The Future of Etsy

This is my one-woman workspace.  Chaos is free.

This is my one-woman workspace. Chaos is free.

This is a picture of my workspace. It ain’t pretty, but it’s where pretty things are made. It’s my one woman factory.

Etsy made big news a couple of weeks ago when it announced that factory made goods and drop shipping would now be allowed on the site.  Drop shipping allows for factories to make many of something and send it to a third party to be shipped out.

For many who shop on Etsy to have a clearer connection with the people who make what they wear and use every day, this is going to be confusing. For one-woman businesses who do it all and have built their shops on Etsy and earn their livelihood there, this may be devastating.

What this will mean for small businesses like myself is invisibility, as Etsy’s search becomes flooded with products you can find on Amazon or Ebay. Some are saying Etsy may be bought by Amazon in the future, and there are many changes Etsy has made internally that have already shaped it to be more like Amazon.

While this will mean challenges for me as a seller, if there is anything I have learned in the two and a half years of building my business, anything is possible as long as you have a little mountain goat attitude. It is time to evolve. I’ll be sharing these changes– a new online shop, other online selling communities– as I make these changes.

I have started by creating my own independent online shop.

What I mourn is my experience as a buyer on Etsy.  I could easily find the products of creative hands and get the feel of an individual’s vision, a glimpse of her creative process and in some way engage with this. This could be found easily through Etsy’s internal search engine, which may now be flooded with factory made goods.

Michael Wolf's Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker

Michael Wolf’s Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker

Oddly, as more and more sellers bemoan the “Made in China” goods sold at prices with which small living room operations like myself can’t compete, I have wondered what handmade means, and what I have in common with the workers in these Chinese Factories.

Around the same time Etsy’s CEO made this announcement, I found this photo essay by Michael Wolf of Chinese Factory Workers and the Toys they make.  Now that Etsy is featuring “artists” whose work is made by “interns”, I’m fantasizing about what Etsy’s coverage of selected makers will look like when the factory workers, like the women in Michael Wolf’s photos, get to speak.  It is of course a fantasy.

This is a missed opportunity– rather than Etsy reaching out to international cooperatives that might be working with free trade models and broadening its international focus to bring goods to its conscious, savvy shoppers, it’s totally confusing things and going for profit margins, betraying all the hard working one-person shops who’ve worked hard publicising the site and making Etsy what it is today.

While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process.

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65 thoughts on “The Future of Etsy

  1. that just really stinks!!!!! I never sold much on Etsy but I did sell. And the money felt good to earn. The past month I have not had a single sale. I don’t like some of the changes they have been making over the past while. And I’m not one to normally complain about things like this. But, Etsy, you aren’t good for us artists, crafters, small at home business people anymore. It’s sad.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m making the move away from Etsy as well as they stray further and further from the handmade and artisan movement that spawned it. I think we may see actual growth of the movement now, and not the slow metamorphosis into manufacturing for profit that Etsy promotes. Best of luck with your new online venture!

  3. Hi Jen, thanks for reading. I hear you about this. Etsy has been a great place for me to earn a crust– I have supported myself with my Etsy shop, and hope to continue to do so. These changes will present real challenges. I’m glad the folks that built the handmade movement are a resourceful lot– we will find another way.

  4. Hi J. Thank you for reading. I really love this sentiment– and I think it’s true. The handmade movement built Etsy; all the artisans involved publicised and promoted the site. Etsy has done very little (if any?) advertising, leaving that up to the individual makers. Increasingly, the featured “artists” are often small entrepreneurs who are working on a scale I can’t even understand as a one woman operation– I’m not even sure what my work would look like if I made it on that scale. It certainly wouldn’t be handmade anymore, at least by me. Good luck to you as well!

