Debbie says:

    So very well sad Jana —- Bravo!
    You have managed to capture what we sadly all know about Etsy. It just breaks my heart to see had far off path it has tumbled. I am afraid that for us who believe that handmade is Made By Hand and that vintage does not include reproductions and made in china, our days remaining on Etsy is numbered.

    • Jana Martin jana says:

      heartbreak indeed. but I wonder if it’s all over or it’s just very very different. I do wonder if there’s still a place for everyone. many think so.

  6. Babs Mansfield says:

    Okay, I won’t sell “handmade” corncob holders that look like grenades on Etsy to “protest” GMO corn. I’ll keep chipping away at the work you’ve mentored instead. Adore you, and love how your turned layered cynicism in on itself like a quilter hems away a stain to make something sweet and nostalgic. You DA BEST. Etsy is supposed to be a community thing. Once again, “online community” proves an oxymoron.

    • Jana Martin jana says:

      love the quilt analogy, particularly since right now I am staring at a quilt someone must have done that exact thing to. layered cynicism — thank you for that. that makes it feel deep in a good and nonoxymoronic way. and yes: please chip away, as you say. we need that.

  7. Pingback: Unraveling Etsy | Populism

  8. Gazaboo says:

    Bravo Jana! You read our minds, reached into our hearts and expressed everything we feel about the direction Etsy has chosen. Once again the all might $ speaks louder than the voices of true handmade & vintage. Your words speak for thousands of Etsy sellers. Thank you!

  9. Pam says:

    Jana you perfectly expressed how so many of us feel! Thank you for writing this!

  10. Caroline says:

    I used to be so proud to be involved with Etsy. I loved my shop, my works, and what I felt was my success. I loved buying on the site, contributing to other real peoples’ success. Now it all just makes me sad. I have to stay out of the forums. I just want to spit in the koolaid.

  11. chris says:

    Sometime last year Etsy started reminding me of bad romance… those relationships I’d been in where I kept jumping through hoops figuring there was some kind of other I could become that would make him love me.

    Reading this is a kind of cold comfort that my leaps of cyberfaith were the sad experience of many. Jana sums up the disillusionment of this romantic who really believed that one could quit their day job and live on soy candle revenue.

    Anything good seems to go the way of capital investments and robber barons in the making these days. Thus the world overheats on corporate, hopelessly. How sad.

    Thank you Jana for confirming my broken heart.

  12. Jana Martin jana says:

    chris — wow. thus the world overheats on corporate, hopelessly — love that.
    and so we keep trying to sustain that soy candle supported dream, just a glimmer of little artisanal light through this odd tunnel, keeping it just a bit warmer.

  13. Wendy Read says:

    Jana, incredible insights and writing. As a fairly new Etsy seller (actually starting using it as my shopping cart in the middle of my own cart crashing after I was featured in a magazine), I went on to open a vintage shop. It is so interesting to see the background and understand more about what is happening. Well said, well done.

  14. Nan says:

    Jana was ‘there’ at the beginning of Etsy like a hippe flowerchild at Woodstock….
    and she so eloquently remembers the early excitement of being there. One really gets the heady buzzy feel of those early days. I didn’t arrive until 2011 which oddly seems a long time ago as even then they still had that ‘Spiral’ of your friends and admirers that so charmingly spun out around your image, if you recall. That disappeared quite quickly after I arrived, but I admit to being ‘in love’ for at least the first first two years I was here. I have made some enduring friendships here and my authentic (!) French vintage has sold well….and still does, but it has been so sad to witness the steady influx of fake, faux, factory-produced junk. I find it so profoundly Ironic that it was here at Etsy, that ‘Handmade’ (and now even ‘Vintage’) have lost Meaning. In any case, thank you, Jana, for your wonderfully written History of Etsy.

  15. Jana Martin jana says:

    had forgotten about that nutty spiral of friends. thanks for reminding me Nan!

  16. Denise says:

    Excellent post, Jana!

  17. Noelle says:

    Excellent illumination of what is going on at Etsy. I love the blend of “hard core reporting” and philosophical musing. Nice job! I hope this piece gets the exposure it deserves.

  18. Poetic and unsettling, this article is a complete, accurate summary of the trajectory of a once Honest and Authentic marketplace. Things change.
    Well-written and sharing with colleagues and friends – thank you, Jana!

