A few years ago, the sandwich shop Maoz on M St. in Washington DC closed unexpectedly. As much as I was gutted to no longer be able to get cheap falafel a block from my office, I was super gutted because my Maoz loyalty card was full and I was due for a free falafel sandwich. I had been sitting on it waiting for the perfect day for falafel (but then again, what day isn’t perfect for falafel?!) and kind of daydreaming about their amazing free toppings bar instead.
But, Maoz is a business. They are allowed to close at any point in time. They are also allowed to become a quinoa burger chain at any moment or to remove the free toppings bar with that balls-to-the-wall cilantro sauce. I mean, really, just look at this photo!
However, they are a business. They can do whatever they want, whenever they want. That’s why they started a business, because it literally gives them the power to do whatever they want (well, within the law). That also includes talking to lawyers and writing language that is, shall we say, “debatable” or “workable” or “flexible.”
And, whether they admit it or not, most Etsy sellers have their own business. Whether you have sold 1 item in 5 years or 5,000 items in 1 year, you are a business. I know it may sound weird to some of you, but it’s true, you have the potential to become “the man,” because you are a business owner.
So… why do so many Etsy sellers think they are owed stuff? Some of them even believe they should sue Etsy. Um, for what, exactly? Because Etsy is a tool, a service, for your business, nothing more.
I’ve stayed out of it until I came across this site the other day. GAUNTLET DROPPED. Because for those confused, rape means that someone forced you into something of a very private nature and that you can’t leave without facing injury or death. And erm, there is no way in hell Etsy raped America, because that would mean all Americans, and that just doesn’t even make sense. TO ANYONE. Etsy is a business that people sign up for. Rape is not something that people sign up for.
I put those last two sentences in a comment on their blog. I was told to “get educated” and that rape also means “to pillage and plunder.” First of all, never tell someone to “get educated” without background checking first. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I come pretty well-armed to a craft fight. Secondly, using the word “rape” in a context other than the physical act diminishes the horror and trauma of the act. And, as such, it is never okay. (And if you think it is okay, ask someone else about it, given that every 107 seconds someone is sexually assaulted chances are high you’ll find someone that doesn’t agree with you very soon.)
After this occurred, I began to think more about this sheer outrage at Etsy. How people think they were owed something like they were actually employees of Enron.
And I think the problem boils down to a couple of things:
1. We drank the Kool-Aid: When Etsy came around saying it was a place to sell handmade things, we conflated this as meaning it supported handmade and only handmade. Seeing how much soul and creativity and love is wrapped up into handmade things we thought, “Hey, they have our back!” Well, they are a business. They can do what they want. And they never had your back, if they did, they would be a non-profit.
2. And now we feel cheated: Because we gave Etsy support and our business and those fees sellers have to pay for each transaction (which should have been clue #1 that Etsy was not just in it to help you, the handmade seller, out), they owe us something, right? Nope. They owe you nothing.
3. But, they can’t change the rules! Wrong. They own a business. They can do whatever they want. It’s like McDonald’s and the McRib. They keep selling it. And then stopping. And then selling it. And then stopping. Why do they do this? NO ONE ACTUALLY KNOWS. However, they can and so they do. They owe the McRib to no one and to nothing, except pure and inexplicable whim.
4. We had no Plan B: Because of #1, people got cozy with Etsy and made it a kind of craft demigod. While other online sites that sell handmade things popped up, too, everyone kept praying to Etsy. Because Etsy has their back, right? Nope. It takes your money. If it was a charity, this would be a completely different post. People didn’t diversify or build up other platforms or their own sites because they had Etsy. And Etsy was good. Until it wasn’t.
5. We don’t know how to sell without Etsy: Because many of us have never had to. As an OG crafter (I just learned this term and it’s cracking me up, it means I was a pre-Etsy crafter… Getcrafty.com in 2001, represent!), I can tell you that handmade things existed before Etsy. And they will exist afterwards. Etsy made it easy for people to sell their handmade goods online because they put a lot of work into the platform. This is good because it’s Etsy and this is also bad because it made people complacent.
The point is, Etsy sellers have a right to be angry. But they are not owed anything. Just like they have the right to be angry, they also have the right to leave.
The choice now is do you want to put all your faith in them not to change again? Or in another platform? Or stand more on your own two feet? Or band together with other crafters and come up with some sort of mission-driven super platform of fabulous so this doesn’t happen again?
If choose the latter, go check out this list of 12 alternatives. Also, if you choose another platform, do yourself a solid and get some/all/most of your friends to join you on said-alternative platform. Then, once you’re all nice and comfy over there, together put out press releases and social media campaigns like you’re Whitesnake doing a 2015 reunion. This will work even better if you either have lots of people with you (meaning you could even make a public statement) or have people working in different mediums, so you can get different types of buyers.
I write all of this because in the past 14 years I’ve seen a lot of flux in the craft world. I could also write a history paper on all the changes that happen with handmade things, handmade culture, and the crafternet in general. But that would be skipping over the obvious, which is your business is just that, YOUR BUSINESS. You can choose to rely on one source of income and never look to others. And that may work forever, but then again, the rules may change and you may be screwed.
You can also pull up those awesome handknitted socks and stop with all the vitriol, which is doing no one any good. Whipping people into a frenzy is like a bad rave, people get hit by accident and no one remembers who started it. Put all that crafty energy towards improving your business instead. If you hate Etsy, leave. Just don’t let it break you, you crafty minx.
Handmade will hold you. It will hold you in its heart and never let you go. Platforms, tools, services, not so much. If it’s the craft you love, they gosh darn it, lean in already. Use what you love to go forward. Don’t be held back. And don’t go waiting for things to change back to how it was earlier, either, unless you’re waiting for the McRib, that game never changes.
P.S. I also suggest reading this lovely post by my friend Marlo on this same issue.