  5. First off I really want to congratulate you on the steps you have taken, your store looks great. I have a shop on etsy and was going to put things into it but I have been reading to many bad things lately so you and many others have persuaded me to think other wise I know there is a lot of competition out there but I believe there is also a huge difference in everyone’s work. So I hope and wish you luck with your new store maybe someone can open another etsy style shop just for people like us with out turning it into what etsy is, I wish I knew how and what was involved I would do it. :)

  6. I am a very (VERY) small jewlery artist on etsy. I have sold a total of one necklace, a few of my crochet patterns, some Holiday stockings in the two years I’ve had a shop. I was hoping for more sales, but it’s been a constant struggle. I remember the big flap when that woman’s shop brought in wood furniture from Asia, and she said she made it in her shop. Such an outcry from people and etsy closed her shop..for what a few days?!Then they allowed her back, and changed the game by saying “Oh, if you have employees, it’s ok” and from there I knew we (small handcrafted businesses) were doomed. I am so NOT computer-savvy, I don’t have a clue on how to do a website, nor the money to hire someone…guess it’s the local once a month art venues I’m left with. I wish you continued success.
    BTW – your workbench is more organized than mine – mine has a sewing machine surrounded by wore working tools, wire, etc ;)

  7. I have to agree it’s an ominous change and you’re quite right in that we, the makers, made Etsy what it is. It’s also a slap in the face to customers who genuinely want to support craft and value artists’ work in a machine-made world. I’m not complaining about China and I’m happy to go on Ebay to buy supplies direct. But there are sufficient venues to buy their goods and the only reason to promote them on Etsy is greed. Please, keep us up-to-date with your search of other selling communities.

  8. Eric, a follower of my blog, flagged this article up for me to read.
    I must say, you have articulated what I have been pondering over recent weeks.
    Etsy was built by artisans and needs to keep that focus…but the lure of the fast buck beckons and the morphing into corporate, mass produced, poor energy goods begins…already happening! I rely on those following my blog to support my shop and also rely on their impeccable taste! People are generally very disenchanted by corporate pulp!
    Blessings from Ireland
    X Colette

  9. This is terrible! Granted, I have never been able to sell much on Etsy, but many people have businesses based on Etsy sales. They will essentially become invisible in the flood of mass-produced, boring, everybody-has-one-just-like-it junk from China, India, and Bangladesh. I hope that they will include a search function that can filter out the crap so that we can easily browse and buy the good stuff that is handmade.

  10. I’m a one woman business with an etsy shop too (bonspielcreation) and I share your concerns. It’s so sad that our online home has betrayed us and its ideals for the usual reasons. I do hope some enterprising individual will see the need for an all-handmade site such as etsy used to be and create a place with integrity for us to inhabit. I’m on the lookout!

  11. You have the link to your shop in two places on the page, one in the body of the article (it works!) and one on the right side above the link to your Etsy shop (it doesn’t work :-(). I’m off to go look at your shop right now! (But fix the other link!)

    I haven’t officially closed my Etsy shop yet, but I haven’t renewed any listings in a long time. I have tried to move all my listings over to WePay (http://www.wepay.com), which not only doesn’t charge you listing fees (you only get charged a fee when you sell something, and it’s not bad) but is its own payment system, so no Paypal either! They don’t have much in the way of promotions, but if you can do that on your own, it’s a good deal.

    Just wanted to offer my two cents.

    Cheers,
    Julie

  12. After all my years of making lamp work beads and handmade artisan jewelry and entering art festivals, I contemplated using etsy as a selling venue. Pandora beads were launched and every jewelry shop in every city started selling them. Then I even saw them for sale, not annealed of course, in jewelry parts catalogs. All the time, money, blood, sweat and tears I spent learning this art is vanishing as nothing is “special” anymore. I feel your pain. We shall all band together and form a site. It’s in the works.

  13. I’ve only sold two PMC pendants… sad to see them turn into an online box store! handmade my indentured servants – very sad…. you might as well set up shop on Amazon.

  14. Huh. That’s sad. I would hope people like you find a platform for their truly handmade wares elsewhere.
    I know small craft collectives already exist..but good luck w your individual store too.
    I am fascinated by the photo of the Chinese worker though.wow.

  15. I’m really sorry to hear of this, I’m a seller too on Etsy and make my own items. I was just picking up business but still felt like my items were lost in the many many items out there, but starting to make momentum. Hopefully someone will come up with a new site like Etsy and we can all move there and leave Etsy to compete with Amazon and eBay. Let’s pray something like that comes along!

  16. Hi Jen. I’ve been with Etsy since the beginning. In fact, I remember the artist that started Etsy. Back when I was a moderator on Wet Canvas (another site that was ruined) they talked about starting Etsy because they were sick of Ebay doing what Etsy is doing now. Interesting, makes me said to see all of our hard work (artists that have shops) end in as a benefit for imports. I think for now I will be adding, “This is a handmade, by the artist, item and not an imported, mass made copy.” BTW, love the idea of opening your own shop, would you mind sharing how you did that? Best of luck with it, it looks great!

