For anyone who has been in a cave for the last nine years, Etsy.com is a sales site meant to showcase original handmade objects. It is poised to offer a major IPO. It is also coming under increasing pressure by detractors who:
1) Claim Etsy is often a haven for cheaply-produced overseas goods marketed online by Etsy resellers. This is the buy/sell category loathed by many regional arts festivals, contests, and crafts galleries. Both unscrupulous sellers and well-meaning crafters resell objects to bulk out their bottom line, or keep up with unexpected demand. Etsy is not the only offender among online sales portals, but its failings seem to be among the most notorious.
2) Point out that Etsy’s lowest sales ranges are often filled with original-but shoddy merchandise from amateur crafters. For good or bad, and like the hobby/art supply stores I’ve mentioned before, Etsy.com has democratized artisan craft. (The late, great Regretsy.com showcased the worst offenders of online Bad Craft, with items seen on Etsy and other display or sales sites.)
3) Charge that Etsy’s vast size, coupled with its previous unenforcement of its own founding guidelines, essentially pushes a lowest-common-denominator effect on the commercial home decor, fashion, giftwrap, and jewelry trades.
Here’s a powerful article from a crafter who joined Etsy early and shut down her Etsy site last year. (http://www.wired.com/2015/02/etsy-not-good-for-crafters/
In February of 2009, I registered an Etsy account. It was a Thing people told me to do, during the hiatus between leaving one full-time job and starting another. I knew so many crafters who had Etsy accounts. None were making a living at it, and most sold only a few items a month.
A day after registering, I sat down and really looked at Etsy: major sellers, trends, price ranges, costs. I reached the sad and familiar conclusion that selling on Etsy was, for me, probably going to be more of a waste of time than a moneymaker. (As it would be if I picked the wrong small press or co-op art gallery; the hunter’s equation of effort-vs-gain applied equally well in this case.)
Even in 2009, Etsy seemed rife with cheaper objects swiftly made and serving the ‘under $20 crowd’. I knew that market from my days selling jewelry at small outdoor trade shows and SCA events. I knew I could sell almost anything well-designed and obviously handmade, provided it sold for less than $20 and took less than a day to create.
But most ‘under $20′ projects are necessarily simple, if the artisan is being honest. Personally, they don’t stretch my imagination or prospects. They merely use resources and time in exchange for relatively low profit. I learned early that one or two museum-grade big projects can use up the same materials and time as fifteen or twenty lesser pieces. (One $1500 – $2000 book art sculpture, or twenty beaded necklaces I could sell for no more than $25 – $40 each.) The big pieces got noticed, and I could charge more for them. I didn’t think they’d sell quickly on Etsy.
So I walked away from my Etsy site and forgot about it. I have online vendors who take a modest commission in return for relatively fast turnaround. I am considering a direct online sales portal for some of my artwork and jewelry, but it probably won’t be Etsy. The problems I noticed in 2009 are still there and appear to be getting worse.
(There are honest artisans selling original work on Etsy. I certainly do not mean to detract from their efforts. I just didn’t think the site was right for me, at that point and now. If Etsy cleans up its act prior to the IPO, I’ll reconsider.)