Late last week, I got an email from David Gelles, a reporter at the New York Times. He said he was working on a story about Etsy and wondered if we could talk. We had an interesting conversation later that evening. When I asked what the article would be about he said, “The company was finally ready to tell its story.” That certainly sounded intriguing.
I’ve been writing about Etsy for many years now, and have been a seller on the site since July 2005, a month after it launched. Some of my own Etsy articles include:
- Should You Have a Unique Online Storefront or Are You Better Off on Etsy, October 2012 – This was the first time I wrote about Etsy from business perspective.
- Etsy Redefines Handmade: Authorship, Responsibility and Transparency, October 2013 – I wrote this post right after watching the Town Hall meeting. Etsy contacted me right afterwards and we recorded an interview together which I published a few days later.
- Three Bird Nest: The Etsy Success Story Redefined, February 2015 – This was the first one of my blog posts truly went viral.
- Why I Still Love Etsy, November 2014 – I continue to find Etsy to be an effective tool for customer acquisition. I wrote about this topic again in July of 2015, Proud to Be an Etsy Seller
- Why Handmade at Amazon is Etsy’s Dream Come True, October 2015
- The Etsy IPO Explained, March 2015
- Etsy Steers Away from Reinventing Commerce, Instead Encourages Sellers to Compete, August 2017 – In this recent piece I think through the shift in management and priorities and what it means for sellers like me.
Writing all of these articles has helped me to learn about business, big and small. I’ve learned about manufacturing, importing, the stock market as mentioned on blogs like that Motley Fool review, ecommerce and more. It’s been like a mini business school education.
When I was speaking to the New York Times reporter he said, “A lot of the people I talked to for this story so far told me I should talk to you.” That means so much. It was fun to have the Times photographer here on Friday for a photo shoot in my studio (check out Kayana’s portfolio), but more than anything it was really gratifying for me to be part of this larger conversation about craft and commerce.
Pearl Red Moon says
interesting article Abby. Informative for me as didn’t know anything about the backstory of Etsy. I joined in 2008 but only started selling on it 3 years ago. I had a huge drop in sales from early 2016 and wonder if they changed some sort of logarithm….? I stay with it because the merchants fees are so reasonable. I opened a Shopify store 20 months ago and though I don’t do any market promotion other than a blog post monthly 70% of sales come from Shopify now. Etsy was a fantasy of alternative lifestyle idealists that was never going to survive the capitalist marketplace and to go into the future it will gradually adopt the model of capitalism and come to resemble other e-commerce businesses.
Pearl Red Moon says
Abby, just some thoughts I had since my last comment. As far as dismissing Etsy that its going to gradually morph into a capitalist enterprise – I want to clarify that my view doesn’t come from cynicism or hard headedness, rather a mournful lifetimes observation of the nature of retailing.
I don’t think retail or the capitalist model can be changed from within its paradigm. By its nature it’s a sort of ourosbouros (a snake that eats its tail) My theory for artisans and makers to thrive financially is if the buyers network into a bloc. In a similar manner to the way that people are finding and forming their cultural tribes through international networking of social media I think what artisans need is a group of admirers and buyers who coalesce into a self chosen group/organisation/club/whatever?! This group needs to be educated, motivated and committed by a desire to support true artisanship. In the real world of retailing 95% of purchasers don’t give a shit where their stuff came from – who designed and made it, whether its an ecologically sustainable product, the quality of workmanship – they only want it to be cheap.
So instead of artisans joining a selling platform, we need the potential buyers who appreciate the ethics, values, talent and skill that artisans devote to their product, to be in a group where they are committed to buying only from persons/businesses that meet that criteria.
The mountain needs to come to the molehill, not the other way around!
That’s an interesting concept. I think I’ve worked the other way around, trying to build an engaged community around my work (whether that’s sewing patterns or reporting). It’s a long, slow build, but it can happen.
I simply don’t care about etsy anymore, if as as a company they survive or not. There are alternatives. They don’t care about anyone, they are like the snake eating its own tail. Besides, the craft movement has had its surge and is now dying back again ready to be reborn at some later date. It always happens this way, just not online before. This generation of crafters is now largely burnt out.
I am back to buying hand crafts locally. I also have plenty of patterns, books and so on in my own hands. Hard copy, which is what counts as I have started to realise. I have more than I can ever need or use for inspiration or to replicate. Everything online is virtual and unless you get hard copy does not exist. It’s just a virtual chess board to move pieces around on. Accounts get shut down, and online platforms and dreams get swept away without a care or thought for individuals. I’ve heard of etsy shops being closed with no explanations, ditto Instagram and YouTube accounts. So destructive and lacking any compassion or reasoning behind the processes. Often seemingly random and leaving people devastated and upset.