  17. I don’t have a shop, or sell the jewelry I make (much to my husband’s chagrin), but I buy a lot of my major supplies on Etsy, because I love supporting individual artists and entrepreneurs. I also buy a fair amount of finished items as well. (The husband is wrong again; I really CAN’T just make it myself!) It has always annoyed me to do a search for something handmade, and come up with the mass produced crap made in China. I’m using Pinterest to identify some excellent Etsy artists, and love it that so many jewelry artists link back to the artists who provide the components they use. I think those of you with shops creating unique and beautiful jewelry need to band together and support each other that way, and that will help those of us who want to purchase your beautiful work to locate your Etsy shops. Don’t worry Ally, there are always going to be a lot of us out here who will take the time to search out the real artists on Etsy!

  18. Great post! However, you have drop shipping wrong, it is much more sinister than you stated. It allows the large factories to use small sellers to sell their products. The small sellers don’t even have to own the products as the factory will usually mail the product to the end customer. The seller is only the front for the factory making the factory look smaller and local. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_shipping

  19. So where are the alternatives? Are there etsy replacements in the pipeline? I think there are plenty of people who truly care about the local, handmade and artisan supporting aspects of their purchases that a replacement would fly.

  20. That is too bad. Ebay ruined selling for me, after nine years there. I then went to Onlineauction.com, and that has been so refreshing, as we can pretty much sell as we want, without extra fees, accepting whatever form of payment suits our customers, fair feedback, etc. I so totally feel your frustration and sadness. I hope you can find a good fit for you, that will keep creating and selling fun and fulfilling.

  21. Why couldn’t we just leave ETSY and make our own, as a cooperative of individuals committed to hand- and locally-made items? It might be rocket science, I don’t know. But I would LOVE to be part of an on-line co-op selling my things.

  22. I sell handmade stained glass on Etsy. Up until the early part of this year, I was very happy with my traffic and my sales. This year has been dismal. So I agree with you that Etsy is getting too big, and the “little guy” is getting crowded out. What a shame!

  23. I love your blog post! thank you for sharing it! I am no longer on Etsy and started my own site and you can be just as successful if not more on your own :) best wishes!
    ~AJ

  24. Thank you so much for your informative blog. I have just set up my etsy shop for my handmade porcelain products. I am very disappointed that yet again a big company has built it’s business off the backs of hard working artists. It has made me reconsider my etsy shop and I am now looking for alternative handmade sites based here in Australia. Good luck with your business and cheers to keeping it handmade! :)

  25. I love to shop on Etsy and look forward every year at Christmas to buying wonderful, unique works of art for the people I love that are affordable. I’m really saddened by this move. There are other online sites for artisan craftspeople and artists, but none that I’ve found that can compete with Etsy. Maybe I will have to start checking out those.

  26. Why do they feel the need to fix what is not broken. We the shoppers of Etsy like the way it worked. I loved chatting with my crafter or artist. I have had one of a kind jewelry made for the a friend’s loss of a child, purchased a sugar easter egg to replace a hand made on that was broken. I also purchase lip balm from a bee farmer. How cool is all of that. I love saving the correspondence with the easter egg. This is what made Etsy not ebay. It is what made it etsy and I loved it and shopped it often listed is a brief mention of the treasures I have found. I treasure them all and appreciate the talented men ansd women they represent. Good luck, I hope there becomes a new site to connect talent with money. I am crafty, but even a crafty person has to make use of all resources including etsy!
    .

  27. As a buyer on etsy I am saddened by this article.I chose to shop with etsy because I felt in some small way I could help artists make a living.Sad sad sad.

  28. I have mixed feelings about these changes. I think that the nature of Etsy might be changing a little bit – but I think your comparison is a little overstated.

    These are from the email Etsy sent me as a regular Etsy seller :

    ” Re-selling — purchasing a new, finished product you had no role in creating and selling it to someone else unchanged — is still not allowed.”

    This still disqualifies 90% of all the cheap crud you’ll find on Amazon or Ebay. You can’t just buy and re-sell things. I’m pretty sure Etsy can figure our that something is funny when you personally made 40 or 50 of the exact same item, and you’ve got 4 or 5 different items for sale at the same time. If I see a store full of things that look cheap and factory made (unusually large quantities, cheap quality, unusually large selection), then I’m not going to buy from that shop. I might even be tempted to report if it really looks like it doesn’t belong.

