The Etsy Strike: What’s next for artists (and buyers) leaving the platform?

Scene from the Etsy sellers market in Times Square in New York, April 16, 2015. (Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for NASDAQ)

If, like me, you’ve been known to spend an hour looking for handmade scrunchies, then you’ve probably seen a headline about Etsy’s strike. What is it about? On Monday, as many as 17,000 Etsy sellers boarded their virtual shops as part of a week-long boycott of the platform, urging customers to look elsewhere for jewelry and greeting cards and all handicrafts on their wish lists. The campaign is commonly known as the Etsy Strike, and artisans around the world have united to protest recent changes to the company’s policies, including an increase in their usual selling fees.

For every sale made through the platform, Etsy now earns a 6.5% commission. This is an increase from their previous reduction of 5%, and is the second time they have increased their fees in the past four years. (The new rate went into effect early this week.) Meanwhile, Etsy itself has thrived during the pandemic, and their gross merchandise sales have broken records; the platform has stopped $3.8 billion in 2021, up 154% since 2020. They also expanded by acquiring two other online marketplaces: Elo7, often referred to as “Brazil’s Etsy”, and Depop, a favorite resale site for Y2K-obsessed vintage shoppers.

A petition to end fees has more than 74,000 signatures at the time of writing, and the campaign outlines a list of other issues that are hampering vendors’ ability to make money. Among their demands: they want off-site ads to be optional (currently, ads are automatically placed by the platform, and sellers must pay Etsy a 15% commission on sales generated by clicks). Another program they want scuttled is “Star Seller,” an initiative to increase exposure to seller pages, as long as they meet Etsy’s standards. Some examples of criteria: to be eligible, suppliers must make at least 10 sales per month, maintain a five-star rating, and offer services such as instant customer response and shipment tracking.

Kristi Cassidy, an Etsy seller from Rhode Island, organized the online petition and, as she writes on her campaign page, “Rather than reward sellers whose hard work has made Etsy one of the most profitable tech companies in the world, Etsy is ripping us off, ignoring us, and patronizing us.”

Etsy itself supported the increased fees. In a statement to CBC News earlier this week, the company said the money would be used to improve its marketing and customer support services, among other things. This same CBC report reveals the reasons for the boycott and what participants hope to achieve.

There are some 378,000 active Etsy sellers in Canada, according to a business census released in late March, and for 35% of those people, creative work is their only source of income, whether they sell it through Etsy or elsewhere. So for those participating in the boycott, the question remains: if Etsy isn’t listening to sellers’ demands, is it still the best place for them? And what alternatives are there?

Where can makers sell their work?

The answers are obvious, but not necessarily simple. A manufacturer can, of course, create their own website and use an e-commerce platform to sell their products – and in the midst of a pandemic, as we are, having an online presence is a must. Prior to 2020, Vancouver-based artist Lisa LaRose did the majority of her sales in person, showing up at craft shows and comics. Those opportunities disappeared in 2020. In the meantime, she says, “I’ve seen my Etsy sales triple during the pandemic.”

Now on strike, she is busy developing her own online store. “It’s a great time to finally launch a Shopify store,” says LaRose. And in Kingston, Ontario, another Etsy forward, Payton Wagar, has already continued the same momentum. Upon learning of the increased fees, Wagar – who designs costume designs for cosplayers – began building a site using Wix eCommerce; they launched it in March.

Payton Wagar set up an online store earlier this year in response to Etsy’s announcement of increased fees. (www.cospayton.com)

Kness, a Montreal artist known for her ceramic critters, had already left Etsy by the time the strike was announced. She left in 2019 after nine years of selling through the platform, motivated by the changes that were happening to the site at the time. (The pressure to offer free shipping was a particular sticking point for her.) And through her staff Blog, she defends sellers, urging them to explore their options beyond Etsy. Among his suggestions: research Big Cartel, an e-commerce tool for creatives, and Ko-fi, a crowdfunding platform that includes the ability to create an online store.

What is the benefit of leaving Etsy?

For Kness, Etsy catered to her needs when she was an entry-level seller, but over time, as her sales and online reputation grew, it became clear that she could increase her income by moving elsewhere. “When I looked at the numbers,” she says, referring to Etsy’s pricing structure, “I saw that I was giving a very large portion of my income to them.”

The cost of running her own online store is significantly lower than what she previously paid to Etsy, she says. “If I sell something on Etsy, I’ll get $40 out of every $100 paid by a customer,” Kness says. “And on my own website, I get $73 on the $100 instead.”

