“We’re not Amazon. We’re independent artists — why these local sellers joined the Etsy strike

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When Emily Engel opened her Etsy shop 10 years ago, it was a very different platform than it is today, she says. “It was leaps and bounds easier. It was much more focused on independent artists.” She is a seamstress in Ludlow and specializes in making plush replicas of the Muppets, a thriving niche market that has generated over 5,000 sales since opening. This allowed Engel to live off his Etsy earnings after he lost his job at the start of the pandemic.

But after a decade of being on Etsy, Engel put her shop in vacation mode this week and plans to remain closed until April 18. She stands in solidarity with thousands of other Etsy sellers who are protesting a new fee hike and other Etsy policies that they say disproportionately impact independent sellers on the platform.

The strike began on April 11 and continues until April 18. Participating Etsy sellers have released a letter present their demands to the company. The seller transaction fee, or the percentage Etsy takes from each sale, was increased Monday from 5% to 6.5%. This fee jump is listed as a top concern. “After the planned increase, our fees as sellers will have more than doubled in less than 4 years, with a sharp decline in the quality of service,” reads the letter. A petitionwhich now has more than 75,000 signatures, is also circulating, calling for the dues increase to be reversed.

Illustrator Lindsay Blevins uses watercolors to create unique cards that she sells on Etsy. (Arielle Gray/WBUR)

Another sore spot for many small Etsy sellers is sellers offering mass-produced products. “It’s supposed to be a place for handmade goods,” says Lindsay Blevins, a freelance illustrator based in Brighton. She opened her shop in 2011 and makes watercolor greeting cards and other paper goods. But it didn’t take long for her to notice that mass-produced greeting cards, like those sold on Amazon, were also being sold by stockists on Etsy. “These accounts are the ones that get sponsored at the top of the page and kind of deny independent people like me.”

A major concern for Engel and Blevins is that Etsy is turning into a marketplace that doesn’t prioritize small sellers and handmade products. “Maritime transport is a very good example of this,” says Engel. “Etsy tries to get sellers to offer free shipping. We’re not mass producers. We can’t just eat those shipping costs.”

Blevins, whose greeting cards cost around $4 on her store, also feels the pressure to offer free shipping and a short processing time is unrealistic. “To pack and ship the products properly and safely, it costs me about $4,” she says. “If I offer free shipping, I don’t make any money on that sale.”

Other strike demands sent to Etsy CEO Josh Silverman include addressing customer service issues and notorious “bots” that scour Etsy’s site for possible violations or violations. Engel’s shop fell victim to this process when its pandemic masks were wrongly flagged as copyright infringement. “I appealed to Etsy and they assured me they got my appeal request,” she says. “I never heard of it and instead Etsy put a hold on my earnings for 90 days…meaning they would hold 75% of everything I earned.”

The real problem for sellers like Blevins and Engel is that there is virtually no alternative to Etsy. “They really have a monopoly on the ‘handmade’ market,” says Blevins. She, like many other striking sellers, encourages buyers to buy directly from artists through their website or social media. “With these recent developments, I think a lot of people are like, ‘I have to find something better because it’s not sustainable anymore.'”

Lindsay Blevins thinks artists need more options to sell their work.
Lindsay Blevins thinks artists need more options to sell their work. “It can’t just be Etsy,” she says. (Arielle Gray/WBUR)

Etsy has yet to respond directly to the striking sellers, but told media by email that “the new fee structure will allow us to increase our investments in the areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removal of listings that violate our policies.”

But Engel and Blevins doubt they will benefit from such a drastic increase in fees. Last year, Engel made over $60,000 in sales. “Etsy took $4,286 of that money,” she said after pulling her report from her Etsy account. “Yet my shop was still mistakenly closed and most of my earnings were held back for nearly three months with no response or communication from Etsy.”

With the strike ending in just a few days, sellers are hoping Etsy will respond to their demands. “It’s funny because they sign their emails with the hashtag #StandwithSmall,” says Engel. “But they don’t stand with the little one, they stand on the little one…I just hope something changes soon.”

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