My long association with online sales venue and sois-disant community Etsy is now at an end.
I adored Etsy when I joined in May of 2007. I had followed one of my favourite artists there in order to buy her work, and saw an opportunity to sell my own collages online. It was an exciting time, and I was very grateful to Etsy and its community for the support and encouragement I found there. I fell in love with the place, as many, many people do. Etsy could do no wrong, as far as I was concerned. There were problems, but they were working on them and we sellers did everything we could to promote and support the Etsy name along with our own shops, believing that we were part of building something unique and special that valued our energy and abilities.
In October 2007 Etsy rolled out its Gift Guides, and things started to change for me. I started to notice how "top down" Etsy was, in spite of the rhetoric that we were all in this handmade adventure together. I noticed that access to all the effective promotional spaces on Etsy (the Gift Guides, the Front Page treasuries, Etsy Picks) were controlled by Admin, and that Admin certainly played favourites. I even noticed how Admin members with shops were featured multiple times in the GGs and it just seemed wrong.
I started to post some questions and comments in the fora that were critical of Etsy's new direction.
Then danielleoxo was put in charge of the Fora in early 2008, and the whole place went batshit crazy until Etsy yanked her. I posted some critical comments, and she convoed me personally, which was terrifying because people were being muted left right and centre, for no apparent reason besides their criticism of Etsy. It was a seriously weird time.
In spite of my vocal disillusionment with Etsy, I did pretty well there for a few years. I sold quite a bit of original art and jewellery. I had a great time. I bought a shitload of amazing art and objects from a bevvy of extraordinarily talented artists and craftspeople. I was proud of my work as a leader of the Atlantic Provinces Street Team and my stint as an editor with the Unofficial EtsyNews Blog. While on the Etsy fora I tried to protest any disturbing developments respectfully but I did protest. I'll admit it, I was even a bitch, sometimes. Practically a Bitch, in fact :)
Then, gradually, I got worn down by the endless, unremitting PR bullshit from Etsy and of struggling against it. When The Storque was introduced (seriously, what the hell is up with that name) and Etsy started moving away from being an edgy supporter of handmade to representing a very mainstream vision of hipster chic, I got frustrated. I got tired of the ceaseless spin and the endless stream of happy new users, all enthralled by the shiny crocheted cupcakes, and I virtually disappeared for about a year. I had become so depressed just thinking about how amazing Etsy could have been and how they'd always squandered the goodwill we sellers gave them that I couldn't spend time there and preferred to sell my artwork and jewellery in brick and mortar shops. I still bought from many amazingly talented artists and supply sellers, though.
Coralgate and Etsy's arrogant response (or, rather, lack of response) was the penultimate straw for this camel. It lured me back into the fora, marking threads and making comments. I saw that nothing had really changed for the better. That Etsy was still messing with the functionality of our shops, right before the busiest holiday season. That Etsy Admin were more distant and less responsive than ever. That Etsy still didn't have any kind of real customer service. That search was still broken. That favouritism was even more common. That the range of items featured was even more narrow. That The Storque was even more focussed on mainstream celebrity culture than it had been. That "guests" could be invited to write articles that called for a boycott on some of Etsy's own sellers goods, and that those guests could link to their own commercial sites with impunity.
So I started posting again.
And that led to Etsy first muting me last week and then, the next day, deleting both my seller accounts without notice or even a consistent or credible reason after the fact. Of course I realize that they didn't need any reason to delete my accounts -- Etsy will do whatever it wants to whomever it wants. And, in a fine show of what some will call sour grapes, I will say that I had no intention of ever selling or even buying anything there ever again.
I certainly asked for it. I had a blank Etsy Bitch banner on one of my shops, to which I added the words "dangerous mezzo is a bitch" :) Heh heh heh.
And a day before I was booted completely I changed my avatar to the EtsyBitch mute salute :) I'm so glad I did, because now my years of archived forum posts will preserve that ironic salute into a brave new future!
Here's my advice for artists and craftspeople wishing to sell online.
Register your own domain name before you do anything else. If you choose to sell your work through Etsy, Artfire, eBay or any of the other venues out there, forward that domain name to the venue. That way your printed promotional materials (business cards, hang tags, etc.) won't be out of date if you decide to leave the venue (or if, as Etsy has done to many, many sellers before me, the venue decides unilaterally to close down your shop).