    I see that these changes will have an impact, but I don’t see it as being all that bad. Drop shipping for some things makes sense. Do I really need to pack each 5×7 picture frame in a box, add packing materials, and tape the box shut, or can I just pay someone else I trust to do it for me?

    To me, I see this as more about opening up some additional options for collaborations, and possibly fancier products. I can think of many creations where I could use the help of a friend. Maybe I’m making the picture, and a friend is producing the frame. I do use some outside sources to produce some of my items. If you buy a 5×7 framed picture from me, you know that I printed the image on my professional printer, with my choice of paper. (It says that in the description.) But I don’t have a printer that will do T-shirts. Or mugs. Some people might want my designs on a T-shirt, or a mug, rather then in a frame to hang on a wall – but I can’t do that on my own. Not by a LONG shot.

    In the end, I’m still accountable for the quality of my products. I’m still accountable for listing who else has helped in their creation – how, and why. I DO test the items I source. I’ve bought and tried to wear out my own photo T-shirts. I have a mug that hasn’t faded yet from many, many trips through the diswasher.

    -Mark

  29. Time to form an online cooperative of all the littlr handmade shops that started on Etsy. I think coops are the future of the kind of economy that share platforms like Etsy are bringing about anyway. Think about it. Things like Airbnb, ride sharing companies, places where you can rent out your tools- all great- but do we really want them being run as for-profits and sold to big corporate conglomerates who only want them to get their hands on all that lovely data? I don’t think so. Really looking forward to see sellers come together and start selling as a group. Come to think of it, we buyers could do this too- searching out small, interesting artisans and featuring them the way a grocery coop does a good, local cheese! Hmm. Have to think some more about that one…

  30. I just came upon your post via a friend’s fb link. I’ve been buying on Etsy for several years but didn’t know about this recent change. Good on you for seeing it as a challenge. For me as a buyer I am so disappointed! How will I find the exceptional handmade pieces made by people ferreting away in their studios that I love to buy? Are they trying to give any explanation for this?

  31. Im not the artist, Im your customer! Im deeply sad about the direction Etsy is going. If I cant make it, I always look to my local(US) artists. Please pull together and create another community or co-op that people like myself can link to you! All of your creative minds will find a way! Thanks for trade and dont stop!

  32. I hope and pray that all you artist find a new avenue to market your stuff. I won’t buy from etsy.

  33. I don’t make things and sell them on etsy, but I certainly do buy things from the site. I’m saddened by this news. If I wanted to buy factory made things, I’d simply click on amazon or ebay…or just go to a local store. This new approach pretty much trashes etsy’s original concept.

  34. I buy much from Jen – Zen Owl, not much from ETSY. I love that we have such talented people making a living without huge corp interference….the people who love the work of individual artists dont want this to happen. I will continue to support the
    individual……….we need you. Brenda Ramzinsky

  35. So now it is time for someone to start up another “etsy” where we can be guaranteed to find handmade things. And also time to continue focus on the conditions in China where our toys (and other consumer goods) are manufactured. Thanks for this post!

  36. I have a shop on Etsy, although mine is vintage/antique. That side of Etsy is very competitive and I believe my shop gets lost in the great abyss. I too am looking at other venues for my wares.
    Rather disheartening to read of Etsy’s drive for the almighty buck…

  37. Hi Bob, Thanks for reading. It is very competitive on Etsy, and one of the benefits I’ve found on the site are all the tutorials. I will always be really grateful to Etsy for providing those– they can give you an edge of you follow the advice there. But these changes are not supportive of micro-businesses like ours.

  38. Well said, Susan! There is a big interest in handmade, and the handmade movement. I think techies and business people with vision will see the need for a more authentic approach– it would be great to see an alternative to Etsy. It was my hope that Etsy and the handmade movement would help people understand the high human cost of cheap goods, but instead I fear these changes will just confuse that.

  39. Hi Sepp,
    Thank you for the link– I look forward to checking out this site. Alternatives are welcome.

  40. Hi Brenda, Thank you for reading– I will have to check out Jen’s work– I love her logo– so cute! I first found Etsy because I wanted to support individual artists as a shopper– that was almost 8 years ago. I know exactly what you mean. We need each other!

