Has Etsy Jumped the Shark for Makers and Crafters?

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Last week, Grace Dobush wrote a wave-making article on Wired outlining her decision to shut down her Etsy shop and how the craft megalopolis is failing its shopkeepers. Her candid story is part of the groundswell of misgivings coming from fans and sellers on the site, including myself, who feel Etsy has just grown too big and too commercial.

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(Photo: Boxwood Tree)

I used to feel that Etsy was like a craft-lovers playground. Browsing the curated front-page selections always led me to something I never would have found otherwise, enticing me to check in on the hour just to see the newest items.

I imagined opening my own shop, leaving my day job and sitting in a beautiful arty studio making things I loved all day – partly because the site implied I could do just that thanks to interviews with full-time Etsy sellers in their blog series called “Quit Your Day Job”.

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Etsy was the place to go to catch the latest buzz in the crafts and makers world. Before the term “maker” was even commonly used, Etsy was a huge player in the beginning of the movement.

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(Photo: Mason and Wax)

Unfortunately, as Dobush’s article illustrates all too clearly, the world of makers has changed dramatically. The maker movement is an official thing these days, with big corporations copying and appropriating the handmade look, handmade craft markets and local boutiques appearing across the country, and other online handmade marketplaces competing for space. Nothing compares to Etsy for sheer volume, but that, I think, is a big part of the problem. Too many products from inexperienced sellers at lower prices, or overseas manufacturers, make it hard to sell your truly quality, handmade goods.

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As Laurie Louis puts it, “Etsy has greatly changed in the last few years and not necessarily for the better. It has become too commercialized and designs are copied and sold at cheaper prices on a daily basis.”

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(Photo: Smallglow)

I finally did start my own online maker business last year, and though I briefly considered Etsy, I knew it wasn’t the right solution for me. One of the biggest reasons was its size. How the heck would anyone ever find my products in that vast ocean? I didn’t want to be one of those sellers where every product title is a description of search-relevant keywords – which is the only way to get your products in the first pages of search results. It felt so alienating.

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Beyond that, I couldn’t control the look of my shop, and it would always be buried within the etsy.com address no matter how much I promoted it. Plus, I realized that the sellers I respected most (the ones that I believed were in it for the long haul with proper customer service, quality control, and fast shipping) all had their own shops beyond Etsy. It was clear successful businesses didn’t stay on Etsy. When I realized I’d have to manage my own online shop plus an Etsy shop (and potentially a shop I’d leave in the end anyway, if all goes well) – it just sounded like too much work.

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(Photo: HRUSKAA)

In many ways I suppose Etsy is following the path of any successful American start-up. For many of us, we love a business when it’s smaller and has that certain insider-only feeling. It’s what drew you there instead of the big box stores in the first place. But start-ups grow up. Sometimes they grow into something even better, but sometimes they just change too much.

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(Photo: Cool Natural Jewelry)

I still enjoy shopping on Etsy, sometimes. I love being so easily connected to handmade products from anywhere in the world.  But I only shop Etsy in certain ways: through the curated emails and the feeds of users I’ve carefully gathered and followed over the years. Whenever I try to search for something specific, I find myself so exasperated that I leave and look for it on Pinterest. I guess in the end, Etsy and I have just grown apart.

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