Don't let yourself get emotionally involved in any online venue. There is no difference between Etsy and eBay -- they're both in it solely for the money. eBay doesn't give a damn about you, and neither, my darlings, does Etsy, in spite of all the cuddly moustaches. I like Artfire's current attitude, but Etsy started small and friendly, too. As I build my business at AF I'll be looking out for the telltale signs that things are going to get ugly.
Here's a special note to new Etsy sellers, or people who are considering Etsy as a sales venue:
Try it. It's a beautiful site with some truly amazing people. If your work is to the rather narrow tastes of Etsy Admin, the site may be a big support to you. If your work is not to their tastes, and you don't make it onto their list of sites to promote, the recent changes in showing search results and Etsy's hidden definition of what's "relevant" may make getting seen very hard. And any customers you do bring into your store can be easily lured out of it by a number of things that Etsy seems to change on a whim. But if you're happy there, then that's great!
Here's my farewell to all the great artists selling on Etsy:
You rock. You were the principal reason that I stayed on Etsy, you and your amazing work. I'm typing in my sitting room right now, and, at a glance, I can see about eight pieces I bought from you guys just in this room. My whole house is full of your work! You are a part of my daily life, and I hope to continue to buy from you again, just not on Etsy :)
Here's my farewell to my fellow dissidents:
You've heard rumours about Etsy cracking down on dissent? They're all true. Flying EB colours and putting any criticism of Etsy in your shop announcement or profile is begging to get canned. Be prepared. There are some things you can do to protest effectively, though. If you still need Etsy as a venue, but are frustrated by the disfunction of the site, stay squeaky clean there, but help get the word out beyond the Etsy fora which are only ever read by a small percentage of users. If you see an interesting thread in the fora noting problems with the site, Tweet it, and remember to include the hashtag #etsyfail. Blog about it. Comment on other blogs. We sellers built Etsy on word of mouth, we've been able to effect some changes in the past because of protests, and as Etsy becomes more and more mainstream, the company and its corporate masters will be more and more sensitive to the kind of criticism that the internet can make viral. Social networking can bite Etsy in the ass, big time.
And here are my last words to Etsy:
1. Etsy Admin, you need to get out more. You're seriously insulated from the Etsy users, surrounded by people who suck up to you all the time, and you're not helping handmade.
2. HeyMichelle -- stop saluting, already. You look like a dork. Really.
3. Please stop calling us "friends". You're not our friends. The Etsybot that told me that my account was shitcanned told me it loved me. It doesn't love me. If it loved me it would take me out to dinner once in a while. For that matter, enough with the "Hey you" opening for business emails. Get a hair cut, get a real job, get out of Brooklyn once in a while. Sheesh.
And my very last word is for Rokali, aka Rob Kalin, one of Etsy's founders and now its CEO again (after they booted him and his coral nailpolish and hired Maria Whatshername, then booted her and rehired Kalin). Rob loves the Leo Leoni storybook of Swimmy and apparently it's one of the things that inspired him to start Etsy. Rob sees himself as Swimmy, the brave little fish who encourages all the other little fish to band together and stand up against the big, bad tuna. Yay, Swimmy! Boo, Tuna!
Rob Kalin may be totally sincere about his handmade mission, but if he still thinks he's supporting the little fishies who make handmade, there must either be some serious cognitive dissonance going on in his head, or he's deluded himself that all is still well. It may be the latter -- like all Etsy Admin he's totally surrounded by people who suck up to him, which I'm sure can make seeing things clearly very difficult.
Here's a typically deluded quote from Kalin's recent interview with Meg Shannon at Bloomberg.com:
Relationships with people are what drive the growth of a business. It’s kind of tempting to put people behind a moniker like “customer.” Keep it human. That’s a rallying cry at Etsy. Let people be true to who they are.Riiight. Etsy's true customers, the sellers, don't know whether to laugh or cry at this.
Remember the end of Animal Farm, Rob? A smart, literate guy like you does, I'm sure, without even having to ask his amanuensis to look it up. Remember when the "liberated" animals look in the window at the cosy dining room from which they are excluded -- they look from their piggy leaders to the humans and back again, and can't tell the difference?
Rob, whatever you believe about yourself, you are now, officially, the Tuna.