Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

Yesterday, Etsy announced that it is changing their definition of "handmade."

They aren't changing THE definition of handmade, because they can't. But they have decided that as far as they are concerned, it doesn't mean what most of think it does.

According to Etsy, handmade products no longer have to be made by hand.


Here are the new guidelines:
  • Etsy sellers can now hire people and collaborate from different locations.
  • Etsy sellers can now use shipping or fulfillment services, but the seller is responsible for the customer experience. (i.e. drop shipping is now allowed)
  • With approval,  Etsy sellers can work with outside manufacturers to help produce their designs
  • If  Etsy sellers work with other people or manufacturers to create their items, they need to share that information on their About page.
  • Re-selling — purchasing a new, finished product you had no role in creating and selling it to someone else unchanged — is still not allowed. 
Sellers took to the forums yesterday to discuss what this all means, and the upshot is, Time will Tell.

But "Single Makers", as we are now known, are probably a dying breed on Etsy.

If an artisan starts subbing out work, and employing manufacturing processes, the products are really no longer handmade, are they?

And "transparency" is the new buzzword at Etsy - with an apparently Pollyanna sort of vision that resellers and others who sub out their work will step forward and self-identify, so that buyers can locate truly handmade items if they wish.

Ignoring the fact that truly handmade items canNOT compete financially in the marketplace with manufactured items, information about the process behind a seller's production will be buried on their "About" page, which hardly anyone reads. I learned 20 years ago that when a corporation starts talking about "transparency," it means they have something to hide.

Unlike the Emperor, whose loyal subjects believe the edicts about his new clothes, Etsy sellers, if the forums are representative, don't see this as the positive step that Etsy does, and aren't falling for any of this.

Etsy can redefine handmade, but that doesn't make it so. You can call "steam" "water" if you like, but if you're dying of thirst in the desert, try drinking a big, tall glass of steam, and let me know how your thirst is.

Steam is water, right?

One of the major issues presented by this new "definition" of handmade, aside from the financial one (who can compete with products manufactured where material and labor costs are much, much lower than the US?), is the Search issue.

Etsy switched from a recency-based Search algorithm to a relevancy-based one awhile back. What does this mean? Whereas the old Etsy search favored whatever item had most recently been listed, the new search supposedly favors the item that has the most relevant keywords in its title and tags. Problem? This is easily gamed, since sellers pick their own keywords, and when the search term queried returns 250,000 or 25,000 items with the same relevant keywords, you know what happens? The search algorithm reverts from relevancy back to recency. So if a factory-manufactured product's seller uses the same keywords for, say, a "statement necklace" that I do, I am never going to be found in search, because I can only afford to renew an item every so often with my limited listing budget, but factory concerns (may I please call them what they are: "resellers"?) can afford to list and renew endlessly, to stay at the front of the search queue, burying everyone else. Plus, they often have bots to do this renewal for them. Me? No bots. Wish I had a bot!

It looks to many of us that the "single maker" is being pushed aside in favor of bigger operations, which represent more income for Etsy. Nothing wrong with that business plan, for Etsy, anyway.

What does this change mean for me? I'm not sure.

Sales in my Etsy jewelry shop are better than ever this year, and I have been busting my butt to stock my Etsy supply shop, in an effort to reach a larger marker. Etsy has such good traffic, it's hard to think about rebuilding somewhere smaller. But if that traffic no longer can find me on Etsy, it becomes a moot point.

So I opened a Zibbet shop yesterday. Along with a lot of fellow Etsy members, apparently (Zibbet tweeted last night about the huge influx of sellers from Etsy opening Zibbet shops following Etsy's announcement yesterday.)

It's always hard learning something new, but Zibbet is surprisingly easy to figure out, and has so many features that we have been asking for on Etsy for years (without success.) They have an Etsy importer, so you can actually basically import your listings from Etsy straight into your Zibbet shop. Only a few tweaks needed to get the imported listed live. They have no listing fees and no sales commission. You heard me. Unlimited number of shop sections. Up to 8 product photos per listing. And more. Plus, no resellers. Ever.

Zibbet is a fast-growing online marketplace, and they have pledged to their growing number of handmade sellers to NEVER open their doors to resellers and factory-made items. But even as Zibbet grows, we cannot prosper without buyers, so I hope my lovely customers will follow me to Zibbet!

I've decided to migrate my current Etsy listings over to Zibbet as they expire. So far, I have one item listed. It looks lonely, and I want to retake the photos, but it's a start. I have a couple of listings expiring tomorrow, so I'll put them up over at Zibbet, and see what happens. The buyer base is much smaller, so I'm not sure what to expect in the way of views and sales.

I'm going to leave my supply shop on Etsy for now. See what happens. Supplies have always done well on Etsy, so I hope that continues.

If you sell on Etsy, what did you think of yesterday's announcement (all sellers received an e-mail outlining the changes.) What is your plan, moving forward?


Maggie said...

Since I stopped selling on Etsy (more of a time issue than not liking policies), I also stopped buying. Well, being a college student for three years took away my buying power. Regardless, this is not who Etsy was and I don't think it is who Etsy should be. Hope you find continued success wherever you end up staying or moving to.

Sweet Freedom said...

Thanks, Maggie - and I hope all is good with you! I think about you a lot - miss our electronic chats!

Shirley Moore said...

As I posted on another blog earlier today, my opinion is that Etsy should just go ahead and change their name to Walmart....
And I think that all the folks leaving Etsy will have an impact.

Nancy Sopp said...

Wow. I did not know. And I have an etsy shop.
I did notice that non-handmade, non-vintage items were showing recently, like jewelry supplies from China.
I peeked at Zibbet and will definitely consider moving.

Robin said...

I opened at Zibbet a few weeks prior to the official announcement. I sell vintage and custom portraits. Etsy has sold out. I'll be keeping my shops there open long enough to let my buyers transition to Zibbet. Great post! Robin

Sweet Freedom said...

Thanks. Robin - see you at Zibbet!