Many of my old favourites on etsy now lead to closed shops, ditto pins for pinterest. Blogs have disappeared taking links , tutorials etc with them. Still, there are project books and there are pattern books and stitch guides and my own creativity. I am not sure etsy et al did much for that, just sent me round in circles chasing after the artistry of others while making me lazy. Well, I know it is annoying for designer-makers to hear, but I really can make it myself and increasingly do. For those successful crafter-makers who are still in business, many of them host their own sites with shops and have sell outs and waiting lists for their products. They make and sell all they can produce. Without etsy.
I don’t need etsy like I used to and neither do makers looking to sell. Etsy dumped the small maker in preference for the bigger manufactures. I have no interest in what they sell. Etsy taught me a big lesson in how loyalty does not count for very much and that we are all disposable, because that is what I took from their attitude to the seller who it treats with disdain and contempt while keeping them like mushrooms in the dark and the buyer who it just sees as a cash cow. They forgot to serve their customer. Bye bye etsy.
Hello Sara, re: your comment
“I am back to buying hand crafts locally. I also have plenty of patterns, books and so on in my own hands. Hard copy, which is what counts as I have started to realise. I have more than I can ever need or use for inspiration or to replicate. Everything online is virtual and unless you get hard copy does not exist.”
I went to a local yarn store a few months ago to buy a knitting pattern. I had been in the store many times and they had a huge selection of patterns. Guess what? Not a single pattern to be found, although they were selling a few expensive soft cover books. I asked the manager and she said everyone gets their patterns online so the store would no longer have hard copy patterns! I thought this was such a mistake. Firstly, many of the older people who may be knitting for themselves/family are not computer savvy, or if they have a PC they may not have a printer, etc, etc. You know what I mean, I’m sure. Anyway, like yourself, I have a whole bunch of knitting patterns I have gathered over decades and though I have thought of ditching them I will hold on to them. Hard copy is the way to go for ‘ease of access.’
Hi Abby. I saw the article the other day and was glad to see you were a part of it. However, it just left me feeling disappointed in the path Etsy has taken. It’s just too big for it’s own good and seems a long way from its starting mission. I am jaded, that’s true. I found it, in 2010, as a place for a creative outlet for me. After a year or so, I had enough sales to keep me excited and busy making. And then, in 2015 and 2016 each, I had only a third of the sales from previous years. I did what I could, including consulting Etsy for help, but it just was not happening. Why bother? I will keep making, but any future business plans will not include Etsy.
Julie Neu says
It was a thrill to see you in the NYT, Abby, and I have really enjoyed reading the comments here. I signed up on Etsy in 2007 (in my role as Digital Strategy Consultant who needed to be up on all things digital) and I’ve had stuff on the site off and on over the years, never with much success. Reading all of the comments here makes me think it’s not worth putting much more effort into it so I’ll get off my duff and get my Shopify set up!
I want to say that I’m conflicted about Etsy, but the truth is I still really appreciate it (and I feel like that’s an unpopular opinion and a bit risky to admit). I understand why some have been upset by their choices, but I personally haven’t had a huge problem with many of the changes they’ve made, some of which have been sorely needed. My handmade business has been my full time source of income for the past 7 years, and while Etsy sales admittedly used to comprise a larger percentage of my income, it’s still incredibly significant for my overall business. While not all their choices have helped me, I’m thankful for some of the basic changes that have happened under Josh that have given me some of the more professional tools I’ve been longing for (gift notes, running a sale, improved search). I live in NJ and have been to the Etsy HQ and other Etsy events over the years and I have to say I’ve always been so impressed by the passion and heart of the people working there. It does concern me to hear some of the more ethical concerns have been tossed and makes me wonder if the same caliber of great people will want to work there in the future. But having met so many Etsy employees over the year it saddens me when people go on the attack as if the employees have all turned into corporatized zombies with no soul or care for individual sellers—that’s been so far from the truth in my experience (I was at Etsy HQ as recently as October, when they invited me to be part of a panel addressing an FCC commissioner about net neutrality and the threat to microbusinesses, advocacy work that is thankfully still happening under the new CEO). I’ll stop rambling now, and say that I don’t think Etsy is without its faults, and I don’t think sellers should just swallow any changes without question, but I’m a full time seller that is not ready to turn my back on all the site has done for my life. Was excited to see your name in the article, Abby. Love the podcast!
I agree with you, Becky. I’ve had five women who work at Etsy on my podcast and every one of them has been dedicated and passionate about the same things I’m passionate about – helping makers build successful sustainable businesses. Once you sit down and talk to people who work there it’s very hard to paint Etsy as the evil empire. They certainly aren’t. Still, I think as a public company it’s very hard to prioritize the needs of sellers and refrain from pressuring them to sell, sell, sell at all costs.
What an interesting and informative article. It makes me wonder, though, if a person wants to start a business selling handmade items nowadays, where would you recommend she do it?
I think I would start with Etsy and Instagram. Once you’ve figured out your product and your style I would add an ecommerce site and an email list.