Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Etsy in Wired: "How Etsy Alienated Crafters and Lost Its Soul"

There is a piece in Wired making the rounds about Etsy's current condition and future outlook. Is Wired considered serious, responsible journalism these days? I just think of it as the lime-green attention-grabbing Futurist magazine that sure looked a lot crazier than the other typical airport reading fare. It really felt like they were trying to market to me, which is troubling considering that in February of 1996 I was just 9 years old. Maybe it just resembled the old KidSoft magazine/CD sampler too much?


There was one graphic designer in the 90s, and she was making a killing.

But I can wax nostalgic over the early days of Wired another time. This is a post about Etsy. 

I have expressed my displeasure with Etsy before, particularly with their decision to allow "collectives" and "small manufacturers." The outrage wasn't because I don't think collectives should be allowed on Etsy. It was because this was a sneaky way for Etsy to allow their big money-makers, the overseas resellers and camouflaged sweatshops, a loophole in. Etsy absolutely trades on the image of being quirky and handmade, but whether or not that image is true to reality anymore is up for debate. 

Let me be clear: I am not faulting Etsy for getting bigger. When you're fulfilling a particular niche and (in the beginning), fulfilling it well, success and growth is a logical consequence. But how Etsy handled that growth is an example of what not to do, and that's the larger point I think Dobush is trying to make.

I'm not bitter about there being a lot of stuff on Etsy out of principle. Success for Etsy means having a lot of stuff. I'm bitter about "tests" and "tweaks" that happen without warning; I'm bitter about reseller shops being coached into having acceptable profiles rather than kicked off the site; I'm bitter about the broken sorting algorithms that can't seem to control for the same three shops cluttering up the first pages of a search (unless you search for something very weird and specific); I'm bitter about not being allowed to publicly criticize or call out shops in the forums; I'm bitter about people being muted for doing so. If you dig a little into Etsy's reviews on GlassDoor, you'll see that there's some shady, or at least mismanaged, stuff going on in HQ. Totally unsurprising.

I'm also bitter about Etsy constantly pushing the "quit your day job!" narrative, insisting that everyone who used Etsy could turn their hobby into an independent business. It's not true and it's disingenuous to imply otherwise. The fact that this is a continuing part of Etsy's image (the featured sellers on the front page seem to be featured more to foster this illusion rather than because they make something truly unique or interesting) irks me because it is akin to lying. I guess that's how the marketing cookie crumbles.

I don't expect Etsy to sell my jewelry for me. And I'm lucky: many of these issues that I'm bitter about actually have zero effect on my sales. There's not a single item that's moved from my shop that's been sold on its jewelry merits; everyone who buys from me is either a nerd or is purchasing for a nerd, and there is no nerd jewelry like mine coming from AliBaba or anywhere else.

Even if Etsy's poor decisions don't necessarily affect my bottom line, I've still been looking for an alternative for a while now. At first I thought Zibbet might be worth it, but their slow boat of fail has been listing for quite a while—plus it doesn't help that their CEO is very active in a creepy fundamentalist Australian church. Reddit marketplace looks promising—my nerdy people!—but I don't know if my business (such as it is) will be accepted as a seller. I put some things on Storenvy but the interface is clunky, whether you're shopping or whether you're selling. The Kokoba display at The DaVinci Center has been a success so far (I think!); more wholesale inquiries at museum gift shops and tables at carefully-selected craft fairs and conventions might be the future of this little cottage craft. I don't want to be reliant on Etsy, and I don't want to give them money when I disagree so strongly with the direction they've taken the site, and the ripple effect it's had on their free advertising: the indie biz and crafters who prop up the Etsy image while drowning under the deluge of resellers and mass production. 

Let's hope the next Big Thing happens, and soon. The time is ripe. 

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