  41. Hi Alyson– yes, as a shopper on Etsy myself, this is just confusing and totally ditches the original concept which attracts shoppers to the site! I just don’t understand why the decision makers who have done this think it’s a good thing. Thanks for reading.

  42. Hi Becca, Thanks for reading. In the past, Etsy was a great place to find locally made things– I love to search for makers near me. I fear that with the changes, it will be impossible to really know *where* something was made and by whom. You are right– creative minds will find a way!

  43. I Fiona, thank you for reading and commenting. I feel you– it is the avid Etsy shopper in me that is most gutted at this change. Chad Dickerson, the Etsy CEO, has explained the changes on his blog, but there is a lot of “spin” here– posing it as an “opportunity” for artists to grow beyond handmade. You can read it here: https://www.etsy.com/blog/news/2013/notes-from-chad-11/ I think Etsy was having such a hard time policing the site, dealing with resellers, that they basically gave up and decided to cash in on the money embracing resellers and factory made goods will bring them.

  44. Hi Sarah– wow, I love this idea! You have a really inspiring concept here. I think you are right– the internet is a great democracy– all the tools are available to make this happen. I really love your idea of curating as a buyer, and this is something I’ve been meaning to do on this blog as well– feature handmade products I really love. I’m certainly going to ramp this up now. Thanks for lighting a fire!

  45. Mark, if you are a printer or a photographer who wants to print your work on ready-made shirts and mugs, no doubt these changes will benefit you. Those products couldn’t really be said to be handmade.

  46. Hi Teresa, thank you for these heartfelt words– you express exactly what I love about Etsy, that connection with a maker, the ability collaborate with an artist, to have something very special made just for you. That will still be there, it will just be harder to find, I think. I feel even more compelled to support the artists I’ve found on Etsy, and if they open shops on independent platforms, I will purchase from them there instead.

  47. Thank you B, for reading. I think shopping on Etsy should still be an option, but it will be harder for buyers to find genuinely handmade goods. Etsy’s SEO and internal search engine works really well. It remains to be seen how this will change the shopping experience– it won’t be fore the better! I look forward to seeing alternatives, but you are right, Etsy has some great Tech heads on board now. It will be hard for alternative sites to compete.

  48. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for reading. Your work looks gorgeous– I’m sure you will have much success on Etsy as well as alternative sites when they appear– I just think it will be more of a challenge for those of us who are truly making hand made things to be really present in our presentation of our work, really transparent about process and materials.

  49. Hi AJ, thank you for reading! Where have you started your own site? Do you want to share the URL? I want to check it out!

  50. Hi Claudia, thank you for reading. I love your stained glass– it’s beautiful. I hope we can all find successful alternatives.

  51. Hi Annie– I totally love the online co op idea, too! It should be straightforward to do something like this. A team of web designers, data analysts and visionaries could do it! I think it is going to happen.

  52. Hi Missy– I know what you mean. I used to be able to sell vintage on Ebay and make an OK living doing that– that was 9 years ago though. It would be impossible now. It’s even impossible to be a shopper on there if you want to find one-of-a-kind vintage. The searches are flooded with mass produced buy it now things. I worry this will be Etsy in a few years. Onlineauction sounds like a good alternative– I will have to check it out as a shopper!

  53. Hi Kim, thanks for reading. I am asking the same thing– I have a shop on Indiemade which is basically a hosting platform, not a marketplace. I love what people above are saying about co-operatives. I think a replacement would fly– it’s just a matter of time!

  54. I agree with all these people. Now, I didn’t read all the comments, but is there an idea about setting up a new website to feature only us handcrafting artisans–and staying that way?

  55. Hi SL and everyone– I am having trouble replying to comments– the volume has been really great! I will keep an eye out for a new platform– there is Zibbet and in the UK there is Folksy. Some people were asking about my independent web shop– I used Indiemade.com to set that up. It is straightforward and the customer service is really good, but I am still ironing things out. The user interface isn’t as easy to use as Etsy.

  56. This is terrible. I haven’t been an involved seller on Etsy for more than a year now (writing is my primary creative passion) but my little shop floated my husband and I through a year with no other income. I can’t imagine that would have been possible or would ever be in the future with movements like this.

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