Controversy at Etsy

7 Jul

Etsy has never been free from controversy since I began selling my handmade items in October of 2009.  Occasionally, I get roped into a fracas, and the current fuss over what stones can be sold on Etsy as “craft supplies” has me muttering under my breath.

I don’t understand AT ALL why “craft supplies” and “vintage items” can be sold on Etsy.

If you search the web for “Etsy,” you’ll see the following metadata (the key words and phrases that describe the contents of the page to help readers scan the page to decide if they want to read it and to help search engines find the page) displayed below the site’s web address:

Buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies on Etsy, the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace. Share stories through millions of items from around the world.

If Etsy is “the world’s most vibrant HANDMADE marketplace,” and craft supplies and vintage items are not handmade, should they be allowed to be listed for sale?  I can’t emphasize the word “handmade” too much.  Why, even Etsy’s metadata description above contains the word twice!  I was always under the impression that the purpose of Etsy was to provide an on-line venue for artists and artisans to sell their handmade work.

Here’s how Etsy’s “Press” web page says Etsy started:

Etsy’s Beginning

Etsy was conceived by Rob Kalin in early 2005. A painter, carpenter, and photographer, Rob found there was no viable marketplace to exhibit and sell his creations online — other E-commerce sites having become too inundated with overstock electronics and broken appliances. Ever industrious, he, along with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik, designed the site, wrote the code, assembled the servers, spliced the cables, and launched Etsy on June 18th, 2005 after only three sleepless months.

So Etsy did start as a marketplace to sell handmade items.  Nothing is said about Rob wanting to buy painting, carpentry or photographic supplies, or wanting to sell 20+ year old paintings, carpentry or photographic items.

The original purpose of Etsy was to exhibit and sell artist and artisan handmade creations.  So how many of the items sold on Etsy are artist and artisan handmade creations?

Etsy issues “Weather Reports” each month providing some statistics; here is the report for May 2013 which appeared as a blog post:

Can you feel the refreshing breeze of community-driven growth? A 56.3% increase from May 2012′s to May 2013′s total of dollars of goods sold lures us into warm days ahead. (At the same time, items sold were up 44.7% year over year.)

The stats:

  • $102.9 million of goods (after refunds and cancellations) were sold by our community in May, 1.2% higher than April’s $101.7 million
  • That represents 4,391,101 items sold for the month, 3.1% higher than April’s 4,259,435
  • 2,855,505 items were listed in the month, 0.9% higher than April’s 2,830,804
  • 977,061 new members joined the Etsy community in the month, up 4,837 or 0.5%, from April
  • 1.37 billion page views were recorded on the site in May

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Etsy community in May 2013!

My goodness, that sure sounds good!  But what are these statistics really saying?  They’re saying that ETSY is making a shitload of money.  What is more important is to know which ETSY SELLERS are making a shitload of money.  Etsy won’t tell us, but Craftcount will!  Here is a snapshot of Craftcount’s “Summary of Top Sellers” (total number of all item sold) as of today:

Craftcount

Do you see anything suspicious about this data?  I do.  Since Etsy’s conception, the top ten supply sellers sold 1,902,418 items!  That is approximately 378% more than the top ten handmade sellers (501,272) and approximately 1,260% more than the top ten vintage sellers (150,922)!  It’s approximately 291% more than the top ten handmade and vintage sellers combined; that’s almost 3 times as many items sold.  So, of course, the top ten overall sellers are also the top ten supply sellers!

Looked at another way, approximately 74% of the total top ten items sold were supplies, handmade sellers make up approximately 20% and vintage is only 6%.  Dang!

Maybe Etsy should change their metadata to read:

Buy and sell craft supplies, handmade, art or vintage items on Etsy, the world’s most vibrant craft supply marketplace. Share stories through millions of craft supply items from around the world.

So supply sellers are cleaning up on Etsy.  How is Etsy itself doing based its monthly weather reports?  Etsy collect 20 cents for each item listed and 3.5% of item price when sold from their sellers.  In 2012, Etsy grossed at least $37 million:

Income

For a privately held company, they ain’t hurtin’.  Look what all those supplies, handmade, art and vintage items sold on Etsy bought them (Source:  Etsy Press page):

Etsy Entrance

Etsy Entrance

Etsy Phone Booth

Etsy Phone Booth

Etsy Conference Room

Etsy Conference Room

Etsy Lounge

Etsy Lounge

Reminds me of the plush digs at Google (see this post).

Now back to the fuss over selling stones (Etsy calls them rocks) on Etsy.  Here is their official position:

Hi everyone!

My name is Sarah and I am the manager of the Marketplace Integrity team. I’m going to jump in here to address your concerns about which rocks qualify to be sold on Etsy, and where we draw the line on craft supplies.