Capybara figurines by Montreal artist Kness. (Kness)

His experience is his own, however, and according to Kness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for sellers. “It was better for me to switch platforms. Maybe for some people it’s better to stay on Etsy.” Still, she thinks suppliers should always follow one rule before signing up on the platform: “do the math.” And if you want to do more elsewhere, follow this path.

What if you were just a simple buyer?

For buyers, the same principle applies. Calgary artist Heather Buchanan has been on Etsy since 2008 and has been running her own online store for almost as long. As a full-time artist, she’s never felt entirely comfortable relying on just one platform for sales, Etsy or otherwise. And like many sellers, the prices on her Etsy are different from what you’ll find on her website.

Inflation, shipping costs, listing fees: all of these factors and more go into the price a seller sets. “A lot of Etsy sellers have to mark up their prices because Etsy takes so many,” she says, and she wants shoppers to get into the habit of Googling manufacturers they find on the platform before buying. add an item to their cart.

“See if this artist has a shop elsewhere and consider buying it from that shop,” she says. “Even though it’s not a better price, it’s usually a lot nicer for the artist if you buy it from their own website instead. The artist will make more money because up to 20 % will not go into Etsy’s pocket.”

Lisa LaRose sells a variety of products based on her works, including puzzles like this one. (Lisa The Rose)

As for the risks of leaving Etsy…

If a manufacturer has something to sell, there are certainly alternatives, but as Kness says, “There aren’t many platforms that do what Etsy does.” There are other markets, both general (eBay) and niche (iCraft, Folksy, Witchsy, now dormant). But if you’re looking for something handmade, Etsy is probably the first destination.

“I say I have an Etsy shop and instantly every person knows what that means and everything that goes with it,” Buchanan says. As a result, Etsy has proven invaluable when it comes to finding new customers — “customers that I couldn’t find on my own, through my own reach,” she says. “It’s a really amazing way for absolute strangers to find out about my work. I’ve shipped work all over the world – even my very first sale was to someone in Germany.”

It’s a feature that has kept her on Etsy all these years, even as her earnings have dwindled. As someone who primarily sells paper goods, Buchanan ships orders via regular mail, a detail that excludes him from the Star Seller program. As a result, she estimates that her sales fell by 30%. “I’ve satisfied about 14,000 customers and I can’t be a Star Seller?” she laughs. “It’s just really insulting.”

Greeting card by Heather Buchanan. (Heather Buchanan)

Without Etsy to attract new customers, self-promotion is entirely the responsibility of the artist. Wagar pushes her website on Instagram and TikTok, and occasionally buys paid ads leading to her store. “It’s a big investment of time and money when you consider everything,” they say.

And building a customer base is even more crucial if you’ve taken your Etsy shop offline and all of your repeat buyers don’t know where to find you. “You build an audience there,” LaRose says. “Every time you switch platforms, you lose people. If your income depends on it and you have to start over, it could be devastating.”

That said, starting over requires some know-how – skills not everyone shares. Etsy’s barrier to entry is low – literally $0.25 to place an ad – and setting up a shop page is as easy as filling out a template. “I’m an artist, but I’m not a web designer, so this was an easy way to build an e-commerce site,” says Tracy Falukozi, a Calgary-based Etsy seller who creates mermaid tails on measurement and related aquatic products. accessories.

Tracy Falukozi is a Calgary-based makeup artist who creates custom mermaid tails. She has been selling her designs on Etsy for eight years. (Tracy Falukozi)

Falukozi joined the strike in hopes that designers will earn “a seat at the table,” so to speak — a chance to be involved in Etsy’s decision-making process in the future. “I don’t necessarily want to leave the platform,” she says. Without it, she thinks she’d be losing more than customers — she’d suddenly lack a support system of fellow creators, who log on to forums hosted by the site.

But at the end of the day, the biggest risk in leaving the platform comes down to money. Wagar says they earn 75% of their revenue through Etsy; their online store gained maybe 5%. The site is still new – it’s only a month old – but the fulcrum is still a gamble.

What do the makers hope to gain from the boycott?

“There’s a lot of fear of switching platforms,” ​​LaRose says. “There’s a lot of fear that you’ll lose sales or pay $30 a month or more on Shopify and not get the same level of sales.”

“I really hope that no matter what, whether Etsy listens to us or not, we can form a community and work together,” Wagar says. “I believe something good is going to come out of this no matter what.”

“You know, we are artists,” says Falukozi. “We’ll find something else, we’ll make something else. We’ll find a solution.”

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