This is a reflection of our experience on selling on Etsy. It is at best anecdotal, but I have a feeling there are others out there who feel the same.
Selling on the Etsy platform was a game changer for our business. As a niche creator we were not able to reach potential customers around the world and at the time setting up an E-commerce website was daunting. At the time Etsy solved both problems. For the first time in years, what we did was viable to actually earn enough to live on.
Our first Etsy sale was in July 2012. Since then a lot has changed in the marketplace and in the world. Change is inevitable and we have rolled with them to the best of our ability in the past years.
However the way Etsy has changed is what I want to talk about today.
Handmade or artisan work exists in a different economic paradigm. Unlike conventional commerce, artisan commerce is not scaleable.
Could "Artecommerce" catch on as a term?
There is a very real limit on how much a single person can produce. If you where to ask me to make 10 of a pendant that takes an hour to make, I may be able to reduce the time from 10 hours to 9 at a push. This is completely different to mass production, where the more you can scale production, the cheaper you can make it.
There is only one of me, who can do what I do to the skill and experience learned in almost two decades of my type of silver/blacksmithing, I have a limited hours in which I can do it. As well as a limited lifetime, which I try not to think of too much!
Let's put aside all the other things I need to do (photos, videos, listing, SEO, accounting, packaging, customer service...) and pretend I need to only focus on metal work.
This means £31,000 divided by 1730 hours is about £18 per hour.
However only about half the time I spend at the workshop doing work that brings in value. As self employed I end up doing everything myself. To be self employed is truly to be skilled at a fantastic array of things! (that's another blog post though).
Suffice to say, that when I take sick leave and holidays into account, I would need to charge £40 for every hour I work (I charge less than this at the moment). If I want to have a pay rise, I have to raise prices.
In a year I can only produce 1700 or so items that take an hour to make, package and ship. If it takes 10 hours to make then only 170 items.
So a UK seller on Etsy, who says they make everything by hand and has over 10 000 sales a year, has to be either spending a very small amount of time on each item or being creative with the definition hand made. It's certainly possible to make things in minutes, especially if they are printed or merely assembled, but in my area of work, blacksmithing its unlikely. To produce metalwork at such a rate you need machinery and tools and investment that aren't accessible to a one or two person show.
Why is this relevant to this blog post?
Etsy is a very saturated marketplace with a lot of items for sale. Their search and sorting algorithms choose who's work your see based on a few metrics. These metrics are the excellent in driving more sales on an ecommerce website like Ebay or Amazon. As far as I can tell the main ones are speed, volume and price. These are the very things I cannot compete with. I focus on creativity, skill and customer service.
By Etsy failing to understand that their genuinely handmade sellers operate in a different economic paradigm, they are accidentally undermining their own unique selling point.
No amount of work in marketplace integrity is going to fix it. Shops that flaunt the handmade rules are naturally going to be more competitive in the environment Etsy gives us.
The problem is upstream and for Etsy it is a tricky problem. Solving it means that Etsy would have to accept some of the same limitations as it's artisans.
I expect this to be rather unpopular with investors, so it is unlikely things will change to that direction. It's more likely that hand made will become more of a side note than it already is.
We continue to sell on Etsy, but I am starting to put considerable work in getting this website out there and noticed. You can help by sharing, or popping over to Youtube and liking and subscribing to some of our videos. And please do so for any other crafts people you want to support.