I’d like to take a step back first and address what qualifies as a craft supply on Etsy. As you probably know, a craft supply on Etsy is an item used to make something you might see for sale on Etsy. One of the key components in our definition of a craft supply is that this category is also defined by what it is not: “A craft supply is not a commercial item that, although it may be used in crafting, is ready to use as is.” This is the same policy that applies to items such as blank t-shirts or commercially made items such as doll house furniture. We understand that there are great crafts that might creatively incorporate these “ready to use as is” items (for example: a screen printed t-shirt starts off with a blank t-shirt; dollhouse furniture can be used in dioramas or multimedia art; rocks can be used in wire-wrapped jewelry). We’ve had to make a tough call about what qualifies as a craft supply on Etsy in order to preserve the category from being a catch-all for any and every thing in the world.

So getting back to the matter at hand, how does this apply to rocks on Etsy? When we talk about rocks, we have determined that if they are unaltered, then they fall under this delineation of “ready to use as is” (for example: a part of a collection of rock specimens, or as decorative objects in their own right).

So now that we’ve talked about what’s not allowed, let’s dig in to the ways that rocks can be sold on Etsy.

Rocks can be sold in the craft supply category if they take the format of a component commonly used to create something new. For example: beads (rocks with holes) and cabochons (flat backs) are welcome to be sold as craft supplies. Pendants, such as an already wire-wrapped rock or a commercially finished pendant that includes a rock, can also be sold in the craft supply category.

We allow rocks polished by the seller or hand carved rocks to be sold in the handmade categories. In order for rocks to be listed as handmade, the seller must have visibly altered the item.

You can see that we do allow many different types of rocks to be sold on Etsy in several categories. Thank you for bringing your questions about these types of items to the forums. If you have further questions about your specific items, you can reach out to the Marketplace Integrity Team for personal assistance: www.etsy.com/help/contact

Here’s my simple translation:

Stones can be sold as craft supplies on Etsy if (1) they are used to make something new, (2) they are not “ready to use as is,” and (3) they are commercially produced and manufactured items that (4) have not been visually altered by the seller.

Stones can be sold as handmade items on Etsy if (1) they are used to make something new, (2) they are not “ready to use as is,” and (3) they are not commercially produced and manufactured items because they (4) have been visually altered by the seller.

The problem appears to center around the selling of crystal points and raw minerals.  Unless the seller grows their own crystals and minerals artificially in a laboratory, crystal points and raw minerals made by Mother Nature and are (1) not visually altered by the seller; however, they are (2) used to make something new to be sold on Etsy.  This makes them ineligible to be sold as handmade items.  However, since Etsy has determined that crystal points and raw minerals are also “ready to use as is” because they can be displayed singly or in collections, so they also do not qualify to be sold as craft supplies.   Since I use raw minerals to make jewelry items, this pisses me off.

I also have a problem with this statement:

Pendants, such as an already wire-wrapped rock or a commercially finished pendant that includes a rock, can also be sold in the craft supply category.

A stone that has been wire-wrapped is a handmade item, not a craft supply, because the seller wire-wrapped it, thus making it visually altered (I don’t know of any commercially wire-wrapped stone products available in the marketplace).  I agree that commercially set stone pendants are craft supplies because they are commercial items that are not “ready to use as is” because they have to be strung before they can be worn.  And, in fact, a commercially set stone pendant that was purchased by an Etsy seller as a craft supply and then placed on a chain is eligible to be sold as a handmade item.  That makes no sense to me.  What is “handmade” about putting a pendant on a chain?  Especially when there are artisans on Etsy who hand make stone pendants (using metalsmithing, metal clay, wire wrapping, etc.) that don’t come with a chain.  Since Pendants and Necklaces are subcategories of the handmade jewelry categories, obviously Etsy knows that not all sellers string their handmade Pendants; stringing them removes them from the Pendant subcategory and into the Necklace subcategory.

I think Etsy should simply matters and only allow craft supplies that have been handmade by the seller to be sold on Etsy, or drop the “ready to be used as is” restriction and allow all craft supplies that can be used to make items to sell on Etsy.  Why they allow commercial craft supplies and commercial vintage items on their “vibrant handmade marketplace” escapes me.  Isn’t that why eBay exists, to sell commercially made items to the public?

Etsy, WAKE UP!regretsysign

3 Responses to “Controversy at Etsy”

  1. soorkidum Wed, 14 Aug 13 at 2:59 AM #

    An excellent piece. Full of hard facts. I appreciate the effort taken to assemble the data. We need more and more people to speak up ….April Winchell and her Regretsy did a stellar job … and sustained it SO well for many years. We just have to keep gnawing at the problem, nip by nip.

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