The REAL Reason There’s an Etsy Strike: It’s Not Just Fees


Hey guys! Been a while. I haven’t posted much on this site lately for various reasons. Mostly because I get zero site traffic, so I couldn’t justify to myself the time it takes for regular upkeep and blogging when I have so many other projects on my plate. Running business as an independent artist, without the normal support structure of an agent/IT guy/social media person/etc takes a LOT of energy. So I let this site (and thus, this blog) go by the wayside while I tried to focus my efforts on my actual creative projects.


And then WWIII began to brew thanks to the delusional prick in charge of an autocratic nuclear power who decided it was a grand idea to invade his democratic neighbor because he doesn’t think they have a right to sovereignty, and I lost all motivation to do anything but obsessively follow the news. As a #sadgradstudent plugging away at a dissertation for a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literature, it has been really hard to redirect my focus beyond the millions of people displaced from their homes or injured or murdered in an inane, unnecessary war. My own problems pale in comparison, so I have donated what I can, wherever I can. I will likely devote a post or two specifically to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in the near future, but I am still organizing my thoughts and sifting through the news about it. So more to follow.


Today, we are instead going to talk about an issue where my thoughts are already organized: Etsy.


The tarot deck I dreamed up, researched, wrote, illustrated, and produced is now on it’s fourth printing run. I have literally had to restock FOUR times, and have now sold over 300 individual decks either in person or through my Etsy site. I had no idea they would be this popular, and I am thankful every day that I decided to just roll up my sleeves and make my own darn Slavic-inspired deck after years of hunting in vain for a good one. Apparently, I was not alone in wanting one. In any case, I suddenly went from 6 total sales on Etsy in 9 years of having a shop there to being a “Star Seller” with 250+ sales. I actually made a profit, albeit a small one (I keep my prices as low as I can based on cost of materials, by and large ignoring the implied labor costs of the time I spend on creation).


And then Etsy hiked their processing fees from 3% per sale to 5%. I could live with that, so I just bumped my price by $2. And then Etsy pushed their free shipping initiative in an effort to compete with Amazon, informing sellers that if we did not offer free shipping domestically, they would move our products to the back pages of search results, thereby ensuring we’d get zero visibility. So I had to bump my prices yet again.

And then the influx of resellers who offer nothing but the same mass-produced, cheap crap made in China, but marketed as “unique” and “handmade” began to REALLY become an issue, forcing us indie artists and artisans to the back pages regardless as we can’t compete with the sheer volume, let alone afford the same kinds of marketing for sponsored placement. So we complained. And we complained about the complete and utter lack of support response by Etsy whenever sellers have a complaint/issue/etc.


And THEN the pandemic happened, and Etsy made record profits. Their stock skyrocketing. Their CEO making crazy bonuses. So what does Etsy do? Initiate their “offsite ads” program, which removes the ability for individual sellers to set a marketing budget on places like Google or Facebook, and instead takes 12-15% commission off the ads for our listings that Etsy places if someone clicks the ad. For 30 days. 30 days!!! And that includes, apparently, any “referrals” we might get from the person who clicked the ad. Meanwhile, we the individual sellers have no oversight on whether that sale actually occurred because of the ad—as in a new customer discovering us through the ad—or was simply the result of, say, a repeat customer trying to Google us.


If you make less than $10k a year off Etsy sales—and that’s gross income, not profit—you can’t opt out of this program, and it’s a 12% transaction fee. If, like me and most other *real* independent artists on Etsy, you make less than that, it’s a 15% transaction fee. I thought to myself, maybe it would be worth it for the increased visibility, right? And I was probably way too small to have the program affect me anyway.


Wrong.


Apparently Etsy was promoting my Slavic Tarot cards offsite (though again, as the seller I have no way of verifying this; I just have to trust the faceless corporation that it is occurring…which, as traffic to my Etsy page actually significantly went down after they implemented this program, I doubt), and apparently someone did click an ad. And apparently all subsequent sales I made that month—which were more than a few—were a result of this same ad click. That month? My payout from Etsy was about $5. That was it. That was my gross income after they took their standard fees, ad commission, and, due to their “free shipping” BS, the cost to me to print shipping labels. Usually this is about $8-9 for domestic shipping and $24-30 for international shipping, though I have paid as much as $99 to ship to Europe upon several occasions. On an order that cost $48. As I charge a flat international shipping fee of $20 and 0 domestically, the money I eat with each sale adds up.


Oh, and the Etsy fees come out of the total sale price, so they get a much larger chunk out of this “free shipping” garbage. Funny how that works…


After that, I opted out of the offsite ads program. That sad little $5 payout means, after accounting for the cost of getting my tarot cards printed hugely increased due to supply chain issues during the pandemic, I lost a TON of money that month.


And, on top of all of this, now Etsy hikes their transaction fee by 30%, meaning now on each sale they take 6.5% of the total. This fee hike is supposedly so that Etsy can meet the requests by sellers for better support, more marketing, and to crackdown on resellers. That was the same promise they made to us after the last fee hike, and yet all of those issues only got worse. I encourage you to do a search on Amazon and Etsy simultaneously for the same item and compare what your feed looks like. If Etsy once was the place shoppers went to find genuinely unique, handmade, or vintage items sold by real people, that is no longer the case. Those items are now a small fraction of what you’ll find on Etsy.


My point: it wasn’t so much the doubling of transaction fees in four years that made me join the over 14k sellers on strike this week. The hike in fees was the last of many, many straws.


I’m probably going to reopen my Etsy shop on 19 April along with most of those other striking sellers...because what alternative do we really have? For all Etsy’s issues, it’s still the first platform people jump to when looking for ways to support individual artists and artisans. It’s still the biggest marketplace for us and our best chance at getting any kind of visibility or building a customer base. I went ahead and added a “shop” page right here on my website—where, not having to contend with Etsy’s fees, I can offer reduced prices while still providing free domestic and flat rate international shipping—but how much visibility can I expect to realistically get here? The answer: not a whole lot.


I don’t expect anything to actually change with Etsy. Even those of us who signed the petition and put our shops in vacation mode are but a fraction of the total number of sellers on Etsy…though I’d wager we are the bulk of the ones who comprise actual people, not those pesky resellers. I just hope that the increased visibility of this issue and the public backlash against corporate Etsy will result in…something? Maybe some highspeed, low drag tech dude or dudette can create a new marketplace for us. Maybe places like Ko-fi can become more viable, with more shoppers turning there.


We can only hope.


It’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things, and I realize that I am incredibly fortunate that a) my Etsy sales are not my primary source of income, so I can afford to turn my shop off for a week, and b) this is pretty much the biggest stressor affecting me personally right now. It’s a small stressor, granted, but it still counts. I am one of the lucky ones.

My blessing for those of you who took the time to read this whole silly rant: may all your problems be equally small.

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