  19. Sevil says:

    Gorgeous ,Jana……
    Congrats.

  20. Alura says:

    WOW and WOW and WOW!! Were you picking my brain? LOL. I agree with each and every sentiment. I’ve been on E 4 years and am continually dismayed…just when I think it can’t get worse, woops-they think of something. Most recently, disabling paypal for a day as an “experiment” so everyone has to use DC. That was in December.
    I am sharing this with everyone I know!
    TY for writing it!

    • Alura says:

      Oh one thing about “transparency”…google is using the phrase. I have yet to see people be “transparent” because that requires a certain level of honesty. Corporations can not be transparent, because they are not human.

      • Jana Martin jana says:

        you are so right. leads right back to the corporations are not people dilemma. I once rented a car from a company that told me that they were transparent about charging extra up front. just because.

  21. Sue Graham says:

    I read somewhere today that companies like Etsy were set up to help their sellers and their buyers and would listen to them, but the CEO’s are there merely to help the shareholders, and listen to them.
    Seems to be true.

  22. Rhonda Green says:

    Just wow! What an amazing post ! As a former successful E seller , I can relate to all of the above. I’m happy to say that I left on my own due to all the negativity before resellers were officially A OK with the E higher ups. It’s a crying shame to see them step on the hands that built them. Last week they sent a friend of mine, who’s shop name & tags were being used by a shop in China, a response that amounted to “We hope you resolve your tensions with the other seller.”
    Etsy should take a moment and remember they didn’t build themselves. Their Handmade Artists and Vintage Sellers did.
    I am thrilled to say Etsy’s “don’t care” policy led me to a new site that I not only sell my jewelry on but work for as well, with NO resellers, a positive community environment, and an accessible staff.
    Thank you for your post!

    • Jana Martin jana says:

      Rhonda — really want to know more about that friend of yours, seriously. And glad you found a happier friendlier better situation. If you want to share …

      • Rhonda Green says:

        Jana, absolutely ! My friend has been with E since 2011. It’s where I met her. She has 3 shops open on my site now (The CraftStar.com) She did a search on her shop name recently, which I recommend to any shop owner, and her shop name was being used, along with her tags “madeintheusa” and more…as tags in an Etsy shop located overseas. Etsy’s people responded with “We hope you resolve your tensions with the other seller.”
        I would be shocked , except that our shop owners who some have shops on many sites at once, tell me these horror stories all the time. I just reposted one on our G+ page about a seller who was bullied. It really breaks my heart to know that this stuff goes on, with no one seeming to care. Honestly I , or my CEO would shut a shop down in under 3 seconds for proven behavior like that. Our sellers know they can ping us for a G+ hangout anytime to discuss any thing & our CEO never visits our forums. She wants people to feel as if they can post freely without any type of retribution .
        You are welcome to find my friend here : http://calliopesattic.thecraftstar.com/
        Myself here : http://steampunkbeadery.thecraftstar.com/

        On a different note, I truly enjoyed your post. Such well written blogs are hard to come by in a world where “everybody has a blog”. I would LOVE to see your work , no matter what site its on. :) Happy Sunday & Best wishes!

        • Alura says:

          OMG Rhonda, I had to go look and a reseller is using calliopes attic!! Good grief, I’m sure etsy’s response is “deal with it”. That’s horrible!

          I even reported a team that was bashing shops and etsy did not care one bit. The team still exists and all their discussions are now private!

          Very disheartening…

      • M. says:

        Yes, I would like to know as well, can you send us a link?

  23. Wow! Great post! I just popped in to the Etsy Forum* for the first time in ages and stumbled onto a link to it. Your post is extremely well-written and a real reality check. Thanks for taking the time to articulate the issues so well.

    *From the Forum topics it looks like it’s just the same old same old on Etsy – disenchanted handmade sellers still bitterly unhappy and looking for other venues and Etsy still turning a blind eye to resellers, heavily censoring the Forum, giving a few sellers unfair promotion over others, and on and on and on. All of the reasons why I left after the October 1st policy changes.

  24. Erika Hapke says:

    Jana, you so utterly and eloquently hit the nail on the head. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

  25. Sharon says:

    Wonderful post. I had a very similar experience, but I was only on E for five months and just had it with the stupidity. Moved to Zibbet. So far so good there. Looks like E is getting worse every day from what I see on the forums. Glad I moved shop.

