The waters over at Etsy have been roiling for a while. Since its new CEO, Chad Dickerson, came aboard, sellers have been angry and confused about the vagueness of the site’s current mission. The company has not done a good job of clarifying whether “handmade” items are still the priority of the site. Thanks to this and thanks also to inevitable economic forces, Etsy has been flooded with mass-produced items, making it harder and harder to be found and turning away its original fans (I’m convinced).
This week, Etsy finally clarified its new policies. It was as we feared. The site is now available to a different kind of seller – the seller of manufactured and mass-produced goods.
Specifically, these are the new guidelines in a nutshell:
1. Sellers are able to hire others to help them complete the work (with no apparent limit.)
2. Sellers can use shipment and fulfillment services.
3. Sellers may use a manufacturer to execute their designs. In other words, they can outsource the creation of their goods.
To be fair, these policy changes will also come with greater and badly needed transparency. All shops who take advantage must apply for review by 2014 and they must list all of their processes on their shop’s “About” page. Apparently, the only thing Etsy will continue to police is re-selling (buying items wholesale and selling them). But this also means that sweatshops may operate on Etsy with no consequences. You can read Dickerson’s own statement about the changes here.
He makes the point, and I think it’s a fair one, that sellers have often outgrown Etsy’s former restrictions and were unable to hire help or outsource parts of their operation. However, I believe such success means the seller needs to graduate to a new platform. Etsy could even create said platform, but keep it separate from the small, independent crafters who are still working out of their living room.
This does not affect me the way it affects a small-time jewelry maker or knitter. There will always be a market for original art. On the other hand, though, I have felt the changes at Etsy in my sales this year (or lack thereof). The trend leads me to believe that Etsy’s original supporters and fans are feeling just as shut out as the small-time sellers do. Both my husband and my mother have expressed frustration with all the trinkets they have to wade through to find what they are looking for nowadays.
There must be a way to preserve quality, maintain Etsy’s original character, and grow (responsibly) all at the same time, right?
At any rate, I thought I’d share the message I sent Etsy expressing my concerns. If you care about the future of the largest and most diverse handmade site on the web, perhaps you should pipe up, too:
I am disappointed by Etsy’s new guidelines and I’m deeply concerned with the direction in which Etsy is headed.
I joined Etsy to sell my artwork in 2011 and I quickly fell in love with the site. I loved that it was devoted to small, independent artists and crafters. When you bought something on Etsy, you knew that it was coming from someone who made it with their own hands, just as if you were at a craft fair or local art gallery. This was the appeal of Etsy and this is how it earned its reputation and its followership.
I recently took an online business course in which the old axiom that you must “grow or die” was seriously questioned. Rather, businesses should seek to grow only insofar as they continue to fill a special niche and adhere to their original values. Staying true to oneself is advice Etsy gives to sellers all the time. Why isn’t it following its own recommendation?
Simply put, if someone creates a design and has someone else make it or outsources it to a manufacturer, that is not a handmade item. A person can buy such mass produced goods anywhere… why should they go to Etsy?
I am sympathetic with sellers who have grown too big for Etsy and need to expand their operation. However, I do think they need a different platform once they have graduate to that level. (And give the rest of us a chance to grow, too).
My suggestion: Etsy could create a separate site for such sellers. That way, people like my mom and friends and myself – who really want to find small, independent artists to support – can still come to Etsy. That is, we can come to Etsy and not have to wade through a sea of trinkets, junk, and manufactured items. It is the growing tide of such items that are beginning to turn Etsy’s original supporters and fans away. I’ve seen it in the precipitous drop in sales in my shop this year, which is very disheartening.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to provide feedback on this important issue. I really hope it is considered for the good of us all.
Heather McCaw Kerley