In October of 2007 I was hitching a ride down the virtual highway on a turnip truck, when I fell off and landed on the front page of Etsy. I remember being utterly enthralled with it. An entire site devoted to shops for people who make things! How fabulous is that!? I looked at the site quite a bit, there was so much to offer. So many pretty pictures of amazing things people were making. I signed up right away but I didn't open a shop. I noticed that most things were on the lower end of the price scale and I was doing pretty well on ebay at that point. For some inexplicable reason I thought it would be a conflict of interest to sell there as well.
A few months went by and ebay decided to change their policies and pricing. A lot of people were unhappy with the new changes and chose to leave the site. That combined with a personal problem I was having with a scam artist that they couldn't have cared less about caused me to leave as well. So I went that same day and set up my shop on Etsy thinking this was going to be great! I noticed there weren't a lot of bear artists selling there yet, but I knew they would come in time. As time went on they did come.
After setting up my shop...nothing happened. I thought that was rather odd, but I figured people couldn't find me there yet. So I waited...nothing happened. More bear artists came and a team was set up dedicated to us, and I thought NOW people will start finding out that we are there! They will start to be comfortable with higher priced things for sale since Etsy was growing and more types of people were selling their wares. Nothing happened, but not just for me. Nothing happened for most of the bear artists. Not even bear artists who have shops that sell out the minute they do a personal website update.
We set about trying to get a category for ourselves because there really wasn't an appropriate place for us. We were finally given a sub category under the dolls and miniatures section. Sadly there is no indication from looking at the front page that we are there. But we are! We moved our stuff to the new category full of hope. In the interim I bought two main showcase spots, started going into the forums to use the promotions section, using twitter for promotions, and pretty much doing everything I could to get not only attention for my own work...but the work of all bear artists on Etsy. I even changed my photos two times, because on some level I was certain I was doing something wrong. Nothing happened.
I finally decided to really make a concerted effort to find out why we weren't selling. After doing the showcase spots I discovered no one sells very well by buying them. This is probably because they are only accessed by a small unobtrusive link on the front page. So I started studying the people who are successful, the way Etsy promotes people in the Storque, the treasuries that make the front page, the gift guides, etc. Slowly but surely I started noticing things. Many of the kinds of things Etsy tends to promote are hip and trendy and aimed at younger buyers. Ok...there is nothing wrong with that, but not every buyer on Etsy is going to have those tastes. They don't really feature as broad of selection in their promotional venues as they could. I have never once seen an artist teddy bear featured on the front page. There may have been, but I have never seen one. I look at the front page a few times a day since I am doing this research.
They have about six types of items that they have made into stars. Everyone says that the treasuries are controlled by the users and not the site, but a lot of people caught on pretty quick and started including those six types of items in their treasuries in the hopes of getting their treasury to the front page. It's working because I never, EVER see a treasury on the front page that doesn't include at least one of those six types of items. So this all became very interesting to me. I have been watching for about two and a half months now. But I still wasn't certain the lack of promotional love and being buried in the doll category was what was keeping bear artists from selling on there.
At long last, today I have hit upon that answer due to many posts in a thread made in the forums. Apparently the media touts Etsy as being a place to get a good deal. They have been compared to an online flea market, a bargain basement, and worst of all...a place where you can buy fine handmade goods for less than Walmart prices!!! Etsy has done nothing to dispel that notion, in fact they have embraced it and perpetuated that idea. This weekend they have given promotional space to people who have discounted their items by having sales or free shipping. They created a sense of peer pressure for sellers to discount already fair or even low prices in order to get featured. They had hundreds of people signing up to do sales in hopes of getting some exposure because they can't get it from Etsy any other way, and then they only featured a couple dozen who chose to take the biggest discounts. While I don't believe that was their intention, I also don't believe they stepped back to look at the big picture and the future ramifications of that type of thinking.
Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having an occasional sale. I chose to do it this weekend as well. It had nothing to do with Etsy and more to do with with rewarding people with a little break in prices who chose to stay safely in their homes on the busiest shopping days of the year. But if you are someone who is already making very little if any profit on your work and you discount 30% you are not only cheating yourself, you are under cutting and cheating every other seller out there who feels they have to compete. That didn't really happen with bears because sales aren't really something that has ever been the custom in the bear world. But I saw it happen to many other types of vendors. The next time they choose to have people sign up in order to get featured I am sure people will offer even bigger discounts to the point of taking a loss on their items in order to get that coveted exposure.
There was a time in this country when people took pride in their skills at making things. As a bear artist I still take pride in being able to make something that I know will last, that I have put my heart and soul into and that is unique and special in a way that can't be bought at department stores. The cost of supplies for making a bear are not cheap, they are also very labor intensive. My prices are very fair for what I make and you get what you pay for. Sadly artisans with that mindset are not being recognized by Etsy. All the bargain basement hype is detrimental to us all.
I fully understand that Etsy is a business and they want to make money and have a slick looking homepage to draw shoppers in. There is nothing wrong with that. But their mission statement is to provide a place where people can make a living selling handmade. I don't know why they aren't supporting their own concept by taking their promotional efforts in a different direction, or at very least many directions to support all types of artists and crafters, professionals and hobbyists alike. They never seem to focus on the fact that handmade items are usually unique and well crafted by people who put a great deal of time and hard work into their creations rather than saying that handmade is a bargain that can be had for a song. I am not going to close down my Etsy shop because I have already paid for an ad coming out on the 8th on Craft Cult. I am not saying that my lack of sales are completely their fault, I am sure part of the fault still lies with my shop in some way. Nor am I quite ready to give up on them because I hope maybe they will figure this out and do something about it. However, I am going to stop wasting so much of my time and effort to support them if they don't want to return to the favor to so many of us.
It makes me very sad that such a wonderful concept got so far off track. I could easily make one of those six items they love so much, and I am sure I could make a lot of sales if I sold them cheaply. But that isn't what I am about. I have worked too long and too hard to devalue my skill set or my work.
Edit: I wanted to add the link to the article and a thought to this. We are given the choice as to how we run our business, we are given a choice whether we want to sell on Etsy or not. We have not been given a choice as a majority on how we want Etsy to promote the arts and crafts industry as a collective. That is a very large issue we have no control over unless we make our wishes known to them by speaking out.