  26. Alura says:

    Just wanted to mention a new quandary about our “About” pages just surfaced. We are all “staff” now, not owners, designers, creators, or what ever descriptive terms we want to use. Just staff. The forums are on fire about it.

    I think it reduces us to being just a face in the crowd. We’re no longer that unique and wondrous maker…

    Very sad really….

    • Jana Martin jana says:

      I see that in the forums — thanks for pointing it out. 285 (mostly angry) posts and counting before 10 am. Instead of artist / maker / designers, we’re now all called “Shop Staff.” Will be interesting to see what happens with this. Wonder if it will stick or go the way of the friend spiral.

      • Frank says:

        I think calls us staff so the growing Chinese based factory can better understand. Etsy is cutting out the reseller middle man and encouraging the factories to just sell direct at even lower prices.

  27. Andrea Kahn says:

    Wow Jana, this is such an interesting (and entertaining!) article. I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes at Etsy — I always thought of it as an artsy ebay, and just looked at the interesting stuff it sold but never bought anything because nothing seemed too practical (I need wool socks! used LLBean jacket! memory key!)
    Anyway, thanks for enlightening me!

  28. Sharleen says:

    Wow, very well thought out, well written and thought provoking! Thank you Jana for this article.

  29. Paul B. says:

    Jana, a beautifully written and very insightful piece. I haven’t read a better critique of capitalism in a very long time.

    No matter *what* they say, if you run it as a business: ultimately, it’s *always* about the money.

  30. George Eid says:

    What a wonderfully written story and totally right on! As the founder of http://krrb.com, you can imagine that I am interested in these stories. Not because I like seeing a competitor suffer, but because as the founder of a relatively new marketplace with similar ideals, I wonder what the future holds for us?

    We get a lot of ex-Etsy sellers joining Krrb saying they are happy to move away from Etsy because of their growth and mis-steps. So each day I try to study what Etsy did wrong and how we can build our marketplace in a way that doesn’t repeat this history.

    However, of all the bad I hear about Etsy, I rarely hear solid solutions that are good for the community and good for Etsy (as a business). As an optimist, I feel there must be a way to have our cake and eat it too. Especially since I’d rather see companies like Etsy succeed rather than ones that have less than ideal missions.

    Of course Etsy has done many mistakes that could (and should) be fixed. But I wonder, once a website receives critical mass, is it over? Or is there a way for a company with ideals to reach critical mass without losing the faith of its core community?

    I would love for the conversation to start shifting towards solutions. Because once Etsy goes away, do we all go back to eBay or Amazon or Craigslist to sell our goods? Or does everyone shift to a new marketplace such as Krrb? Of course I would be happy with the latter ;) however at which point does the new marketplace become the enemy? And how can this new marketplace proactively avoid it?

    Anyhoooo, just adding a new perspective into the mix ………

    Regards,
    George

  31. Jana Martin jana says:

    george – a welcome perspective from the inside, so to speak, and you pose great questions.

  32. Christine says:

    Excellent!!! I started on etsy and was blessed to grow my business. However, I’m still a one woman show by choice and enjoy fabricating my pieces of jewelry myself. Creating a strong image to gain more sales off of etsy via my own website has been my focus for the past two years when I didn’t like where I saw etsy was going. It’s really disheartening for those of us who truly had a handmade business. Ebay is happy to support manufactured good.

  33. Monika says:

    BRAVO…….(stands up and applauds)

    I am one of the former, who was kicked out, because “they” insisted my Mosaics were not handmade. Had to proof a step by step process and a person never having done a mosaic still decided, I was not handmade! I was among the mass exodus created by their hired hands, sellers on their website.
    Again……BRAVO……and I am glad I am gone from there, even though I was pretty insulted in the beginning. They are not worth even one 20 cent item from me.

  34. Karen says:

    This is a very thoughtful and well-written post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m also the founder of a handmade venue: http://indiecart.com . I know there are a lot of sites that have been created to fill the void left by Etsy. The challenge is going to be how to pull in the traffic numbers while maintaining the integrity of the sellers. I think we’ve seen the handmade market mature so that, while in the early days, it was enough to make a great product and get it out there, the saturation is now such that in any venue, sellers have to devote a significant amount of time and money in marketing. That can be less fun for a lot of creative spirits, but unfortunately, it’s the reality. Thanks again!

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