I’m an Etsy Seller on Strike. Here’s Why I Paused My Shop

OApril 11th, I log onto Etsy to put my online shop on pause and join more than 20,000 other people in organizing a strike against Etsy. Etsy, a massive global marketplace that allows millions of artisans and craftpeople to sell their products, is huge. When I learned about the strike I was curious what impact my actions would have. In January of last year, I joined Etsy to make custom illustrations. My Etsy sales aren’t just my secondary income, they’re my third—and a meager one at that.

But I wasn’t going to break the picket line. News of Amazon and Starbucks’ successful unionizations made me feel optimistic. As I found out more about the Etsy strike’s causes, I was even more motivated to support the cause.

Over the last two years, Etsy made record profits with a platform that wouldn’t exist without the labor of independent creators. In 2021, the company generated $2.3 billion in sales and acquired Elo7, the “Etsy of Brazil,” as well as Depop, a British secondhand clothing site. Even with these earnings, Etsy announced a 30 percent seller fee increase–from 5 percent to 6.5 percent.

Fees charged to Etsy’s artists and craftspeople have more than doubled over the last four years, but these percentages are just part of the reason that sellers are striking. Kristi Cassidy (Etsy dressmaker) created the petition that became the center of the strike. It called for changes in fees for advertising, perks and other perks. The petition currently has over 74,000 signatures.

A statement from Etsy says the new fees will go toward “marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies.” However the platform hasn’t been transparent with any specific plans. To those whose careers and livelihoods depend on Etsy, that’s not good enough—and this latest fee increase is less of an inciting incident and more of a last straw, after years of decisions that don’t make sense for the people whose work is sold on the site.

So, here’s what you need to know about why thousands of Etsy sellers—including me—have paused our virtual shops.

Etsy feels like it’s turning Into Amazon

Etsy began in 2005 as a platform to promote handmade art and certain types of resold products with creative edges, such as craft supplies and vintage home goods. Today, the site is crowded with resellers who peddle mass-produced objects that they haven’t designed themselves. The site sells cheap keychains, bulk jewellery, and other similar items on other e-commerce sites. This creates an Amazon-like shopping experience for customers and squeezes out the original sellers of the site.

Rachal Duggan, a Milwaukee artist sells hand-drawn portraits. After more than 10 years of building her business full-time on Etsy, she recently switched to Shopify. She says: “[Etsy]Although it seems to care so deeply about artists, this is an ecommerce website. This could be eBay or Craigslist or any other website where people can sell whatever they want.”

Etsy’s AI is micromanaging sellers

Etsy was initially created to be a place for creative people, who were able to make and sell their own work. This central principle has been slowly lost over time. Etsy developed a program to give perks to sellers who respond quickly to emails and ship promptly. But sellers say this program, which designates “Star Sellers,” feels like a punishment instead, and is a way for Etsy to micromanage their work without a human on the other side.

Sky Cubacub runs Rebirth Garments’ gender-nonconforming clothing line and accessories. The Star Seller metrics are difficult to reach for her. “They basically want you to be answering messages 24/7,” Cubacub says.

Top sellers also get their own digital ads—again, something that should be a perk. But Etsy charges sellers a fee for those ads, and there’s no way for sellers to opt out.

It is generally more difficult than ever to get in touch with Etsy representatives for help or clarification. Cubacub’s listings are sometimes flagged because their last name includes the word “Cuba”—despite the shop not being tied to Cuba, and even though sales of Cuban goods are allowed on the platform. Sellers are directed to community forums and FAQs when Etsy removes their listings. This is instead of getting real help. “I would love for Etsy to have any sort of support from real humans,” Cubacub says. “If [the company] is making billions of dollars, I feel like it should be able to hire people who are answering actual questions.”

This issue is coming to a head at a moment when dissatisfaction with the creator economy—where incentives are often decided by opaque algorithms and fee structures—is growing across many platforms.

Etsy has announced that its new fee structure will help sellers succeed. The company said in a statement: “Our sellers’ success is a top priority for Etsy. We are always receptive to seller feedback.”

Now what?

The strike by sellers ends April 18. Etsy must address all issues raised by the petition or sellers will consider quitting the site. Cubacub is currently working with a friend to build their own personal shop, but it’s hard to walk away. Etsy’s platform makes it easier to sell to a broader audience than their work would otherwise reach. Duggan switched to Shopify from Etsy in January after she received more than 500 5-star reviews. She claims that the change was worthwhile. Shopify’s fees are clear and not tied to a cut of her sales.

For now, I’m bummed about putting my shop on hiatus. The illustrations I sell bring people joy—that’s the kind of good that Etsy has the potential to do. That’s what Etsy meant to me when I first joined, anyway.

While Etsy has yet to directly address any of the strike’s requests, Cassidy’s petition ends with optimism that the platform can once again be a creative haven for independent artists: “Etsy can be the force for good it initially set out to be.”

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